Sunday 31 January 2010

Happy birthday, blog

Annual performance reviews, appraisals, call them what you like, they're an aspect of working life that I'm not sorry to have left behind. Of course, reviews of progress appear in various forms in all walks of life; for example, there's nothing like a set of annual accounts, to bring home how things have been going business-wise.

Well today is the birthday of my blog. Happy birthday! And today is as good a time as any to review it as an activity. So... why do I do it, what do I put into it, what do I get out, and do I want to continue it?

I started it for three reasons (in no particular order): 1) A friend told me it could get me some useful publicity for the gîte; 2) Some people I knew had one and I was curious as to why; and 3) I figured it would make my posting of comments on other blogs more of a reciprocal relationship.

What do I get out of it? Interesting conversations with people through their blogs, a kind of web-based pen-friend if you like. I also like to read it, to review my posts, look back on the events of the last year. And finally, more subtle, I tend to be more reflective on my day as it goes on. Perhaps I get a little more out of it, if I think about what I might say about what I am experiencing, in a blog.

***Newsflash*** I just thought of another benefit: No need to participate in the dreaded Christmas "round robin" letter. You want to know what I've been up to? Read the blog.

For the coming year? I will continue to use the blog to give my impressions of the day, the things that make me ponder, so it continues to be a personal account of life here. That might mean I post again about the same things as they come round in their annual rhythm, but then perhaps that's the best way to share the pattern of life here with you.

I hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

Thursday 28 January 2010


There are quite a few Brits living in the Mayenne. As I have noted before, some locals are failing to take full advantage of this happy situation. On the other hand, the lady who runs our local catering college is on the ball. Once per year, she organises an English brunch.

The idea is to give her students an insight into what might go into this special meal, and to give them practice in speaking English. They are only allowed to speak to us in English, and we are expected to respond likewise.

It's great. They get to practice their catering and English language skills in one go, and we get to enjoy a special breakfast/lunch meal. My only regret is not being able to sample all the things on show (a small fraction being shown here). And they even had today's English language newspapers (The Guardian and the International Herald Tribune). And all you can eat for 8 euros 50, which won't get you a couple of croissants and a coffee in some places. Just fantastic!

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Project - intermission

I passed the wild boar farm this afternoon, and saw this group of pigs snuggled up together against the cold. They all had their heads up and ears forward looking at the car as it passed, and they looked really cute.

When I stopped to get you a photo, they got up and ran away.


As an aside, the Google ad that appeared on my screen after making this post, runs as follows: "Pig Detector. Search Thousands of Catalogs for Pig Detector" The mind boggles. Are pigs hard to detect, perhaps? What's that big pink thing with a snout running towards me, squealing blue murder?... let me consult my pig detector, just in case....I carry it with me all the time, for just this kind of situation. But it's obviously a popular item, since I can search thousands of catalogues for it...

Project - phase 3

The next phase of the project, once the floor has been leveled, is to put down the insulation and then lay out the pipes and heat conductors. The floor is then ready for the concrete.

Saturday 23 January 2010

Who moved my cheese? - a rant

I don't get wound up by many things, but I do get wound up (only a tad) by misleading marketing. And I include packaging of goods in that. Now I appreciate that marketeers are not allowed to tell downright lies. Amongst other things, it's against the law. But that doesn't stop them giving misleading impressions whilst telling the truth. And when that happens I get annoyed.

So let me invite you to look at this Christmas present I received this year. A lovely pot of blue Stilton cheese retailed by Marks and Spencer. It comes in a nice pot that I take to be earthenware. Excellent cheese it is too, it was delicious. Nothing I am about not say detracts from the quality of the produce. But look at the pot, and look at how high up the cheese comes in it.

Depending on how you take the measurements, and what you consider to be usable space, something between 1/3 and 1/2 of the pot was full of air. Not cheese, air. (To be accurate, there was some wax as well)

And I don't care that it's clearly stated on the label that there's 200g of cheese in there. If I had bought the cheese, I'd think I had been swindled. If they have nothing to hide, they can put a line on the pot and a note saying "cheese comes up to here".

Normal service will be resumed shortly. Please do not adjust your browser. Thank you for listening. Spleen now fully vented.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Project - intermission

The thinnest floor heating systems are electrical: the wires that generate the heat are thin. Warm water systems have to be thicker because the pipes are thicker. Normally, you lay down the insulation, put the pipes on top, and cover the whole lot in a good thickness of concrete skim.

Here is a picture of the system planned for my room, that is a little different. The grey polystyrene provides the insulation, and offers channels for the heating pipes. However the pipes are cradled within steel heat conductors that wrap around the pipe and conduct the heat evenly across the surface. With this method you can use a thinner layer of concrete on top, and the whole thing only takes up a few centimetres.

The trailer? The fridge packed up, so it's carrying a new fridge.

Monday 18 January 2010

Project - phase 2

Dig up the floor. We discover that the screed isn't a uniform thickness, and some areas are therefore too thin for the heating system. Hmm, I wonder how we will deal with that....

Sunday 17 January 2010

Project - phase 1

There is no getting away from the fact that this little corner of France is cold in Winter. The house is currently heated by wall-mounted electric radiators, plus a new wood-burning stove in the lounge, and the long-term project is to replace all the electric heating with heat from the central wood-burning boiler that currently heats only the gîte.

So, beginning with the living room, a warming project is under way. Most of the wall space has items of furniture in front of it, so wall-mounted radiators won't work. The solution, that has been in plan since the renovation of the gîte, is for underfloor heating. The installation project starts (or should) on Monday.

Meanwhile, preparation. Empty the lounge with some kind help from friendly neighbours, take down the wooden skirting and clean the soot off the walls preparatory to painting.

I wonder if the workmen will turn up on Monday.. place your bets...

The lounge full of furniture, and empty...

Take off the wooden skirting.....

Ladders to access the smoky top of the wall to clean it... then we're ready....

Thursday 14 January 2010

A laugh a day keeps the doctor away

I just thought I'd share this blog with my readers. I read it every day, and it always makes me laugh. So if you need a pick-me-up at any time, here's your link.

Wednesday 13 January 2010


The hour-long snow-storm yesterday turned to sleet by the early evening, and the whole lot froze during the night. The roads were covered this morning in a layer of ice, and all goods vehicles, buses and coaches were banned from French roads until around mid-morning today. At last, a thaw has now set in.

Jean-Claude has parked his car in my car park early this morning, since it is impossible that he would get safely down into the canyon. So once the morning fog has cleared I go out into the sunshine to seek him out. In truth my main reason for going out is to enjoy the sun and relative warmth of the thaw, but J-C is also a collector of badges, pins to be precise, and the wife found one that we acquired a while back in Canada, when they were bidding for the Winter Olypmics. So when I find Jean-claude I can give him the pin.

I meet him half-way up the hill and we discuss the weather. It seems I got off lightly yesterday evening. I was driving back from Montsurs, and got back at about 8:30. He also came back from the same area, but just a little later, about 9:00 by which time the roads had frozen. He came back at a crawl and it took him ages.

We are chatting beside the field with the aurochs in, and they are standing around, staring at us. "They're thirsty" says J-C. "How do you know?" I ask myself, but he is right: their water barrel is frozen over and there is nothing for them to drink. He has left a big wooden beam in the barrel and the ice has frozen around it, so that even if the ice is thick, he can move it, exposing the water underneath. Just as soon as he does this, the aurochs have their noses in the barrel, and are slurping away.

On the trail of the lesser-spotted Jean-Claude (because I don't spot him all that often)

Got a drink, mate?

Just the ticket

Tuesday 12 January 2010


Today is Tuesday, and normally this afternoon I would visit my friend Alain the guitarist to make some music, but his milking machine has frozen up, he has spent all morning thawing it, and so he is behind with his work. This gives me an opportunity to work on a little DIY project that has been gently nagging me for far too long.

I have to heat the gîte during the Winter to keep the condensation away. It doesn't have to be very warm, say 10-12 degrees or so, but even so it does consume fuel and it's sensible to economise where possible. The dining room has a fireplace that makes for a lovely cheery fire when it's lit, but, in the traditional way of these things, it is under a chimney that leads straight up into the open air. If I look up it, I can see the cobwebs swaying gently in the warm breeze of wasted heat. So I need something to block it up when it's not in use.

There are some old bits of iron hanging at the back of the fireplace that used to hold pots and things for cooking. I will leave them in place because I like them, so I'll need to take this into account. I have bought the necessary components recently: a big bit of plywood about the same size as the hole, and some draft excluder like a long thin brush to go around the edge. Some nice metal handles I had already, left over from a previous project.

So, first attach the handles to the plywood, and then the draft excluder around the edge on the other side, and it's ready for use. There is also a bit of draft excluder around the cut-out for the hooks.

Finally, put it in place. You can't see it from inside the room, but it's there, keeping the place less drafty than before. Job done! The cost? About 1.5% of my annual fuel bill. So even if it only gives a saving of 1.5% of the heat lost by the building, the payback period is a year. I reckon personally, that what is effectively an open window, about 3/4 of a square metre in area, will probably account for much more than 1.5% of a building's lost heat. I don't know how much exactly, but I have this feeling that perhaps I should have done this project sooner....

Sunday 10 January 2010

Local authority

The field opposite my place came up for sale a couple of years ago, and the local mayor, in his capacity on the local council, bought it. He swapped a bit of it with the local farmer in exchange for a 3-metre wide strip of land alongside the river.

He then negotiated with the owner of the Hardray Mill at the end of this strip, for a public right of way across his land, which was granted in exchange for the creation of a vehicle-accessible access road to the mill, that also happened to make it much more saleable.

As a result, there is now a footpath that leads from the river by my house, all the way to St Pierre, and that is the background to my walk today.

This is the footpath alongside the river.

The Hardray mill, still for sale.

The new mill access road

Thursday 7 January 2010


Not a promising start to the day. Cold, grey and overcast. I spent the morning wrestling with my PC, trying to persuade it that it really does have a scanner connected to it. But I looked up from my desk at lunchtime and discovered a cloudless sky, glorious sunshine, and no wind. Perfect for a walk in the snow.

I know that some of my readers have had quite enough snow for the time being. But anyway, you can join me on my walk if you like.

The Aurochs in the field just down the road seemed to be happy enough, munching their hay. And the crags in the canyon seemed be outlined like chalet roofs by the snow.

The way the sunlight played on the water, and the little rocky pools outlined by the snow makes me think of water nymphs.

The sunlight was streaming down at the end of this tree tunnel, as if you were about to walk into tropical heat. And Frosty was waiting to greet me just outside a farmhouse on my way home.

The lime kiln is covered in snow, and there are icicles that have formed inside its tunnels.

These evil-looking sheep (noble-looking?) graze at the top of the cliffs. A bit farther on, my path home always rewards me with a view down into the river valley.

And finally, down to the old mill and across the river to get back home.

Friday 1 January 2010

Christmas break

Here's a few images for you of the Christmas break. No dynamic, energetic undertakings, just Christmas at home with some good friends and their children. Playing flute duets with daughter, bridge with son. Walks together down the canyon one frosty morning, a nice Christmas lunch. Swimming in the warm pool, playing a simple game of catch and throw.

A frosty morning highlights the patterns in the grass.

Playing shadows on the grass during our walk in the canyon, and a view of home from the other side. You wouldn't think there was a river valley with cliffs between here and the house, would you?

The morning is still misty when we get back home but there is a turkey roast waiting.

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