Saturday 28 December 2013

Kitchen revamp - Still crazy?

We met our old plumber in the DIY shop today, which reminds me of a song.  The first thing he told us, with obvious enthusiasm, is that he will be retiring in a month, after all these years of work.  He suggested to his employer that he might like to go part-time, but apparently that's difficult, so he's looking at going independent (as an auto-entrepreneur, the nearest thing France has to self-employment).  He did really good work on our gîte installation so I told him that he should drop round with his business card if he takes the plunge.   He said that I didn't need to tell him that, since he knows where all the installations are....

For the new kitchen I chose to use high-density polythene water pipe, known as PER over here.  The pipes are cheaper than copper, but the fittings are more expensive.  You can use a variety of types of fittings, and I chose to use the ones our friendly plumber used in the gîte; ones that you fix using slip-rings.

To affix a slip-ring fitting, you first slide the ring onto the PER pipe, then stretch the diameter of the pipe so that you can slide the fitting into it, then use a special tool to force the slip-ring back over the pipe and onto the fitting.   You would not believe the number of times I forgot to slide the ring on first, only to discover that it will no longer go over the now-stretched pipe.  The only solution is to cut the pipe and start again.   I have not yet managed to get any of these fittings apart once put together, and they seem (touch wood) to be reliably watertight.

The blue box contains the kit of tools you need.The thing on the left with its handle in the air is the tool for stretching the pipe (you can see that it can cope with several different diameters of pipe).  The red thing is the pipe cutter and the rest of it is the tool and attachments for forcing the ring back onto the fitting.

This picture shows that part of the plumbing installation that will go under the kitchen sink.   It's reasonably compact and seems to be leak-proof.   For best rigidity you need copper, but I think PER will be fine for me.  (The blue pipe going off to the left is feeding water into the old kitchen for the time being.)

Thursday 26 December 2013


The law has recently been changed in France so that you don't need anyone's permission to put solar panels on your roof, and so, now that you don't need your plans to be approved, you can put them up exactly how you like.  This tasteful installation at Thoringé-en-Charnie, not far from us, graces the village centre, just opposite the church.

The little plaque by the door of the house announces that the occupier is an ébéniste; a worker in wood, that probably best translates as "cabinet-maker".  I wonder what his designs are like.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Kitchen revamp - 8

I'm a tad behind on reporting on kitchen progress, what with things like Christmas cropping up unexpectedly, and various end-of-term concerts involving the Harmonies and the music school.  So with apologies for being behind the times, here's the update on the next stage - the plasterboard wall.

The driver behind creating this wall is the need to create a small utility room next to the kitchen, achieved by walling off a small area.  So while I'm at it I might as well save some effort and use it to cover up the mess left by taking out the old bathroom, and its cupboard and tiles.   I decided to use a steel framework rather than wood, for no good reason other than that I've not done it before and it seems to be the way it's done these days.  So it's off to the DIY shop, buying the placo (plasterboard) and the steel rails (horizontal, attached to the floor and ceiling) and montants (vertical supports for the plasterboard, attached to the rails). Getting them home in the lorry was a new experience too, but I managed to keep the thing on the road, even though it didn't corner very well.

The steel frame parts attach to each other by means of a tool that cuts an oblong hole, bending the metal back to hold the parts together.  It doesn't need much force to get them to separate, but the plasterboard, once attached, gives the whole thing a surprising rigidity.  Although, I suppose, the wall hasn't not fallen down yet.   There was a deadline to the work too, since the plasterboard sheets had to be off the floor to make room for the kitchen units being delivered next week.   Here's the plasterboard waiting on the floor alongside the steel frame, and the first framework to hide the nasty remains of the old bathroom wall and tiles.  (The monstrosity covered in plastic is the new American-style fridge, waiting to fulfill its purpose in life)

After the support for the new outside wall, the framework for the wall to separate off the utility room can go up.  And once the frameworks are in place, the plasterboard can go up.   Here's the framework for the separating wall, and finally, the two walls with the plasterboard in place.  The end result feels solid and hides a multitude of sins.

The vertical edges of the plasterboard sheets are tapered, giving you some space to cover the join with paper to be held in place with filler.  (So it doesn't get visible cracks.)  So always ensure that any cut edges of plasterboard are at the ends of the wall and nowhere in between.  Oops.

Wednesday 18 December 2013


One gets accustomed to the differences between the French and British tax and legal systems, but sometimes the consequences of those differences can lead to outcomes that seem bizarre.

In the UK, you carry a personal responsibility to declare your income, and you are liable for tax and social security on it.  It is generally down to you, the individual, to be honest.  In France, the employer carries the responsibility, and is required to declare and make payments on your behalf.  These payments can be onerous, sometimes greater even than the base salary, and the crime of employée dissimulée  (hidden/clandestine employment) is on the books, with serious penalties, to dissuade people from dodging the system.

The term "employment" covers everything that you would expect, including what we would describe as self-employment, and for anything.  So if you're in France and your mower packs up and you pay me 20 quid for me to cut your lawn with my mower, you're breaking the law. (In the UK, the law would only be broken if I failed to declare the sum earned at the end of the tax year.)  It covers payment in kind too:  if instead of paying me twenty quid, you invite me to dinner, you're still guilty.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this law prohibits the normal intercourse between friends and neighbours.

This can have strange consequences for everyday life.  For example, I am a member of the Harmonie (wind band) at Sainte Suzanne, and the annual membership subscription is a token euro.  However, wives, husbands or partners of members are often invited to join in the functions, dinners, visits, etc.  So we pay 2 euros per year subscription so that if Anita helps out at any event, and gets a free drink or meal in return, the Harmonie can't be accused of the dreaded employée dissimulée, because she is a member too.

As another example, there was an altercation that hit the press a while back, between the powers that be and a Muslim woman. An investigation of her circumstances led to the discovery that her husband, although legally married only to the lady in question, had several other "wives" according to his religion.  One of the crimes he was then accused of was employée dissumulée, and I always wondered if this related to financial payments he made to his other partners, and whether the accusation would be of prostitution, house-cleaning, or perhaps restaurant services.   The implications for anyone having an extra-marital affair, which has been known to include French presidents, could be disastrous.

I was surprised to read an article in a paper today.  If I understand it correctly, a bar owner is being sued for employée dissimulée because it is the custom, at certain of his organised evening events, for clients to carry trays of used glasses back to the bar, thus being "employed" as waiters.  The criminal complaint having been found to have no merit, the suing party is now going for civil damages of several thousand euros.

Quite bemusing for those of us brought up to understand the word liberté as meaning something rather more... well, free.   I am also guessing that since tax and social security revenues are generally proportional to employment levels, someone, somewhere, is hurting for money.

Monday 9 December 2013

England visit

A quick trip to England, this weekend, flying visit for gift exchanges and spending some time with friends and family.  It might just be me, but got the impression that random strangers were more friendly than I am used to.  Camaradery in adversity?

My sister organised the first family dinner that I've been to for a while, her kids there, their respective partners, our Mum and her partner, we had four generations in all.  Nice to get everyone together in the same place, in Christmas or at least pre-Christmas spirit.

Thai meal with our London-based friends. I think I want to live for 3 or 4 months each year within walking distance of Wimbledon village so I can eat at the restaurants there.  Then the rest of the time I'd need to spend out here in the sticks to recover.  It's amazing how quickly an evening goes when you're with friends, talking about nothing in particular, downing some excellent wine as you go.   And their eldest is off to uni? How did that much time pass?

Shopping for the things you can't get in France is on the agenda of course.  Mostly spicy food, but I found that the DIY consumables are cheaper there - got some big tubes of glue that fit into those pump frames for 43p each in Tescos.  And high quality silicone sealant you can get over there for a fiver a pop, but you're lucky to see even average stuff here for much less than 10 euros.  Perhaps I need to shop around more.

There was a small display in Tesco's in aid of Diabetes UK.  They were trying to get people to pedal the exercise bikes far enough to send Santa up a mountain.  Or something.   A local bobby in full uniform was there, pedaling away doing his stuff.   I needed some exercise after all my recent foodie indulgences so I gave them 2 quid and did 200 calories in a bit over 20 minutes.  I don't know how far I went, but Santa got nearer to his mountain-top. It seemed odd to me that they were giving out mini sweet bars (Bounty, etc) in exchange for donations.   I wasn't sure that this was in line with the ethos of Diabetes UK, but, whatever, I took one of their mini minces pie afterwards and ate it with my Costa coffe.   I figured I'd earned it.

Tesco's car park used to be free for all comers, but too many people were using it to park all day for work, (surprise!!) so they restricted it to two hours, and only for customers.  I though two hours was a bit mean; we got out with three minutes to spare.  They give you all this stuff about having to pay 60 quid or so if you stay over the two-hour limit, but if they tried that on me they'd lose a lot more than 60 quid's worth of profit by the time I'd finished with them.

P.S. can you identify this house plant?  It was flowering in my Mum's conservatory.  I'm sure I've got a house-plant book somewhere that has a picture of this plant in it, but the house is upside-down at the moment and I can't find the book.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Kitchen revamp - 7

Well, the lights are up in the ceiling, and they seem to work.  I replaced the incandescent lights with LEDs and got a dimmer switch for them, that all seems to work.   You need a special type of dimmer for LEDs as opposed to incandescent lights, and the LEDs need to be of a type compatible with dimmers too.

The tiles are on the floor, I'm less happy about these.  Despite the use by the builder of self-leveling mortar, there was a slight but noticeable hollow in one part of the floor.  I compensated for this in the first line of tiles by putting extra cement under them, but it sagged a bit during the night.  Not a major problem, but the next row I put in next to them at the same height sagged also, so ended up slightly lower.  Not to be fooled twice, the row of tiles on the other side I raised up a little, but of course it didn't sag.  The grout hides a lot of the problem, but it's not as good as I would like.

Monday 2 December 2013

Madrid gardens

Our trip finished in Madrid so that Anita could attend the miniatures exhibition there, and while she was there I took the opportunity to visit the botanical gardens in the town centre.  They were started in 1781 by King Charles III who wanted a record of the plant species to be found in the Spanish colonies.  Stout fellow.

When I lived in Staines, I had an apple tree, Ballerina type, tall and slender.  You could judge the height of the paper boy each year by the height at which the remaining apples on the tree began.  So I was impressed that there were trees of edible fruits (persimmons and tangerines), with the fruit still on them, in a public park.  Mind you there was a 3 euro entrance fee, and a great big free park next door, so perhaps that keeps the riff-raff out.

Dahlias are an intensively cross-bred plant, yielding many different shapes and colours of flowers for the garden.  The park had an examples of the original Dahlia, much taller than the garden plant, but still with a simple beauty in the flowers.   And the tree was spotlit so I took a picture.

The trees were all in their autumn colours, and the day was clear, crisp and bright - you couldn't ask for better conditions for strolling around a park full of trees.  So I just strolled, enjoying the space, the relative quiet in the city centre, and took some photos.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Happy families

I saw this poster for a mobile phone service while I was in Madrid.  A Samsung Galaxy S4 for ten euros a month, with communications services thrown in.  Sounds good to me.  I have never seen anything as cheap as this in France.   In fact, it's a while since I read it, and I can't remember where, but I remember reading a claim that that France is the most profitable of the EU countries for mobile phone operators.

Now you don't pay roaming charges if you buy your phone in Hampshire, and 'roam' to Dorset.  So the Powers That Be in Europe, have decided that, since we're all one big happy family, you shouldn't have to pay international roaming charges to go from France to Spain, for example.  It will be interesting to see if this gets implemented in full, so that it really is just like going from Hampshire to Dorset - I imagine that the operators will do everything in their power to protect their margins.

But if it does come into play, I know where I'll be going for my phone if the offers in France aren't up to scratch.

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