Saturday 27 June 2020

Dam busters

There is a project being run by the government (that is, the civil service) in France, to remove or disable the many small dams that permit water mills to operate.   There is a certain controversy around this, and is some cases, feelings run high.

We have the unusual experience in the throbbing metropolis of St Pierre sur Erve, that someone has taken things into their own hands, and cut a slice out of the village's barrage.   This is rather naughty.  I am told that the perpetrator risks a fine of €15,000 to €30,000 and six months in prison.

Here is a photo I took yesterday.  It's a narrow hole and won't make much difference when the river is in full flood, but still.  Slapped wrists.   I have also been told who did it, but I have no evidence of my own, and probably shouldn't say anything, given that the situation seems to be fraught with legal issues.

I have been giving some thought as to why the government would want to destroy hydro power.   I suspect that hydro power in private hands would be the subject of great jealousy in the future when energy gets really expensive.   I have already seen reports of water mills being sabotaged by French citizens, and I can imagine that these incidents would get worse in future.   Perhaps having the government with a near-monopoly on hydro electricity generation might avoid much civil unrest.   That's aside from the revenue implications for the state.

Thursday 25 June 2020

Rebooting the economy

It seems like we have recently been single-handedly rebooting the French economy.   The mower packs up.  The red car front shocks are blown, and while fixing them the garage discovers that the UJs also need replacing.  And the cherry on the top, the Espace refused to start this morning.

We've been happy with the MMA insurance for the Espace.  We don't do a lot of mileage in it, and we have a distance-dependent insurance price.   They agreed to pay the cost of getting the car to the garage; we will have to pay to get it fixed.  Seems reasonable to me.

Tuesday 23 June 2020

New Hyundai mower

The old walk-behind mower finally died the death the other day, after an encounter with an indigestible stone.  I used it for areas that are crowded with trees and where the sit-on is difficult to manoeuvre, and also as a backup for when the sit-on is awaiting a part.  There were so many things wrong with it that I decided to replace it, and I have given it to Mick who had an old mower like it whose engine blew up.  The motor on mine works well so hopefully he can combine the two to make a working one.  

 Here are some photos of the new one.   I used it for a short while yesterday to check it out.

When I took it from the box, there was a faint smell of petrol, and there was a small amount of blackish oil (as indicated by the dipstick) inside the motor.   I got the impression that it had been fired up to to confirm that it works.   Good.   It was easy to attach the handle, but fixing the front wheel was fiddly, and I put the washers in the wrong place.   I supplied two of my own in the right place rather than take the wheel off again, but why do the pictograms have to be so small?  Is paper that expensive?

I added the oil to the right level, turned the engine over a few times, then added petrol and primed it, and it started right away.

The height of the handle can be changed.  Since I'm short, the low position works for me, but I'd have preferred a slightly higher position; the next one up is too high.   The front wheel can be fixed in the straight ahead position, but I will mostly use it moveable, and it is easy to change between the two settings.  The height of the rear wheels is easy to adjust  but the front one takes a minute or so since it has to be disconnected and replaced at its new height.

I probably won't use the grass collection box much, for two reasons: I don't like heaps of festering grass, and when the box nears full, the cuttings start to accumulate around the blade and the engine stalls.  Lateral ejection works fine.

It has a hose connection at the top of the blue skirt, for cleaning.  That seems to work fine too.

I registered the product on the maintenance website without difficulty, though I had to provide a photo of it as well as the receipt and (separately) the serial number (that was also on the required photo).   One of the things that attracted me to this brand was the reviews on Amazon.  Not so much the positive reviews, but the one negative review I saw was for a machine that clearly had a manufacturing defect.  There was a response from Hyundai explaining how to sort it out.  Cool.

PS:  I've had some helpful comments regarding protective footwear.  I have some tough gardening boots, but nothing with  steel reinforcement.  Perhaps I should get some.   It's not strictly relevant to this situation, but a neighbour of mine recently rolled his sit-on mower and lost two fingers in the process.   That would certainly screw my flute and piano playing.  Perhaps I should pay more attention to safety considerations.

Tuesday 9 June 2020


The walnut tree by the gate is on the North side of the grange building, so it gets the morning sun, but not much light thereafter.   At this time of year, though, the setting sun peeks between a couple of buildings and highlights the tree.  I noticed it for the first time yesterday.

Sunday 7 June 2020

Incipient cherry brandy

The cherries are now all gone from the tree.  There is a glut that lasts about a week, then nothing.  It was about 40% - 60% between me and the birds.  I got the 40% that I could reach with a step-ladder on the lower branches, and the birds got the cherries on the higher branches and anything they could nick from the lower ones.

That still left us with a lot of cherries;  they became cherry pies, clafoutis,  and those left at the end are making a major contribution to the creation of cherry brandy.   The recipe is simple enough: cherries; brandy and sugar, mix them all together, shake the jar every day until the sugar is dissolved, and keep it in a dark place.   It's ready in a few weeks, and apparently the pips infuse an almond taste, so the longer you leave the cherries in, the more almondy your cherry brandy.

A nice aspect is that the cherries can be eaten at the end too, but don't try to drive afterwards.   In fact, it's best just to lie down.

I bought the jar at a car boot sale a while ago; this is the first time it is being used.  

Thursday 4 June 2020

The weak link

Some time ago we bought a couple of long extension leads to allow us to bring mains power to all corners of the garden.   We bought cheap ones.  They quickly became a pain to use, for reasons too complicated to go into.    A couple of weeks ago while I was struggling to reel in the cable after use, I decided that I'd had enough, and that I had to replace it.  I ordered one like the one shown below from Amazon.  It arrived bent, although there was not a single mark or dent on the packaging.  I'm assuming that it was OK when packed, and that couriers are the weak link in our brave new world of internet purchases.

I can't fault Amazon.  I went on their website and it was easy to print off a returns label, re-order, and in due course the thing arrived again, in good condition this time.

But I have to say, I'm more inclined these days to buy things that are any combination of big, heavy, delicate or expensive, in a shop, even if that means paying a premium - and it often doesn't.   I have recently ordered a petrol lawn mower online on a DIY chain's website.  It will be delivered to my local DIY store, where I will collect it.   And it was the cheapest of all the options that I could find anywhere for that product - that works for me.   I can leave it with them if it's damaged, and I have somewhere to take it for after-sales service.

The frame of the old extension cable, being made of metal, is in the recycling.  As for the lead itself,  the insulation had nicks and holes in it, and was coming away from the cores at each end.  I cut it at each damaged point, ending up with 4 good cable lengths.  I bought in-line plugs and sockets and made 4 medium-length extension leads out of it.  I think you're not allowed to do that in England any more, am I right?   I think you're not allowed to buy the bits, or it has to be done by a "professional".

Wednesday 3 June 2020

Watering trees

I planted some Hornbeams in the field opposite, last Autumn.   They are supposed to like lime soil, be drought tolerant, and make good firewood.  Ideal.  I put in 25 at the far side of my 2 hectare field.

I can find 21 of them, I'm not sure what happened to the rest, I think they got dug up and eaten.  Those that remain show serious signs of having been nibbled, probably by a hare or rabbit.   The hot dry Spring didn't do them any good either, and some were showing signs of drought damage.   There are some self-seeded Walnut trees in the field too, and even they are showing some dead leaves that came out too early and dried up.

I decided to make an effort to water the new trees frequently to protect them from this hot weather.  I started out by carrying two watering cans across the field, putting half a can on each tree.  6 return trips, it took an hour and a half, and made my arms ache.   I needed a better option if I am going to be doing this all Summer.

Here is the solution.   I have a sit-on mower, 22 horsepower, with a towing ball on the back.  I have a trailer that it can pull, and a couple of plastic dustbins that I used to store Dahlia tubers in over Winter.  Put the dustbins in the trailer, fill them with water and use the mower to take them over.   When in place, use the watering can on the trees.

For the nibbling problem, I spotted an ad in the French national small ads website, for some used tree protectors: thick plastic mesh, and poles for support.  Perfect, €1.50 each.

As an aid to getting the mower over my unkempt field, I asked a neighbour to come and make a path around it (leaving the trees that are in the path; I can weave around them) using his 100hp tractor and flail mowers.  It worked a treat, and I can now get the trailer all around the field with no problem.

The trees are responding to the water, and all, or nearly all, are showing signs of new growth.   You can even see that the grass is greener where I have been watering.

My Husqvarna mower has done good service over the years.  It has needed its share of spare parts, but then I haven't been gentle with it.  Truth is, though, I should have bought a small tractor instead, a diesel, one that has a central mowing deck like the Husqvarna, but that has all the other possibilities of a tractor.   It would have cost about 7 times the mower though, and at the time I never even thought about it.

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