Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Sunny and mild

It was a mild Spring-like morning  unusual for February, so I went for a walk to burn off some calories and enjoy the sunshine.   First thing I noticed was this little device in the river.  I wonder what it's for?   I couldn't see any sensors or recording devices on it, it just seems to sit in the water, turning with the stream.   I can't believe it will last long: the river often rises enough to submerge this thing, and I imagine that either the little wooden slats will break off or the whole thing will be carried downstream.

A bit farther along the walk, I come to these steps.   The first time I encountered them, I was on a mountain bike, coming the other way.   They were a bit of a surprise.   The track had begun, level, wide and grassy, but had become rather narrower, muddier and steep downhill.   It had also become tilted to the left, encouraging my bike to head towards a ditch and a stream that widened from time to time into an uninviting pool.   Applying the brakes on the muddy, tilted track achieved no deceleration, but an uncontrolled skid, so was abandoned as a strategy.  So the bike accelerated downhill until I turned a corner and there were the steps.  Nothing to do but stand on the pedals and let the bike take them as it would.  No harm done in the end, but the chain came off.  These days if I'm on the bike I walk this bit.

At the farthest point of the walk is an ex-mill where lives a big dog, a St Bernard I think.  He usually barks as I approach, but is friendly and wimpers with pleasure if I stroke his neck.  Not there today, perhaps it's a bit early for him.

On the way back I pass a smallholding with a couple of geese.  One took a dislike to me.  Oh yeah?  Bring it on. I spread out my fingers like talons, raised my arms and hissed at it.  The reaction was immediate.  "What?  Just kidding.... looking for grass actually.... er, have a nice day".

Strava tells me I walked for 7.63 Km in 1 hour and 27 minutes, an average speed of about 5kph, with an elevation gain of 113m.


Thursday, 18 February 2021

Heavy machines

There was some noise of heavy machinery working just outside our gates the other day, so I went to see what was going on.   They were laying fibre-optic cables.

I remember, some 35-odd years ago, doing the rounds of the university admissions.  One of the candidates was Southampton, where they were doing advanced research on fibre optics, and the senior bod there was enthusing about how they could now get several tens of yards of useful performance.   We have come a long way.

The machine that was making all the noise was a trench digger/cable layer.   It would dig a trench, roll the cables into it, and a separate digger would come along behind it to fill it in.  One of the guys was marking the street tarmac where the phone line, and separately, the water supply, ran across it.   He came up to me and asked me where the electricity supply cables ran.  Hey, I don't know, and neither did he.   We didn't get cut off though, so I assume the cables come up the hill from the valley rather than across the road.

I asked, some time ago, about how we might get a fibre service delivered to our place.   Our ex-mayor, who worked in the telecomms sector, said that the fibre would be strung along the telegraph poles that carry our phone line.  So I'm not sure how we'll be connected to this new cable that runs underground.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021


I started my aubergines too late last year.  Or perhaps I planted them out too early when it was still too cold.   In any case, I didn't get any fruits.

According to the seed packet, they can be planted from January, so that's when I did.   They're in a warmed propagator that my Mum bought for me ages ago.  The seeds have germinated and the seedlings survived in the conservatory during the cold spell, with a little help from the bottom heat.

We still have plenty of chillis in the freezer so I have strict instructions not to try those again this year:  next on the agenda are sweet peppers. I didn't have any luck with those last year either, so I'l wait until the aubergines are out of the propagator.   

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Ice patterns in the sun

A short walk yesterday to blow the cobwebs away.  Sunny but cold, and with a chilling wind.  Frozen puddles making pretty patterns in the ice.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

A touch of snow

We had a little snow yesterday, as the forecast had promised.  I went down the road to take some photos, thinking I would be the first to venture out in this bit of remote-ish contryside.   Not a chance.   But I still got some photos.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

A drained lake

I was getting a bit bored with the local walks around here so I decided to go a bit farther afield and walk around the lake at the Gué de Selle.

It's a pretty lake and I havent been there for a while.  It's  great place in Summer; there's sailing, a bit of canoeing, and even a small sandy beach where you can picnic.   There's a fine hotel nearby where, in more normal times, you can grab a coffee or meal.   The trouble was, the lake was empty.

I don't know what work they were doing, but it wasn't espcially pretty to look at.  I guess it must be necessary, but I wonder what happened to all the fish?

Monday, 8 February 2021

Tourism and handicap

There's legislation in France that requires businesses that the public can enter (us) to be accessible to handicapped people;  it specifies a minimum set of things that you are required to provide.  If you are in the tourism sector you can go farther and qualify for a special label, "Tourism and Handicap" if you like.

We get mostly family groups in the gîte, for significant birthdays, wedding anniversaries and so on, and often there's gran and grandad, their kids and the grandkids, sometimes great-grandkids.   Gran and grandad are often getting on a bit and suffering from the general problems that come with age.  So we decided to go the extra mile, and with the help of some excellent advice from the local tourist board, we made the changes and got the appropriate label.   They inspect you once every few years, and they're coming tomorrow.

This was a spur for a little bit of work today.   One of the things they check for is anything that might trip or catch out a visually impaired person, and we recently installed some new parasols.  The bases are weighted down by decorative concrete slabs, but the bases stick out a bit from the slabs, so I had to shorten them.   

Cue some noisy work with an angle grinder.  There were three bases to deal with, so the job was done in half an hour or so.   I was surprised and pleased at how much better the whole thing looked afterwards.

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Gate down

We had some storms here last week and I noticed that the bottom gate has been damaged.  It's hinged to a post at one end and chained to a post at the other.  Both posts had rotted and had been wrenched from the ground.   Time to get some new posts and some concrete.    I went down to our local garden centre to see what they had.   What they had was a sale on.

A pretty good sale it was, too.  Things normally marked at 40 euros were down to 15.  I bought some tools, some plant pots, a whitecurrant plant (like a blackcurrant but white fruits) (not on sale) and a pair of walking boots.  Oh and I did remember the posts and concrete.

My old walking boots had shed a sole recently and close inspection showed that the other sole was detatching, so I took them to the cobbler in Evron.   He glued them back on but said that fixing the  rubber sole to the plastic underside of the boot, was difficult, and that if they detatched again he would re-glue them (for free).  They did and he did, but perhaps it was time for a new pair.

I remember buying the old ones in a sports shop; they were instantly comfortable, so I got them even though they were quite expensive - about €75 if I remember rightly.   The new ones at the garden centre were on sale at €24, and equally comfortable.   It turns out that they're by the same manufacturer, and almost identical in design.  The old ones have lasted ten years, and if they fail again I'll try using transparent anti-leak mastic to stick them back together myself in a last-ditch effort to save them. In any case, I hope the new ones will do as well.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Short John Silver

A further thought regarding the inevitability of bankrupt hedge funds, and consequent bailouts.

One of the things I have always believed about share brokers is that, when you buy a share through them, they buy it on your behalf, keep it for as long as you want, and then sell it for you when you ask them.  I might be wrong, but perhaps that's not necessarily true for all brokers and for all the time.   Under certain circumstances, your "share purchase" might only represent a liability on the part of the broker,  that is, a promise to pay you the value of the share at the time when you wish to "sell" it.   Meanwhile, the broker  might, for example, lend it to a hedge find, who might short it, and who might, as discussed, go broke.

At this point, the hedge fund has a liability to the broker, and the broker has a liability to you.   If the hedge fund goes broke, the broker still has its liability to you, that it might or might not still be able to meet.  The way I think that bailouts work is that the government hands oodles of dosh to the hedge fund, who can then pay the broker who can then pay you.  What should happen in my view, is that the hedge fund should be left to go broke, the broker also if need be, and the government sends you the value of your share directly.

Yeah, right, I can see that happening.


In England, pancake day is always on a Tuesday.  In France, it's always on the 2nd Feb.  We had pancakes yesterday, or at least, the nearest French equivalent, that is, crêpes.

As a kid, I only ever got given pancakes to eat on pancake day, and they were always covered in melted butter, sugar and lemon juice.  In France they will eat crêpes given any opprotunity; they are served as snacks on any occasion, and are covered in any kind of (sweet) topping that might appeal.  French kids and many adults go for Nutella, but jams are popular too, as is a simple sprikling of sugar.  Lemon juice is not unknown.

We were invited to a friend's house in the village, where we were served crêpes, accompanied with several options for spreads, including, to my surprise, some strong liquors such as scotch, cassis and other flavoured alcohols.   Guided, as I thought by the suggestions of our hosts, I discovered that scotch with marmelade made an excellent topping, as did cassis with certain jams.  It was only later that they told us, over a glass of wine, they had rather expected that we would choose either the alcohol, or the jams, but not both.  Oh well, live and learn.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Silver lining

Well, here's a thing.   Some  investors  caused considerable pain to a hedge fund.

If I borrow a company's share from you, with a promise to give it back to you after a fixed period of time, I have to pay you something for the privilege.  The amount will depend on many things but will usually be small compared with the value of the share that I borrowed.  If I think that the share will decline in value during the period of the loan, I might decide to sell it, intending to buy it back at the end of the loan period so I can give it back to you.  This is called short selling. 

As a short seller I am taking a risk:  if the share becomes more expensive, I still have to buy it back, whatever the price, if I am to fulfill my promise to you.  Since the price can be whatever the market decides, my potential losses are unlimited.  OK, not unlimited, but certainly enough to bankrupt me, which is about the same thing.

There doesn't seem to me to be anything immoral in the above transaction, but, but.....   the transaction is one where there is, if I have done my homework, a good chance of a finite gain, but there is also, always, a chance of a loss, including a small chance of an infinite loss.   Probability theory tells us that eventually, players must inevitably go bankrupt.

Here we see the asymmetry in the financial markets:  When the shorts make money, the financiers keep the profits, but when they fail, they can be (and have been) "bailed out", as necessary.   That is, taxpayers' money is handed to them so they can fulfill their contracts.   Since they will inevitably eventually go bankrupt, it is a scheme for passing taxpayers' money to the financiers.

The precious metals market (mostly gold and silver) is one that appears to have been manipulated for some time.  Most of what is traded in the gold markets is "paper gold", that is, a promise to deliver gold rather than actual delivery of the real physical stuff.  I believe that there are upwards of 100 promises to deliver, for every ounce of deliverable gold.

Again, I'm not sure that there is anything immoral here.   If my experience tells me that out of every hundred customers to whom I have promised to deliver gold, only one will actually take it, the others taking money to the value of the gold instead, then it's not unreasonable for me to trade paper gold in this way.  But what happens when, instead of just one person out of 100 taking delivery, two do?  Or 50?   Or 100 ?   And the question arises: what is actually being traded?  The gold price is held to be the price at which paper gold is traded, but in reality, its links to the physical market for real gold are thin.

Somethng else is happening at the same time.  Bitcoin, when it started out, was used, as I understand it, as a way of paying for illegal drugs, mostly cannabis.  It used to have almost no value, but now it is quite expensive.  It was and remains a favourite among the IT crowd, that I describe without any malice intended, as nerds.  Many are now extremely rich.   So we have a bunch of nerds, with no loyalty to the financial system, with huge personal financial clout, and with a sense of fairness.   They don't like what they see.

There is noise about the nerds going after the silver market.  Watch this space.

This post does not constitute financial advice of any kind.

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