Monday, 11 December 2017

Social music

Playing in a harmonie wind band isn't just about the music, it's about the social aspect too.  It's a good opportunity to meet with like-minded people and increase the circle of friends and acquaintances.  And on top of this, there is the opportunity to combine with other harmonies and groups in exchange visits and concerts.

This year, for our end-of-year concert, our harmonie at Ste Suzanne combined with three others to give a concert with 120 musicians on Sunday.  Four harmonies in total; four conductors who took turns at conducting the different pieces.  A good time was had by all.  The programme was of film music, starting with the dramatic Also Sprach Zarathustra, used in 2001 A Space Odyssey.

We of Ste Suzanne will be off in January to join the same groups for a joint concert at Bouguenais near Nantes.



Friday, 8 December 2017

Showery weather

A little walk today where the showers, heavy clouds and low sun made for some lighting effects.


Sunday, 3 December 2017

Déchetterie

The déchetterie is where you take stuff to be recycled or disposed of, that is for whatever reason, not suitable for the smaller local bins provided.   For example, you take used engine oil there, half-empty paint tins and garden waste.  We have been going there a fair bit recently with garden waste.  Normally I shred and compost all the waste from my garden, but recently we have been cleaning an area that contains a lot of wild clematis.

Clematis is vile stuff; toxic and with a sap that, if you shred the plant, ends up in a fine spray and does nasty things to your eyes and lungs.  So we take it to the dump from where it is shredded along with other garden waste in industrial quantities by huge machines, then composted and distributed (sold?) to local farmers.

Our déchetterie has had a revamp recently.  It's much bigger than it used to be, with a big tarmac on-ramp, plenty of large containers for the rubbish, each one for dumping a different type of material.  There is a container for card, one for plastic, one for metals, and so on.   Much of it gets recycled.

Generally I'm in favour of recyling efforts, although I do wonder how efficient they are.  Does the Earth-saving value obtained from recycling my bins of plastic, glass and metal compensate for the use of diesel to drive there?  How about if you take into account the energy needed to build the place?  Would the planet be better off if I just let the clematis dry out then burn it?  I have no real idea.




Friday, 1 December 2017

First flurries

The UK is apparently under a blanket of cold, and France is getting a bit chilly.  The east of the country is apprently under several inches of snow and we have had the first flurries here.


Thursday, 23 November 2017

Crisp day

A bright and crisp autumnal day, so an opportunity to walk around the lake at the Gue de Selle.



Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Useless units

The petrol pumps at our local supermarket have been upgraded.  There is now a button that you can press on the diesel pump to give a fast delivery.   You unhook the nozzle, press the button and you get diesel at the super-fast rate of 5 metres cubed per hour.

This is handy to know if you need to fill a 5 metre-cubed fuel tank; you can do it in an hour.  Or even a one metre-cubed one; you can fill it in 12 minutes.  The time to fill a normal car fuel tank of capacity say, about 80 litres needs a bit of calculation.   I hope you have a calculator handy.

5 metres cubed per hour is 5,000 litres in 3,600 seconds, or about 1.4 litres/second, or say 10 litres in 7 seconds.   So you can fill an 80 litre tank in just under a minute.


A posted delivery rate of 1.4 litres/sec would be helpful;  7 seconds for 10 litres might be even better.  But 5m per hour is useless.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Paris via Le Mans

I had not come across the word dystonia until August of this year.  I was at a flute course/holiday when our tutor (Philippa Davies, an amazing flute player and lovely person) discussed the symptoms of one of her colleagues, and I was forced to observe "that sounds like what I've got".

It started when I noticed that certain of my scales on the flute were no longer regular, as in regular as clockwork, that is, with the notes evenly spaced in time.  The problem was in moving from A to G going down the scale, which is achieved by the fourth finger of the left had pressing down the G key to cover the A hole.  (No jokes please).  The fourth finger, instead of just going down onto the key, was going up before going down, and I was completely unaware of this.

No problem, thinks I, a couple of weeks of careful practice in front of a mirror so that I can see what's going on, and all will be fixed.  Well I got the finger doing the right thing, but since then, my left hand stiffens up when asked to do certain specific actions, which results in incorrect rhythms and wrong notes.

After discussions with my doctor, other flute players and a pianist who has suffered a similar problem, I went to see a neurologist in Paris.  A lovely guy, a New Zealander, specialist in musicians' problems, and he confirmed I have a focal dystonia.  Basically this means I have to reset certain aspects of my playing technique from zero; correction takes a long time.  Researching online finds, for example, a guitarist who claims to have emerged completely from the problem, after 7,000 hours of practice.



This could be a problem, given that 7,000 hours represents about 20 years at an hour per day which is my usual rate of practice, and I'm 61.  I might have to re-think my participation in various activites to ensure that I'm only involved in things that I can actually do.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Bulk buying

I was in our local cash & carry buying ingredients for our guests' meals, not so long ago.   Figs were on the list, for a fig sauce.   As you can see in the photo, 250 grammes cost €5.33, and 500 grammes (twice as much) from the same producer costs €5.50, just 17 euro cents more.  I bought the bigger packet.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Troc plante

For the last couple of years, at about this time, there has been a small plant swap event at Sainte- Suzanne.  Having nothing else to do of any urgency this Sunday, I went to have a look.

The weather was not kind.  November is a good time for transplanting plants, but poor weather-wise.  It was drizzling when I set off, and when I arrived at the huddled tents, the heavens opened and the wind blew.   The tents were kept in place only by people hanging on to the legs.  Later, rocks were found to hold them down.

I sheltered under the coffee tent since it seemed the best bet from a comfort point of view, and the coffee was free.  The hot soup was free too, but it was a bit early in the day for that.

You didn't have to bring plants to swap; it was really a plant give-away, with people bringing spare things from the garden.  I came away with some seeds of large sunflowers, (4m high, the guy promised me)  and something I was assured was an edible veg, a bit like spinach.  Plus a raspberry plant that makes orange fruit - I am hoping the birds will leave it alone; they devastate the red ones.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

A walk




On the safety of Elves, and protection from lawyers

I have a big garden so I do a lot of gardenng.  This would be hard on the hands if I didn't wear protective gloves of some kind.  And the gloves tend to wear out quickly; I get through a couple of pairs per year.

The best ones I have tried are branded Stihl.  With bright orange highlights, they are easy to spot if I take them off and leave them lying around somewhere, and being made of a soft leather, they are tough and flexible.  I had occasion to buy another pair yesterday.  They are described as "Protective gloves for chain saw users".

They came with an 83-page booklet in 26 languages.  Including helpful information to the effect that if you get petrol, oil, grease or anything else that might burn on the gloves, take them off because there's a fire hazard.



It's a wonder that all clothing doesn't come with such a warning, really.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Chromecast

On a whim I got myself a Google Chromecast device the other day.   It has since become a standard piece of household kit in routine use.  It allows you to send pictures and movies that would appear on your PC or tablet, to a nearby TV screen.


That doesn't sound particularly exciting, but combined with suitable software on the Android tablet, it makes for an improved telly-watching experience.  Mine is an old TV, no internet connectivity and bought before the days of HDTV, and the Chromecast occupies one of its two HDMI slots.

A nice piece of Android software called Molotov lets you watch live TV and record chosen programmes, so together with Chromecast it eliminates the need for both an HD tuner box and a video recorder.   We're free trialling a Netflix sub (for the second time) and the Chromecast eliminates the hassle of having to connect up the tablet to the TV via the HDMI cable every time.   YouTube videos too are easier to watch on the big screen.  The tablet acts like a remote controller.

The thing seems to configure itself easily enough and I got it working in a few minutes.  It didn't start properly again the next day though, and I had to reset the router (i.e. turn it off and on again) to get it to work.  Apart from these teething troubles it seems to work reliably (touch wood).

Picture quality is good; it starts out pretty rought but sharpens up in a few seconds.


Thursday, 12 October 2017

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Autumn harvest

Anita made this little decorative display in the dining room, all from the garden.


The Dahlias are at the back centre, with, to each side, an orange squash that I grew from seeds I collected from a commercial one that we ate last year.   The green and yellow stripey ones are an acorn squash, variety Harlequin.   The grey one is a small grey Hubbard squash, in fact the smallest one from the plants that I harvested - the other fruits are about 18 inches long, 12 diameter at their widest.   Plus, next to it, the red kuri squash that the French call a potimarron, that is also a Hubbard squash, but a much smaller variety.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Mushroom management

One of the specialist industries around Saumur is the growing of comestible mushrooms.   The deep caves in the soft rock make for ideal growing conditions with constant temperature and humidity.  We visited such a farm while we were there.

The mushrooms are grown for the most part, in small bales of nutrient wrapped in black plastic and with holes cut in, through which the fruiting bodies of the mushrooms grow.  Different recipes of nutrient suit different species of mushrooms, but most seem to be based on straw or hay, with manure added.


The place we went to is called Le Saut aux Loups and claims some 3km of caves under exploitation, of which about 500m are open to visitors.   The displays showed not only current crops of growing mushrooms, but also how they were grown in the past.  Apparently, they used to use internal combustion engines for certain mechanical tasks in the caves.  Despite the (natural) ventilation in place, I bet it made for a nasty working environment.


Gathering wild mushrooms is fairly popular in France, and every year some 1,000 people are poisoned, of which about 2% die.   The most common cause of death being the Death Cap fungus that resembles a number of edible species.   About the same number of people are accidentally shot and killed while hunting. 

I have been out on a mushroom gathering in an organised group along with an expert, and have also eaten some normal "champignons de Paris" (the small white ones with pink gills that you find in supermarkets everywhere) that I found in the garden.

It's not something I do very often.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The abbey at Fontevraud

The abbey at Fontevraud is about halfway between Saumur and Chinon, and we went to see it on the second day of our break.  It's a most impressive building, originally a monastery, then more recently a prison, now it is being restored as a tourist attraction and historical monument.

They had an exhibition of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her son Richard the Lion Heart, both of whom are buried there.  Their effigies were on display, along with panels telling real-life Game of Thrones story of the Plantaganet dynasty.  (In English translation too, which is unusual for France, but the need to cater to tourists of multi-national origin is starting to be recognised)


You couldn't visit the kitchens because they were still being restored, but the tour of the rest of the building is interesting and well-signposted.  There was a display of spooky owl art in the abbey cellars.  Created by means of fine fluorescent thread attached to nails, and illuminated with ultra-vioilet, these shone out in blue and white in the otherwise dark catacombs.



Saturday, 7 October 2017

Art for art's sake

There was an exhibition of modern art on at the Chateau Montsoreau.   It probed the question of "what is art", to which the response is clearly "not that", especially if it needs to be justified by explanatory notices written in impenetrable artspeak.

There were some mirrors.  I call this picture "A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Photographer"



Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Montsoreau

We took a short break - two nights at Montsoreau, a little town on the Loire where it is joined by the Vienne, a short way upstream from Saumur.  We stayed at the hotel Le Bussy in a comortable room with a view of the chateau.


The chateau as it stands, no longer has the two high-peaked rooves that stood on top of the square towers at each end; they are now completely flat.   However, the one on the right is accessible to visitors and you get a good view of the Loir and surrounding countryside.  There was a housebout (apparently it's a toue cabanée - see comments) chugging past, heading for the Vienne, making waves on this otherwise calm day.






Friday, 29 September 2017

BBC wildlife attempt No 5

This scruffy green woodpecker was in the garden.  This photo was taken through a glass window; when I went outside to get closer, it flew away.


Thursday, 28 September 2017

Misty morning

A short stroll down the road.   This morning the early mist has left a heavy dew highlighting the cobwebs.  Ths sun is now illuminating it all.



Wednesday, 27 September 2017

New boots

I'm pleased with the Peugeot 308CC.   It holds the road well, has enough performance for the backroads of Mayenne, and can carry four people plus a full week's shopping.  Downsides?  It tends to aquaplane if there's surface water, and it munches through the tyres.

I've tried a number of different service stations in the area and I've hit on a favourite for the routine replacements of things like windscreen wipers and tyres:  Norauto in Laval.

When the windscreen wipers needed replacing, Anita bought some Bosch ones in a supermarket.  The mountings appeared to be a bit loose; at any rate they clacked against the windscreen with every wipe.  So we went to Norauto and said "Our windscreen wipers are noisy, do you have quiet ones?".  "Ah", they said, "you've got Bosch, here try these", and what's more they fitted them for free.

Just recently I needed new front tyres, and I went to the same place.  Best price ever, and a good brand (Pirelli).  Tracking sorted too.




Saturday, 23 September 2017

Friday, 22 September 2017

Splitting logs

I have chopped down a few trees for firewood, and turning chopped-down trees into logs suitable for the fire usually involves splitting at least some of them.  This is hard work.  I tend to use an axe, but the last time I did that I strained some tendons in my arm that took two years to heal.  You can get electric log splitters but they're not very powerful, and are usually limited to logs smaller than those that I create.

On my walk in the village yesterday I chanced up on a group of village elders creating firewood out of fallen trees.  They weren't messing about.  A big log splitter attached to a tractor was making light work of things.  I want one of those.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

A walk in the village

My feet took me into the village today, and since I had the camera with me, I took some snaps.  There's an artwork exhibition in place, consisting in part of silhouettes in sheet metal, in strategic positions around the village.  I particularly like these fish that are placed upstream of the barrage, so that from the pedestrian footbridge, you see their clear reflection in the water.



Elsewhere there are lambs, and random people and family groups.  But this guy just looks to me like he is pissing in the hedge.


Monday, 18 September 2017

Self-service beer



Self-service beer is a new idea to me, I must try it out.  And don't you just love the name of the bar?

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Stumped

I have removed a few trees from the garden over the years, and as a result I have some stumps scattered about.  They lurk in the grass, and the longer the grass the more they lurk.  This can be a problem for the mower.  I more or less know where they are, and if I am alert, I can lift the mower blades as I approach, and no harm is done.  Sometimes however, I'm not alert, I'm drifting off into daydreams, and forget to compensate for the stumps.  This can result in a noise like a lawn mower imitating a chain saw, a sudden jolting stop, or the need to repair the mower before I can carry on cutting the lawn.

I saw a product in the garden centre the other day, that promised effective stump removal.  You drill holes in the stump, pour in this chemical, drench the ensemble with paraffin, and set fire to it all.  The stumps are then supposed to turn to ashes over the next couple of days.   Since I want to remove the stumps and also enjoy setting fire to things, there was nothing not to like.  Did it work?  Judge for yourself.  These pics show two different stumps after the treatment.


The second one is a bit better cooked that the first one that is hardly touched but it was sell rotted beforehand.   They still represent a hazard to dreamy mowers.  If I was a politician I could call it a partial success.   I suppose the torrential thunderstorm didn't help.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Bak to werk

It's la rentrée time in France.  The August holidays are over, and people are going back to work or back to school.  The event happens every year but the back-to-school aspect of it still gets wide news coverage, with a good five to ten minues devoted every evening for a week, on what needs to be bought, how much it will cost, and the implications.   It seems to be bigger than the real new year on Jan 1st in its significance to French life.

It's also the time for car boots sales, vide greniers.  We're quite lucky in that there are four that we could go to, all in a straight line journey.  We went to two of them; the one in Laval and the one in the smaller town of Argentré that is on the way to Laval.   We had some small difficulty in confirming beforehand that the Laval one was in fact taking place, but it always happens at the same time as the other three, and "everyone knows this".  It's normally the biggest one around.

I was on the lookout for a used hose reel (didn't find one), but it's always good to nose around.  I bought a few CDs (25 cents each, you can't argue) and a length of plastic tube that I have a use for in the veg patch.

The Laval one was poorly attended; not many stands and few buyers.  It was covered in the local paper the day after and everyone agreed that it was way below expectations.  Next year we are promised more publicity together with bouncy castles to attract a bigger audience.


Argentré by contrast was hopping, so Laval's poor showing wasn't anything to do with any fundamental changes in outlook for consumerism in France.  We shall see what happens next year.



Wednesday, 6 September 2017

BBC wildlife attempt No 3

The special characteristic of my new camera is its zoom capability; 84 times optical, or to 2,000mm equivalent for a 35mm camera.   It's certainly more than I can hold steady in my hand - to use that sort of magnification needs a tripod or some other physical stabiliser.  But it means that I have a fighting chance of being able to photograph some wildlife without having to get so close I scare it away.  Assuming that I spot it in the first place, of course.

This bird looks like a cormorant to me, and it was drying its wings on the Mayenne river near Laval the other day.  The wingtips are a bit blurry because it was flapping them about.  Unforgivable in a bird, I know, but there you have it.




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