Friday, 21 June 2019

Design flaw

They have replaced the old metal shopping carts at our favourite supermarket with ones made largely of plastic.  These new ones are lighter and easier to maneuver, but they have a flaw:  when you hang off the back and scoot them along, they tip up.  When they're full of shopping, the weight keeps them horizontal, so you can scoot them out of the shop, but not in.  Big problem.

Thursday, 20 June 2019


We have Nespresso machines for coffee.  We were getting fed up with spreading ground coffee everywhere whenever we made a cup, and decided that this new-fangled system would solve the problem.  So we have a machine for the house and a "pro" machine (takes a different shape of capsule so people don't nick them from work for their home machines) for the gîte, and have had these machines for a few years.

I'm getting the impression that Nespresso are suffering a bit from competition in this market.  I've noticed a few brands of compatible capsules on the market, and Nespresso have launched a new different-shaped capsule, incompatible with the old machines, and for which there is no competition at present.  We buy our capsules as needed, a system that works fine.  But now, Nespresso are encouraging us to pay a fixed amout each month to build up a credit that we can call down at will.  Er, no thanks.

We have had occasional problems with the pro machine, and have always called out a fixer to fix it.  Doesn't cost too much and the machine is reliable enough, generally speaking.  But now we have been obliged to take out a service contract.   This entitles us to one call-out per year I think, but it's not something we would have done without duress.

All signs of increasing competition.

So what do you do if you want to break in to this market, established by Nespresso?  Well, compatible capsules is one possibility, or you could try marketing your own brand of proprietory capsules and corresponding machines.  (You might try both, of course)   Here's a picture of a new proprietory system and introductory offer that I noticed in our gîte food supplier recently.

Basically, you buy 150 of their coffee capsules and you get a free machine.  Since that means that your coffee costs you €0.286 (+VAT) per capsule it comes out cheaper than Nespresso, and you don't have to fork out anything for a new machine.  If you don't like the coffee, you can just ditch the machine; all you have to do is drink 150 cups of it.  And how bad can it be?  And how do you combat that as a tactic for someone who wants to break into your market?

Friday, 14 June 2019


The Masquerade rose seems jubilant this year.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

The hair of the hare was here

I rather like seeing the wildlife around here, but the problem is, I think this fellow is partial to cabbages.  Mine are unprotected.  I think I might be in for a poor harvest.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Garden update - May 2019

This year, May is devoid of clients in the gîte, which gives us time to blitz the garden just when it's growing the fastest.  We have been able to trim the hedge, weed the whole thing and sort the veg patch out.   Everything is probably as neat as it will ever be this year: the customers start arriving next week.

On the left of the veg patch are the tomatoes: 10 Rio Grande, 5 cherry and 10 coeur de boeuf.   Under the tarpaulin behind them I have planted butternut squash and melon.  To the right, from rear to front are aubergines, runner beans and chili peppers.   On the raised bed to the right are lettuce planted between various brassicas: cabbage, broccolli and cauliflower.  The brassicas are not doing too well, about half seem to just have faded away.  A root problem?

The next bed to the right has beans.  I planted berlotti beans for cassoulet under twigs from hazlenut treets that provide climbing supprt.   I also put in some broad beans but I think that mice or birds have eaten most - I have 4 seedlings out of about 20 beans.   Next year I will have to start them in pots.  Perhaps I will have to create a seedling nursery area.

The onions and shallots in the next raised bed are doing well, and I planted out leeks this weekend in the same bed.  I am hoping for good things here.  Next door are the gooseberries and strawberries, that seem to nourish the birds more than they do me.  And finally at the end, the spuds.  I planted Miss Blush again since I love the flavour, and this year I an trying out a variety that makes big potatoes for baking: "Samba".

I am trying, for the first time this year, "companion planting" which is an excuse for planting flowers among the veggies.  I put African Marigolds between each tomato plant, have dotted Zinnias about, and I put French Marigolds (seeds harvested from last year's plants) around the brassicas.  There are Nasturtiums in the somewhere too.   We shall see if this all helps.

Meanwhile, the Iris are flowering.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Fings wot go wrong (II)

I went out this morning to do a bit of routine maintenance on the gite.   Since I pass the boiler shed on the way, I look in to check all is well.   It's not: there's a big drop in the water pressure in the system - a leak somewhere.  I find the leak, and spend the morning fixing it.

So in the afternoon I think, well, it's a nice day so I'll do something outside in the garden, that's a bit simpler than the gite maintenance I had planned for the morning.  I'll mow the lawn.  Halfway-through, the mower stops.  No nasty chinking sounds from the engine, so probably nothing serious.  It's not out of petrol, though, and when I turn over the engine, it nearly fires.  Likely a block in the fuel line.  I'll look at that tomorrow.  A night out on the grass won't hurt it.

Yesterday I turn on the Android phone.  It doesn't give me a keyboard when I need to type something into it.  Apparently a factory reset is the best option.  That's for this evening.

I have to drive to Evron this afternoon, and it's a nice day so I take the roof down on the car.   I drive into a shower.  *sigh*

Friday, 17 May 2019

Cutting hedge technology

There's a big hedge at our place, long and deep, going around the main parts of the garden.   It's a bitch to trim, and I've been doing nothing but that for the last three days.  It's finished now.  Next trim - Autumn.

I have a fair amont of kit to help with the job: a scaffolding set with wheels, and three hedge trimmers: a mains-electric-powered one with a long pole, one battery-powered and one 2-stroke.   The 2-stroke one is heavy, loud and smelly but powerful, the battery one is quieter and lighter but weak.  The electric long pole is heavy, quiet and powerful and necessary for cutting across the top of the hedge.

I'm thinking that it might be time to combine the benefits of lightness and power and get a small, mains-electric-powered trimmer.   It's the lightest you can get since the trimmer only houses the motor and not the fuel as well, and a mains -powered 600Watt one should be powerful enough, quiet and light.  The mains cable won't be a problem because it'll be out and in use anyway for the long throw one, and I'm getting tired of coming in smelling of 2-stroke fumes, or breathing them in, come to that.

I have thought about the possibility that a small tractor with hedge trimmer would be a good idea.  I'd really love to be able to drive it along the two sides of the hedge, trimming as I go.  The job would be done in an hour max, but it's not actually possible to do that - there are trees, shrubs and piles of firewood in the way.   That ground is also far from level, so I'd end up with an undulating top to the hedge, something that I try to avoid.

You can see part of the finished hedge in the pic below.  I used to be a bit more fastidious about getting it straight, flat and horizontal but these days I'm just up for taming the beast.   I left the trimming so late one year that the hedge flopped over a gap in it, so I'm trying to make an arched tunnel.  It's early days, but it looks like it will come to fruition in a few years.  And who doesn't like spooky tunnels?

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Fings wot go wrong

We took a short cycling break near Carquefou, not far from Nantes and near to the Loire.  The idea was to bike along the Loire towpath, but the Nantes-Brest canal is also not far away so we did a bit along that as well.

The first thing that went wrong happened on pumping up the tyres on Anita's bike.  The stem of the valve broke off.  That's the bit that sticks up out of the tyre so you can inflate it, and it just broke off bringing the valve mechanism with it, so I couldn't pump it up.  I have been maintaining bikes since I was 12, and that has never happened before.  We found a friendly local bike shop and got it fixed.

For the Loire valley part of the ride, we went to the South bank of the river, just opposite Thouré-sur-Loire.  The cycle path is very well-maintained which made for an easy ride.  The weather wasn't warm, but not too cold, and not much wind - good biking weather.

The first time we looked for the Nantes-Brest canal we stopped by the little village of Le Pas-Chevalier, since the road crossed what looked like a canal there.  A short investigation proved that it is in fact a small river that joins the big canal a little way away so we started our ride a bit farther along the road where it does actually cross the canal.  We rode as far as to where it joins the river Erdre.

On the way back in the car we heard a sound like a rifle shot as if something hard had fallen off a tree and hit the car.  Shortly after that I realised that the driver side front window wasn't closing.  I could lower it but it wouldn't go up.  Stopping it halfway down, I tugged on the glass to lift, it, let it slip from my hand and it promptly fell back into the door and wouldn't come out.  The local garage couldn't fix it at such short notice, but they did give me a length of translucent sticky-backed plastic to stick over the hole.

The car was scheduled for a service a couple of days after we got back, so we took it to the garage straight away, where it is currently resting pending repair.  On the way to the garage we discovered that the driver side rear window isn't working either.  *sigh*

However, the cycling was good and we decided to take a further look at the Nantes-Brest canal when time permits.  Happy biking.

Here's some garden pics.  The plants seem to be working properly, but you can never tell....

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Guarantee A to Z (Except D)

I buy a fair amount of stuff on Amazon, and have done for a while.  If there's something I need and can afford, and I don't need to touch and see it before I buy, I often buy it there.   I don't tend to give it much thought - I've always had good experiences with Amazon and in the rare case of there being a problem, I have found their after-sales service to be excellent.

I recently gave a short concert, and recorded a video of it on my camera.  The only problem was, the memory chip was full after 30 minutes, so I lost a good 40% of the performance.  There was plenty of battery life left, so I thought I'd invest in chip upgrade.   I found some 1 terrabyte chips on Amazon and ordered one.

1 terrabyte - one million millon bytes, on a chip no bigger than a finger nail.  When I were a lad, a disk of just 300 million byte capacity was about 12 inches diameter and 8 inches high, heavy to lift up, and they fit inside a drive unit the size of a small fridge.  The guy who invented the tech that underpinned them worked for IBM, and he had to take his ideas to Japan, I think it was, before he found anyone prepared to try to make a product out of them.  It became, as we know, very successful and he was made an IBM Fellow for some years before he retired.  I cross paths with his daughter from time to time; she plays the flute and I have a CD by her.  But I digress.

So the chip arrives and doesn't work, and I'm going through the refund process.  The chip was sold through Amazon Marketplace, and to my surprise, I discover in the "small print" that the Amazon A-Z guarantee doesn't apply to "digital items", and specifically, not to wot I bought.  I'm not sure if that means digital items sold through Amazon Marketplace, or any digital item whatever the source.  I'm still going through the refund process so I don't know yet if I've been ripped off or not.

So, whatever, caveat emptor, as always.  *sigh*

UPDATE 1 May 2019   Refund received.  Cool.

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.

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