Monday 19 December 2022

The artisan

We seem to be inundated with artisans these days.  Artisanal this and that; crisps, yoghurt, probably lettuce and sprouts too.   I have recently been interacting with the real thing: a Mr Guais at Chateau Gontier hand-makes accordeons; the traditional diatonic ones (you get different notes pulling and squeezing), about 10 per year in a little workshop that used to be a garage.  He makes the point that the musician and instrument will be working together for many years, so the instrument itself should be as beautiful as possible, given the constraints of functionality.   And so they are.

He is right of course.   The flute that I played for many years I chose from among the professional models available because it seemed to me to be the most beautiful.   Grey steel, sliver and black resin, all combined. 

Here's a couple of his accordeons to make the point:

I didn't contact him for a new accordeon, though.  He also services old ones, and I had acquired an old one cheaply.   You can come a cropper buying an old accordeon; it can cost you more to put it right than it is worth, and you might have been better off paying full whack for a new one.   Fortunately this was not the case for me, but none the less, tuning it and putting it right cost nine times what it cost me to buy.   But I do have a nice instrument, and still at a good price.

The workshop itself speaks of quality.   The tools are metal, heavy, floor standing and built to last a lifetime, not like much of the modern plasticised stuff.   It's what you need if you're going to do a proper job as an artisan.   

Mr Guais will be moving soon, to a purpose-renovated workshop on the banks of the Mayenne river, in a ex lock-keeper's cottage.   Renovation being done by the town, in an attempt to bring life back to these abandoned buildings.   Probably a good thing.

And now I'm trying to get my fingers around the new machine.   It's different from my smaller, student model, and will take some getting used to.  But it sounds nice.

Sunday 4 December 2022

Common walk

While staying with the friends in Wimbledon, we went on a walk on the common.   I hadn't been aware of the semi-natural state of this carefully tended common land.   Joint walks in the past tended to be over the grassy area around Rushmere pond at the South-Eastern corner of the common, but this time we drove to The Windmill, a museum at the centre.  From there, a walk to Queensmere Pond, and on to the edge of Putney Cemetery and back via Jerry's Hill.  Here's some pics.

Wednesday 30 November 2022

England trip

 We're just back from a trip to England, visiting friends and family.   Here's a few observations:

Energy.  The houses we visited were cooler than we are used to.   Not cold, but cooler than we remember.  And other energy usage is being sharply curtailed; more attention is being paid to turning off lights in unused rooms, and so on.

Shopping.   A couple of things; we went into the shopping centre in Fareham, and it was definitely less populous than we remember.  There were more boarded-up shops too.  With people seriously concerned about their upcoming energy bills, non-necessities are being cut hard back.   This coming recession will be a doozy.  And price differentials between France and the UK.   An impact wrtench via Amazon was about £23 from and for delivery to the UK, and around €47 for delivery to France from .fr  And the vitamine D pills that we pay nearly €10 for in France, were under £2 from a standard pharmacy in England.   And four quid for a plastic seed tray in a garden centre?  You're taking the Mick - you can get metal oven trays in Asda of about the same size for half the price.

We discovered a new garden - West Dean.  The village is pretty, with a clear stream running between the grass banks, and the garden, a shortway along the main road, is spectacular.  Their walled vegetable garden makes me envious.   We will aim to visit it again in Summer.

I had never seen espaliered fruit trees on a 3-D frame before.  It's something I might try.

And a walk on Wimbledon common - later for pics.

Wednesday 16 November 2022

Survival wood chips

I have been impressed recently by the mutual self-help network that has arisen spontaneously in our little village.   It has matured to the extent that there is now a Whatsapp group devoted to local goods or services wanted or offered.   A bride forgets her wedding shoes and needs something finer to replace her trainers?  No problem.   Surplus squash for eating?  Put them on the wall in front of the bar, alert the group and they'll be gone in an hour.  A ride into town?  When can I pick you up?

I have benefitted from an example of this recently.  A pile of wood chips has been created, and offered around.   After a few days when everyone has had what they need, there's still a big heap left.  I'm collecting them to spread on the garden to keep the weeds down.   There's about three trailer loads - plenty.

I got a load yesterday and spread it on the flower bed.  Another that I got today is still in the trailer, and the last load remains as a heap, waiting to be collected later in the week.

It's a trivial example, perhaps, but it could well be that we are in for darker times, thanks to our wise politicians.   This sort of thing might be key to survival.

Friday 28 October 2022


It's become our tradition that when one of our pet cats dies, we bury him and plant a shrub or tree as a grave marker.   Our cat Minuit died at the end of long hot dry summer, so the options on offer at the local garden centre were limited.  I settled for a hardy Fucshia, the best of a tatty-looking bunch, but still alive at least.

The grave lies in a shaded corner of the garden near the grange, not ideal for Fuschias, but sheltered from wind and protectd by the thermal inertia of the building.  I have been keeping an eye on the plant for the last few years, making sure that it's thriving.   This year it has rewarded us with a big diplay of flowers.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Preserving food

I had a basket of unshelled walnuts left over from last year, and this year's crop was plentiful too.   So I set out to shell the lot and get them ready for use, preserved in vacuum packing plastic bags.   It took about half an hour per bag, and I have a lot of bags.

There's a good crop of beans too, so those are being treated the same way.   Cassoulet (and baked beans) on the horizon!

Friday 21 October 2022


It's a voyage of discovery to visit the veg patch.   This morning I found a hitherto unnoticed, perfectly ripe butternut squash in amongst the leaves.   And a dark green, well-camouflaged Courge de Provence nearby too.   The courge is about 18 inches diameter so I don't know how I failed to notice it.

The leeks are doing well this year, I planted carrots alongside them to keep the bugs down.   This seems to have worked as there are hardly any bugs on the leeks this year.   Of course this is only anecdotal evidece so I should stop planting carrots alongside leeks until a carefully-controlled double-blind experiment proves that they are effective.

I have pulled out the tomato plants, but I left in the little French marigolds that are also said to help keep the bugs off.   After all, they look pretty and are doing no harm.   The green tomatoes will be sliced and fried.     And the last of the beans are waiting for the first air frosts before I harvest them.

Sweet corn wasn't very successful this year: I got two nice fresh ears off the 20-odd plants that grew, but those that I pulled later proved chewy.   Perhaps I have to pull them all off when they're still tender, and hope that they keep.   I will try to do better next year because I do like sweet corn.   The sunflowers grew well enough but don't seem to be good for anything.   Perhaps the birds will eat the seeds.

This metal grille in this picture was supposed to be a climbing frame for sweet potatoes, this year was the first time I tried them.   They got swamped by the squashes, so I'm not expecting much from them.   I found that they didn't seem to like being transplanted outside, perhaps it was still too cold when I did it, or perhaps I didn't let their roots grow long enough first.

In other news, green peppers, aubergines, beetroot and parsnips are doing well, as are carrots and scorzonera.

Thursday 6 October 2022


Following swiftly on from my last post, here's a wicked walnut and fig tart.   With lashings of Calvados.  The recipe called for a glass of it, but didn't say how big a glass.

Thursday 29 September 2022

Nuts and figs

The figs are the first good crop I've had from a tree that I started from a cutting several years ago.   It is the sole survivor of about 10 attempts that otherwise failed for one reason or another: frost, drought, neglect, etc.   I have been eating the occasional figs that have ripened during the Summer, but now they're all coming at once.

The walnuts are from a couple of trees that were saplings when we arrived here, but that are now producing reliably each year.   Walnut trees seem to like the conditions here, and I have many young trees in the field over the road.

Wednesday 21 September 2022

Scorpion on the wall

 Well, it makes a change from fiddler on the roof.

There is a "scrapyard challenge" once a year, that two of our neighbours participate in.   The idea is to weld a piece of artwork together from various bits of scrap metal.   This year they decided to make a scorpion.   And on "heritage day" (journée de patrimoine) the one of the team who is a "cordiste" (steeplejack) decided that the scorpion would look good on the wall of the local church tower.  Well why not?

I have to tell you that the ugly wheels on the scorpion did come off, but I don't have a picture.

He had a good audience too, since the heritage day tradition in the throbbing metropolis of St Pierre sur Erve is to fire up the communal bread oven and invite people to bring their pizzas, bread, pies etc., and have a communal cook-together and meal.  Preceded by a piss-up in the local bistrot, of course, and washed down with plenty of wine.  It was a good evening.

Sunday 11 September 2022

Quiet walk


Girls and boys come out to play,
The moon doth shine as bright as day

Sunday 4 September 2022

Baked beans

Anita makes a wicked baked bean recipe.   The beans are home-grown borlotti beans, the rest of the ingredients are commercial.

Proceed as follows:

Take about 500g dried beans, soak them in water for 24 hours, add salt, then boil them for an hour and a half.   Drain the beans, keeping the water.

Put half the beans in an ovenproof casserole, (that has a lid), add half a chopped onion, between 100 and 200 grams of chopped thick streaky bacon pieces (lardons),  put the rest of the beans in the pot and then add the other half of the chopped onion and another layer of bacon pieces. 

Make the sauce in a small saucepan by combining 4 fluid ounces ketchup, 2-3 tablespoons of dark treacle, 50g brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder (or 1 teaspoon of wholegrain French mustard) and 1 tablespoon worcester sauce, ground black pepper to taste.  Stir, warm until all combined.  Pour over the beans in the casserole, the add the cooking water to cover the beans, cover with the lid and bake at 160°C for 90 minutes, then for another 30 minutes uncovered.


Saturday 3 September 2022


My hopes for a career as a BBC wildlife photographer are on hold.  But meanwhile, here's a fish in the Erve, as seen on a walk the other day.  You might need to enlarge the pic, but it really is there.

Thursday 11 August 2022

Amazon marketplace - a bad experience (Update)

UPDATE 3  Money recieved into bank account.   This is the best I can reasonably expect.   TTC   (all taxes included) price quoted, TTC price paid.   Case closed.

UPDATE 2 V-KING got in touch and proposed a refund of the extra tax if I sent them a reciept.  I got one from the postman after a couple of days, and sent it to them along with a copy of the packet's label to prove it came from England.  This is done, and they have promised a refund.  This is probably as good a result as could be hoped.   But in future I might think about ordering off Amazon UK and getting the book sent to my sister.  £6.17 vs €15 is not an insignifcant price difference.

UPDATE: I got an unexpected phone call from Amazon customer service this lunchtime.  I explained what had happened and I was promised an email from the vendor, to arrive by Wednesday next week.  If I'm not satisfied I'm invited to claim a full refund under the Amazon A-Z guarantee.   This sounds like a company trying to do the best it can in response to a customer complaint.   I will keep you posted.

I have just had to pay 11 euro customs duty/tax on a book that cost slightly less that €15, that I bought on Amazon Marketplace.   I'm a bit sore about that.

The thing is, I have been surprised before by duty payable on things I have bought on Amazon, so this time I checked things out, and I thought I had made the right decision.  There was, at the time I ordered, and still is, I believe, no way that I could tell from where exactly the item was shipping from, so I checked the details of the supplier, and V-KING, who were noted as the supplier and shipper, had an address in France.  I made the mistake of imagining that this would mean that the item would ship from France.  Wrong.   And that the TTC (toutes taxes comprises) price quoted included everything I would have to pay.

I got Amazon to phone me.  That aspect of their customer service is good, and I got a call within a few seconds of having requested one.   After a careful explanation, I was promised an email, that, when I got it, explained, in essence, that their website is continually evolving in order to try new things to improve the customer experience, and thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Out of curiosity I went on, to see if it has the same problem.   No.   This item is available from different suppliers, and it is clearly stated, for each supplier, where the item will ship from.   I was interested to note that the book as sold by V-KING is claimed to ship from France.   Not when I ordered it, it didn't.

Also, the book on .uk was priced from £6.17   So I'm even more sore.

Wednesday 10 August 2022

Making weights

This is about keeping a stack of wood dry in Winter.   You stack the wood up in a row, about 4 feet deep and 5 feet high, and as long as you like.   You cover it with a long tarpaulin, and the challenge is to make sure that the tarp stays on the wood and keeps it dry, during whatever storms and rains the weather might throw at it, and however much wood you take away to burn.

The tarp is wider than the stack of wood, so it has skirts that hang down on both sides.   We started by putting rocks on top of the tarp, but unless they are very heavy, the wind has no trouble lifting the skirts and flicking the rocks off.  There is another difficulty, in that when wood is removed from the heap, the tarp no longer fits snugly, so rain gets in unless you continually adjust things to take into account the wood you have removed.

I am trying a new solution, that is tying weights to the edges of the tarp to keep the skirts from lifting up, and to this end, I am making concrete weights.   After trying various techniques I have settled on what I think is an effective method.  For gîte customers, we sometimes buy fruit salad that comes in a plastic pot that is just the right size.   I make two opposite cuts in the sides from top to bottom.   This makes it possible to separate the pot from the concrete once it has set.  I use sticky tape to hold the two sides of the pot together while I fill it with concrete that I mix with water in the pot.  For the handle I bend iron rebar using a plumbing pipe bender, and I push the U-shaped bar into the concrete and let it set.

I use elastic cord and hooks to attach the weight to the tarp.  This gives flexibility in the arrangement of the wood, and the cord can be easily detatched to give access to the wood at any point.   We'll see if this cunning plan survives the Winter.   The Winter that is, apparently, coming.

Friday 5 August 2022

Red sky at night, shepherds take fright

 Red sunset and red light in the garden, just before last night's thunder storms.

Saturday 30 July 2022

Rock shifting

A previous owner of our place decided that he wanted a small water reservoir.   These are useful in the summer months, for watering and such.   Unfortunately, he didn't take into account the rocky nature of the terrain, and, after he dug the hole, he tried to retain the water with a thin plastic liner.  It didn't work because it got holes in it, and as a result I now have a useless hole in the ground.

It would appear that he surrounded it with the rocks that he took out of it to make the hole.  They're big and heavy.   I did manage to dispose of one of them by myself, by breaking it up into small pieces, but it took a week and was hard work.

Steph, a neighbour, expressed interest in the rocks, so I told him that he could have any that were too big for me to carry, if he took them away.   He wants them all.  Hooray!   He came the other day along with a massive Manitou, his tractor, and Jean-Phillippe, and between them they got rid of half the rocks.   The other half will be for later in the year.   When they're done, perhaps I can re-establish the pond/pool.

Faust at Linières

We're lucky in that the Chateau de Linières is a 5-minute car drive from our place.   It was bought a few years ago by Julien Ostini, a metteur en scène at Geneva, and his wife, a director there, in search of a change of lifestyle.   With the help of a large number of enthusiastic volunteers, it is turning into a cultural centre, and, amongst other things, they put on an opera every year.   This year it was Faust.

This is no amateur production.   On the night I went, singers included Marc Laho as Faust, Chrystelle Di Marco as Marguerite, and Nicolas Cavallier as Mephistophélès.   For me it was Mephistophélès who stole the show with a charismatic performance somewhat in the style of a swashbuckling Zorro.

The orchestra was no slouch also.

All for €15 the ticket.

Thursday 21 July 2022

Incident in the Peugeot 308 Hybrid - a review

I find the cruise control useful.   It helps me keep to the speed limits in town, and stops me having to monitor the speedo all the time on motorways.   I use it a lot, particularly since the new 308 hybrid doesn't give a strong sensation of speed. 

I have noted before that I can't seem to turn off the automatic braking system when cruise control is engaged - they seem to come on together even if I have used the option to switch it off.   I should note that this isn't the ABS anti-skid system that we have known and loved for some decades now - it's a system that is intended to slow you down if you get too near the car in front.   Useful on motorways, perhaps, or for drivers asleep at the wheel.

So I'm trolling along in a built-up area, 30kph cruise control on, since that's the speed limit.  There's a line of cars parked to my right.  (I'm driving on the right; I'm in France).    An impatient driver comes up behind and sits a short distance off my rear bumper.  I'm thinking "If I braked hard now, he'd go right in to the back of me".   At this point, the road bears hard left, and the car "sees" the parked cars as now being in front of me instead of to my right, and..... slams on the brakes.   No car should do this.   There was no need, the situation was risky, and no human would have taken that action.

The quick reflexes of the guy behind saved us from a collision, but he isn't happy.  He blasts the horn, overtakes with a squeal of tyres and blasts the horn again.  Can't say I blame him, and he probably thinks I did it on purpose.   Of course any accident would be blamed on him: he was following too close.   But I don't need the hassle.  My car would be off the road during bodywork repairs, there's the hassle of organising that, and the insurance, and, last but not least, I'm having to explain to an angry frog that I didn't brake on purpose and that the car did it when no human would have done.

I went into the Peugeot garage to complain about this "feature".  It's the sort of thing that could, I imagine, be sorted with a simple software fix.  The guy wasn't optimistic.  But I will update this post if I should get such a software change.   In the mean time, I would probably get into terrible trouble if I told you never to buy a car with this feature, so I won't do that.  But I'm beginning to think that had I known about it, I wouldn't have bought this car.

Monday 11 July 2022

Cantaloup melon seeds

Method one:   Wait until next Spring, buy a packet of melon seeds for about €2.50 for 20

Method two:   Buy a melon.  Extract and dry the seeds in the sun.  Eat the melon.  Save about 300 seeds for next year, all for about €1

Sunday 10 July 2022

Turning the tables

I hadn't realised that our old patio tables were ten years old.   We had re-finished them a couple of times, but the hail storm did some damage.   We were hoping they'd last until the end of the season, but when a customer sat on one and the wood gave way, we had to replace it.   And since we need four tables the same because of the total length we need, we had to buy four new ones.   They came in flat packs.

The new ones have glass tops that I hope will be more durable through the weather, and they have steel frames (the old ones had aluminium) so they are heavy.   But they look like they will last.

Perhaps it's unfortunate that they will be always used extended, placed end-to-end, so the action to extend and retract won't get used.  It's pretty neat.

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