Saturday, 6 October 2018


My neighbour Louis has a smallholding, and keeps sheep.  He gave me a big trailer-full of sheep manure this springtime, and I planted squashes and melons on it.  I got a decent harvest too, and I gave some to Louis.

Yesterday I collected a couple of loads of manure, and started spreading it on the veg patch, ready for Springtime planting.  We have had a very dry year here, after a very wet start to the season.   I have a well, so I was able to keep things going, but the ground is hard, and I can't dig up the potatoes that are still in the ground.

I got good crops of tomatoes, and the shallots and garlic did well, onions less so.  Plenty of squash (thanks to Louis) and French beans.  Enough potatoes too.   Runner beans were a failure; plenty of flowers but few beans, and I was disappinted by the sweet corn - I found it hard to pick it at the right time, and it came out a bit chewy and not especially sweet.  The best cob I had was the first one I picked, and that I ate raw - very sweet and juicy.  The blackbirds got most of the gooseberries, as usual.

Incidentally, Louis has some crocus flowering.  I don't know if there are Autumn flowering crocus, or they are normal Spring ones, confused by our strange weather.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

New norms and standards

A change in the standard for electrical mains plugs sockets in Europe has crept up on me.  I didn't notice until I tried to push a plug into a socket and it wouldn't go.

A few months ago my PC got fried by a lightning strike, so I had to buy a new one.  The old PC was a laptop with its own batteries; the new one is a Dell all-in-one design (with the computer's workings mounted behind the screen, like a telly), that doesn't have a battery.  One of the first things that the new PC did was insist on a BIOS upgrade, and you don't want the power to cut off while that is happening.   We get power cuts often enough that I sweated for a few minutes while the upgrade went ahead, and so I decided to solve the problem with a UPS.

A UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply, or French: un onduleur) cuts in when the mains power cuts out, and supplies enough power from its internal battery, for long enough to allow you to shut down the PC.  I bought one, plugged it in, charged it up, connected the PC to it, fired up the PC, then unplugged the UPS from the wall socket.  The UPS kicked in, the PC carried on as if nothing had happened, so all was well.

Then I tried to plug in a different mains cable, and it wouldn't go.  Turns out that there is a new standard FR/SCHUKO that applies to mains plugs and sockets.  The system is backwards compatible in that new plugs will go into old-style sockets, but old plugs won't go into new sockets.  The old style sockets have an earth pin that sticks out, so that the first thing you touch if you touch anything at all is the earth.   Double-insulated devices that don't need an earth connection just use a slim plug that avoids the earth pin.

The new sockets dispense with the earth pin and have a pair of sprung contacts that go down the side instead.  It's these contacts that prevent the old style plugs going into the sockets.

Apparently, it's about safety, but I'm not convinced.

Monday, 1 October 2018

The 135-year celebration

Mr & Mrs Oger run the Hotel du Commerce in Vaiges.  Mr Oger is the chef and runs the kitchen, Mrs Oger keeps front of house.  We have reason to be grateful to them; they introduced the Morgan Owners' Club to us, who have stayed with us on numerous occasions.  Their hotel has been in the family for 5 generations now, and the time had come for a serious celebration of this fact.

Coincidentally, Mr Oger had re-established a friendship from his youth with another chef, Jean-Luc Boulay, who is native to this area; they did some of their apprenticeships together at the same restaurant in St Pïerre des Nids.  Life took them in different directions.  Mr Oger took over the Hotel du Commerce, and Mr Boulay, on hearing that they were short of chefs for the Olympics in Quebec (1976?), bought himself a one-way ticket to Canada, met a Canadian girl, and stayed.  He runs a restaurant there, and is a well-known "celebrity" chef.  They met again at a cooking course in Paris.

The form of celebration was, unsurprisingly, a special dinner, prepared jointly by Mr Oger, and M Boulay who had come over specially for the event.  Two dinners, in fact (Friday and Saturday evenings), preceded by a display and sampling of the local products to be used in preparing the meals.  It was a celebration of French and Canadian cooking styles, most courses being served in the two corresponding styles.  6 courses, plus coffee - Delicious.  A fitting celebration of food preparation, friendship, and long-term service to the public.

Mrs Oger confided to us that she had been concerned about filling all the tables; the Mayenne is not known for its gourmets.   But on the night we were there, she had (if I recall correctly) More than 115 people against a minimum needed of 90, so she was happy.   So were we.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Mill destruction

We continue our house-hunting efforts, looking for our retirement home, in the hope that we will sell our current place in the next five years or so.   We went to see an ex-watermill not far from a small village called Préau.  It comprises four buildings that were rebuilt  about 40 years ago,  two of them in columbage, which is unusual for the Mayenne.  They are really very pretty.

The river, however is a disaster, and any energy-generating potential it had has been destroyed (although it could of course, in principle, be rebuilt).  The excuse is increased health of fish life in the river, which argument seems scientifically doubtful, but the reason, I suspect, is that the state wants to claim the right to generate electricity, in, say, 30 years' time.

There are four buildings in all; the main house, two independent dwellings (one with a kitchen) and a shed, plus ten hectares of managed forest.  Although the buildings are beautiful, in the end we reckon that three separate living spaces isn't going to suit our lifestyle as we get older.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Lost luggage

I'm not sure that the english translation of the french is quite as reassuring as it's supposed to be.  (Click to enlarge)

Health warnings

.. and what to do about them.

We had a family group in the gîte this weekend, and the smokers all had the same design of fag case, but with different-coloured hearts.   Ah yes, perhaps it's supposed to remind us of heart disease.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The cat

About a week ago, the cat didn't come in in the morning.  This is unusual; he is a creature of habit.  Normally, he comes in, eats breakfast then sleeps in the warm bedroom until lunchtime, when he comes down for lunch.  He then sleeps the afternoon off in the conservatory, since that is now the warmest room in the house.  He goes out in the evening to prowl (and fight).

He didn't come in for lunch either, nor in the evening.  Most unusual.  Search parties were sent out.  Cats when they are injured will often hide themselves under a bush until they die or get better.  So another evening search was undertaken just before bedtime; and this time the calls to the cat were answered by a meow coming from under a hedge outside our bottom gate.  After a few exchanges of cat-calls, he presented himself, tail between his legs.

Injured tail.  He couldn't lift it up, it was clearly painful to move it.  He couldn't easily sit down because that lifted the tail, so he tended to flop down sideways and curl the tail around himself.   An x-ray at the vet's showed nothing broken, but over the next few days it became clear that he had no sensation in the tip of the tail, and the tail was becoming rigid as it died. 

A second trip to the vet resulted in a shaved tail revealing broken skin along its length.  It looks like he has pulled it and scraped it, and the nerve broke at some point.   He's having it snipped today.  Here is a photo of him with full-length tail.  I will spare him the indignity of publishing a picture of what he looks like at the moment.

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