Thursday 31 December 2020

Now you see it

A short walk for the constitution brings me to this little stream that disappears in Summer.   A pretty, babbling brook, it runs into the river Erve not far from our house.

Wednesday 30 December 2020


My distrust of governments grew slowly over the decades of my life.  Perhaps that is true of most people who distrust their governments, and explains, at least in part, the differences in political outlook between the older and the younger populations.

When I drove to and from work each day, I usually listened to radio 4; the Today Programme going out, and PM in the evening.  I concluded that although it is rare for a government spokesman (GS) to be caught in an outright lie, they have been known to mislead with the truth.   A few examples will be sufficient.

There was a BSE crisis, and the government put some effort into calming the fears of the populace, while at the same time taking the side of the farmers.  Prominent people were seen feeding hamburgers to their children.  A GS came on the radio and claimed that there was "No conceivable risk" to people from eating beef.  When it transpired that there was, in fact, a risk of maternal transmission from cow to calf, and a risk of BSE in humans, the GS was asked if he regretted what he said.  What he regretted, he said, is that people took "no conceivable risk" to mean "no risk".

There was a time when the benefit system in the UK was being revamped.  At the time, child benefit, I think it was called, was delivered, in cash, through the post office by personal application.  There was concern that this help, modest though it was, that was delivered directly to the person who would spend it, would be reduced.  A GS came on the radio and said the the benefit would be paid "in the same way as before", to the relief of most people.   When the amount was, in fact reduced as everyone had feared, the GS pointed out that what he said simply meant that the benefit would continue to be paid in cash through the post office.

Hussein was said to possess "weapons of mass destruction".   This claim was amplified over a few weeks into the claim that Iraq could mount a nuclear attack on Britain within 15 minutes.  There was a nagging doubt in my mind, because such intelligence is gathered over years and not weeks, but we went to war anyway, and there they all were.....not.  My personal opinion of  Mr Campbell and Mr Blair is not publishable in a family-friendly blog.

Other examples include the use of phrases like "There is no scientific proof that.....".   This is a weak claim because scientific proof of a conjecture is very difficult to obtain.  For many years it was know to anyone with a couple of brain cells to fire together, that smoking increases the risk of lung cancer.  The fact that scientific proof of this is difficult to obtain, is why the tobacco companies got away with it for so long.   That there is no scientific proof of a claim is a very weak statement, and if it comes from a GS, then in my view, the claim is likely to be true.

A much stronger statement sometimes made by a GS is that "there is no evidence to support the claim..."  The slightest evidence to the contrary refutes this, and at one time it was claimed that the British railway system was the worst in Europe.  A GS came on the radio and said that there was no evidence to support this claim.  One of the rare occasions when the lie is clear.  The fact that Eurostar had to run more slowly in England than in France (due to the quality of the rail system) was evidence that supported the claim.

As a result of these and other examples, I have learnt to ask myself a few questions of  anything said by a GS or, indeed anyone in the news:

1) What did he say?

2) What did he not say?

3) What did he want me to conclude?

4) What do I actually conclude?

5) Did he use any qualifying adjectives and what changes if you remove them?

6) What is he hiding?

Moving on to the 19th of covid.   A nasty disease that I really don't want to catch, thank you very much.  In the early days of this illness, doctors noted that in the SARS outbreak of 2005, hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was found to be helpful, when combined with zinc and an antibiotic.  So they tried it on the n-n-19, the virus for which is called SARS-Cov 2 (note the similarity).   Glory be!  It works!  We have a cheap and safe means of reducing the death toll by at least 50% !  Let's roll it out!  

Not so fast, friend.  Hold your horses, there's mucho money to be made and populations to be scared witless and controlled.  This could all come in really handy in the upcoming financial crisis.  You're going to have to generate some real scientific proof that it works, with carefully controlled double-blind trials of thousands of patients, before we're going to let you prescribe it.   Meanwhile we're going to ban it.  Oh and by the way, our stock got stolen so we don't have any anyway (France).

And at the same time we're going to publicise fake trials run by people with connections to big pharma, to persuade you that HCQ doesn't work.   After all, we know well that a lie can go twice around the world before the truth has got its boots on.

Ivermectin too has recently been found to be effective both as a prophylactic and cure for the disease in the early stages.  Time to roll out the propaganda again.

And meanwhile we seem to have found a miracle cure for heart disease, cancer and 'flu since hardly anyone appears to be dying of these.

I know when I'm being propagandised (is that a word?) and now is one such time.   I don't doubt that the cov is a nasty disease, and I don't want to catch it.   But our beloved leaders have something else in mind, other than our protection from it.  A book I once read a long time ago suggested that one should ask oneself  in any negotiation situation "Why is this lying bastard lying to me?".  Perhaps that's not bad advice for right now.

Saturday 19 December 2020

A random walk

A nice day, so how about a walk in the sunshine?    I bought myself some weights to attach to my ankles to increase the energy burn while out walking.  I think they work; I'm a bit more tired than I would expect.

This amused me.  The road past our house leads to the river valley and the famous grottes de Saulges.   It has been closed at both ends so visitors have to park in the car park on the opposite bank, or in a small area just past our place.   The barriers are electronic, automatic and are controlled from the restaurant with the assistance of an intercom.  You press a button, Alain answers if he's in at work, and then he presses a button and the barrier rises.   Except neither barrier works, so to open the barrier Alain would have to drive his car to the barrier and let the sensor open the barrier (the leave side doesn't need button intervention).

So he hit on this simple solution.   A little red bandana tied around the infra-red light (on the short post on the left) means the machine thinks there's a car in the way so it doesn't lower the barrier.  Système D.

The stepping stones are underwater; we have had a bit of rain.  But  what surprises me is that there is a low dam a bit farther downstream that causes the water to back up and overflow onto the footpath.   Now why do they do that?   I did manage to get past without getting wet feet.

There's a small bar/restaurant farther downstream, and someone has been trying to sweep up the leaves outside.  Looks like a long job to me.   I climb up the road away from the river, and as I descend towards the end of my walk, I see this little sheep enclosure right beside the footpath, that I definitely haven't seen before.  Something new.

And so back home.   Here's a pic of the gîte I took earlier.

Wednesday 16 December 2020

The Mayor

Every little village in France has its elected mayor and ours is no exception.   When we were looking to buy our place it was Mr Mottais.  We discussed our ideas with him, he was favourable, and he helped us with the project as it continued over the two elapsed years (and 6 months of actual work) that it took. 

He got us the Certificat d'Urbanisme which is what you need if you want to develop a barn, and since Bâtiments de France were interested, he helped us liaise with them during the project.  And when the authorities refused to sign off the project when it was completed, he thumped some desks until they did.

It was clear that he was a respected and popular person in the village (with a few exceptions, as ever) and his kindness in choosing his words carefully so that we would understand, and inviting us to dinner, confirmed the initial impressions.

After the end of the project we would continue to take a coffee in some of the establishments around about, and he told me of his life and business carreer in Renault.   He was born in the village and knew its byways as a boy, and he showed me the garage where he was first employed as a mechanic those many years ago.  It was for all the world like the shed of a local house.  His career took him at first to Laval and he also spent some years in the Paris head office.  I believe he ended his employement running a dealership in Rennes.  On retirement he came back to his village.

He loved the village, taking an active part in its life, and doing what it took to secure its designation as a Petite cité de Caractère.   The festival that he organised for the 15 August was locally popular, with a steak barbecue dinner and the illumination of the village by little candles laid out along the lanes.  He got the village bistrot running again as a volunteer effort, and organised the annual oldies' lunch (not this year due to Covid).

Walking on the the byways that runs by our house, about a year ago, he felt a shortness of breath, and the triple bypass operation that he had as a result slowed him down, but he continued on, more slowly than before, until he died a couple of weeks ago.

The village put on a display of the little candles that he was so fond of, as a tribute, on the day of his restricted, private funeral.   We went to look.

As part of its programme of activities related to its status as Petite Cité de Caractère, the village has various pieces of artwork dotted around, including some silhouettes, life size, in sheet iron, of people in different places in the village.  One of them is our Mr Mottais in profile, standing beside the pedestrian bridge over the river.  Being later than usual, my afternoon walk extended into dusk one day recently, and I was crossing the bridge when I noticed someone putting a candle at the foot of our iron Mr Mottais.


Saturday 12 December 2020


 Well that's 2021 sorted, fizz-wise at least.

Saturday 28 November 2020

Gottle o' geer

Well the beer brewing hasn't gone quite according to the instructions.   It was supposed to ferment out in 4 - 6 days, but, despite being kept at the required temperature, today, after 12 days, it was still slowly fermenting.  I had bottled a small sample a few days ago and I tested it today.  It seemed very fine; smooth and clear, with a nice flavour, and not especially strong in alcohol.   If I had been served it in a pub I'd have been happy.  And the unbottled beer was starting to smell like a well-settled beer perfect for drinking, if my memories from college are not letting me down.  So I bottled the rest today.

Given that the beer doesn't appear to be especially strong, I'm thinking that there is probably still some fermentation left to do, which then gives rise to some concern that the bottles might explode.  There's also quite a lot of it, so I'm going to have to give some away; it could furnish a good excuse to go visiting some neighbours.

I have stored the bottles in the gîte since it's cool in there.   The bottles are in a bag or in a box, all enclosed in the fridge to minimise damage from glass splinters.

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Making beer

I got a beer-making kit some time ago during a visit to England.  Carefully chosen among a field of contenders, it had good reviews and looked like a safe bet.   For some reason I haven't used it until now.  Perhaps a nervousness about making beer for the first time, and to be fair I hadn't got all the hardware I needed (although I could have acquired that a long time ago).  But anyway, today was the day.

I had bought second-hand beer bottles from car boot sales, I have a fermentation bin (bought for winemaking) and a plastic dustbin that I bought for storing Dahlia tubers in over Winter.  The dustbin will act as a water bath to keep the brew at a constant temperature using a small aquarium heater.   This heater was the last component I needed and it arrived from Amazon a few days ago, so now was the time to take the plunge.

The heater came with instructions, of course, and a list of advantages, including the claim that the heating element will not explode.  Good to know.   I set the temperature to 19 °C which is the mid-range of the acceptable limits.  I have read that the temperature of the beer is very important while it's brewing, so I wanted to be sure that I can match the requirements.

I followed the instructions, carefully sterilising everything, and now the whole lot is in a cool place, and I'm waiting for the fermentation to start.   I will let you know how I get on.


Update, Thursday.    Bubbling well, smells like beer!

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Protection racket

Before I put the raised bed into place, I have to protect the wooden frame from rot.   I use a bitumen- (tar-) based product that comes in two types - one is a thick paint that goes on the surface and the other is a thinner version of the same stuff that gets absorbed more deeply into the wood.   They both cost the same, so I buy the thick one and thin it with white spirit since that makes it cheaper.  I understand that this might make me an honorary Dutchman.

I put put on two coats, two sides at a time, so it takes a few days to get it all covered.  But it's a lovely sunny day today and it's good to be outside.  The rain is forecast to hold off until next week so I should have it all finished in time.   These four planks do one bed that will replace the old rotten one;  I have another set of four for a new bed to enlarge the veg patch.

The big tin at the back I use to store the paintbrush I use for this stuff, the big tin at the front is the paint I just bought and the little tin contains what's left from last year.   I thin the new paint by pouring it into last year's tin and adding the white spirit, stirring it in with a short length of rebar.

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Lockdown project

It looks like France is going into another lockdown, as we reap the rewards of our beloved leaders' past underinvestment in intensive care facilities and/or a territorial army of trained volunteer medical personnel.   So I thought I had better go out today and buy the materials I need for my next project, because I might not be able to go and get them tomorrow.

I started the veg patch some ten years ago, by making a raised bed out of some wood I had lying around.   The wood was rotting a bit already, so I didn't take any special anti-rot measures; I just made it into a rectangle and put it on the ground.   The current problem isn't due to the wood rotting, it's because I put the second raised bed too close to it.   I didn't want to waste good agricultural ground on a wider path between them.

This was a mistake.   I could just about walk along the gap, but it wasn't wide enough for the mower, nor even for the strimmer, so I had to use small shears to cut down the inevitable weeds that came up.  So I've decided to do something about it.   

Anita's idea, to minimise the work, was to widen the gap by making the original bed narrower.  I tried to do this, but the wood was so decayed that the whole thing fell apart.  There was nothing for it but to replace it, and move it about 9 extra inches away from its neighbour.   Hence a trip to the garden centre this morning.

I have moved most of the earth to allow the new wooden frame to be placed correctly.  Then I can add the compost as needed, and the bed will be ready for next year's crop that will be, according to the crop rotation plan, potatoes.

Next step will be anti-rot treatment of the wood I bought this morning.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Adding a radiator

Our little office has no installed heating.  It's not a big room, and it connects to the rest of the house, which allows warm air to flow, so a small electric fan heater serves for when it's really cold.   However, this is an expensive way to heat, and there are heating pipes that pass overhead upstairs, so I have taken on a project to install and connect a small water-filled radiator.

I bought the radiator online, and the bits that go with it I bought at Leroy Merlin, the local DIY shop.  The first job was to get some pipes up and out onto the floor above.  I managed to forget about the mild steel support for the plasterboard ceiling, so I had to go out and get some metal drills to make a big enough hole.

The radiator will be halfway up the wall.  Not ideal I know, but it means that the little desk-side cabinet can sit below it.   Any new owner of the place could easily lower it if he wanted.

I had some trouble soldering the copper pipes.  There were only three joints to make per pipe, to take them from behind the radiator on to the connections.  I thought I would be able to do all three at once since they were close together, but once I had done the first one, the flux had burnt off the other two, and the solder wouldn't flow.  So I had to take them apart and re-do them.

Here is a pic of the radiator on the wall.  It's not connected in yet; I will do that on Monday when the shops are open and I can go and get any emergency necessities in case of problems.  The copper pipes will be painted to match the radiator.



Sunday 11 October 2020

Sunday afternoon

Sunday's not the day for physically demanding work in the garden.  I did manage to mow a bit of lawn this morning, but then sitting on a mower isn't hard work.  This afternoon I shelled walnuts.

There are two big old walnut trees in the garden, and although they survived the drought this summer well enough, they have only made very small nuts.  Hardly worth the effort of shelling them.  But there are some young trees about and they have produced lots of nuts of good size.   I spent about five minutes this morning under the young tree in the pic, gathering nuts, and about an hour this afternoon shelling them.  Accompanied by Miles Davis and his quintet, who were Workin' and Steamin'.   That sounds like hard work; rather them than me.


Tuesday 6 October 2020

New wine in old bottles

Our customers get through a fair bit of wine in the gîte so there is no shortage of empty bottles.  Usually.  With a serious lack of foresight I seem to have run out of green bottles for this year's batch of cherry plum wine.  Never mind, the transparent bottle allows one to appreciate the subtle pink colour.   The wine tastes nice too, even though it's new, so after a year or so, should be quite decent.

Monday 5 October 2020

Useful things

Don't send me into an auto parts shop with a voucher.   Those shops are chock-full of very useful things, and this lot only cost ten euros, taking the voucher into account.   What a bargain.  Vouchers aren't real money, everyone knows that.  And it would have expired soon.

Friday 2 October 2020

The Monday bike ride

Monday morning was bright and crisp; it was very pleasant to be outside.  We dawdled over breakfast, loaded the bikes onto the car and drove off to join the cycle path at the little village of La Chevalerie.   After a pleasant ride off to the East and back, we strolled around the park there, the Parc des Forges de Varenne where they are restoring ancient iron forges.

We went shopping in a local supermarket for a pizza for dinner.  A bit of a climb-down from Sunday evening, but tasty and nourishing.  On Tuesday we slid slowly home, refreshed.

Thursday 1 October 2020

Dinner out

We were only away for Sunday and Monday nights, and restaurants in France are often shut on Mondays, so we decided that our dining out evening would be Sunday.   Since we weren't paying for aeroplane tickets and hotels this time around, we thought we'd push the boat out.  We dined at the Manoir du Lys that was 15-minute drive away.   It was... an experience.

It's a Michelin starred restaurant, and the chef is a great fan of mushrooms so we had a fabulous meal where all or most of the dishes had mushrooms in them.  I had the menu dégustation 5 plats so 5 different dishes, while Anita chose 4 from the menu.  Very nice. 

I think that taking photos of the food in a restaurant is a bit iffy, but Anita was so impressed with the presentation that she couldn't resist.   It tasted good too.

It was a memorable dinner, and a serious indulgence.

Wednesday 30 September 2020


We took the cat to the kennel on Saturday evening, and packed the car on Sunday morning, taking our time.  But we were finished quite early, so it was late morning when we arrived at Domfront.   The weather men had lied to us.  It was cold (9°) with a chill wind, and overcast.   We took a look at the impressive castle ruins, with its spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.

When a castle became disused, the local peasantry would nick the stones to build their houses and barns.  I thought the base of this tower spoke of a medieval  game of Jenga.  Who can take the last stone before the tower collapses?    And there was this cute little house incongruous in the castle grounds.  A caretaker maybe?

I picked up some conkers to plant, then we strolled around the town admiring the views, and then on to a Chinese buffet restaurant for lunch before arriving at the gîte and settling in for the afternoon.  After finishing my novel I went out for a walk to find the cycle path.

Tuesday 29 September 2020

Short break

We are just back from a short break near Domfront.  It's not very far away, perhaps an hour-and a-half's drive; just far enough to be away from things and not so far as to be a long drive.   It was only for two nights, for various reasons including the need to kennel our not altogether fully integrated new household cat for the duration.

We chose to stay in a small gîte.  The Belle Vallée  is run by a couple of Brits, Victoria and Richard, who gave us a warm welcome.   They have both the gîte and a B&B operation.  We chose the gîte since it gave more options for catering, and made social distancing easier.  Their cats are friendly too, though you have to make sure that they are not hiding in the gîte when you go out.

Their gardens are pretty, and I was impressed that their grass was green, even luxuriant, not like the scorched earth that we have at home.  The farm is on a North-facing slope which doubtless reduces the power of the sun a bit, and any rain runs down the slope into the garden.  Richard said that the garden was a quagmire in the Spring, so I guess you have to take the rough with the smooth.

We found it to be a very nice place to stay, and the little fireplace in the corner of the gîte living/dining room added extra warmth and charm.

Tuesday 22 September 2020

Work In Progress

I tend to launch into big garden projects without taking photos of how things were at the start.  The current project is no exception, but I can at least document the work in progress.

The first part of the garden taming was to eliminate the brushwood and small trees from the area near the conservatory.  The paths were getting overgrown and I was beginning to get annoyed by the tendency of the wild rose to scratch my face as I went past.   This picture shows the state of affairs now that the work is done.   The area of dirt around the Lilac in the centre-right of the picture and the bed delineated by rocks, is where the brushwood used to be.  It took just over a week to take it all out and shred it or cut it up.   Now I will be able to maintain the area with the mower; I'll plant grass seed just as soon as the ground becomes reliably moist.

The other major project involves taming the area that was recently cleared for me of brambles and nettles by Joel from up the road, using his impressive 100hp tractor and flail.   The area is clear now, but the weeds are regrowing.   Hopefully, if I mow them often enough, I won't need to call him back in to help.   But there are nasty rocks sticking up out of the ground that will wreck my mower, so the current project is to dig them all out.   I am using them to create a small dry stone wall to delineate the managed area (and to stop people wandering off the edge of the cliff alongside to the left.

The unkempt area downhill is truly wild; I doubt if anything has been done with it in living memory.  As mentioned, it's basically a cliff, so difficult to work at the best of times.   The box bushes and trees are being suffocated by wild Clematis that is also blocking the view of the valley.   Once I have the sitting area sorted, I will have to do some work to manage the view; take out some of the dead trees and cut back the Clematis.


Thursday 10 September 2020

Harvest festival

My dad used to refer to ladies' corsets as harvest festivals.  "All is safely gathered in".   It's not yet really festival time, but I know, more or less, what to expect from the veg patch for the rest of the year.

The butternut squashes are ripening nicely, there will be quite a few of them, certainly enough to last the Winter.   We prefer getting a large number of smaller ones rather than the inverse, since smaller ones will do for two people, and there's no need to store any left-over bits.

The cardboard around the gooseberry bushes looks ugly, but it's keeping the annual weeds down very well.   I'll have to see how it does in Spring, but I plan to cover it with fresh compost with added fertiliser to improve the appearance and yield.

Not many beans are left on the plants now, just a few pods to claim when I dismantle the frame.   I'm happy with the harvest, there's enough for a good few cassoulets and I have beans for planting next year too.   The onions drying out are Walla Walla, a very sweet variety.   I understand that it's not worth growing main crop onions because they are plentiful and cheap in the season, so I grow this variety, and red ones.

Next year I plan to try out the "three sisters" crop combination: sweet corn, squash and climbing beans, all in the same area.  They are supposed to grow well together.  We shall see.

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