Saturday, 6 April 2019

Wood chips

We have a division of labour in the garden: I mow the lawns and do the heavy lifting and digging, Anita weeds the flower beds.   These days, Anita's shoulders don't support using a hoe, so the weeding takes a long time and it's a bit of a Forth road bridge job.  So we've decided to try smothering the weedlings with wood chips.

You can get the chips for €35 the metre cubed (it costs a bit more if you want it delivered), and a metre cubed covers ten square metres at 10cm thinkness.   Here's the chips on the bed beside the driveway, where the Daffs have almost finished flowering.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

It's that time of year again

Yes, Springtime, when the tasks of the garden start to take precedence over other less urgent things.   I have planted up a bunch of tender veggies; three types of tomato, some chilli peppers and aubergines.  Here being inspected by the cat.

I planted out the spuds this morning, on the basis that we're about 2 weeks away from the last frosts so they should be OK.  And the shallots and onions that I planted out a couple of weeks ago are starting to show through.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Bathroom project - Drainage

So I put in the new sink, tightened up all the joints on the trap, and eventually got the little leaks stopped.  PTFE tape is a wonderful thing.  Uh-oh, the sink backfills with water when it should be draining.

The old sink worked fine, so logic tells me that the thing that has changed, the new trap, must be causing the problem.  Extensive testing of the new trap - no problems there, despite the evidence.  I tired blowing down the drain pipe - blocked.   Sucking seemed to unblock it (a nausiating experince, to be tried only in dire emergencies).  But still blocked.  There seems to be a trap in the pipework in the wall.  Who ever puts a trap where you can't get at it?

I think that what happened is that the drainage pipe had been unused for several weeks and had dried out.  The crud that normally sticks to the sides dried and flaked off, sending flakes of dried crud to block the trap.  The problem was eventually fixed by sending down some viscious granulated drain cleaner that fizzes violently when wet.   Sudden glooping noise from somewhere in the wall, and the sink starts to work.

We now have a fully functioning bathroom - shower, bog and sink all work.  I have to fit the loft hatch (the tower has a conical roof that houses the TV aerial)  and a little tray for holding the shampoo and other gunk in the shower.  Then it's done.  This is the last post on the bathroom project.  *phew*

Monday, 1 April 2019

Bathroom project - Flooring

The floor is covered with grey finish plastic interlocking tiles that give an appearance somewhere between concrete and a metallic effect.  The tiles are easy to cut; you score along the cutting line then fold the tile and it snaps.  (It's hard to see pencil lines on grey tiles)

Most of the time spent putting the floor down was cutting the tiles - rectangular tiles in a circular room need a lot of cutting.  More tiles were cut than were laid whole.  I edged the tiles with grey mastic and the end result is effective, with the little mosaic tiles on the wall around the edges giving a pleasing effect.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Lisbon - Oriente

The station at Orienté is a rail, road and metro hub.  We went there on the metro and spent the rest of the day out by the waterside, enjoying the sunshine, a superb chinese lunch, the gardens and the architecture.  We took a ride on the cable car that goes along the sea front, just to get a different view.

I remember the London docklands,  and my memory is of a somewhat sterile homage to the god of high-rise office blocks.  This redevelopment in Lisbon is the business.  It's also, clearly, where the money is.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Lisbon - The Vasco de Gama monument & Belém tower

The first full day we had at Lisbon, we took a short tram ride to see the Belém tower.  This was constructed as a defensive gun emplacement, and ceremonial entrance to Lisbon.   There is much more in the general area than the tower, including museums, a monastery, a monument to Vasco da Gama, and parks.

There was more than we could visit in the time available, and we chose to go into the Belém tower and the monument to Vasco da Gama.   From the top of the monument, you get a spectacular view of the surroundings, and you can better see the ground-level mosaic map of the world showing the da Gama discoveries.

The Belém tower is much smaller, and has lots of twiddly stonework.  I'm guessing that the architect didn't expect too much in the way of hostile returning fire when the tower fired its cannons.

While in the Belém tower, I spotted a rather fast sailing craft on the river.  I assumed it to be a sailboard since it was so fast, but it had no wake.  I managed to get some snaps of it on full zoom and it turns out to be some form of sailing hydrofoil.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Long weekend in Lisbon

Having a bit of a gap between clients, we decided to take a long weekend break in Lisbon.  A good time was had.  We were blessed with fine weather: cool mornings of 15°, rising to 20 or 21° by mid-afternoon, a cloudless sky and a gentle breeze.

Some impressions:  Lisbon is easy to get around; the public transport systems are efficient and inexpensive.  A day pass on the buses, tubes and trams is €6.50 - you buy a card (50 cents) and then you can top it up as you like.  There were adverts announcing a reduction in price for what I took to be monthly passes - €40 for an all-zone pass.  Not bad.

There are tiles everywhere - on walls, floors, on the pavements outside.  The pavements aren't flat, but undulating, which can be a bit of a challenge if you don't pick your feet up.

It took some time to notice, like a headache that you suddenly realise has been gone for a while.  There were no diversity bollards.  I guess Lisbon has not suffered the benfits of unfettered, vibrant, multicultural immigration, perhaps because portugese is not much taught outside of portugese-governed territories.  Despite this lack, I would describe Lisbon as one of the most vibrant cities I have visited.  Tourists and locals were enjoying the public gardens and open spaces, dining or taking coffee or beer in the many bars and restaurants.  The place was busy but not crowded, and people were friendly and polite.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Bathroom project - Tiling

Tiling well is difficult.  Tiling is where any imprecisions in the horizontals or verticals, or in angles that are supposed to be 90°, all come back to bite your bum.  You can easily spot the mistakes, as the tiles that are supposed to be four-square, march in zi-zag pattern up the wall, or thin lines of grout widen to rivers along their length.

I don't claim to be expert in this.  On the plus side, grouting can cover a multitude of sins, and with this in mind I used a brilliant white grout, the same colour as the tiles.  Grouting in a contrasting colour is for the very brave or the supreme expert, neither of which description applies to me when it comes to tiling.

One of the things I discovered in the DIY shop, and which worked well, is a new kind of spacer.  It's designed not only to space the tiles accurately in relation to each other, but to make sure they are all at the same height so that they make a flat surface.  The manufacturer is Pavilift, and there is all the info you could possibly need on their website.

This photo shows them in action in the shower cubicle..  Tip: make sure there is no tile glue behind the black clamps, as it can scratch the tiles.  Also, make sure that the tiles don't move as you tighten down the clamp.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Not Champagne

These days, you're not allowed to describe fizzy wine made according to the method originated in Champagne as being made according to the Champgne method.  You have to say "traditional method".   This doesn't disguise the fact that champagne (the drink) is overpriced compared to the competition.

Last night we opened a bottle of fizz as part celebration of Anita's birthday.  It's one of the ones we bought on holiday in the Alsace region; a rosé, slightly off a hard brut in sweetness, and delicious.  And made, of course, using the traditional method.  I can't remember how much we paid for it, but I am confident that it was a lot less than a champagne of similar quality.


Later addition: I had a quick look on the Metz website; it looks like you can get a bottle of this fizz for a bit more than 8 euro.  Can't get a decent champagne for that.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Bathroom project - Electrics

In the UK, you're not allowed to do your own house electrics - you are supposed to call in a professional, and you can't buy the bits in DIY shops any more.  They're less anal in France, and you can do your own work if necessary.

There wasn't much electrics to do in the bathroom.  I just replaced the existing sockets and light switches with new ones.  You don't need to have light switches operated by a pull cord (so the switch is away from any sources of water) and you can have standard electrical sockets on the wall, as long as they're not over the sink (or in the shower, or any other stupid place)

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Bathroom project 4 - Plumbing

A renovation of a bathroom inevitably involves plumbing.   I've described the shower waste connection and the connections for the sink.    The toilet water supply pipe I had to send up vertically then out horizontally to the cistern.   This needed a bit of pipe bending and a 90 degree soldered joint, but the result is fine, even if the solder joint could be cleaner.   With the plasterboard in place and tiled, the effect is quite good.  I can do the cosmetic stuff on the pipe and the hole later.

For the shower tap I used a fitting that I've not used before.  It claims to make fitting shower taps easy, and it does seem to work.  You fix a metal plate to your wall, and two 90° connectors (hot and cold) slot into it.  You have to cut matching holes in the tiles of course, but if you do it right, you can take the connecting pipes out for inspection later if needed.   (The photo of the metal plate shows the water pipes that are to be connected to the 90° connectors.)

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Bathroom project 3 - The shower

The shower posed a bit of a challenge.  The old waste pipe ran at ground level and disappeared into a wall.  Anita wanted a new shower tray that she didn't have to step up into, which means the waste pipe going down through the floor into the room below.  Fortunately I was able to chase the old pipe into the wall and reconnect a new one without too much damage downstairs.

The floor under the shower tray was anything but level, so I had to flatten it by putting a cowpat of mortar down, covering it with plastic and letting it set with the shower tray on top, wedged up to make it level.  This seemed to work as a technique.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Bathroom project 2 - First steps

The very first step was to decide the extent of the renovations.  The tiling job on the floor is atrocious, so replacing the floor is an option.  The floor is also the ceiling of the room below, so replacing that would also involve re-doing the downstairs as well.  In the end, it's staying; we're going to smooth it out, then cover it with PVC floor covering.

The sink will go, as will the shower.  The bog is functional, and also happens to be mortared into the floor.  I'm not sure we could get it out without wrecking the floor, so it stays.  The shower and sink will be replaced, and we'll put up wall-mounted storage units instead of the floor-standing ones.  Oh, and the wall(s) will be grey where they're not tiled.

First step - remove the old sink, put up a new tiled wall, get ready to attach the sink and wall units.

The old sink is out, the water pipes capped off temporarily.  Now extended all the tubes so they will reach through the new wall.

Put some steel frames for the plasterboard, get the new wall in.  Tile it.  Not my best job of tiling, but I've tried using some new-fangled tile fixing gadgets that I hadn't got used to.  It's all good experience, I'm sure.  And with careful planning, any inaccuracies will be hidden behind the wall units or under the sink.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Bathroom project 1 - The old bathroom

Well it really was a bit grotty. 

The fetching pink tile background to the sink features a practical, if narrow, shelf for toiletries.  Those that don't fit are stored in attractive stacked plastic baskets on wheels.  A wooden storage unit and electric radiator complete the view from the door.

Against the opposite wall (actually the same wall because it's round) the bog is fed by a water pipe coming in at a jaunty angle from lower down the wall, with the cleaning stuff and spare bog rolls tastefully arranged beside it.  The shower unit to the left of the picture is a cheapo free-standing cubicle unit from a down-market DIY.  You have to push the walls to the right in order to open the door.

The walls are 40 shades of beige.

Something Must Be Done.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Bathroom in the living room

For my sins, I'm renovating the upstairs bathroom.  It's been a week so far, and all the new bits are cluttering up the living room.  And the conservatory.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Old dog, new tricks

I figure that with increasing age, it's probably a good idea to keep the old noggin active, and that probably means learning new things.  Sudoku is all very well, but once you've learnt the tricks, it's just formulaic.

I spent some time, not long ago, looking at resurrecting my old programming skills, and I wrote a small app for Android devices, using Java, a programming language I had not used before, and an app development environment from Google.  This presented some challenges, not least being the steep learning curve.  The lack of a teacher was mitigated by various support forums on the web (didn't have that when I were a lad) but in the end, insights were won at great cost of time and effort.

At the same time, I found I was running down the same lanes I had explored when younger.  I don't find programming inherently satisfying.   It's good to finish a program, but the process of coding I don't especially enjoy.  It's a good feeling to be good at something, but better is to enjoy doing it, even if, in the end, you're not so good at it as you would like.

When I was I kid, I played piano.  An aspect that learning process that I just hated was music theory.   I considered it a necessary evil, and did as little as I could get away with.  Bad call.   Just as an ability to add, subtract multiply and divide, plus a knowledge of the times tables are gateways to the worlds of mathematics, so basic music theory is a gateway to harmony, arrangement and composition.  You can of course create music without this knowledge, "by ear", but it's a lot easier if you have it.

I am learning music theory, harmony, arrangement and composition.  I have a good teacher at the conservatoire at Evron, and I'm getting into it.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Winter walk

A few snaps from a chilly walk in the surroundings.

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