Sunday, 26 March 2023

Wood splitting

You might have seen ads for these tapered drills, promoted for splitting wood for the fire.   I bought some, and yesterday I had occasion to split some oak logs that were a bit too big for the stove.  So I decided to try them out.

I got out my big SDS drill (about 1kW I think), fitted the bit and set to work on the oak log.  I stood on the log to steady it.  (It seems that this is what they do in the ads.)    The bit sank into the the wood, buried itself to about half its depth, at which point the log was still unsplit and the force needed to turn the bit was now greater than I could apply to the drill.  The drill forced its way out of my hands and whacked my arm. 

Now, faced with a jammed bit and an unsplit log,  I decide to withdraw the bit from the log to try again.   With the drill in reverse, I stand on the log, but this time it's the log that frees itself rather than the drill, and it rotated through half a circle and whacked my foot.

So I'm hopping about, cursing the world in general, but it's not until a while later that I decide to inspect the damage.   Corker of a bruise, eh?   I don't think I will be using those log-splitting bits again.  Not on oak, anyway.   Back to the axe.

Monday, 20 March 2023

Powers of observation

I made the mistake of adding some nice crumbly compost from the compost heap, to commercial potting compost, before planting seeds in it.   Now we play "spot the tomato".

P.S. I found 7 so far.   Tomato seedlings can be indentified by their reddish stems that are covered in tiny hairs.

Saturday, 25 February 2023

Early Spring

The Winter has been mild so far.   We've had a few overnight air frosts, but no ground frosts as far as I'm aware.   The plants are very foreward in their development; the Hazel is going nuts.   I always think it's a shame that the flowers of the Christmas Roses droop; you have to lift them up a little to see their true colours.

The Winter-flowering Honeysuckle is covered in its small fragrant flowers, and the bees are already harvesting from it.   The Garrya elliptica is covered in tassels.

So it looks like Spring is here, in mid-February.   I'm just hoping that a short sharp frost isn't going to chop everything off at the knees.

If the weather forecast holds, I expect I'll put the first potatoes in about mid-March, covering them with a tarpaulin if an air frost is predicted.

Tuesday, 21 February 2023

Cat bed

It's well known that cats can sleep almost anywhere.   Apparently my accordeon bag is ideal.

Monday, 20 February 2023

Peas on earth

I decided to try growing some peas this year.   I have found that planting such seeds as mice enjoy (peas, broad beans, etc) tends to result in them being eaten before they get a chance to germinate.  For peas in this situation, I read that the thing to do is to plant them in guttering, let them germinate under cover, and then slide the resulting plants off the guttering and into their place on the veg patch, a bit later on.

I never managed to find bog-standard, half-round, plastic guttering in France.   Perhaps it exists but I never found it.   However, I was given a couple of lengths complete with end caps, a few days ago.  Cool.

I drilled some holes in the plastic for drainage.   I'm hoping it's not a crime to inflict GBH on innocent building materials.   I fitted the end caps, and filled it with compost, a mix of shop-bought potting compost and sieved soil from the compost heap.   Then planted the peas.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 14 February 2023


When I first started work as a "thick sandwich student", at the grand salary of £13.50 a week, I decided that I would expand my almost non-existent music collection; every week I would buy a record.   And so it was, that every week I would go to Smith's and buy a record, and most weeks I would take last week's back to change it because it had turned out to be scratched, crackly or bowl-shaped.

I gave up on classical records because the quiet bits often sounded like someone was frying chips in the background, and when, some years later, I got wind of the fact that a new digital medium, the Compact Disk, was going to be launched, I stopped buying records altogether and waited.

I bought the first commercially available player, the Sony CDP 101.  It sounded pretty bad, (it only had one DAC so the central instruments appeared in the right-hand channel momentarily before centering), but my hifi wasn't up to spelling this out, and hey, I could listen to classical music without getting an unexpected yen for chips.  To celebrate, I bought a CD of Stravinski.

Once you have a CD (or record for that matter), the question arises of what to do with it once you have digested its contents.  The obvious answer is to store it since it will always be available to listen to again, if and when the urge arises.  And so, over the years I have slowly built a collection.  

The arrival of MP3, FLAC and other music encoding trechniques means that music can now be stored on computer-compatible media, and so I recorded my CDs into FLAC format.   About 6 a day unless I really couldn't face it.   I started by doing them as MP3s but when I was about half-way through my collection, FLAC arrived, and that was better, being lossless, so I did them all again.  Took me a couple of years, but now all my CDs are in digital format, backed up every which way to Sunday.

My portable FLAC player takes two micro-SD cards, one terrabyte each (maybe it supports cards of up to two terrabytes, I'm not sure).   One such chip is holding all of my CDs.

I still have a CD player and I like to browse the CD rack from time to time.  It's a different experience from looking them up on the Media Monkey software, although that comes a very close second.   I use a streaming service too so I don't buy as many CDs as I used to; mostly second-hand ones cheap at car boot sales, but at least I own them and if one day the streaming services shut down, I will still have what I think are the best tunes.  And if I really like them on the streaming service, I buy either the CD or a hi-resolution download.

Monday, 13 February 2023

Thermal inertia

We had a frost last night, and it's interesting to see that it didn't freeze the ground nearest to the stone wall.   This would be due in part to the thermal intertia of the wall itself, and in part by the fact that it is backed by a solid bank of earth that will also retain some heat.

This is relevant for me, since I am looking for somewhere to plant a fig tree that is growing from a cutting.  I haven't had a lot of success with fig tree cuttings; they either die before they root or I manage to kill them if they grow.   Last year's failure was one I planted in front of a different wall, that died of thirst in the hot Summer.   Perhaps if I put the next one here beside the veg patch where I will see it, I will remember to water it.

Here is the lone surviving fig tree cutting just starting to leaf out after Winter hibernation.   I'll plant it outside at the end of May when the frosts will be over.

In my defense I do have a fruiting fig tree that I grew from a cutting.   It gave a decent crop last year, as long as I got to the figs before the wasps found them.


A scandal in the village.   The throbbing metropolis of St Pierre sur Erve is proud of its classification as a Petite Cité de Carcatère, and as such augments its attractions for tourists with sundry artworks dotted around the village and its surroundings.  One has been vandalised.

The statue entitled "Temps Libre" (free time) is owned by the village, it wasn't cheap either, and is of a man walking nonchalantly while whistling.  He is now quite unhappy.

The perpetrator is known, and the village comité des fêtes met recently to Decide What Must Be Done.  After much debate a solution was found that satisfied everyone, mostly, was suitably geared towards the challenges faced by the individual concerned, and includes, amongst other things, that he be asked to do works of general benefit in the village.   Maybe it will work.

Saturday, 11 February 2023

End of an era

We have stopped preparing meals for our gîte guests.   From now on, they will have to cater for themselves, or use a traiteur.   It was fun while it lasted, but we're getting on a bit, and are finding the hassle to be too tiring to be worthwhile.   The arrival (finally!) of our UK pensions had a part to play in this decision too.

The gîte sleeps 30 people and we rent the whole thing out to one group at a time; we don't do B&B, nor B&B with evening meals.   So it tends to get used by groups at weekends, for family reunions, birthday and wedding anniversaries, and the occasional small marriage.  These are fun events (at least if the families get on; not always the case), and catering for them means that we are part of the celebrations.  We have often been invited to join in with a glass of champagne or wine, and cake.

We learned early on that the price of food ingredients is a tiny part of the costs involved in running the gîte so we were able to provide meals with classy ingredients at a reasonable price.   Most guests who went for the "special" menu chose, from the options available, a starter course of scallops wrapped in bacon, and a main course of fillet beef, perhaps because these are generally considered the most expensive of the options, but perhaps also because they're tasty.   Anita is a gifted cook.

We did get price objections of course, some clients being suspicious of our (brits) ability to provide decent food and wine.   Some elected to bring their own wine, in exchange for a small discount, but we never found guest-brought wine to be up to the quality of that which we would have provided.   And we always used to choose wine to go with the menu.   But never mind.

On the upside, no late nights in the kitchen followed by early mornings, no menu planning, no food shopping.   On the downside, no sharing in the celebrations, limited interaction with the guests, and only preparing the gîte, cleaning it after and checking for damage.

On the whole, though, it's a relief.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

The tub

I was looking around for a big water tub that I could use to quickly fill watering cans.  The current method of using a hose pipe from one of my big metre-cubed containers takes too long.   The sort of thing I had in mind was a big circular one holding 700 litres or so, called here (since intended for water for animals) an abreuvoir.   I looked at the price - of the order of €150 or so.  Not doing that.

So I enquired through the village self-help Watsapp group, and it turns out the Pierrick has something that might be suitable; a bit more than half of a metre-cubed container, the other part of which he is using to hold water for his goats.   It's perfect, and he gave it to me.

So I have been making a concrete hard standing for it, next to one of the existing containers, from which I can fill it up.   I'm in the process of digging up the stones from the veg patch so I'm using them as a base for the concrete.

I always manage to underestimate the amount of concrete I will need.   I bought ten 30 Kg bags, I used six for the rough first coat over the stones, and the remaining four got me about 40% along the top.   I'll need six more bags.

This is how it will finish.   I turned the original vat through 90° and put the new one alongside it.   Since they're deeper than they are wide they take up less length of the concrete base than I had planned, so there is room left for something else, such as a tool chest for example.   Maybe I will get one; it would be useful.   Meanwhile, we have frosty nights this week so I will finish the concreting when they are over.

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

New lamps for old

We have two outside lights on our house, and one went out a while back, the most likely cause being a dead bulb.  We didn't have any replacements of the right size so it stayed dead for a while.   A couple of weeks later, it came back on without my having done anything.   It was one of the compact fluorescent ones, so perhaps the starter was becoming unreliable.  It failed again after a couple of weeks.   Time to get a replacement bulb.

I got the new bulb, took out the ladder, changed the bulb and.... the new one flickers.  Damn, duff bulb, I'll have to take it back.   But just to check it, I plugged it in to a different socket indoors, where it worked fine.   So, dodgy wiring.   This is probably a problem in the light fitting.  I seriously hope that it is, since fixing a problem somewhere along the cable as it weaves its sinuous path from the distribution box to the outside world would be difficult or impossible.

Since unreliable wiring is a fire risk, the first thing to do is disconnect the light.   That done, I brought it indoors, took it to bits, and verified that it was, in fact, a corroded connection inside the fitting.   The insulation showed all the signs of having been overheated, so it was good to have prevented a possible fire.   But the fitting was unserviceable. 

These outside lights have been in place for over 40 years, and the paint is flaking off.   But they are well made, solidly built and the electrical safety precautions are in place and trustworthy.  It would be hard to find something of equivalent quality today.   So it's worthwhile trying to fix it.

I went to our local hardware shop in search of some kind of connector that might do the trick, and found one for €3.50 that, with careful modification, made the fitting work correctly.    Careful testing indicates that it is reliable.

This is a great opportunity to renew the paint, and Anita has been doing this over the last few days, carefully sanding off the old paint and replacing it with Hammerite.   The finished item looks pretty good.   I just need to wait for the rain to stop and I'll put it back up.

P.S.   Now of course, it looks odd to have one lamp freshly painted and the other all corroded and flakey so now I get to do the second one as well.

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