Monday, 22 July 2019

A night at the opera

For the last three years, at the Chateau Linières, about a 15 minute drive away, they have put on an opera.   There is an orchestra of professional musicians, the performers are professionals, and they all do it for free.  It costs €10 to get in, and you sit on the grass to watch.  You can pay extra to sit on benches or chairs, but they are at the back, so you get a better view (and sound; there is no amplification) from the cheap seats.  It really is excellent.

This year it was Il Trovatore, a particularly nasty tale that ends with a guy killing his long-lost brother in a misguided act of revenge.   The opera is staged in the open air, and gets postponed or cancelled if it rains.  This year, the Thursday performance was moved to Friday as the only rain to fall in a 3-week drought and heat wave, decided to arrive that night.





Sunday, 14 July 2019

More DIY

I have a few DIY projects to attack during this period when the gîte is not very busy.  One of them is to fix a leak in the central heating.

When installing the heating, I chose a form of tubing that the French call multicouche, to circulate the hot water to the radiators. The decision was made on the basis that multicouche was for sale in the DIY shop, and is supposed to work.  The connectors, although relatively expensive at about 4 or 5 euro each, can be bought in a push-fit version, which makes connecting up the pipes a piece of cake ("simple comme bonjour").  In the sure and certain hope that these push-fit connectors would be watertight I made some joints in the ceiling, that ended up behind some plasterboard.  This turned out to be a mistake, since in my case, one leaked.

This morning I cut out some plasterboard to take a look, and disconnected the leaking pipe.  I don't want to replace all the piping, so I will replace the joints with different connectors that are clamped in place with a big pair of pincers.  I am hoping that I have cut a big enough hole in the plasterboard to properly wield the pincers, that are quite big.


The mower, since you ask, is still not working.  I thought that I had a flat battery, but no amount of recharging or jump leads could get the starter motor to turn the engine over anything like fast enough.   The starter motor is knackered; the brushes are shot.  I was hoping to get a replacement set together with the mounting plate (shown here, price should be about €30), but they don't seem to supply them separately, despite what it says in the Kohler engine manual.   So it looks like I'm in for a new starter motor (about €120).




Monday, 8 July 2019

Water, water everywhere

With the increasing tendency to suffer drought in Summer, I have installed a system of semi-automatic watering in the veg patch.  It comprises ordinary garden hose (the most expensive part of the project) to distribute the water, into which are screwed at intervals, little nozzles that spray the water out.  It seems to be very effective.

The initial design had hoses placed along the middle of the raised beds, with red nozzles that spray water through 360°.   This system has the disavantage that, with the hose loosely stapled in place, it's difficult to hoe underneath it, so I ended up with a line of weeds down the middle of the bed.  I am experimenting this year with (green) nozzles that spray out through 180°, and mounting the hose on the wooden sides of the beds.


In other gripping news,  the tomatoes are growing strongly, they are now covered in flowers, but I might have planted them a bit too close together: it could be difficult to harvest the tomatoes that grow in the middle of this thicket.   The squash plants are also doing very well, with one immature fruit setting already.

I did shallots again this year and they're looking good, but my red onion sets I think I might have  planted too early because they are all running to seed.  I guess I'll harvest it and grow from seed next year.

I tried florence fennel for the first time, just a short row of it, and that is looking good.   And the Zinnas for no other reason than that I like the flowers.



Friday, 5 July 2019

Lawn unto itself

My ride-on mower has been playing up.  It's my fault.   An air filter broke, and let all sorts of dried grass bits into the air intake, along with the broken bit of rubber off the air filter.  The mower would run for anything from 30 seconds to an hour or so, then stop.

The symptoms were very like the engine running too rich:  the motor starts to sound rough, then starts emitting smoke, then coughs and dies.   The spark plugs were sooty.   So I took a good look at the air intake and carburettor, and fished out the piece of rubber I found inside it.  Put the whole lot back together again, and hey presto!  Nothing.  For good measure I replaced the fuel pump, but to no avail.


So I took it all apart again, took the carb off and cleaned it.  Some of the little channels were blocked with powdered grass, so I cleaned them as best I could, not having an air jet.    I couldn't get the float chamber screws off but I tested it by blowing in the fuel intake (yes, air goes in) and then turning it upside-down (yes, air stops going in)  Possibly not very healthy, but it worked, and it also confirmed that the main jet isn't blocked.  Put it all back together again.  Still no va.


I was surprised to see the spark generating mechanism: a magnet mounted on the flywheel passes two coils (one per spark plug) so the timing is fixed, and the spark doesn't depend on the state of the battery.  There is a spark in both plugs, so that's not the problem.

Fuel is getting into the cylinders because I made sure the float chamber is full by putting a funnel on the fuel line, and also because I can smell it when the engine turns over.  I'm a bit stumped now, and the situation is not helped by a feeble battery that only just turns the engine over, and then only for a short time.  I've been jumping it from the car, but that doesn't work for long either.

Might have to call in a pro.  Rats.  Meanwhile I'm cutting the grass with the trusty walk-behind mower.  It takes a while, but at least it works.  Seems a bit heavy on the back, for some reason.




Friday, 21 June 2019

Design flaw

They have replaced the old metal shopping carts at our favourite supermarket with ones made largely of plastic.  These new ones are lighter and easier to maneuver, but they have a flaw:  when you hang off the back and scoot them along, they tip up.  When they're full of shopping, the weight keeps them horizontal, so you can scoot them out of the shop, but not in.  Big problem.


Thursday, 20 June 2019

Competition

We have Nespresso machines for coffee.  We were getting fed up with spreading ground coffee everywhere whenever we made a cup, and decided that this new-fangled system would solve the problem.  So we have a machine for the house and a "pro" machine (takes a different shape of capsule so people don't nick them from work for their home machines) for the gîte, and have had these machines for a few years.

I'm getting the impression that Nespresso are suffering a bit from competition in this market.  I've noticed a few brands of compatible capsules on the market, and Nespresso have launched a new different-shaped capsule, incompatible with the old machines, and for which there is no competition at present.  We buy our capsules as needed, a system that works fine.  But now, Nespresso are encouraging us to pay a fixed amout each month to build up a credit that we can call down at will.  Er, no thanks.

We have had occasional problems with the pro machine, and have always called out a fixer to fix it.  Doesn't cost too much and the machine is reliable enough, generally speaking.  But now we have been obliged to take out a service contract.   This entitles us to one call-out per year I think, but it's not something we would have done without duress.

All signs of increasing competition.

So what do you do if you want to break in to this market, established by Nespresso?  Well, compatible capsules is one possibility, or you could try marketing your own brand of proprietory capsules and corresponding machines.  (You might try both, of course)   Here's a picture of a new proprietory system and introductory offer that I noticed in our gîte food supplier recently.



Basically, you buy 150 of their coffee capsules and you get a free machine.  Since that means that your coffee costs you €0.286 (+VAT) per capsule it comes out cheaper than Nespresso, and you don't have to fork out anything for a new machine.  If you don't like the coffee, you can just ditch the machine; all you have to do is drink 150 cups of it.  And how bad can it be?  And how do you combat that as a tactic for someone who wants to break into your market?

Friday, 14 June 2019

Masquerade

The Masquerade rose seems jubilant this year.


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