Monday 30 September 2019

Off to Roscoff

We have just spent a week in Roscoff, the fishing port on the North coast of Brittany.   We had been suffering a bit of a drought up until the Tuesday we set off, so it was hard to begrudge the torrential rain that marked our journey out.  Also, my head cold could hardly have been better timed, since it started on the Monday.  None the less, we were in good spirits as we made our way.

It was Anne of Bretagne who ceded control of Brittany to the French nation, and as a condition, Bretons were never to have to pay to travel on their own roads.  This promise has been kept, and the Breton motorways are toll-free to this day, although the speed limit is kept to 110 instead of 130kph.

We stopped just past Rennes for lunch, in what would be a motorway service station if it were on a normal motorway.  We noticed that there were many local workers and artisans lunching there - they could access the café more easily than if it were on a toll road.  Then it struck me that there's no really good reason why locals shouldn't be able to access motorway service stations if they want to - as long as access is kept pedestrian only.   After all, it works in Brittany.

We got to the hotel in the early afternoon.  It was right on the harbour front - we got a good view of the activities during the week, and could see what the tide was doing.   We were on the 3rd floor and there were no lifts - that was a bit of a surprise, but we got used to it.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Mill enhancement

Mick Watson, from Portchester, just up the road from Fareham where I used to live, owns a water mill in the village.  He has been renovating it for years, and it now is in a state where the mill wheel can grind flour, and the bread oven can bake bread.  It's becoming an excellent tourist attraction.  More than 2,000 people came to visit it during the village fête on the 15 August.

He's building up some water defences using rocks alongside the river, and he is short of rocks.  It just so happens that I have a dry stone wall and hedge I want to get rid of.  I was planning on doing so this Winter, but I figured I can solve two problems at once.

So Mick asks his co-owner and engineering help, Jean-Claude, to come along to my place with his digger.  The wall and hedge are both dealt with in a single day.  I have to tidy the area and replant some grass, plus there's a fair bit of shredding to do.  But a big job has just disappeared.  Result!

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Happy mower

Here you see and hear a happy, working mower.  I fixed it.  There were several problems, some of them were of my own making.

The first problem, that was the root cause of all the hassle, was that I incorrecty fitted an air filter.  This caused grass cuttings and other rubbish to get into the carburetor and clog it, but also, a part of the rubber seal broke off from the filter and wedged itself in the carb's main venturi.

The second problem was that the starter motor was shot, or rather its brushes were.  This meant that the mower was hard to start at the best of times, and it was a while before I twigged that the problem was not down to lack of battery power.  I bought and fitted a new starter motor.

The third problem was that after removing and cleaning the carb, I tried to ensure that it was full of petrol by connecting a funnel to the fuel pipe, and pouring petrol down it.  Mistake.  The petrol then flowed out of the carb and into the moulded plastic air duct that sits between the air filter and the carb..  I admit I forced it a bit.  The engine ran rich.  Not surprising really; the incoming air was probably bubbling through petrol.  I was lucky the whole lot didn't catch fire.  Or explode.

I learnt something else too. I got a quote for a new carb from an official (perhaps the official) importer of the parts into France.  Just over €290.  For a carb.  Here is a link to an eBay seller in the USA selling what is either identical or equivalent for less than $35 US.  Just... wow.

It took me a couple of days' work to fix the mower, stretched over about 4 weeks.  Fortunately the grass wasn't growing much since it was the height of Summer, so not a problem.   I learned a bit, and saved a lot of money.

Tuesday 3 September 2019


When I was a kid, I always looked forward to Christmas, as most kids do.  It was carefully explained to me how Father Christmas kept a list of naughty and nice children, and rewarded accordingly.  This list was carefully compiled throughout the year.  Now, I was an intelligent and pragmatic kid, and I reasoned thusly:  It is now two weeks before Christmas, and Father Christmas has been working on this list since January.  Conclusion: I'm sunk.  Corollary: There's no point in changing my behaviour for this last two weeks since 2/52 doesn't count for much.

In a similar vein, I don't hold with commending souls to God.  If He exists and is anything like I and many other people imagine, He knows the spirit He has just received, and will act according to His judgement, based on an intimacy that no man can know.   That being said, I see no harm, and some benefit, in acknowledging and being thankful for the spirit that was among us and that is now departed.

And so to our cat.  He came to us 13 years ago, with others, one night while our new French house was a building site.  We soon saw him climbing a ladder onto a two-storey roof and narrowly escaping death when one of the planks slipped.   We called him Minuit (midnight in French) since he was completely black and he arrived in the night.

When Anita picked him up it was clear that being held by a human was where he wanted to be.  He would relax, start to purr, and settle.  It seemed like he always wanted to be part of the household, part of the family.  Which objective he achieved.

He came along with a smaller female friend who we called Matin (because she arrived the morning after).  She was less adventurous, and would often stay indoors when Minuit was out exploring.  He would come in the cat flap, announce his presence with a yowl, and she would get up to greet him.  Matin was killed on the road within a year.  Minuit remained with us, and became our sole cat when our old English one died.

He grew on a diet of organic, wild brown mice, good cat food and cuddles, into a large house cat.  He had long legs and tail, and if he sat on my outstretched legs, his front paws would touch my toes while his tail ended at my breastbone.  Sitting on people was one of his favourite passtimes; if he was asleep on the sofa, and you sat on the chair across the room, after a few minutes he would get up, walk across and sit on your lap.

He was companionable.  If we were working in the garden, he would often come around, sit himself down nearby, and watch (especially as dinner time approached!).  If we organised a snack or dinner on the outside table, he would come and join us after a few minutes. If we were at our desks he would sit in an in-tray if he couldn't sit on a lap, or lie just in front of the keyboard. If we turned the TV on and sat down to watch, he would come up (or in) to sit down, alternating between my lap and Anita's before spending the rest of the evening on his towel that was laid out between us.   He would run away if anything on the TV was too noisy or had scary images of, say, a truck coming to run him over.

He was very talkative.  He would reply if you spoke to him, and if you hadn't noticed him he would announce his presence by meowing.  He also spoke to himself, and would make a chirrup sound when stretching, changing position, getting up, or settling and  often when you walked by if he was sleeping.   If he came in via the cat flap he would always meow to let us know he was back.

One day we decided to walk to down the river with some friends.  Minuit followed us at a distance.  We reached the river, at a point where it is crossed by stepping stones.  We crossed, leaving the cat behind, expecting that he would go back home.  Not a bit of it.  He sat on the bank and howled, and I had to go back and get him.  I couldn't persuade him to use the stepping stones by himself, so I carried him across the water, and put him down.  He then proceeded to follow us the rest of the way, mostly behind us but sometimes scampering ahead, until we reached familiar territory again.

He always enjoyed climbing ladders.  If I was working on the roof or at a similar height, he would wait until I was out of sight before climbing the ladder, and then sit at the top, looking at me with a "so come and get me" expression.

He climbed other things too.  Our house is old, and it has a strange feature of a narrow (once external, but now an internal) glassless window above the TV.  It leads from the mezzanine into a bedroom.  We noticed paw prints on the telly one evening, from the cat having scrambled up it to jump through the window.  There was nothing equivalent to the TV on the other side of the wall that he could climb up to get back out, so he was stuck.  We let him out when we heard the yowls of course, but it was much later that we noticed the claw-marks in the wallpaper made by paws sliding down the steep access to the Velux windows.  We also, on a separate occasion, found paw prints on the bath by a first floor Velux window that had been left open in the gîte. And of course the exposed beams of the mezzanine were an attractive climbing frame too.

He got into scrapes.  He cut his tail badly as a young cat, perhaps on some barbed wire in the surrounding fields.   He survived two viper bites, the first clearly not being enough to each him not to play with snakes.  He had some kind of accident with his tail last year too that resulted in a good fraction of it having to be amputated.  We sometimes called him Mr Stumpy after that.  He probably got into other mischief that we didn't find out about; certainly he fought with any other cats that ventured too near the house.

If we spent time away from the house, he would greet us on our return.  If it was nighttime, he would meet us outside, during the day  or if it was raining he would normally be indoors, so he would greet us in the hallway.

Life with him had a routine.  He was often outside first thing in the morning, but would come in as soon as he heard anyone moving about (or saw a light go on, or heard the toilet flush).  We'd hear the clack of the cat flap, followed by his loud meow to tell us that he was here, and that it's time for his breakfast.  Anita would usually go down and make herself a cup of tea, feed the cat, check that he had eaten the dry food during the night, and then they would both come upstairs where Minuit would stretch out on Anita while she read, and then he would spend the rest of the morning on the bed.  He came down about mid-day for lunch, and would occupy himself for the afternoon.  In the evening he would join us watching telly, and end the day sleeping in his designated area on a towel on the sofa.

The end was swift.  He did not fade away in old age and we did not have to make that dreadful decision.  We noticed that he wasn't himself for a few days; lacking in energy and eating poorly.  He spent an entire day not two yards from his cat flap, resting in the Asters in the flower bed.  Anita took him to the vet on Saturday morning for a check-up.  Extensive blood tests revealed nothing wrong, just a very slight anaemia.  The vet gave him some antibiotics, a worming treatment just in case and some high-energy cat food to perk him up, (he scoffed it down that evening, which reassured us) and she said she'd call us later next week to see how he was getting on.  36 hours later he was dead.  He just got weaker on Sunday.  Sunday afternoon we decided to take him back to the vet's first thing Monday, but early Sunday morning he woke us with a loud yowling.  He was too weak to stand.  The vet answered the emergency number, but our beloved Minuit left us on the way to the appointment.

He is buried in the garden behind the gîte.  I planted a fuschia there on Tuesday morning.  We drank a small toast, with thanks for the life of this special cat.

Monday 2 September 2019

Departed companion

Our talkative and affectionate cat Minuit died early this morning, after 13 years of companionship. He hadn't been himself for a few days, lacking somewhat in energy. A checkup at the vet's on Saturday morning revealed nothing too far out of the ordinary, he was just very slightly anaemic. Last night he deteriorated rapidly and died on the way to the vet's for an emergency consultation.

Sunday 1 September 2019

An evening and a morning

Archimède is a rock/pop chanson duo that celebrated its tenth anniversary last evening, with a concert in the grounds of the château at Ste Suzanne.  They started out in Laval, a short drive from us.  I have enjoyed their music since being introduced to it by our French teacher, who played one of their songs for us to discuss.  That song is entitled "Fear Facteur" and comments on the disquiet one can feel when unpleasant news arrives in the post.  She had to explain what a "lettre de corbeau" is, but we all knew what a "rappel des impots" is about.

Sorry about the crap photo.

This morning I'm tending the veg patch.  The cherry tomatoes are a bit of a problem; there's so many of them.  Louis up the road tells me that he plants one stem of cherry toms to feed him and his wife (and occasionally visiting grandchildren) for the Summer.  Not being the beneficiary of his advice until later in the year, I planted 5 such plants.  A bit of a deluge.

But they make up for the poor performance of the more conventional tomato plants.  I planted some of the same variety that I planted last year, when they gave an enormous crop.  This year their fruits are small and not plentiful.   I also tried a cour de boeuf variety, and that seems to be quite fragile, with various forms of rot (flower end rot in particular) ruining many fruits.

I harvested some seed from African Marigold plants that I grew last year, and this year I put some in the veg patch.  I believe it's supposed to keep green fly at bay (seems to have worked) and besides, they look pretty.  I didn't take any pains to nurture them: I had so many seeds that I just put hundreds of them in little rows, and covered them with soil.  They have flourished.  Except for the ones I accidentally hoed up.  I will harvest seed again this year, for next year's planting.

Here they are alongside the Aubergine plants.

I also planted a few Zinnias.  I've not had much success with Zinnias in the past, so I had low expectations.  I believe they don't like their roots to be disturbed, or something, so transplanting can be fraught.  However quite a few of these have been successful.

Given that they are quite expensive, it seems a shame to make a sauce out of cherry tomatoes.  But I have more than I can eat, and it's a shame to waste them.

Anita got the skins and pips out by careful use of a sieve.  I'd have just used a liquidiser, but I'm impatient.  The sauce will freeze nicely.

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