Thursday, 19 April 2018

An unexpected visitor

I was intrigued, early this morning, by a strange sound coming from outside.  I went to look, and a hot air balloon had landed in the field next door, and was being kept vertical with regular noisy bursts of a gas burner.


I have seen this balloon drift past on a few occasions before, but this was the first time it had landed anywhere nearby.  It was piloted by an instructor and two trainees.  There was no wind at ground level, but, according to the instructor, the air was moving at about 20kph higher up.  When this wind comes down to ground level, as it is sure to do at some time, landing the balloon would be difficult and dangerous, so he decided to land early.


There was a lot of dew on the grass in the field, so they asked if they could bring the balloon into the car park to deflate it, so it wouldn't get wet.  So they walked it across the road (with a little difficulty), deflated it in the car park, wrapped it up and had a quick coffee while they waited for the retrieval car to fetch them.


Thursday, 12 April 2018

Spring flowers

The weather has been pretty unpleasant so far this Spring.  Here's an antidote to bad vibes.


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A new instrument

I've been exploring the jazz medium as a means of musical expression.  It's harder than it looks.

I can read and play reasonably well on the flute, but improvisation in real time against a changing chord sequence in relation to a given melody is something else again.  The blues is probably the easiest and most popular standard chord sequence, and so that is what I am learning and playing.   It has to be said that the flute is not really a blues instrument.   It is especially good for latin jazz, and can be deployed in other categories to good effect.  But not blues.

So I thought I'd investigate the harmonica, a blues instrument if ever there was one.  They don't cost much either; the instruction books cost many times more than the instrument.  (Although more expensive ones do exist).   But a few weeks with it taught me that getting a decent technique will take more time than I can give it.


I was intrigued by an online ad for an electronic wind instrument by Akai; an EWI 5000.   I looked it up and it claims to be able to offer fingering options to include sax, clarinet, oboe, and flute.  Flute I can do.  It came with all the accessories and a carry case thrown in.  I have been playing it.

It does not however, offer exactly the same fingering as the flute.  There are some differences that seem minor but are giving me a challenge.  The fingerings for the notes are the same in all the octaves on the EWI, unlike the flute.   C has two options for fingering, like the flute, a low and high one.  The low one is the same as the flute, the high one is different.  All the other notes have one fingering, the C# fingering corresponding to the low fingering on the flute.   The EWI offers fingerings for an octave +1 (C to C inclusive), you change octaves by moving the thumb up and down a series of rollers.

Being an electronic instrument, the EWI has numerous voicings; they all sound a bit electronic, but imitate more or less successfully the different real instruments they represent.   You can add your own sounds and buy commercial ones too.   The EWI has seven octaves against the flute's three.  I have had it for a couple of days.  It shows promise, I am pleased with it.


Ain't YouTube wonderful?  I can watch free lessons on how to use it, get good tips, and see experts playing it in videos that are either motivational or depressing depending on my mood.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Oh it all makes work

Our gîte, being classed as a business that invites the public, gets a fire inspection every five years.  The idea is to ensure that the users of the building are protected as much as possible from the dangers of fire.   Fair enough, really.  The main ground floor doors of the gîte are lockable, although few clients actually lock them, and every bedroom key opens every outside door.   We also had keys mounted inside by the doors, in special metal cases with breakeable glass.  So in the event of fire, any locked doors can be opened, even if no-one brings a key.

Not good enough, says the fireman, despite this having been OK for the previous two inspections.  We now need locks that lock with a key from the outside, but open from the inside with the turn of a knob.   Safer in the case of panicking people trying to get out of a building as quickly as possible.

So 'twas on the Monday morning that the menuisier came to fit the new locks.



Friday, 6 April 2018

House hunting - contrasts

We recognise that, much as we like it here at Les Hallais, there will come a time when we have to downsize.    What to move into, though, that's a difficult question to answer.

The fundamental choice is between a ground-up renovation of the kind that we did when we moved here, and a place that's ready to move into that needs no work beyond a bit of redecoration.   We've been debating the pros and cons of each option for a while, and can't come up with a definitive answer.  I suppose in the end it will come down to finding that special place.

Earlier this week we went to look and two different places, at opposite ends of the spectrum.  One is fit for nothing other than complete renovation (if you want to live in it all year round, as we do).   The other is ready to move into tomorrow.   The idea is that we would get a better handle on the emotional appeal of the different options, as well as looking at two "possibles".

First, the scruffy one.  Two buildings, one a barn/shed, the other the living quarters.  Apparently used as a "maison secondaire"; a holiday home.


Clearly an ex-water mill, given the way the river that runs by is diverted, wooden beams and rafters in good nick, 2 hectares of land (a bit too much, but you can always rent fields out to somebody).  Needs complete renovation, that will cost at least €200,000 probably nearer €400,000 when you include all the things you don't think about.  In my view they're asking (way) too much at €150,000.   Could be nice when it's done though.

Next, the posh one.  Perfect working order,  newly redone.  3 bedrooms upstairs, plus a downstairs bedroom with en suite.   Not much garden, big empty house right next door.   Low-ish energy bills, solar panels, heat pump for the underfloor heating (air-air, not so good when it gets really cold outside) gym upstairs in the garage.   No river.


This one looks to be an incredible bargain at €250,000.  The owner is apparently in the building trade, so I imagine that the price of materials to him would be less than you and I might pay.

Hmmmm

Monday, 26 March 2018

Extracting the urine

One of the ways of attacking the lunacy that is sometimes foisted upon us by the Powers That Be, is to take the Mickey.   I am minded of Pastafarianism, a religion that (as I understand it) pays homage to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.   The last I heard anything about it, they had demanded and been granted the right to wear a colander on their head for their passport photos, in the name of their religion, and of religious equality.

Today, to my delight, I read in the Ouest France, a french newspaper, of a 60-year-old former male argentinian worker in the tax office in that country .  (S)he has taken advantage of the law that says a person can identify as being of either gender, apparently without the need for surgical intervention or much other justification, and can insist on being treated as being of their chosen gender.

Sergio has become Sergia, and (s)he has just retired at 60 instead of the 65 that is the normal retirement age for men.  (S)he also apparently lives with a younger lady (relationship unspecified; it could be his daughter for all I know)
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