Sunday, 17 August 2014

Millwheel turning

The Moulin du Gô at St Pierre sur Erve is being renovated, and they have got the water wheel to work.  This has involved completely remaking all of the oak sections of the wheel including the paddles and spokes, and getting the whole thing central on the axis.   It's still not quite central and the wheel speeds up and slows down just a little as it turns, but it's pretty even.   The centralising is achieved by hammering different-sized bits of wood between the metal hub and the oak shaft.  You can see them on the shaft as it turns.   I gather it's very much a trial-and-error thing to get right.

There is more work to be done in the next room.  You can see that this horizontal wheel is not square on to its axis, so that will need sorting out.  It also has no gear teeth, and it requires an especially hard wood; what the French call a Cormier; Surbus domestica, a rare tree in Europe.  They were lucky - they found some at a furniture-maker's in the village, and he is making the gear teeth.   Once they are in place, they will be able to turn the millstone that is upstairs.

The wooden teeth that are already in place on the vertical gearwheel are made from Robinia pseudoacacia, a hard wood that is strong enough for this application but not for the smaller wheel.

They reckon that the wheel will generate about 9 horespower, which is a bit less than 7 kilowatts.  If it were up to me, I'd hook in an electric generator, back it up with solar panels in Summer in case the river gets low, and Bob's your uncle: free electricity for life.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Water heater

It appears to me that in France, the heating of most domestic hot water is done in a hot-water tank, using off-peak electricity.  We have one such in our house, a fairly new one, since the old one was getting past it, and was scruffy into the bargain.   This new heater heats the water to about 65 degrees, and you can't adjust the temperature.  It's a treatment against legionella, a rather nasty bacterium that dies at temperatures over 60.

Water expands when it is heated (one of the reasons that sea levels are rising) and water sanitation authorities get worried by the possibility that heated water gets into the drinking water pipes.  I'm not sure why this is a concern, it might be a legionella thing again, but in any case to prevent this from happening, the cold water inlet to the heater must be fitted with a non-return valve.  And the trouble with this is that if the expanding water can't escape, the pressure builds up until something bursts, so the tank has also to be fitted with a pressure-release valve, and a water trap connected to your waste water disposal pipes.   Here is a picture of my water heater with the gubbins fitted.   The heater is mounted on what the French insist is a tripod (trépied) even though it has four legs.

As an alternative, you could connect in an expansion vessel that keeps a near-constant water pressure as the water expands.  The people who sell these they tell you that the traditional system wastes up to 200 litres of water a year.   Doesn't sound very much to me, and it wouldn't cost much either, unless you've heated it, and the system is designed to only waste the cold (or perhaps lukewarm) water.

Anita doesn't like water coming out of the taps at 65°C.   It's too hot to keep your hand in.  So today I fitted a temperature regulator that mixes cold water in with the outgoing hot, to cool it.  Seems to work so far.  We will see tomorrow what it does to the shower, or shaving water temperature.

Thursday, 7 August 2014


I figure that I know about supermarkets.   They're places where you get groceries, and are to be avoided whenever possible unless they have both a hi-tech section AND a coffee shop, with muffins.

Anita does our groceries.   I am told that the "normal" approach to grocery shopping is that one chooses a supermarket to shop at regularly, gets the loyalty card and then shops only there.  Anita's approach is different.  She shops at all the local supermarkets, and has a loyalty card for each.

She knows the products that each store stocks, so when we run out of X, she will say, for example, "Ah, we have run out of X and they only stock that at (say) Super-U, so this week I will do our shop there".  I understand that this is unusual.   Not only does she know the products stocked by all the local supermarkets, but she knows where they are on the shelves.  Unbelievable.  (I know because sometimes she asks me to get some things for her, and she tells me where to find them)

She is therefore in a position to spot when new products arrive on the shelves.  It frequently happens that she comes back with either a completely new product to try, or a new brand.  Sticking to a single product is rare for her, an approach that has few disadvantages as far as I can see, the only exception being shaving cream.

Generally, I benefit from this.  We have a diet that is varied, sprinkled with new and exciting adventures, together with some tried and tested favourites.  There is, of course, the occasional disaster, though they are seldom inedible: most of the time, daily food (and consumables) are actually quite interesting in their own right, in our house.  This, I suspect, is unusual.

So when, the other day, she said, in town, "Oh, look, there's a new supermarket, let's go and take a look", I acquiesced.  I recognise that it's in my long-term best interests.  Turns out that it's what I can only describe as an industrial-scale delicatessen.  Only food, much of it in bulk, by the kilo, and international in origin.   Tex Mex, Thai, Chinese, African, Indian, as well as traditional French.  Much of it fresh,too.  Excellent.  Anita came out with a little bag of goodies.  Well, a cartload, actually.

We'll be back.  There was, unfortunately, no hi-tech and no coffee shop, so, stricly speaking, Anita will be back.   P.S.  They're the only place known to us in Laval that still stocks (uncooked) brazil nuts.   Thought you'd like to know that.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Shed coffee bar

I have had a couple of little contretemps with my local branch of Leroy Merlin (a DIY shop) recently, so they are no longer my preferred supplier of DIY products.   However they remain a convenient supplier and I still shop there sometimes.   Besides, credit where it's due, they give free coffee.  Shame they seem to have stopped the madeleines though.

They have recently redone their coffee area and given it a "shed" style.  It's all scrupulously clean but looks scruffy.   The ceiling tiles are painted to look a grubby brown, there are used paint tins on the "bench" and rusty tools attached to the wall.  The mural is of an old-fashioned workshop, and the floor is a mix of coloured tiles and wood finish.

Some of the paint tins provide you with a Ethernet cable for internet connection and there are power points in the lids of the rest.   The coffee is fresh-ground and, as I mentioned, free.  I especially liked the side table made out of a wheeled trolley platform.  I thought that they had made a good effort; top marks.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

An open-and-shut case

Here's an odd plant in the garden.  An annual, it seems to have adapted to heat by closing its flowers during the daytime.  In the early morning and evening they are open, making a fine display when massed, but by 11:00 they are all closed up.  When open the flowers are about an inch in diameter, maybe a bit bigger, and the pattern in the middle is a chocolate colour.  I must look up their name, because I have forgotten.

P.S. They are Madia elegans, a hardy annual, native of California.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Garden centre

Our to-ings and fro-ings during our break in the Vallée de Chevreuse took us back and forth past a garden centre several times (La Jardinerie de Chevreuse).   Since we are necessarily occupied quite a lot in gardening at home, we dropped in to take a look.   It could well be the best garden centre I've been in, certainly if the quality and variety of plants is the criterion.

There were indoor plants, greenhouse plants and outdoor plants, all of which seemed to be in excellent condition, kept in locations according to their needs for light, warmth, etc, and not just put on display when they were in flower.

I had been quite taken with the varieties of Heuchera that were used in one of the garden displays at Chaumont recently, and had been looking for some to try.  This garden centre had some superb varieties for sale.  We bought some.  And some pots that were going cheap too.   And a decorative grass.   And besides, how can I resist a garden centre that not only looks after its plants, but also has the most whimsical bit of garden statuary I have ever come across?  I'm not into garden statues, but that one I could make a home for.

Sunday, 27 July 2014


We visited Chartes and its cathedral as part of our stay in the Valley de Chevreuse.  The cathedral is being cleaned and restored at the moment, a long and painstaking job that was started in 2008.  In the modern French way of doing things, it is to be restored to its original 13th century decor, removing the redecorations that were done in the 15th and 19th centuries, and using original materials where possible.  This all makes a spectacular difference to the inside appearance: the picture below shows a restored wall on the left and unrestored on the right.   The scaffolding is probably a major project in its own right.

The precinct around the cathedral is nice to explore too, but as if to make up for the majesty of the cathedral, the town hall just down the road is quite the ugliest I have seen in France, spectacular in its own way, extraordinary.

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