Friday 30 December 2016

Tuesday 27 December 2016

Christmas catus

On time this year (well, almost)

Monday 26 December 2016

Oranges and lemons

I'm in two minds about this one.

Mobile phone networks have trouble ensuring that coverage is available absolutely everywhere, and our area is not well covered.   The restaurant down the road is even worse off, because they are at the bottom of a steep-sided valley, and hardly any electromagnetic waves get down there.  

Luigi, who runs the restaurant, has decided thet he would like to enhance the network coverage available to his customers, and Orange can provide a small, indoor, wall-mounted box that will give network coverage in a small area.  He got one; here is a picture of it on his wall.

As I understand it, in summary, Orange get to improve their network coverage and gain whatever revenues and improved customer satisfaction that comes from the enhanced network;  they use Luigi's internet connection (for free) to carry the resulting network traffic, and Luigi gets to pay for the box.  Nice work if you can get it.  Anita thinks I'm just a grumpy old man.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Aesop's fables by Jean de la Fontaine

Le Cerf et la Vigne

Un cerf, à la faveur d'une vigne fort haute,
Et telle qu'on en voit en de certains climats,
S'étant mis à couvert et sauvé de trépas,
Les veneurs, pour ce coup, croyaient leurs chiens en faute.
Ils les rappellent donc.  Le cerf, hors de danger,
Brute sa bienfaitrice ; ingratitude extrême !
On l'entend, on retourne, on le fait déloger :
     Il vient mourir en ce lieu même.
     J'ai mérité, dit-il, ce juste châtiment :
Profitez-en, ingrats. Il tombe en ce moment.
La meute en fait curée ; il lui fut inutile
De pleurer aux veneurs à sa mort arrivés.

Vraie image de ceux qui profanent l'asile
Qui les a conservés.

Sunday 18 December 2016

Panne de chauffage

We had guests in the gîte this weekend, 29 in total, and we prepared a special birthday dinner on Saturday night, and a brunch on Sunday morning.  They were very happy.

One of the things you don't need to discover on a cold night, when in the middle of cooking and serving an evening meal for 29 guests, is that the heating system has stopped.   Strategy for dealing with it: switch the hot water to electric immersion heater so that people will at least be able to shave and shower in the morning; carry on serving the meal as if all is well; see if the heating can be fixed once the meal is done and dusted.

So at midnight, I'm diagnosing the boiler, taking the wood feeding mechanism apart, and fishing out the pictured wodge of wood that is far outside of the specs the supplier is supposed to stick to, (AA battery for size comparison,) and that has jammed the system,   Then restarting the boiler, making sure all is well before retiring at 1.00AM.  The guests never noticed a thing.

Wednesday 14 December 2016


I have been present at two subsidised meals in the run-up to Christmas.

The first was a Christmas tradition common in many French villages; a lunch for the oldies of the commune.  Being over 60, we both qualify this year, and we were not in England as we have been in previous years, so we went along.

The food was prepared by local volunteers, and the table decorations created by the children in the local school.  It was explained to me how this gives the kids a sense of community and involvement in the village, as well as a feeling of obligation to look after the "seniors".

The colour theme of the table decorations was silver and gold, furnishings of silver- and gold-coloured ornaments were provided by the school kids, with carefully-handwritten menus rolled up and tied with raffia, decorated on the reverse side with stylised trees in the same colours.  The table runner in brown wrapping paper provided a gold background.  Place holders with our names on were made from carefully-selected autumn leaves.

The meal itself was superb, beginning with a natter and fizz around apéros provided by the mayor, and then a starter that was a complete novelty to me; scallops served with a slice of Parmesan on a mound of egg custard.  Extraordinaryand delicious.  Main course was quail, seasoned on the skin and stuffed with dried fruits, follwed by a ripe Camembert with salad, and then a home-made fruit and nut cake topped with an apricot jelly.   Our ex-mayor, who was sat opposite me, explained that he had done his best when in office, to ensure that if the meal was going to be done, it would be done well.  His legacy continues.

I noticed a guy sitting a little way down from me, in his late 80s I would guess.  After each course his plate was clean, and I mean it looked like it had just been washed.  Even with the quail that inevitably results in some detritus on the plate, the bones looked like they had been sand-blasted.  I got the impression that he has known hunger.

The second meal was a dinner, organised to mark the end of season for the wind band, the Harmonie of Ste Suzanne.  Again, subsidised for the musicians, it's an opportunity to thank the players (and their families for the time they spend away), and to recognise contributions from individual members.  There were several long service awards, but the standing ovation was reserved for Claude, for 70 years of playing in the Harmonie.  He must have started young.

I have the impression that rural France at least, is better prepared than most for the return of small community living in a post-oil age.

Thursday 8 December 2016

Friendly meal

For a meeting with a friend of Anita's we chose The Crab Shack for lunch.  A small restaurant on the sea front at Worthing, it served us all excellent seafood.    We took a very short stroll around the town before eating.  This busking trumpeter played very well, to a cheesy pre-recorded accompaniment.  There's a lot of recorded accompaniments on the market these days, and for various instruments; some of them are cheesy, but it's the quality of the live performance that counts, and although the tunes he was playing weren't technically difficult, the sound was superb.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Coastal walk with little sis

A bright, sunny, late afternoon, just before sundown.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Trumpetty trump

Anita wondered if they sell trump cards?

Thursday 1 December 2016

A leisurely walk on a bright crisp day

The façade of the new museum looks shiny and new (because it is).  Some of the mill barrages on the Erve are open at this time of year "to clear the river of mud", but not, apparently, this one.

Frost on the leaves, and a deep blue sky reflection in the river.

Another view of the museum, and a feline lord of all he surveys.

Wednesday 30 November 2016


I have enough oak planks to finish one side of the compost heap, but not the rest.  So I went to our local DIY to price up something to make up the other dividers.   A cheap option would be to use chicken wire, but I have concerns that it would get damaged too easily, so if wood cladding is not too much more expensive, I'll use that instead.

French for cladding: bardage (m), and the cheapest bardage at the DIY is treated pine - it looks solid enough, it's identified as "bardage agri" (presumably for agricultural use), and it's just under 9 euro the square metre - not too bad.   I need just a bit more that 2m square per divider, so we're looking at say 20 euro per divider.   Only it's not expected back in stock until mid-December.  I will have to wait.

I looked up the verb barder, and the most common usage appears to be in the phrase "ça va barder", which means something like "sparks will fly", "there'll be trouble", or if you prefer "the shit will hit the fan".   Alternatively it describes loading something up, or covering e.g. a chicken with bacon, or armouring a horse or person.   You always wanted to know that, didn't you?

Anyway, here's the outer side of the compost heap, clad in rustic oak panels and finished in Cuprinol "Woodland Green" waterproofer.

Monday 28 November 2016

What are politicians for?

The Archdruid in his weekly report last Thursday defended the virtues of trade barriers and customs tarrifs between trading countries.  It's an unusual argument to hear today, when free trade is widely accepted, in economic terms, as being beneficial.  He argues that trade barriers between countries help establish a trade equilibrium, and he observes that free trade between nations has resulted in the past, and is resulting today, in enormous inequalities in wealth, along with increased poverty.

Donald Trump has persuaded Ford not to transfer their small car production to Mexico where costs are lower.  This is good news for American Ford workers, but bad news for Mexicans.  Mexicans on average will be poorer; the American car workers will be richer, and the American public will be slightly poorer, having to pay more for their Fords.  Economists will tell you that as a result, mankind overall is worse off as a result.

Let's imagine a large island, a continent that is a single country.  Business goes on as usual.  Goods are traded freely across its entire surface, people move about according to their desires and money flows where it will within the border.  This is normal national management and it proceeds as well as the government of the day can make it.

Now let's imagine that accidents of history, war and politics have resulted in this same continent being divided into three different countries, each taking about 1/3 of the area, with borders dictated by nothing but the hazards of time and chance.  Suddenly trade barriers between these areas are a good thing?  Why should that be?  Our Archdruid argues that they reduce inequality, and he might well be right, but what is the difference between our continent of one country, and the same continent divided into three countries, that necessiates trade barriers in order to reduce inequality?

Britain comprises three nations: England, Wales and Scotland.  When Wales play Scotland at rugby, it's an international match.  The three nations form a free trade area, with monetary union, free movement of goods, services and people, and it has been successful for .... well, a long time.  It's so transparent that many people forget that it is a successful example of monetary union and free trade between nations.   The difference between Britain and our hypothetical continent of three countries is that Britain is centrally governed, and has a central and universal tax system; fiscal union.

When companies are free to move money into different countries with different tax regimes and different costs of business, the money tends to flow to the most advantageous place and stay there.  What doesn't happen is that it gets freely distributed around the countries where the company operates, and it doesn't get taxed everywhere either.   (Apple for example sits on an enormous cash pile held outside of the USA, and has, I believe, borrowed money in the USA because it's cheaper than paying the tax).

Is this the root cause of the increasing transfer of wealth to the 1% (or 0.1%)?    Does this mean that the people arguing for fiscal union in Europe are right?   Noting as an aside that the tragedy of the commons applies to the planet as a whole and not just bits of it, do we need a world government?

Thursday 24 November 2016

Compost progress

The compost heap project is progressing.  I have concreted in the four posts that mark the corners of the first area, and marked one with the Hand of Sauron to ward off evil spirits.

The sides are being prepared, the idea being to create a faintly rustic effect by using the old unfinished oak fence panels.  They don't look very promising (they're starting to rot), but I'll dry them off, slather them with wood preserver, and paint them with green Cuprinol on the outside, and black creosote on the inside.   The far plank on the trestles is as rescued from the garden, the near one has been worked on to take off the worst of the surface rot.

You can see the current compost heap behind the posts.  It's big.   Once the new area is properly in place I can shred the outer layers of compost and deploy the good stuff underneath around the garden.

Saturday 19 November 2016


Our wood-burning stove has a door on the side that allows you to insert the special chestnut-roasting pan that we bought at a craft fair about 20 years ago and hadn't used since.  You can't see the chestnuts on the pan in the first picture, but the flash kind of destroys the ambience.

Friday 18 November 2016

New rotated barrier

Some tme ago I mentioned the new automatic barriers being installed just down the road.   I noticed at the time that they were installed such that the barrier wouldn't obstruct the road, but went up and down along the length of the road instead.

Well, the actual barriers have been installed, and the mountings have been rotated so that the barrier will in fact block the road when it is down.  I hope that thing was easy to move.  The little sensor that I take to be infra-red, is now not facing the sensor on the other side of the road.  I assume that it has a wide enough angle of operation to still work.

On the rest for the barrier on the opposite side of the road is what I take to be an electromagnet.  They're not taking any chances on people lifting the thing up by hand, eh?

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Waste of energy

As my regular reader will know, we are looking for a mill to buy, the idea being to put it back into use, specifically to generate electricity.   We looked at a pretty mill not long ago.  It's on a small river not all that far from its source, so I thought that it wouldn't generate very much power.  On the other hand, the wheel is fed from above, which makes for more efficient operation.

I had a look at the diversion of water from the main stream that would feed it; it was a bit overgrown with reeds and rushes, and perhaps on a neighbouring property but nothing that couldn't be worked with.  The wheel itself has been restored by a group of local enthusiasts, and there is a little plaque on it to this effect.

So I asked the agent to ask the owner about the water, its access from the river and what power the wheel might produce.  It turns out that the wheel is not powered by the river any more but by water that is pumped back up above it using an electric pump, just to turn the wheel for decoration.


Tuesday 8 November 2016

Sunday 6 November 2016


There was a presentation on the traditional music of the Mayenne, given in the château of Ste Suzanne today.   Broadly, it is similar to folk music the world over: songs to spread the news, bawdy wedding night songs, and songs to help pass the time while doing the boring routine tasks of peasant life.  So we heard the news of the murder of the preacher in Entrammes (it really did happen), and the song about the lady with the limp going off to market with a basket of goods that disappears (eggs roll away, geese fly off, etc), in a growing list akin to One Man Went to Mow, or the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The little group featured a hurdy-gurdy, an instrument you don't see (or hear) much of these days.   The example here featured six strings; four of them each sound a fixed note, and the other two are stopped by a set of keys to create different pitches.   All of the strings sound for all of the time while the handle is turning;  the effect is very similar to that of bagpipes, which perhaps accounts for the instrument's lack of popularity.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Autumn Squash

The green/orange ones are from seeds I collected from a like commercial pumpkin last year; the green stripey ones are from seeds I bought, and the butternut squashes are from seeds from last year's crop.  Not a giant harvest, but plenty for everyone except mad fans of pumpkin soup.   We even managed to get rid of some, I mean we served some delicious pumpkin-based recipies, to some of our gîte clients.

I have bought some commercial seeds for next year, and I will grow them (or at least plant them) in the newly-cleared area under the big walnut tree out the front.   That way they won't interfere with the main veg area that is having a face-lift.

Sunday 30 October 2016

The compost heap

There is a compost heap to the side of the vegetable area, and I have to admit that I don't manage it very well.  As a result it has been growing without limit for about ten years now, and there's no more room for it to expand.  So I had better get to grips with it.   The plan is to create a concreted, walled area, divided into sections, each one with compost in various states of maturation, all neat and tidy.  Yeah right.  But it's as well to start with good intentions.

Since the new heap will be in the same place as the current one, I will have to do the project in stages, moving part of the current heap out of the way, puttng the new area in its place, then moving some of the current heap into the new space, and so on, progressing along until it's all finished.

In order to make the first bit of space, I have to get the compost out of the current heap and put it somewhere in the garden.  The best use I can make of it is probably in the veg patch, so as part of the Veg Patch Develoment Scheme, I have to make a raised bed there to take the new compost.  This involves some new wooden planks, some creosote (or substitute) to protect them, and some nails.  Here are the pics of the new raised bed bed project.

All ready now to accept the first delivery of compost from the heap.   I might even grow some veg on it next year.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Fosse septique, filter bed

In France, if you have a septic tank, then it's supposed to get checked every four years to make sure it's working properly, and that you have done the necessary maintenance.  Since our system was brought up to date a few years ago, we have had a couple of these checks, the most recent being a week or so ago.

I'm really not sure how these checks are supposed to work.  We have been scouting around recently for a smaller place to buy for our eventual retirement proper; many of these places are second homes, used only in Summer, with waste processing systems installed when God was a boy and that can't possibly be up to current norms.  One place that we looked at discharges its waste straight into the nearby river, and was lived in until last year.  Do they get inspected, and what happens if they don't meet current specs?  I have no idea.

Anyway, our checkup detected that the pipework that distributes water between the various arms of the filter bed was no longer horizontal, and was sending all the water down one arm.  We got the person who installed it to sort it out.   We have been impressed with everything he did here during the renovations, and his prompt response to our request for help is yet another plus point on his scorecard.

Tuesday 25 October 2016


Years ago, I planted a clump of Cyclamen in a corner of the garden.  I discovered the other day, that some more of these pretty little flowers have self-seeded under some stones, some distance away.  I am always excessively delighted by this sort of thing.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Apéros à l'anglais

Anita spent some time in England recently, and came back with some munchies that are hitherto unknown in France (at least to me).  I look forward to the expansion of French cuisine out here in the sticks, to incorporate such delicacies.

Thursday 13 October 2016


The french word for carpenter (also shipwright) is charpentier (m); there is a clear similarity between the words in the two languages.  But the French have also the word charpente (f) that means framework, or structure, probably since most structures at the time the words were forming were made of wood.  Charpenté means well-built, which probably speaks well of the artisans of the period.

A local chateau was open for visits a few weeks ago; here's some of the charpente that was holding up the roof of a tower.   They didn't mess about in those days.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

La Côte Flûte Festival

I spent last weekend in Switzerland, not far from Geneva, in an area known as La Côte,  at a flute festival .   I have never been disappointed by this kind of event.   There was a standard mix of extraordinary things: masterclasses, concerts, exhibitions of flute-related things, and plenty of people who were enthusiastic about making music with flutes.

I have always come away from this kind of event with two conflicting emotions: there's "Why do I bother, I'll never be as good as these guys", and also "Hey, there's lots of interesting new techniques I can use to improve my practice, and playing".

The simple truth is, that the professionals that I admire started from about 6 years old, practiced two hours a day in their early teens and five hours a day in their late teens and early twenties.  Aint going to happen for me.  On the other had, I do it purely for pleasure.  I have spent considerable time doing things I was good at that I didn't particularly like, so now I'm doing something different, just for the enjoyment.

How about these plastic flutes and piccolos?   They hardly weigh anything, and are bright and colourful, with a good sound.  What kid wouldn't want to play one?  I quite fancy one myself.

The main venue was architecturally dodgy; soviet brutal style, with the inside finished in concrete.   But the on-site theatre and music rooms were well-appointed and comfortable.   There were other (prettier) venues around the town where some concerts and classes were held, with a shuttle bus service between them all.

The two highlights for me were the jazz jam session with Geoff Warren and his amazing band, and the concert by Wissam Boustany and Aleks Szram, but these are personal preferences.  There was nothing not to like.

It was all organised by a petite bundle of energy; Carol Reuge.  Nice work.

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