Wednesday 29 July 2020


I dug up the first lot of potatoes yesterday and today.  Not a bad harvest.  The pink blotchy ones are of the variety "Miss Blush", very good flavour and a good yield.  The more normal-looking ones are Anoe, designed to give bigger spuds for jacket potatoes.  In all, I bought 4 different varieties, 20 tubers of each, which I think is going to be plenty.  The other varieties I'll dig up soon.

Saturday 25 July 2020


I have an Akai EWI 5000, that is an electronic wind instrument.   It has an internal lithium ion battery that needs to be charged from time to time.   But the device has a design fault, in that if the battery gets too flat, it decides that the battery is dud and refuses to charge it.   Perhaps it's a safety consideration, I wouldn't know, but it's annoying, and replacement batteries aren't cheap (About €40 for a single-cell LiPo about the size of an AA).

I put my EWI on to charge last night, but when I came down this morning, there were several red lights on it, flashing.  This is not normally a good sign.   The lights went out when I disconnected the charger, but then I couldn't turn the EWI on.   I don't know what actually went wrong; it could be that I didn't plug the charger in properly, but the battery measured 2.7 volts this morning instead of the 3.7 that it should have, if it had been fully charged.

Clearly, in order to get a better idea of what's wrong, charging the battery is the first step.  But the battery is too flat to charge inside the EWI, and in any case, the charging system seems to have gone wrong.  What to do?  It has to be borne in mind that LiPo batteries have lithium compounds in them, and tend to catch fire or explode if maltreated.

I tried various Heath Robinson ideas, but it so happens that I have a charger for an 18V Black and Decker battery-powered strimmer that helpfully offers its metal charging connectors to the wide world.  I measured the voltages, and there's a pair of connectors offering 5 volts.  By inserting dressmaking pins into the little socket of the EWI battery, (making sure not to short it out) I found I could make a connection and start charging it.  But carefully; starting with a few seconds at a time, and making sure that nothing was getting hot.

The battery doesn't seem to be getting noticeably warm, and is adding about 0.05 volts every 15 minutes, so it's charging gently.   But don't try this at home folks.   This post does not present advice that you should follow.   As a separate project I will get myself a little power supply that will allow me to put, carefully, some charge into the battery when it is flat.

Friday 17 July 2020

Plum crop

We have a couple of plum trees in the garden, and this year they are producing a bumper crop.   Only one of the trees has ripe fruit so far; the others are a bit behind.   We have more plums than we can possibly eat, so a means of preserving them is needed.

Since I'm diabetic, jams don't work well for us.   We can preserve them in Cognac (done that before, works well), and make wine.   This year I'm trying the winemaking, for the first time with plums (the parsnip wine was barely drinkable, and only when laced liberally with cassis).

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Singing for supper

Well, not really supper, and not really singing, but playing some gentle Latin rhythms for the diners at the restaurant down the road.   They're a good friendly bunch down there, and I often go for a morning coffee, and natter.     Recently they held a "fête d'été", a Summer festival, and asked if I could play.

There are many good books of simple music that come with a backing track on CD.   It doesn't have to be "serious" classical music, but it's fine as an accompaniment to an evening meal or "apéros", the before-dinner drinks and nibbles.   And I can sight-read it, or nearly.   So I took down my book of sheet music, music stand, my flute, my flute mic, the android tablet with the backing tracks on, and my portable battery-powered speaker (It's so easy to forget something, and everything is necessary)  I played for 40 minutes or so, the duration of all the pieces in the book.

A free lunch is in the offing.

Saturday 11 July 2020


I do a fair amount of DIY, and when I do, it often puts a fair amount of dust into the air.   I also go into the wood store from time to time, where the wood chips for the boiler are usually covered in a fine wood powder.   So when I do these things I wear a face mask to stop my lungs from from inhaling potentially toxic dust.   Over the years I have always held a small stock of masks, since I never know when the DIY urge will strike, or things need emergency repair.   It so happens that they are FFP2 rated, which means they are also recommended for reducing inhalation of airbourne water droplets laden with virus particles, and for catching exhalations of the same.

Anita went into the hospital at Laval recently, just for a check-up.  She decided to wear one of the FFP2s that we had in stock, rather than one of the disposables that we also have: better protection for her, and for the hospital staff, in a high-risk environment.  She also has characteristics that class her as vulnerable, adding to the justification.   At reception, the conversation went something like this:

  - How long have you been wearing that mask?

  - About two minutes - I put it on when I got out of the car.

  - You have to replace it with one of these disposables.

  - But this is an FFP2 - it's better than those.

  - Yes we know that, but it's an FFP2 - they're for professionals only.

So she had to take of the FFP2 and replace it with an inferior disposable one in order to get to her appointment.   I don't swear here because this blog is family-compatible, but is that ****ing insane or what?

In the early days of the virus outbreak, when FFP2 masks were in short supply, I thought about donating my masks to the healthcare services.   I'm glad I didn't.  Cretins.

Here is a photo of my masks.   They're for me, not for them.   (J'ai un bon tabac)

The port at Dinan

We visited the port of Dinan on the way home.   The river Rance cuts a steep-sided valley there, and the little port area is, unsurprisingly, at the bottom of it.  It's pretty and is a good place to start a bike ride along the towpath.  I went South for several miles before coming back, and you can hire a bike there if your ride is more spontaneous.

We went down to the river on the Lanvallay side, where the créperie we chose was excellent, giving us a cool shaded place to sit and eat while we prepared for the afternoon trip.

Friday 10 July 2020

The grand aquarium

The grand aquarium is over the river, in St Malo.  It was open on a Sunday, and there was a Burger King just up the road, so after a lazy morning we drove off for an early lunch, then on to the aquarium.

We were encouraged to buy tickets online, for a reserved time slot to enter, so we did, before we set off.  The process was complicated, prone to error, and took 3/4 of an hour.   However, once we got to the place, we walked straight in.  There were few other visitors since it was still lunchtime.

There is a ride you can go on, that simulates a deep sea diving adventure, that is well put together.   There are so many warning signs you'd think you were in America.

It's fair to say that the experience is aimed pretty much at kids.   Although the tanks were well-lit, and the fish easy to spot, we came away faintly disappointed, but it is hard to say exactly why.

So let me complain about misuse of technology for its own sake.   Each tank had a backlit display above it with text explaining what you could see.   The problem was that if there were several different species, then the text relating to only one of them was displayed at a time (by being backlit), and after a few seconds, it would move on to the next one.   So you look at the tank, and try to read about what's in there.   The text moves on before you finish reading it, and you have to wait until the one you want to read comes back.   What's wrong with plain text display showing everything you might want to know, all at the same time?  A low-tech panel below and in front of the dispaly would be much better.

In Dinard town

We didn't spend a lot of time in the town of Dinard, but we had a couple of meals there and did some touristy shopping.   The location is picturesque, being surrounded by water, and the cliffs set off the stone-built houses with charm.

We were particularly impressed by the presence of several Thai restaurants, and the beachside café/bar/restaurant that we visited had some Thai choices on the menu.  In the end we went for a cold take-away to reheat in the microwave back at the flat.  The little shop had a variety of dishes laid out under the counter and the lady spooned the mixture into tubs to take away.   It smelt wonderful.  There was a microwave oven in the shop and some places to sit at a counter, but I think the Covid scare caused them to shut down that service.   I wish I could remember what they were called.

I took the bike for a ride around the town, and I also went along a little path that goes around the promontory, just above the sea level.  Much of the town centre road space had been given over to restaurants so they could serve people outside and observe the social distancing rules.   It worked well, and the traffic flowed easily.  Might be a bit different in high season.

Thursday 9 July 2020

Time and tide

There are huge tides on the river Rance, up to about 40 feet, and there is a corresponding number of tide mills on the river.   The old ones are quaint, and, mostly I think, no longer in operation.  (Why not?)  There was one called the Moulin Neuf that was on the road between Dinard and the gardens at Montmarin.  The format is typical there - a dam, and a mill at the edge of the water.  I believe that it offers holiday accommodation; looks like a nice place to stay.

EDF have a huge working tide mill that generates lots of electricity and also forms a bridge over the river Rance between Dinard and St Malo.   You can park there and read the notices about how eco-friendly it all is, and I understand that you can go inside and have a look, though I didn't.

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Montmarin gardens

There is a rather fine country house at Montmarin, not far from Dinard, that you can visit.   We went to take a look.   There is a formal French style garden, surrounded by grounds that are more in the English tradition.  Very effective.   You can also book the place for weddings, etc.

The house is right by the river Rance, so there are views across the water.   The gardens are open only in the afternoons, I think that they do the maintenance in the mornings.   The battery-powered lawn mowers, however stayed working into the afternoon.  I rather liked the effect that was similar having a big tortoise lumbering around.

There is a nice veg garden that was closed to visitors, and a plant shop where you can buy examples in good condition, of the plants you see around the grounds.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Break at Dinard

We are just back from a short break at the seaside town of Dinard in Brittany.  It's on the west side of the Rance estuary, on the other side from St Malo where the cross-channel ferries go.   Just three nights away, and not an especially long car journey, the idea being to get some sightseeing and cycling in, before we have some gîte visitors.

We set off early with the intention of making the journey part of the break, stopping on the way.   In the event, we had a coffee and bite to eat at the little village of Taden, by the Rance where it narrows, and we rode along the towpath for a bit.   Very pretty riverside scenery, the weather sunny and warm; ideal.  There was a sign on the path saying it was closed ahead, for 4 months' worth of work starting in November.  We figured that even in France they might have finished it by now, and we were right.

Thursday 2 July 2020

Street art

The throbbing metropolis of St Pierre sur Erve has installed some art in the village centre.   Since the village is a "Petite cité de caractère", various activities are undertaken to maintain interest in the village, especially during the Summer, for visitors and tourists.  The art is undoubtedly part of this.

I took a short walk to take some photos the other day.   There is certainly a visual impact, though the designs on the road I found to be distracting from the job of driving when I went past in the car.  I realised that I had taken the junction looking at the artwork rather than looking out for other traffic.

Opinions of the artistic merit of the displays may vary.

Wednesday 1 July 2020

Not a lot of shallots

I grew a lot of shallots last year, more than we could reasonably expect to eat.   I picked out the biggest ones for cooking, the smallest ones for replanting this year, and pickled the rest.   I ate the last pickled shallot last week.

This year I didn't do so well.   In fact I think I have less weight of shallots than I started with.   I'll have to buy commercial pickled onions.  Oh, the shame.


An aspect of our life in France that is noticeably different from that in the UK is that we visit the local municipal recycling centre much more often.   When we lived in Staines, I think we might have gone to the local dump perhaps three times in the couple of decades we lived there.   Here we seem to go once a fortnight.

I have been meaning to get a new bench or stool for my piano keyboard.   It has to have wheels since I also have a PC as an audio workstation and I scoot between the two.   What should I see in the skip during our last dump visit, but an abandoned office chair with wheels.   I took it.

It turned out that the back was broken; the bit of plastic that attaches the back to its mounting had cracked.  But I don't need a back on a piano stool, so I took it all off.   It's perfect for the job.

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