Tuesday 31 December 2019

Saturday 28 December 2019

Antenna alert

I have a mobile phone but I don't usually have it turned on at home since there is only a weak signal; it's just about OK for text messages but not so good for voice.   It's only useful when I go out.

We have been promised a new mobile antenna installation for some time now, to improve network coverage in the village.  It was supposed to be installed in September, but there was a bit of controversy over its placement - someone didn't want it at the end of their drive.

Well, it's now in place.  The antenna that is - it's not connected to the mobile network yet, and we're told that that can take up to six months.  I asked our mayor if we couldn't have told Orange six months ago, that there would be an antenna that would need connecting in six months' time.  I got a gallic shrug.

I'm not sure if it's in line of sight with the house here - there are trees in the way.  If it's not, we're just a few metres below an undulation in the ground.  I'm hoping for decent reception.

Friday 27 December 2019

Christmas cactus

Actually flowering at Christmas.  I think that's a first.

Sunday 22 December 2019

Rising waters

Over the 12 years or so that we've been here, we've seen an increase in summer droughts and winter rains.   It could be a short-term thing, or not.   At the moment, the river just down the road is quite high, but it has not yet flooded.  I have seen it cover the road before now.

The people who run the restaurant down there are a bit worried.  The water level is dropping now, it's about two feet lower that it was yesterday, but if we get another good storm, that will change.

The mill up the road looks a bit precarious too...

Thursday 19 December 2019

Flowering spikes

When my friend gave me the orchid, he suggested I keep it outside in the Summer to stop it getting too hot in my conservatory, and bring it in for the Winter.   I didn't take it outside the first year, but it didn't seem to suffer any - I got four flower spikes off it around January.

The subsequent year I put it out, and was rewarded with an extra spike of flowers; five last year.

This year, after the same process, I have seven flower spikes; Three are out now, two will follow shortly after and two more are in the early stages.   I'm not counting my chickens, but experience tells me I should get a long flowering period.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Light and lumière

We're back from England, following the traditional pre-Christmas trip to visit friends and family.  A nasty cold put a bit of a damper on things, but didn't prevent us from enjoying seeing everyone.   I was dead impressed with the brother-in-law's VR setup.  He uses it for car racing, but showed me what it could do with flight simulation.  Very fine.  I could even drive the cars, much better that when I tried on the old screen-based system.

Our friends in Wimbledon were in fine form, and introduced us to The Giggling quid, an excellent Thai restaurant there.  We also saw the BBC programme The Repair Shop, that struck us as a nice programme, a bit like Antiques Roadshow in its connections between people and objects.

We visited the Christmas at Kew light show.  They illuminate trees and areas with different light displays, some static, some changing.   You walk along a defined walkway between the different displays, and it was very impressive.  Definitely worth a visit, and we were lucky in that it was cold, but not windy or raining.   I bought some chilli seeds for the B-I-L.

Once back in France, it was time for the traditional festive lights in Laval.  The town is decorated, and you just wander about looking at the lights.  Again cold, but with a bit of rain on and off.

A different style but effective, all the same.

Monday 16 December 2019


We have been devoid of cats around here since the death of our Minuit in September.   Nature and (especially) cats, abhor a vacuum, so predictably, in a short time, another cat presented itself for adoption.   We weren't ready for another cat, so with some reluctance we fed it, and with more hope than expectation, announced its arrival, with a photo, on various local cats-lost-and-found facebook pages.

A castrated male, with an inflated belly that speaks of intestinal worms, he was friendly enough, could be picked up, preferred being outdoors, and ate like he was inhaling.   Unusual for black cats, he had white whiskers.   Quite distinctive.

 We were surprised to get a phone call from someone who said "My friend lost a cat like that one a couple of years ago, he will call you tomorrow morning".  And call he did, confirmed it was his cat, lost two years ago, and he came to get it.   He lived some 20Km away, probably much farther as the cat roams, and said his kids would be pleased.  They were so disappointed that their cat got lost, that they had to get another one.  I hope the two get on; if he turns up here again I guess we'll know they didn't.  He was called Atomique (as in kitten, I guess)

We had the oldies lunch in the village shortly after, and we passed the story on.  The oldies commented on how the internet had changed things, and how it used to be that you had to pay for an ad in a local paper, or a few surrounding newsagents, and hoped that someone would read your small ad.  I suppose they're right, I never thought of it that way.

Friday 6 December 2019


Our entrance gate is no longer symmetric.   The left-hand post and swinging gate are no longer in place, following a small difference of opinion with a car.  Not mine; it was the chef of the restaurant down the road, who knocked on our door and apologised for having failed to follow the road and negotiate the turn to the left a few yards in front of it.

Not to worry, these things get repaired, although his car might be a write-off, on account of the (partially concreted) stone wall right next to the post.  This also is not all quite where it used to be.

Monday 2 December 2019

Trees and plantings

We own the small field opposite our place, it's on the other side of the road.  I haven't done anything with it for about ten years and it is reverting to whatever would be its natural state.  Walnut trees seem to do well in this area, and numerous self-seeded ones are now growing there.   I have decided to do, in a small way, a little management of the area, and I have just finished planting 25 Hornbeam trees.

I chose small trees because, being small, they establish themselves very quickly, and often overtake initially larger trees planted at the same time.  They need less care, and they're also cheaper, at one euro each.  Hornbeams are said to prefer chalky soil, and resist drought, both of which are characteristic of the growing conditions around here.   If this lot do well, I will do the same thing next year.   I am hoping that, in time, the field will produce some firewood, but also that it will become a more natural woodland area.

There are so many stones in the ground that I dug out, that the trees are at a level a bit below the natural soil level.   I am hoping that this will result in them being better shaded by the surrounding grass, so they are less likely to dry out, and more likely to survive.

These two trees are in a different part of the same field.  The big one is a present from a friend, and I am pleased to see that the leaves are now gone.  The shedding of leaves is an active process on the part of the tree, and this proves that the tree is still alive.   The smaller tree is typical of the growth here of walnut seedlings.  Often, some creature, either a hare or perhaps a deer, nibbles the end of the single growing shoot, or takes the bark off it.   The tree then sprouts multiple side shoots, and eventually another leader emerges, protected from damage by the remaining shoots.

As I was coming back in after finishing the planting, a neighbour stopped by with his tractor.  He had been working on renewing some fence posts in a nearby field.   We commented on the brambles that have attached themselves to my fence over the past several years.  I had been planning to attack them with a blade on my strimmer.  He's going to clear them for me with his tractor.  Good plan.

Sunday 24 November 2019

None of the above

First, a confession:  I didn't vote in the Brexit referendum.  There.  But I have been happy with the result - the vote was for an exit from the EU.  I have been dismayed by all the prevarications that have gone on since, as politicians and civil servants of every hue try to thwart the outcome.  So I made the effort to apply for a postal vote in the upcoming elections, to make my position clear by using my vote.  I got my ballot papers yesterday, and there is no brexit candidate.

There's the lib dems, who want a second referendum on the negotiated deal.  The problem with that is that Boris's surrender document is even worse that May's, so remaining would be better than leaving.  In the event of a referendum to take the current agreement or remain, I'd have to vote remain.  So I can't vote for a candidate for a party that would want to overturn the will of the people in this underhand way.   My cynical nature tells me that in the event of a second referendum,  they'd probably try to split the leave vote in order to declare a victory for remain.

There's the greens, who want to plant trees and reduce pollution.  These are good aims in themselves, of course, (I planted some trees yesterday) but are irrelevant to this election.

There's Labour, but Corbyn as PM is a nightmare I prefer not to dwell on.

The tory candidate seems to be a good guy, intelligent and well-educated by all evidence, with a senior rôle in government.   He would normally get my vote. But he has supported Boris's deal at all points, and it's exactly that deal that is the problem.

There is no Brexit candidate, so I am unable to vote for what I want.  This reminds me of the elections in Communist Russia, where all the candidates just happen to be communist.

Saturday 16 November 2019

Tech: upgrades and compatibility

I have some experience in debugging and fixing problems with tech equipment such as computers.   In any investigation of a problem, it's important to know exactly what things you know to be working correctly, and those that you're not sure about.  So whereas I might use, for example, a wireless mouse on a day-to day basis, I always keep a spare wired mouse that I know to be working, because there are two (extra) points of failure on a wireless mouse: perhaps the wireless connection is not working for some reason, or maybe the batteries (that it necessarily carries since it doesn't get power through the wire,) are flat.    So if I am testing or setting up a PC, I always use a wired mouse and keyboard.

Being in France, I use an AZERTY keyboard on all my PCs, since it makes the special characters like é,à,è, ê etc more easily available, but I have an ancient wired QWERTY keyboard lurking in the cupboard.  This came to my aid recently.

I use a Dell PC for running music software.  It came with a nice wireless keyboard and mouse.  It was configured with an SSD system disk of 128GBytes, and 8GBytes of main memory.  The system disk was too small for the software I want to run, so I upgraded it to a 1TB SSD.  No problems.

I decided to do the same with the memory and upgraded it to 32GB.  Problem.  When the system was doing its Power-On Self Test (POST), I got an error message, to the effect that the memory configuration has been changed, and did I do this on purpose, or do I want to re-seat the memory,  Yes or No?   It's a reasonable question, and probably useful in some circumstances, but the problem is that at this point, Windows is not running, so the Windows drivers for the wireless keyboard are not running either, so the keyboard isn't working.    And since the Dell came with a wireless keyboard only, I had no way of responding to the question.

So my ancient 20-year-old QWERTY wired keyboard came to the rescue.   I plugged it in, typed the response and off we went.   (It's worth noting that the POST software is also programmed for a QWERTY keyboard only)   But if I hadn't had the keyboard I'd have had to beg, borrow or buy one to get past that little hurdle.

Sunday 10 November 2019

Cold chillis

I planted some chilli pepper seeds last Springtime, I got two plants that I grew to maturity outside in the veg patch.  Both plants produced some fruit; chilli peppers shaped a bit like lanterns, and yellow when ripe.

I learnt something new; when the fruits were green, they weren't hot, and tasted more like sweet bell peppers than anything else.  The Winter frosts are here, so I have picked all of the unripe fruits and I am hoping that they will mature off the plant.  They are certainly turning yellow; I will have to test to see if they get spicy hot as well.

P.S.  *strangled voice*  I can confirm that the chillis become hot when they turn yellow.  *cough*

Monday 4 November 2019

Pizza delivered or not

I note this, because it's the first of its kind that I have seen in France, or anywhere.   A pizza vending machine, installed on the outskirts of Evron, beside the main road.  It's promising hot pizza with just 3 minutes' wait, or frozen pizza in 30 seconds if you want to heat it yourself.   I wonder if it will be a success.  Staff costs should be low, at least.

Friday 1 November 2019

Head case

We bought a Rowenta battery-powered vacuum cleaner a while back.  We've been happy with it, but it developed a fault: the electric motor in the cleaning head worked only intermittently.  It took us a while to identify the problem, since we thought it was most likely to do with the contacts in the demountable tubes.

Surprise!  It was still under guarantee, so we took it back to the shop.  It'll be  6-8 weeks they told us, so in the mean time we reverted back to the mains-powered cleaner.   To fix the problem, they gave us a new motorised head; a newer model that's better than the old one - quieter but just as effective.  A good result.

One little black spot: we bought the cleaner in Leclerc in Laval, so it was to their after-sales desk that we took the faulty motor.  After the specified delay, we called them to ask where the cleaner was.  Turns out they'd had it for a while.  So why didn't they tell us?

 - There's no mobile number for you.
 - But there's a fixed line, and it has an answering machine
 - Oh, so there is.

Is gorm a word?  Whatever, it seems the staff were lacking in it.

Monday 28 October 2019

Convivial weekend

A couple of outings this weekend.  Saturday night was the special, 30th anniversary dinner-dance organised by the Ste Suzanne Harmonie.  The dinner-dance happens every year, it's a fund-raiser for the group, and a good night out.  Many of the players participate in serving the food and drinks, but we decided to opt out and just pay for the meal.  The theme was Bavarian, and thus we saw about 650 French people pretending to be German.  In any case, it was good fun.

On sunday we went to the Euromayenne craft fair.  Euromayenne is an organisation set up to welcome people into the Mayenne, and also acts as a sort of anglophone ex-pats club.  The fair features local crafts people, who make exactly those sorts of things that make useful Christmas presents.  There is also a floor show, this year the themes were cabaret and magic.

We met this lovely lady of Irish origins, who was expertly spinning some wool.  The thread was fine and uniform, and she explained that she had carded the wool to make the task easier.  Apparently, once you have a couple of spindles full, then you can make a 2-ply using two source threads, spinning them in the other direction.  (The turned wooden bowl on the chair is what I bought at a second-hand stall that was in aid of an animal sanctuary.)

Sunday 20 October 2019

Remy: Tweets resurface

It's not my habit just to repost other people's satire, but I couldn't let this one go.

Thursday 17 October 2019


Self-seeded Cyclamen peeping out from between a couple of stones in the garden.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Borlotti beanz

I planted runner beans this year, and, as a trial, some Berlotti beans.  The runners didn't do anything much, but I got a decent harvest of Borlottis.   You can use them in cassoulet and other, Portugese or Spanish dishes that call for dry beans.

You can eat them fresh, keep them dry in jars (put Bay leaves in to stop bugs from eating them), or freeze them.  We have a cassoulet planned for this week, so I'll see how they taste.

I will plant more next year (assuming they taste OK).

Sunday 13 October 2019

Holiday snaps

You didn't expect to get away without some of these, did you?

Thursday 10 October 2019

Roscoff gardens

We visited two gardens while staying at Roscoff; both are well worth a visit.  The first that we saw was the Roscoff Exotic and Botanical Garden that is situated just a short drive from the town centre, and is maintained by volunteers.  It's a small garden in just over 1.5 hectares, well laid-out, and crossed by paths that show it off very well.  The plants are well-described, and I was impressed by the collection of cacti and succulents under a plastic greenhouse.  It's hard to keep cacti in good condition, and these all seemed to be in excellent health, like the rest of the garden, in fact.   There is a big rock at one end, that you can climb, and that helps keep the garden warmer and sheltered in Winter.   It gives you a good view too.   I was a bit disappointed that they didn't have any kind of souvenir book for sale.

The Ile de Batz lies just off the coast of Roscoff, separated from the mainland by a shallow, dangerous, rock-filled channel.   A passenger ferry chugs back and forth throughout the day, there is even a very long jetty for it for when the tide is low.  The fee is 9 euro return, and the same for a bike.  We took our bikes, since the walk from the ferry terminal to the Jardin Georges Delaselle is a bit uncomfortable for Anita.  This garden is on a bigger scale than the Roscoff one, and offers some more expansive vistas.  The plants are in similar good health.  They had a souvenir book so I bought one.

After the garden visit I took the bike on a short circuit of the island.  The feel is very reminiscent of the Scilly Isles where we stayed for a holiday many moons ago.

Saturday 5 October 2019

Onions and Johnnies

Brittany is a big supplier of vegetables to French and international markets.  The ground is fertile, the climate mild, and tere are huge fields of cauliflowers and artichokes.  I saw some fennel being grown, and other veg in smaller quantities.  Absent were the famous pink Roscoff onions, although I think they had already been harvested.  We bought a bag at the local market.

I have vague childhood memories of seeing an occasional French onion vendor, on a bike with onions hanging from the handlebars.  I found him rather frightening and shouted at him, I think.  I was very young.  Apparently they are called onion johnnies, although I had always thought that johnnies were contraceptives, manufactured from rubber, or, according to popular song, knitted from indiarubber tyres.

The size and vigour of the cauliflowers in Roscoff  gave me some understanding of why my weedy plants only make small curds.  I noticed that they are earthed up, like potatoes, something I had not seen before.  The field above is quite close to Roscoff town centre (easy walking distance), is enclosed in a wall and could well have been a back garden. 

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