Wednesday 28 February 2018

Big Berta is Restored to Health

It comes as a bit of a shock when stuff in your new house starts to wear out, and the past couple of months have been a bit depressing when you realise that stuff has started to wear out before the renovations are complete.

First to go were the light switches, then just before we left for Australia the bottom element of the oven gave up the ghost. Big Berta obviously knows when we are planning a break - she did the same sort of thing in 2012. Luckily we still have the mini-oven, and we weren't having to cook Christmas dinner, so repairs could wait until we got back.

So, a couple of weeks after we arrived back from Australia we called on Alex and Nicole to give us a hand sliding the beast out and trying to figure out what the problem was. Once the back sheet was off we could tell that the element had been overheating somewhat - the little plastic covers on the electrical tabs were singed and brittle. Alex used a multi-metre to test the old element and it was obvious that was where the problem lay, and that the previously replaced controller was OK. Removing the bottom plate of the oven gave confirmation.

You can see the element has sagged, and also blown out by the right hand end.

Susan contacted the manufacturer to ask about ordering a new element, but then I did some research, and found and ordered a new element from an online store. It arrived a few days later - and then a few days after that another parcel arrived, this time from Bertazzoni, and containing... an element.

Old and new - you can tell which is which

I have now replaced the old element with the new official part, meaning I have a brand new element spare (hoping I will never need it), and an oven that works.

Next step is replacing the kitchen tap, which has started leaking, and for which Ikea no longer make spare parts. Which is really annoying.

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Retromobile 2018

Since 2011 the dynamic team behind Loire Valley Time Travel (that's us, folks) have visited Paris in February to go to Retromobile. It falls at just the right time of year for us to get away from winter at home for a few days, explore the bright lights of the big city, and do some networking.

This year was no different, so on the Friday of the second weekend in February we hied our way to the exhibition halls at the Porte de Versailles. This year's show was the biggest we have been to, but for me there was no "wow" moment where I saw a piece of exotica or something historically important I never expected to see. Maybe I have become jaded by all those over restored vintage cars being sold at over half a million euros that appear to have been hardly driven at all, and will probably never be driven properly again. You could tell how it was bad when I came over all "ho hum, another shiny Bugatti".

Having said that, there was some interesting stuff:

Not our usual style, but both Susan and I would like this for days when
driving with your arm out the window seems appropriate. A 1956 Buick Special

A Delahaye 135M. Susan really likes this, I prefer mine with more patina

We both agreed we were disappointed that the 21st century hasn't turned out
as stylish as Fiat were promising. A 1953 Fiat Supersonic V8.

I am currently on a bit of a 1950s Lancia kick. A Lancia Aurelia B25 from 1958

There is a Facebook album with more photos here.


The weather forecast says we have 3 more days of cold, but on Thursday it magically gets about 10 degrees (C) warmer. Let's hope they're right - It's been bightingly cold here

Monday 26 February 2018

Monday is Queens Day: 20 Sainte Bathild

Saint Balthild of Ascania may have been an Anglo-Saxon, and a relative of Ricberht, the last pagan king of East Anglia. She may then have gone from noble born (in 626 or so) to slavery as a young girl under Erchinoald, a nobleman who served Clovis II, King of Burgundy.

When Erchinoald's wife died he is said to have attempted to marry Bathild, but she ran and hid until he set his sights on someone else. She then suddenly married Clovis, by whom she had three sons. She was famed as queen for her modesty and humbleness (a common claim for early medieval queens), and for endowing abbeys across Burgundy,

When Clovis died, Bathild acted as regent for her eldest son, with a reputation for ruthlessness particularly when it came to dealing with the Church. She had a reputation for placing tame bishops (after having - maybe - disposed of the previous incumbents) in troublesome towns. But her main claim to fame is that she pushed hard to make owning Christians as slaves illegal, and spent large amounts of money buying and freeing Christian slaves.

Bathild died in 680 and was buried at the Abbey of Chelles, east of Paris. A tunic, said to be her burial shroud, still exists.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Victor Thérasse in 1848. To see Bathild you have to go here.

All 20 statues are now featured here. Yup - I've finished!

Sunday 25 February 2018

Manly Tidal Pool

The Manly rock pool is at the northern tip of Manly beach, on Queenscliff heads.

Barely deep enough to swim yet, but the tide is turning.

In tidal swimming pools like this one at Manly the contents are refreshed every time the tide comes in.

A wave breaking over the top of the pool.

Although some wag has got the L out of there...

Saturday 24 February 2018

There is a Reason the Beach is Closed

This is Manly Beach. The 'Beach Closed' sign means that there is a dangerous rip running and there are no lifeguards on duty. Surfers (you can see them out beyond the break) can afford to ignore the sign because on a surfboard you are never actually in the rip, which is the water from waves flowing back out to sea under the surface.

Unfortunately, it appears that some people over-estimate their abilities, and a person dies every second day during the Australian summer due to rips (more here).  Not only is it dangerous for the swimmers, but of course it is also dangerous for the lifesavers, many of whom are volunteers.

The Manly rip is known as the Manly Escalator. Many beaches have an almost permanent rip as an unwelcome feature: the rip at Bondi is the "Backpacker Express", although that may be unfair. There appeared to be as many ignorant Australians as ignorant foreigners on Manly beach, which is probably why this lifeguard appears so annoyed.

So if you go the the beach in Australia read the signs, and swim between the flags on a patrolled beach. You never know when it might save your life.

Friday 23 February 2018

The Palm Beach Run

Action Stations!!

What could it be that is so important a man in his 50s should feel the need to run in the blazing hot mid-afternoon, mid-summer Australian sun?

My brother is not only the most generous of chaps, but he has genius ideas too. Any inkling of what was so urgent?

Blazing hot sun, post lunch snack.

And yes, they were the best gelati I have had outside of Italy

Thursday 22 February 2018


This block of flats in the 15e arrondissement of Paris has been recently renovated and given trendy living walls. It forms one street frontage of a big urban renewal project currently underway in the Métro Ligne 12 railway workshops that occupy the triangle of land behind. However, according to the plans of the project I've looked at it falls outside the railway workshops regeneration boundaries. I assume an independent developer has piggybacked onto the project but I can find nothing about this building. It has certainly been restored in the spirit of the railway workshops, which are promising extensive tree planting and roof gardens.

Further down the street (rue de la Croix Nivert) you can see the building where we rented an apartment for our Rétromobile long weekend. We were on the sixth floor with no lift. 

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Meeting Our Member of Parliament

On Friday 16 February I met with Sophie Auconie, our local députée.  She is our representative in the Legislative Assembly and our consituency is the Lochois (3e circonscription Indre et Loire), in otherwords, the south Touraine, around the town of Loches.

I wanted to talk to her about Brexit and the impact it was having, and will continue to have for some time, on British residents of the area. She was holding a surgery in Preuilly and her assistant suggested that would be the simplest way of meeting her.

 Sophie Auconie (left) and me.

I wrote a briefing document outlining all the issues of citizens rights that we are worried about and my friend Alain translated it into French. He also came with me to the meeting. I am very lucky to have Alain available. His French is impeccable and he actually enjoys politics and getting involved.

Mme Auconie was pleasant and came across as sincere and open. She told me that she knows Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, very well. She's worked closely with him in the past, when she was an MEP, and has considerable respect for him, saying he is extremely diplomatic. I must say I have been impressed with his performance and patience in public. From the start he has placed citizens rights up front, and Mme Auconie feels sure he will continue to do so.

She said I was the first British resident to contact her about this but she was well aware that there were quite a lot of Brits in her constituency. She has also been following Brexit a bit more closely than some as she has several good French friends living in England and they have been in touch with her to express their concerns for the future. She assured me that we have her full support.

One of the questions I asked her was what her feel for how the French would administer the change of status for British residents in France once the date comes. EU countries have a choice of requiring a simple declarative statement of circumstances, or they can go down the more complicated route of the notorious 85 page settled status form that Europeans in Britain were going to have to fill out, along with no doubt providing endless supporting documents to prove their details.

She felt that administratively the second option wasn't practical or necessary for people who are long established in France. Probably, she thought, France would opt for a form on which people stated their name, when they arrived in France, gave bank account details and indicated that they could support themselves.

At the end of the meeting she urged me to stay in touch and to pass on to her any new information, especially if it was something causing concern amongst local British residents.

Both Alain and I thought the meeting went well. On my way home I ran into a British resident and naturally updated him. He was supremely unimpressed and uninterested, taking the view that nothing will change.  He didn't have a very high opinion of Michel Barnier, who he refers to as Little Napoleon, because he's short and dictatorial, apparently...

Tuesday 20 February 2018

We Go!

The other week went went up to Paris to visit Retromobile. As I mentioned about a month ago, I had bought Ouigo tickets for 10€ each, one way from Saint Pierre des Corps to Paris.

Catching a Ouigo train is more complicated than a normal TGV as you have to be at the station early to check in, and you have to book space on the luggage rack (for 5€ extra, this is the low cost airline of train travel) for each suitcase other than cabin luggage. Tickets can only be bought online, but at the moment they are all 10€ per person each way.

The other difference between standard SNCF trains and Ouigo is that in the big cities they don't use the "normal" stations. When they started the limited services from Paris started at Disneyland, but now they also use the un-touristy end of Montparnasse station - Hall 3, which is where suburban services and trains to places like Chartres tend to leave from

Having said that, the service is good. The trains are modern, latest but one generation of TGV, and clean (if a little too aqua and hot pink inside and out), and the announcements are plentiful and intelligible. This was especially important as the train was late arriving at Saint Pierre des Corps, and travelled slowly and then stopped a couple of times once it did arrive. This wan't Ouigo's fault - it was extremely cold, and there were problems with snow and ice so all trains were delayed (except the ones that were cancelled).

We arrived in Paris 90 minutes late, but by the time we arrived at our apartment we have already been sent an email saying we would get a partical refund of our tickets.

We will take them up on that - 10€ to Paris is a exceptionally good deal, and now we have used the service we feel we have de-mystified it, and next time should be all confusion free.

Monday 19 February 2018

Monday is Queens Day: 19 Bertrada of Laon

Bertrada of Laon was born some time between 710 and 727, and as was common with French royalty managed to gain an unflattering epiphet:  Bertha Broadfoot ( Latin: Regina pede aucae - the queen with the goose-foot). Quite why is unknown, because contemporary sources don't mention any deformity, and the name only appears in the 13th century.

Bertrada's father was the Count of Laon, and in 741 she married Pepin the Short, son of the defacto ruler of France Charles Martel*. As was quite common with nobility in the medieval period Pepin and Bertrada were too closely related for the church's liking, so it took until after the birth of their first son (Charles, in 742) before the marriage was officially sanctioned. They went on to have seven (at least) children, of whom three survived to adulthood.

In 751 Pepin contrived with the pope to overthrow the Merovingian King Childeric III (a man placed in power by his father) and they became King and Queen of the Franks, something that their eldest son Charles was to exploit to the fullest. (He inherited half of his father's kingdon, and then when his brother Carloman died in mysterious circumstances gained the other half. He is now commonly known as Charlemagne).

After Pepin died (768) Bertrada lived at the court of Charlemagne, and her diplomatic skills are often credited for the sucess of Charlemagne's early rule. She retired from court when Charlemagne took full control of France, and died in 783. Charlemagne had her buried in the Basilica of St Denis near Pepin - her grave can still be seen there today.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Eugène Oudiné in 1848. To see Bertrada supporting her son (literally) you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

*It's complicated. Charles Martel was a great warrior and defeated the Arab invaders at the battle of Tours in 732. He gradually increased his power and influence until he was in the postition to appoint his chosen puppet as King of the Franks.

Sunday 18 February 2018

Manly Beach

Manly is a beachside suburb of Sydney, about 11km (by water) northeast of Sydney city. The best way to get there is by ferry (more on that another day) and although Bondi may be the beach everyone outside Australia asks about, Manly is far more popular amongst locals.

Manly beach from Queenscliff

Manly beach itself is about 1.6km (1 mile) long, and is divided into three sections: South Steyne, North Steyne and Queenscliff (south to north). South Steyne is the beach most visitors head to as it's closer to the ferry and the shops, takeaways and restaurants of Manly town centre. It also has a permanent year-round life-saving service, whereas the other beaches only have life-saving at weekends and holidays during the peak season. It forms the central part of the  "Manly-Freshwater World Surfing Reserve".

Colin was asking about the houses on Queenscliff head, Yup - they're that close.

At the northern end of Queenscliff beach is the Manly Rock Pool, a swimming pool built into the rocky headland (we have written about the tidal swimming pools of Sydney before).

Manly tidal swimming pool.

When we were there in November part of the beach was being used for a beach volleyball competition (thankfully ignorable, although the noise was fairly painful), but the rest of it was yellow sand, blue sky and white water. Which is apparently as it should be.

Of course, all this is wasted on someone who doesn't get beaches (an understatement), but even for me it's kind of pretty to look at for an hour or so.

Saturday 17 February 2018

Mount Glorious

Ten days before we drove The Lions Road we were in Brisbane. My mate Matthew (whose brother it was recommended The Lions Road to us) asked if I knew Mount Glorious, and suggested it as a road worthy of the Idiot Wagon.

The view from the Western Window

He was right - the road up Mount Glorious (the Mount Glorious Road) and down the other side (Northbrook Parkway) is an amazing piece of road if you're in a car, although motorcycle riders will have to be careful of lumps, bumps, seams down the middle of a lane, and other traffic. Unfortunately, many people see the road as a racetrack, and as a consequence the road toll, mainly single vehicle accidents, is quite high. The police are usually out in force at the weekend and we saw evidence of this. There are also signs by the roadside warning drivers not to hoon (don't laugh).

Mount Glorious Road in Google Earth

Having said all that, the road really does live up to its name, and if you take time to stop along the route there are some amazing lookouts and views over proper sub-tropical (but only just) rainforest.  We didn't make many stops, as I was on the hunt for a half watermelon (long story...) and time was getting on.  We did stop at the Western Window and one or two other places, but photos just don't do it justice.

A wide variety of introduced trees (Jacaranda),
palms and other native rainforest species.

I have to admit that although I did stick to the speed limit on the very few straight parts of the road, I did do most of the corners faster than advised. In Australia yellow speed limit signs for corners are advisory, not compulsory, although one or two corners would be a challenge to do much faster than advised. Corners advised at 20km/h are usually quite tight.

Susan was hunkered down in sports car mode and I had my hands full of
steering wheel which is why there is a streetview pic here.

When we arrived back in Pittsworth, Susan's family were amazed that I lived in Queensland for almost 10 years yet had never heard of the Mount Glorious Road, but I had an explanation. As soon as I arrived in Queensland I joined a band that spent much of its time out west, so although I knew many of the dypsomanic publicans of South East Queensland, Brisbane was somewhere one went on a quick shopping trip, not sightseeing.

The music I am using for these videos are all Australia rock classic. Todays music is "Hard Road" by the late, great Stevie Wright (previously of the Easybeats), featuring the also no longer with us Malcolm Young, later of AC/DC. The second track is "Standing on the Outside" by Cold Chisel, a band which had amazing success in Australia, but virtually no profile in the wider world.

Friday 16 February 2018

Swimming Without Sharks

The harbour at Manly has a shark net in the cove surrounding a section for swimmers who don't wish to contend with the rough and tumble (and sharks) of the ocean beach on the other side of the isthmus. The cove is wave free but the water was a little bit chillier than was comfortable on first plunge. It may be shark free, but it isn't for the squeamish swimmer. Several times I shared the shark netted space with small transparent jellyfish. They were disconcerting, but apparently harmless.

Thursday 15 February 2018

Things are Grave Part XI -- Simone Veil

When Simone Veil died last year the whole of France mourned. She had been the first female President of the European Parliament and the French Health Minister, politically active in from the 1970s to the 1990s.

No sooner had she sat for her Bac (high school certificate) than she and her family were arrested and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Veil always wondered if she had made a tragic error by sitting for her exam under her real name and that had been how the Nazi's found them. Her parents and brother died in the camps although she and her sisters survived.

After the war she trained as a lawyer and went to work in the Ministry of Justice. Right from the start her focus was women's rights, but she also worked to improve prison conditions and to protect children and the mentally ill. She is particularly well known for her successful fight to increase access to contraception and legalise abortion in France, which was won in 1975. Staunchly European she served as an MEP throughout the 1980s.

During her time as a high profile politician she had to deal with many misogynist and anti-semitic attacks. I remember reading about her describing how hurtful some of the remarks were and that she could be reduced to tears at times. After one such incident which made a reference to the concentration camp tattoo on her arm she always wore long sleeves.

The grave above is the Veil family tomb, but in fact Simone is buried in the Panthéon. Nevertheless, people are visiting this grave in Montparnasse cemetery and leaving tributes to her.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

Recent Changes in Preuilly sur Claise

Roundabout: As part of the ongoing struggle to adequately cope with traffic in the Grande Rue, a roundabout is being trialed at the bottom of the street, near the Abbey. In addition, temporary chicanes have installed up the street and the plan is to widen the footpath to 1.40 metres.

Temporary roundabout at the bottom of the Grande Rue.

Post Office: From 1 September the Post Office in Preuilly will be reducing its open hours to 15 hours a week, mornings only. The commune owns the Post Office building and the Post Office is a rent paying tenant.

The Post Office in Preuilly.
Preschool Closure: The preschool (Maternelle) will be closing and the pupils transferring to the Primary School. Thanks to several new families moving into the area the Primary School now has 82 pupils (up from 75 last year).

Under New Management: The Episervice mini supermarket will change ownership on 1 March. The old owners are staying on to transition the new people. My sources tell me the new owners are of Moroccan background. The outgoing owners are from Brittany.

Change of Use: Cyril Courteix has taken over the old ambulance depot and installed his mechanics shop there (moving from rue des Douves).

New Shop: An outlet for a chocolatiere/baker/patissiere has opened on Place des Halles, next to the Restaurant de l'Image. The main shop is in Tournon and the 22 year old chocolatiere/baker/patissiere is called Laura. Her Mum runs the boutique in Preuilly.

New chocolatier-boulangerie-pâtisserie.

Milk Price Rise: Sandrine, who produces and home delivers dairy products around town tells me that milk has gone up. It is now 95c a litre.

Deaths: Our neighbour Edouard tells me that 3 elderly people from our street died while we were away. At least one of their properties is on the market now.

Chapel Nestboxes: Thanks to encouragement from me and SOS Martinets, a couple of nest boxes for Swifts will be installed as part of the restoration of the Chapelle de Tous les Saints. The chapel is currently swathed in scaffolding and tarpaulins. The masons and roofers have done some preparatory work.

 Swift nest boxes on our graineterie.

Greenway: The rails and sleepers have been removed from the old railway line and it is on its way to being a voie verte. Ultimately it will be 40 kilometres of walking track, from Descartes to Tournon. Much of the section near Preuilly runs along the Claise river.

The voie verte where it crosses the D725 in Preuilly.

Medical Personnel: The vet, Christian Martin, has retired and there is no new vet in town. The nearest vet is now Vanderquand-Lefebvre in Tournon Saint Martin or Vincent Monoyer in Descartes. The dentists, Drs Renaudie, have also retired. They have been replaced by Dr Claudius Zaharia Trofin, who has moved into a new surgery in the Post Office building. I'm told his wife is training to be a doctor and will ultimately be installed as a second GP for Preuilly.

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Leaving the Bats in Peace

For the past couple of years I have gone out in January and June with a group of bat surveyors. But this year my friend Jean-Claude, who organises our bi-annual bat surveys, has emailed me to say there will be no surveying this year or next. Surveying bats, particularly if they are hibernating or raising young, inevitably disturbs them, and the local bat conservation experts feel that they need to be left in peace for a while. We have quite good data from the previous years surveys, so the bat experts can focus on number crunching and other projects.

Just in case you will miss the bats, here are some photos to be going on with:

Greater Horseshoe Bat.
Photo courtesy of my sister.
 A maternal roost of Lesser Horseshoe Bats.
Photo courtesy of my sister.
 A grounded Pipistrelle Bat.

 A Soprano Pipistrelle Bat on the wing.

Here are some links to previous posts about bat surveys:

Bat Surveying in the Touraine Loire Valley

Hanging From the Ceiling

Bats Spurn the Belfries

Monday 12 February 2018

Monday is Queens Day: 18 Queen Mathilde

Where to start with this one...

Mathilde was born in about 1031 and was descended from most of the Royal Families of Europe - in the times when there were many Royal Families in Europe. This made her a worthwhile catch for any aspiring Duke or Baron, and the Duke most interested was William the Bastard, who as a bastard she felt was below her dignity. Stories of how William convinced her to marry him vary, but they all agree that he dragged her to the ground by her braids (quite how this helped....).

Of course, being nobility they were quite closely related: enough, in fact, that the Pope forbade them marrying - which they did anyway in, 1051. (The marriage was recognised by the following Pope 8 years later).

After William invaded England and became a Conqueror rather than a Bastard, Mathilde became Queen Consort of England in addition to Duchess of Normandy. Of course, the fact that one of the families she was descended from were the Kings of Wessex helped - she had a couple of extra clauses put into the coronation ceremony to acknowledge that it was God who put her there, and that she shared her husband's power.

She had at least 9 children, four sons, and 5 (or more) daughters. The history of the sons is well known: the eldest (Robert) becoming Duke of Normandy after his father died, and sons 3 and 4 (her second son died as a child) becoming Kings William Rufus and Henry  I of England.  Although she visited England to be crowned in 1068 she spent most of her life in Normandy, usually in Caen, which is where she was buried in 1083. The original grave marker is still in situ in the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen.

The Jardin du Luxembourg has statues of 20 French Queens and Illustrious women. The subjects were chosen by Louis-Philippe I in 1843. This statue was created by Jean-Jaques Elshoecht 1850. To see Mathilde (and her braids) you have to go here.

Eventually all 20 statues will be featured here.

Sunday 11 February 2018

Queenscliff Head

At the lagoon end of Manly Beach, Queenscliff Head is a nice place for scrambling over the rocks. There is a tunnel under the heads called The Wormhole, which was carved (or maybe blasted) by locals in 1908 as a shortcut between Manly and a workers' camp in the next bay. The tunnel once led to Freshwater beach, but although you can still get through the tunnel the easy path ends there due to rock falls.

It also serves well as a place from which to photograph surfers - without getting wet.