Monday, 30 November 2009
Sunday, 29 November 2009
This year the water levels in the river have been all over the place - with no discernable reason.
Saturday, 28 November 2009
After laying the dalles gazon, our next task was to hang the gates.
When we were putting the gateposts into the ground we spent a lot of time measuring, to make sure the gateposts were the right distance apart, and that the gates would be level once installed. Once we had decided on where the posts should go I measured again, and just for good measure (as it were) I measured again once the posts were in but before the cement had set.
I had to design and manufacture my own method of hanging the gates as the hinges supplied with the gate were the sort that are meant to be hammered into stone, not the sort that screw or bolt into cement. In the end we decided on the bottom hinge being a solid cast metal shutter pin screwed into the posts taking all the weight, and as all the top hinge has to do is hold the gate in place I would bolt a bent metal strip to the post and use the original gate fitting to locate a bolt into the gate.
electric destroyer in the rain
It was then we realised we had a problem. I had measured so precisely that the gates fitted perfectly - with only about 2mm between them. This was annoying as the handles and lock supplied require a 5mm gap. As there is nothing we can do to ease the gates apart we will have to work out our own method of locking the gates.
none of us were enjoying the rain.
Friday, 27 November 2009
I know - it sounds like a French take on Indian cuisine, but you couldn't be more wrong!
Because our back garden is so small we decided that we didn't want to divide it up any more than was necessary. This meant that we either had to have a totally gravel garden (very 80's, but bleugh), or fully grassed. The latter option was voted on as better, but it left us with a problem as far as getting Célestine into the garage. It was then I remembered the concrete stuff with a grid in it for lawn that they use in public carparks, and the plastic stuff that lawn grows through that lets you drive on a lawn without crushing it and making wheel ruts.
It was then I encountered a snag: searching for "you know - that plastic stuff you can drive on that lets the lawn grow" on Google didn't help much, and until I knew the English word for it there was no way I could work out the French! Fate (or something) stepped in and by a process now forgotten but which probably involved typing "pelouse" (lawn) into Google picture search and spending an evening clicking on stuff I discovered the magic word: Dalle (or Dalles) Gazon: lawn tiles. A couple of days later we were in Chatellerault and would you believe it - a stack of plastic things with holes in the for the grass to grow through that I could point at and say " dalles gazon!!!!", thus impressing every French person in the store.
and clip together to make a path
You can't just put these things on the ground and fill them up with dirt: they need to be on a firm base and anchored so that they don't shift around or sink as you drive on them. This involved driving to Yzeures with the trailer and buying a 1/2 tonne of gravier (little rounded river bed stones) as a bed to take the weight which Susan and I spread this on Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday morning Alex arrived so we could start laying the dalles. This went really well except for the anchoring - even after sharpening a point onto the pins they required seriously intense bashing to get them into the ground - our garden substrate really is that hard. It took a couple of hours to lay the two lines of dalles from the gateway to the garage, but we are feeling encouraged by the way it feels underfoot.
Of course, like most hard work things, when we are finished you won't be able to see how much work went into it, but neither should you see wheel ruts, potholes and mudholes.
Thursday, 26 November 2009
The headlights on a six volt Citroën Traction Avant are notorious (amongst Traction owners, anyway) for being a bit rubbish. One person on the Traction Avant Owners Forum even claims "last time I drove at night I swear they actually sucked in moonlight".
Now we have our new alternator fitted the headlights on Célestine have improved out of sight. Or would have done, if I hadn't lost low beam the other day. On Monday I took out the old lamp (which means dismantling the headlight, which isn't difficult, just fiddly) to begin my search for a new one. I needed the old bulb because (of course) there are 3 different sorts of fitting that were put into the Traction over the years by different factories - and on a restored car you never know what piece may have been retro fitted.
The old bulb turns out to be 36 watt low beam, 45 watt high beam with a 3 pin bayonet fitting, so that is what I am looking for. They aren't cheap - which is why I am in turmoil. If I buy one from a Traction Avant specialist it could cost me €17, which is a bit pricey when you consider I should be carrying a spare: so I have to buy 2.
I do buy a lamp, it could last a long time!
In 1936 the French government were becoming increasingly concerned about Germany - in March 1936 German forces reoccupied the Rhineland in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles in which it was agreed that the Rhineland would remain a de-militarised zone. This meant that Germany and France shared a border, which made the French government nervous - they were suffering a severe financial crisis and couldn't afford a war. In response they could only really afford to do one thing: make a shedload of new laws (aren't we lucky that governments these days don't react the same way). One of the laws introduced was concerning car headlights - in future they were to be yellow so that even if they couldn't do anything about German incursions into France, at least they could tell (by headlight colour) when they were happening. This law lasted until 1992, when an amendment allowed headlights to be either yellow or white.
The other option - should I decide to go for white lights - is to replace the old incandescent bulbs with halogen lamps - these are twice as efficient ( that is, they use the same amount of electricity but make twice as much light) and will light the way like never before. They are even more expensive: €30 apiece. At the moment though, the search continues for affordable yellow 36/45w or 40/45w, 40mm x 60mm bulbs with a BA21D fitting
*After I wrote this I had a period of quiet reflection and realised I had seen a headlight box somewhere. That somewhere happened to be Célestine's glovebox, and there was a new bulb in there.
This means that buying a bulb isn't as immediate a concern as I thought it was, but I am glad I had this little panic. I have learnt an awful lot, but I can now do some more research and order some new bulbs at leisure.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
At some time today we will have our 100,000th visitor to the blog*. This is quite exciting, and has led us to do a bit of thinking about the blog and why we do it.
reader of the blog, took the photo in September
The flow of information isn't all one way, either. We have received useful advice in comments people have made: usually on building matters, but also on recipes, how to say things in French, where to buy stuff, and interesting places to visit. Keep those comments coming, they are all appreciated, especially when they fill in blanks in my knowledge. Of course, compliments are always welcome too :¬)
This was our first photo header.
Through the blog we have met a lot of interesting people. The first people we met because of the blog were Alan and Jane, who very kindly invited us for dinner on Christmas Eve 2006. Since then we have shared many meals with people from all over the world, both in our own home, their homes, or restaurants. Susan was a bit dubious about meeting all those people, but we are reassured that we haven't met any nutters (except in the nicest sense of the word) yet. The only continent we haven't met people from is Africa, which doesn't really surprise me: the spread of visitors to the blog looks like this:
Last time we wrote about this the headline numbers were:
- 28.39% from the USA
- 23.70% from the UK
- 21.35% from France
- 11.46% from Australia
There has been a suggestion that I only blog so I know where I was and what I did on any particular day. This will be strongly denied, but I will admit there are one or two entries where I squirm a little when I read them. Such innocence...
*we passed the 50,000 mark in April this year. That means we have had as many visitors in the last 7 months as visited in the previous 2½ years
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
This vehicle was spotted in the carpark of the sous-préfecture in Loches. The sidecar contains two child booster seats, for children of different ages, so presumably the whole family can go about together. Why didn't they just buy a small car though?
And it's nothing compared to this vehicle, posted recently on Frogsmoke, who found it on the maker's site.
Monday, 23 November 2009
On 20 November I planted about 90 strawberry plants in the potager. Most of them were a gift from Nicole at Les Limornières and the rest I bought for about 13c a pied* from our orchard neighbour's market stall.
Simon can't understand why I planted so many and can't imagine what we will do with all the strawberries. He's also annoyed that I didn't discuss where I was going to plant them, as I have planted them in the wrong place, in a bed that was intended as part of our rotation system. They'll have to be moved in a couple of year's time anyway, when they need dividing.
I have no worries about using them. They'll freeze, and I remember one summer in the 1980s, housesitting for my parents in Australia and having to deal with mountains of strawberries. Homemade strawberry icecream is a very good thing in these situations.
I've mulched them heavily with some of the 60 year old straw that came from our garage (ex-stable) loft. This level of mulch would harbour slugs in the summer, I am sure, but it will have rotted down a lot by then, and in the meantime, the little strawberry runners are snug and protected from the cold and can get on with establishing themselves before winter really sets in. We've mulched the newly planted onion and garlic similarly, in the rows alongside the strawberries, with the idea that the new growth will be protected from frost and they will get a head start in the spring.
I've also planted an autumn fruiting rasperry (Autumn Bliss), a tayberry (by far the best of the raspberry / blackberry hybrids) and a red currant (London Market). We bought these at Jardiland on the outskirts of Châtellerault. This was our first visit to a proper garden centre in France and I was impressed to find that they had tayberries, as they are not that common even in the UK where they were developed to take advantage of Scotland's relatively cool but long summer days.
*literally, 'foot', but the term is used to describe small plants for planting on.
Sunday, 22 November 2009
Last week we had to drive to Chatellerault. On the way we stopped where the main road crosses the avenue of trees that lead towards the chateau of Boussay (I had to stop the seat belts in the back seat rattling). We have noticed a cross at the head of the avenue (map here) but never stopped to look at it.
The inscription translates as "Simon Jacquet shot as a civilian hostage by the Germans during their retreat of August 29, 1944 at the age of 20 years "
We assume this ties in with the events we described when we wrote about the hostage crisis in la Roche-Posay, and it also happened the same day 3 resistance fighters were killed near Cingé. Frustratingly - but as per normal - we can find nothing about this online. Time is fast approaching where Susan and I will have to start buying books about the resistance and the history of this area during the Second World War.
I have started mapping the WW memorials here
Saturday, 21 November 2009
Almost every day at the moment I see people in fields or forest, with baskets or plastic bags. They are gathering mushrooms. I've been quartering the orchard every time I go there just in case some tasty looking fungi emerges. (Actually, my technique is more like walking transects - up one row and down another.)
Yesterday I hoped my luck was in, as I came across what I was fairly sure were cêpes, and they were in perfect condition. Finding wild mushrooms that haven't got resident fly larvae munching their way through is nigh on impossible. I gathered them up and took them home to show Simon and ask how brave he was feeling. He said they looked fairly scary.
I had no intention of eating them without finding out what they were anyway. Whilst I was reasonably confident they were cêpes, I knew that a few species were outstanding eating but some species were not considered worth bothering with (because they were too bitter or go unpleasantly slimy or mushy when cooked) and a couple were not very good for you at all. I decided the simplest way of finding out what they were was to take them to our chef friend Jean-Michel Chedozeau at Restaurant de l'Image. It was just after 2pm, so I knew he would probably be taking a break in the bar. Sure enough, he was there, along with his brother Christophe, their wives and a couple of customers.
Jean-Michel's immediate response was to ask me if I had any neighbours I didn't like, but I wasn't fooled. He and Christophe glanced at the mushrooms and told me they were cêpes raboteux. They weren't dangereux, but they weren't worth eating either. I should have left them for the mulots (wood or field mice). They said their father had been out in the morning and got some real edible cêpes from a nearby pine forest, and told me you only get real cêpes near sapins (meaning pine).
Back at home again, I did some reading to learn more about Bolete mushrooms, the group ceps belong to. That is one complicated taxonomical group that's been messed around with a lot by scientists trying to make some sense of it all! Finally, I ran my mushrooms through a taxonomical key and eventually ended up at...Leccinum scabrum (Birch Bolete)...which in French are called...cêpes raboteux! It took me a while and a bit more reading to be convinced . I was puzzled as to why I had found them in the orchard, with no birch in sight, if this species was associated symbiotically with birch. I was also puzzled by the lack of staining when I cut a mushroom. Both the colour of stain that emerges on newly cut flesh and the presence of the correct host are both important clues for identifying Boletes. More reading revealed that in Europe this species is also associated with dry grassland, and sometimes does not produce a stain. It also took me a while to see the tiny black 'scales' on the 'stem' which indicated that this was not in the genus Boletus, but in the closely related genus Leccinum. (It wasn't living up to its French name – which in English would be something like Rough Cep – very well.)
I'm now reasonably happy with the ID, but I am no expert, so could easily be wrong and Boletes certainly are a difficult group. I realised quite quickly that they weren't poisonous, because they meet the wilderness survival test: they don't have gills (they have tubes) and the flesh is white and doesn't stain when cut. (These mushrooms give an overall impression of being a rather lurid yellow, but in fact, the top is fawn, the tubes are yellow, but the flesh between the two is white.) This was all very interesting, but it's a great pity it wasn't worth whipping up an omlette.
Update: I now think it is likely that these mushrooms are actually Suillus neoalbidipes / White-stemmed Bolete / Bolete à pied blanc. This means that the tiny black specks on the stem are glands, not scales (common beginners error). Having revisited the orchard today and checked where I picked them, I realise they have a clear association with the rather out of place Monterey pine Pinus radiata there . It makes me wonder if it was planted in the hopes of Edible Ceps Boletus edulis appearing. S. neoalbidipes is apparently good eating if peeled and the tubes removed. I had a little nibble and it was pleasantly mushroomy.
Friday, 20 November 2009
Susan mentioned the other day that one of the seals had come off the door of our new fire. I think I have worked out the culprit. I think it's me.
We hardly ever have the fire running at full power, which means that although the wood still burns down completely, it doesn't burn quite as cleanly as it can. When we shut the fire down, we get slightly more smoke, and the glass on the door gets dirty. A period of really hot running soon burns this off, but most of the dirtying of the glass happens after we shut the fire down for overnight, and rarely do we reload the fire next morning.
To keep out fire looking sparkly new, I clean the glass with a produit especially designed for the task. Unfortunately, I think I might have been using it too liberally, and it has run down the glass and dissolved the glue on the seal.
The seal I replaced can been seen just below
the clip holding the glass onto the door.
*Susan snorted (rather unkindly, I thought) when reading this sentence.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
The third Thursday of November is the first day you can legally sell Beaujolais Nouveau, the first wine of the new season, produced in the Burgundy area of France north of Lyon. It is a light bodied red wine, made from the grape variety Gamay. In the 1980s and 90s there was a huge marketing campaign which skyrocketed to popularity a wine that was considered rather unsophisticated by many. The party is pretty much over now, as it is widely viewed as not especially good value for money.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
When I phoned my father last night, he was just on his way out to collect my mother from the hospital. She is coming home, just a week after her operation.
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
A week ago I went down to the potager to dig fartichokes, pull carrots, beetroot and leeks and pick a bunch of parsley. On arrival I discovered that some of the saffron was at last flowering after all.
Monday, 16 November 2009
Since1810 the Lépine family have made walnut oil at Availles-en-Châtellerault, perpetuating an ancient tradition and a unique taste. Yesterday was open day at the huilerie, so even though it was raining slightly (and Simon still has the world's runniest nose) we went on a small excursion.
The nuts are shelled, then ground under an enormous millstone to obtain a thick paste. This paste goes into a pot where it is cooked just enough to go brown – a delicate stage because the art of obtaining a tasty oil depends on the cooking. The resulting gunge is then tipped into the hydraulic press, and out runs a wonderful golden coloured liquid.
then taken to the press
oil running into the silver pot
Sunday, 15 November 2009
Saturday, 14 November 2009
We have been working on the back garden for a week now, and things are progressing amazingly.
We arrived back from the Armistice 1918 ceremony to find Alex well advanced with laying the footings for the retaining wall. After lunch, he and I started work on where exactly the gate posts had to be in order for the gate to close properly. This took longer than you might think, but we did take as much time as was necessary to be totally confident (and then we checked, rechecked, and rechecked again).
and drainage pipes (almost) in place
Yesterday morning Alex arrived with Derek, who was going to be building the retaining wall. The longer wall was quite an involved job, as it is quite a sharp curve - not easy when building with blocks 500mm (18 inches) long.
to grips with laying the curved wall.
Once the concrete is set, the pipes will be cut flush.
PS, My mother had her heart valve replacement operation at 9.30am Australian time on Remembrance Day. 24 hours later she was sitting up in bed eating breakfast. They have already got her walking again, and next week she may be sent home.
Friday, 13 November 2009
After a few weeks of use we realised our lovely new off-white limestone fireplace was getting spots and stains - a combination of drips from cleaning the stove door glass and ground in dirt from oak logs and burnt cinders.
We began to wonder if the products we used on the tomettes were suitable for limestone. We read the labels carefully and decided that as Sarpasol is an acid, designed to remove the lime bloom from terracotta tiles, it was not appropriate; but there didn't seem to be any reason not to use the hydrofuge / oleofuge protection product. We couldn't find anyone who had used a similar product on a domestic interior, although there seems to be occasional use of water repellant compounds on the exterior of large limestone public buildings.
So, one morning I went over any spots and marks on the smoothly cut stone with dry 150 grade wet'n'dry sandpaper, just as I had seen Monsieur Douady after the masons left size 12 bootprints on the hearth stones. The stone is so chalky a light sanding removes all surface spotting, although nothing will safely remove deeply impregnated stains and some marks become permanent because of being 'fired' by the heat of the stove.
Then I wiped off the dust with a slightly damp cloth and gave all the smooth surfaces a coat of Protecteur hydrofuge oléofuge made by Chimybat. Four hours later I gave the hearth a second coat, as it is at the most risk of staining. The product is very easy to apply with a paint brush, which washes out with water. It's invisible once dry and doesn't change the colour of the stone.
PS Rather annoyingly, the stove itself has developed a fault, with one section of its door seal coming adrift. Up until Wednesday evening we were utterly delighted with the stove, as it heats our sitting room and the old kitchen (which is currently our office), as well as our bedroom and the shower room upstairs. It takes logs of up to 15cm diameter and 50cm long, and would burn slowly right through the night. Now, with a piece of door seal missing, it burns faster. I guess we will have to take it back to Bricomarché, where we bought it, or get in touch with the manufacturer, Invicta, and get a new door. I certainly hope this will be covered by some sort of guarantee.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Yesterday was Armistice Day: 91 years from the signing of the Treaty of Versailles which ended the First Wold War on 11 November 1918. In France the day is known as Armistice 1918, and is a public holiday.
This is the first time we have been in France on Armistice Day, and although we hadn't seen any notices about a ceremony, we assumed there must be one. We went to the Mairie at 10.30, and Susan's intuition paid off - the ceremony was just getting underway. We had just enough time to donate some coins to the Veterans Association - for which in return we received little sticky lapel badge - and the first drum-roll and fanfare of the day started. This was followed by the Marseillaise, and then all those in attendance marched behind the flags to the War Memorial.
Preuilly's Gendarmes, the Pompiers, and the Jeunes
After the cemetery, the procession went back to the Mairie. A final Marseillaise, and the invitation was issued to all citizens of Preuilly to join the Maire for an apéro. Susan and I missed the drinks, as we had Alex working on the garden.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Alex arrived yesterday morning to start building work in the garden. We are putting in retaining walls and drainage, gates and a fence. At the top of the garden (by what we assume were the long drops) we are having another terrace for refined outside dining.
We spent ages getting our levels right - the ground is deceptively uneven in places - i.e. where you don't expect it to be - yet surprisingly level in places where it looks sloping. Once this was done, we decided how high the footings for the retaining walls should be. We managed to drive in some pegs, even though the "soil" is equal parts cobbles, flint, and degraded limestone clay.
Alex then dug out the channels where the pipes will be that take the water from our downpipes. These will eventually emerge at the base of the retaining walls, hopefully directing rainwater away from the walls of the house. Getting the levels for these wasn't easy (for all the same reasons as getting the levels right for the wall footings was difficult).
Simon ignores the invitation to join in
Once Alex had left, Susan and I went to Bricomarché in Yzeures and bought 25 metres of agricultural drain. This means that the new soil level shouldn't mean an increase of dampness in the walls - we will be laying the drain along the wall of the house, as well as along the foot of the retaining wall for the terrace.
Things are looking good - as long as we can get the gate posts in the right place and the gates hung properly I think the job will be a good 'un. That gets done tomorrow, but before that Susan and I are off to investigate what is happening in town for Remembrance Day (Armistice 1918, in French). Our banner today is in rememberance of the events of 1914 - 1918.
On a different note completely, my mother had her heart valve replacement operation today (Australian time). She will be off her feet for quite some time, so we had better make the blog posts interesting for a while!!
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Yesterday the materials arrived for amenaging our back garden; two bags of sand , one of gravel, some cement and concrete posts. Because everyone has seen sand and gravel before, some pictures of a tractor taken at the Art 'n Lard Festival last month in le Petit Pressigny.
This is one of those pieces of machinery which is so purposeful, so obviously built for a practical reason, that the aesthetics almost don't matter. Which is just as well...
Société Française de Vierzon was building machinery for about 100 years until the 1960s. Vierzon is quite local to us, so I am sort of surprised I haven't encountered these machines before.
written on it before. It's not a bad idea though.
ps You may be one of those people who Google have included in their "This page has been intentionally left blank" experiment. If you find as frustratingly pointless and stupid as I do and are using Firefox, mail me and I will give instructions how to disable it. If you have no idea what I am talking about, lucky you.