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Diary 2009

Bucket & Chuck It

20 January 2009 10:14

I'm home alone for a bit - Xine has gone to the yUK on a Granny mission for Olivia's (#2 granddaughter) first birthday. So I'm unsupervised

I've already done something silly - I went in to Gamme Vert for a bit of plumbery and saw a Roadsign Australia cat tree with a "Kangaroos next 14 km" mounted on a sisal scratching post with a silly green cactus and a cuddly koala, 30% off in the sale. So I bought it for the pussies, who ignored it until I gave it a spray of catnip, where upon it became a strategic target. Gaby won!

Dinner was also silly - nems, for which I wanted an aigre-douce sauce, so I doctored a jar of arabbiata with sugar and vinegar and served it with rice.

My homework is to tile the loo - when I stripped the old brown tiles off I tried to make a rustic finish with crepi but I was never happy with it. As there's a curved wall I've bought some small paté de verre "swimming pool" tiles to make the curve easier to tile. Unfortunately, to make a proper job of it I have to remove the WC to tile behind it - as it's the only loo I'll be in "bucket and chuck it" mode for a day or so while I make good, tile and grout. Hence the reason for leaving the job until Her Ladyship is absent!

Tempête Klaus

24 January 2009 08:24

The banshees started howling round Tessel Bas at about 4am and seemed to peak at about 6am. I got up, worried about Henri IV who had elected to stay out last night, as it was quite mild. I found him doing his wee, sleekit, cowrin, timrous beastie impression in the goat room - not at all regal and lionesque!

So far the gales don't seem as bad as the twister we had in June 2003; it helps that most of the trees are without their leafy sails. At least the power has stayed on so far - but I might put the tronçonneuse in the car when I go to market!

 

Tempête Klaus 2

24 January 2009 12:17

Our house phone isn't working, the mobile has no signal, but amazingly the power and Internet connection are still on!

I've just come back from Villeneuve - took the chainsaw but didn't need it, someone got there before me. Lots of small tree debris on the roads, hoardings blown down. The only damage at Tessel Bas so far is a biggish branch off a prunus.

 

Tempête Klaus 3

24 January 2009 22:03

Here in 47 it's calmed down from a roar to a whisper. On walking the puddytats tonight I noticed that the dry stonewall down to the prom from the patio has disintegrated into a pile of limestone rubble. One of the big ash trees was in contact with the wall, and when the trunk swayed, the wall crumbled. Fortunately my patio cement reinforcement prevented that falling too. It's no big problem, but my dry-stone-walling technique needs a little mortar to be sure!

 

Tempête Klaus 4

25 January 2009 23:01

I enjoyed my day; the weather this morning was lovely - bright sun and cool enough so you didn't get too hot when working.

The day started badly; the flush water in the loo was taking a long time to disappear. Was it something I'd done, I thought (in both senses!)? I looked at the inspection trap before the sewage departs "à la campagne". No problem. I checked the evacuation of the washbasins. No problem. Must be the WC itself. It was - one of those loo blue thingies that you hang on the side of the basin had broken its hanger and had been flushed into the U-bend.

Then I put on my knickers and bra, so I could be a proper lumberjack. It was great to be out in the sun, after the tempête yesterday, getting exercise, big lungfuls of clean fresh air, wielding the chainsaw and being a proper bloke!

The next little bit of excitement was the big black duck next door dashing past with a newborn lamb in its jaws and burying it in my garden. Perhaps I should explain that it's not a duck, but an ancient black Labrador cum Rottweiler that lives opposite and is frequently the source of complaint by my Dutch neighbours, who find it difficult to differentiate between the pronunciation of "duck" and "dog". I remember listening to their account of how a big, black duck had savaged their new car, and being slightly bemused. Anyway I grabbed the rather expired lamb from its canine grave and took it to the dog’s owner (le fou du village, dont j'ai déja parlé). He said that the lamb had been born dead during the tempête. Are stillborn lambs sweet and fluffy? I don't think so.

The auto-portée refused to start, so I had a lot of cut wood to barrow into the barn.

In the afternoon, after I'd fully charged the auto-portée battery it started and I finished clearing a mountain of twigs - I've put them over an old stump, hoping to remove some of it in the fire.

 

Gremlins @ Tessel Bas

19 February 2009 21:39

Last Sunday night the DDR on our consumer unit tripped (DDR = Dispositif à courant Différentiel-Residuel = Earth Leakage Breaker) plunging us into darkness. I did a quick sum on the load and no way were we taking anywhere near 40 A, so it must have been due to the 30 mA earth leakage trip. Last night the same thing happened - I switched off all the heating loads and tried again - it tripped again. I decided that it was the cooker at fault, so I rescued the piece of lamb by pressure-cooking it on the gas hob.

Today I took the cooker to bits - the bottom element had overheated, splitting the element case so that the live element wire could, under circumstances, contact the element sheath, causing an earth fault and a trip.

So tomorrow I have to try and find a spare element, or we have nothing but fried, grilled or spit-roasted meat.

In the meantime, I reflect on the fact that until I fitted that 30 mA DDR and if the prise de terre wasn't connected, the cooker metalwork would have become live at 240V - the consequences don't bear thinking about.

 

Résistance!

20 February 2009 21:21

"Résistance" is a new French word I learnt today - in the context of an "element" for an electric cooker or iron. More logical than "element", I thought, but not a very precise term. I found several on-line sites for "pièces détachées" for electromenager, but most were offering two or three weeks delivery for the lower element in our Rosières cooker. The local "But" store (= "Target"), where I bought the cooker were very charming, offered to order the spare part, but with a delai of ten days, so I told them to go ahead.

In the meantime we can use the oven with the top element to grill or brown and spit-roast.

 

Stone Walling

20 February 2009 22:39

I had a wonderful day playing at building big castles with real stone - well, not really, just patching the hole in an earth-retaining wall made when Tempête Klaus made an adjacent ash tree sway so much that it demolished the adjacent wall.

Today had a chilly start - ice still on standing water - but warmed up rapidly and I ended up in T-shirt mode - our neighbour was out on his stoep sunbathing - it was a wonderfully warm, Spring-like day! The work was both interesting and demanding - interesting as a job I hadn't tackled before, so there are techniques to learn - demanding because some of the bigger stone blocks weighed in excess of 35 Kg. I had often wondered how near-vertical earth-retaining walls seemed to work chez nous - conventional wisdom demands a pronounced backwards slope. I found that the answer was in the stone rubble fill behind the wall. The limestone in our area is very hard - it easily takes the edge off a tungsten carbide masonry drill - and very angular, with protrusions and holes. As small rubble with stones less than fist size it has a very high slump angle because all the stones lock together. The facing stones can't be trimmed because of their hardness, so you pick the straightest face and pack it up with small stone so that the face is almost vertical and back fill with rubble. I didn't trust my dry-walling technique so I used a 1/1/4 white cement/chalk/sand mortar to bed in the stone. I left lots of drainage holes - another secret of the success of the old wall is that the rubble provides ample drainage to prevent hydrostatic pressure - and also provides homes for the midwife toads who are starting to call with their musical "bonk" noise (stop sniggering - "bonk" is a perfectly good onomatopoeic word).

Here is a "before" and "after" pic. I had to remove stones back to a secure piece of wall and point a "frame" so it didn't collapse, so the hole became about twice as big as before - about 2m x 2m.

I still have a graphic image in my mind of when I was on a walking tour of the Yorkshire Dales and we stopped for lunch. I decided to sit on a dry stonewall that had probably been there for centuries. I must have nudged a keystone, for the wall collapsed with a low rumble into a pile of stone - so rapidly I didn't even fall on top of the pile with my legs in the air! I wanted to rebuild it, but I just didn't have the expertise! So I made sure that didn't happen by extra pointing.

 

Mending Wall

By Robert Frost

 

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs.  The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,

One on a side.  It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

'Why do they make good neighbors?  Isn't it

Where there are cows?  But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.'  I could say 'Elves' to him,

But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather

He said it for himself.  I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father's saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'

 

Frêne Blanc

4 March 2009 23:00

This is the time of year when I have to do my ash tree cull - hundreds of ash tree saplings that have either coppiced from stumps or grown from seed spring up in the area of steeply sloping downwards rough ground in front of the view to die for. I have to cut them down, because they can grow 5 m in a year and bear a luxurious canopy of pinnate leaves, which spoil the view.

Now this job is my most unfavourite; I have to do it before the stinging nettles get going but the brambles are there in abundance and I slide about on a steep slope getting hotter and crosser as I wield my billhook.

Now I know you can buy destructeur de souches but there are so many of them and so many saplings growing from seed that the cost would be prohibitive.

What I need are some good ideas on how to get rid of this job so I'm not doing it when I'm 80 (please don't suggest move house!).

 

My 70th Birthday

11 March 2009 16:44

Our plans to go skiing went all awry due to Xine's indisposition; the car was packed with the ski stuff and ready to go but it became obvious that we shouldn't set off.

So I had a strange 70th Birthday - in the morning I opened my cards, then shot off to Leclerc to buy foodstuff. Xine made my favourite lentil soup for lunch and I washed it down with a big bottle of Chimay. I walked this off with a modest 8 km walk in the afternoon.

Dinner started with foie gras d'oie with an onion confit and a glass of Montbazillac, then aiguillettes de canard with a crème frâiche and Armagnac sauce with tartiflette and broccoli, followed by cheese. Wine for these courses was a 1983 Médoc that had been bought as a present for our anniversary.

The day was quiet and tranquil, just Xine, the puddy tats, and me and quietly enjoyable.

Full marks to the Baquiera-Beret reservation centre that had taken the full payment for the hotel - they had a pleasant English-speaking young man who promised to refund the whole amount, even though the contract “Ts & Cs” entitled them to keep up to 50% in the event of cancellation.

 

Souches de Frêne Blanc

26 March 2009 13:24

I have engineered a compromise/adopted a temporary expedient (delete inapplicable phrase).

I have uprooted all easily uprootable ash saplings. I have taken my trusty billhook to the coppicing ash poles, and those stumps that are in a bothersome position have been treated with Destructeur de Souches.

None of these activities was pleasant - slipping and sliding on the steep, loose surface exposed to full sun and brambles. I managed to impale an index finger on a sharp-cut pole while billhooking and have since observed how often the index finger is used.

Now nature has defended any remaining stumps with nettles and further work would need hot track pants or cool shorts but nettle-stung knees, so I shall watch the ash rear-guard action as the untreated stumps erect their poles and last-year's seeds germinate as soon as the average outdoor temperature reaches 21°C.

I have observed that some of the old stumps have got the idea that they are not really wanted, but French frêne blanc seems to have a very strong instinct for survival!

 

Christmas Lights Syndrome

29 March 2009 11:19

The Christmas Lights Syndrome was first observed in the Gillis household when I was wrestling with a set of fairy lights (ooh, ducky!), sometimes called Trade Union Lights (one out, all out!).

After an hour or so of trying to get the things going, Someone said "call yourself an electrical engineer and you can't even fix the tree lights". The Syndrome was observed yesterday afternoon at Tessel Bas.

This time it was the problem of fitting a new TNT box for French digital terrestrial TV - the old one had died and, since they're only a few tens of Euro, I bought another one rather than try and fix the old one. I fitted it in place of the other one and tuned it in - gloom! - only black and white picture. Examined the carton to see if I'd inadvertently bought a cheap b&w only box - no, nor was it an attempt at revisionist post-modernism. Something was different to the old one.

So I pulled out the Sky box, the VCR, the DVD player and the TNT box and attempted to reconnect them to the Brit PAL TV so everything worked. I could get colour on the TNT box but the VCR wouldn't work, and vice versa. I tried knit one, purl one with the SCART leads (did you know that's a French acronym - "Syndicat des Constructeurs d'Appareils Radiorécepteurs et Téléviseurs" - yet they call it "Peritel"!).

No-one said "call yourself an electrical engineer.." but I knew that "no-one" was missing her afternoon Radio 4....

At last a blanket stitch with a cast-off got it all working, restoring the Marconi reputation; it'll be expensive, late, but in the end it'll work! And I had a spare SCART lead left over - but the picture is better than it was before on all devices.

 

Ian's Twice-Yearly Moan

29 March 2009 11:34

My computer clock and the two radio-controlled clock/thermometers change to summer time automatically. So why do I have to change two bedside clocks, the central heating programmer, two car clocks (one of which has a GPS highly-accurate time signal from several satellites), the wall clock, the microwave oven clock, three watches......? Why aren't they all synchronised? And why do we have to change the rotten time anyway - and don't tell me it upsets the cows!

 

Chaleur et Orages

16 July 2009 20:55

A very enervating afternoon - did some conspicuous dozing on the balancelle, assisted by Henri IV who considered that the best thing for the heat was a large furry cat on the lap licking one's knees. Evidently cat gob has refrigerant properties, particularly when applied by a tongue that would make a 2" bastard file seem smooth.

Continuingly pleased at all that fibreglass I put in the grenier - at the peak of the afternoon's heat the shade temperature was over 35°C outside and inside, by dint of the insulation and shutter management, was a refreshingly cool 24°C.

The forecast storms have so far been a disappointment, some serious aerial grumbling and long-distance flashes and a heavy shower with some seriously flustered ash trees. Obviously saving it up for 3am!

 

- but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

 

Cruising the Dalmatian Islands of Croatia

7 September 2009 14:45

 

For photographs, please see My Picasa Folder.

Croatia has all the colours of a “Dordogne-sur-Mer”; blue sky, green trees and sun-bleached limestone, but with added azure sea. Jumping into the latter seemed the quickest way of acclimatising my aged body from hot air to cool water. Doing so emphasised the difference between big-ship cruising and our little boat; ships with 3,500 passengers on board can't moor in little bays for bathing from the boat, but they will charge you a fortune for "excursions" to do so.

MS "Le Meridien" had only half its full complement of 38 passengers on board; a delightful mix of ages and backgrounds, all Francophone and "très sympa". We quickly found kindred spirits - a charming Parisien with his lovely American wife and a friendly baker and matching wife from Casteljaloux in the Lot & Garonne.

The Dubrovnik Airways flight from Toulouse, a venerable MD-83, left at a civilised hour and was soon in Dubrovnik, despite a quick stop in Lille to pick up extra passengers. A short coach ride to the port enabled us to explore our new home - a spotlessly clean boat, gleaming with varnish and only a couple of years old. Our allocated cabin was below decks with only a small porthole, so we upgraded to a spare cabin on the upper deck with a window in the door. Dinner that evening was of a good standard that was maintained during the week. The catering was demi-pension but we were served dinner on the day of arrival and for the "captain's dinner" on the first full day. We liked the "half-board" idea as it enabled us to dine at quayside restaurants, appreciate the local cuisine and avoid spending too much time on the boat when in port. Drinks on board were extra, but were reasonably priced so there was no nasty surprise at settling-up time.

Each day followed the pattern of one or two visits to islands or towns on the littoral, calling in little creeks and dropping anchor to let us cool off in the crystal-clear sea and practise pronouncing Croatian names consisting of unlikely pairings of consonants. Points of interest were Mljet, where Ulysses was imprisoned for seven years, Hvar for its Venetian architecture, Trogir and its cathedral, Split and the Emperor Diocletian's palace, Korcula's (alleged) birthplace of Marco Polo and a wonderful finale from the mediaeval city of Dubrovnik.

Our favourites were:

Lopud, a scenic island with little cottages, ideal for a "get away from it all" holiday, but easily reached from Dubrovnik.

Trogir was much busier but it had a pleasant atmosphere, with narrow streets in the mediaeval city and wide-open spaces along the quayside.

Dubrovnik is incomparable - the old city is justifiably busy but it has everything and the arduous but rewarding walk round the massive and very high city walls provides stupefying views, both inwards to the roofs of the city and outwards to the Adriatic and the islands.

Our weather was uniformly sunny and hot and an uneventful and short direct return flight dumped us in Toulouse at temperatures nearly 20°C lower than we'd left at Dubrovnik.

 

Déscente à L'Enfer?

13 September 2009 08:38

I know it's a big gaffe to buy chrysanthemums for one's hostess - but can I buy them for myself without risking death and eternal perdition?

I went looking for a plant or two to replace some potted geraniums that got fried in the heat and drought while we were on hols. I could buy small cyclamen or marguerites for €3, but I'd need three for a big pot, or a big boule of chrysanthemums for €5. They look very effective exploding out of the old toilet bowl that scandalises Christine. Maybe I could assuage the powers of darkness by saying that they are in mourning for the death of the old toilet?

 

Repas - Dansant Manqué

13 September 2009 09:09

It's our village fête this weekend - not very ambitious, I'm afraid - a village hop on Friday, boules on Saturday and a vide-grenier today. The Repas Dansant was one of those typically-French affairs. The start time was publicised as 20:00. Being Brits, of course, we arrived at 20:00 - big mistake, there was no-one there. So we sat in the car until 20:30 when a few people started to arrive. By about 21:00 everyone trooped in for the aperitif of industrial alcohol and orange juice.

There was a Major Village Revolution last year, following the election of a new maire. The old équipe who ran all the events for the Foyer Rurale was overturned and replaced by a new pretender. As a result none of the old équipe and their hangers-on will come to events organised by the new lot. Being foreign, of course, we felt that such politics don't apply to us - but we found ourselves in a roomful of strangers. So where to sit? Xine decided on a pre-emptive strike and sat at an unreserved table - we moved a couple of times to accommodate groups and stragglers and ended up surrounded by a mixed bag of oldies and youngsters - the latter were remarkably restrained and polite compared to their British equivalents and, what's more, didn't drink, so there was more wine for me!

At last at about 22:00 the entrée arrived - at least postponing death by hunger for a while. Slowly the rest of dinner arrived, the main course was chicken and rice, then cheese and green salad and apple tarte. All cooked and served by the new team, food that was remarkably good and substantial. By the time we'd eaten all courses it was well on the way to midnight and I'd spent a hard day working in the garden. I don't know how the "dansant" part of the evening went - we retreated to bed before it started.

I think I'll stick to the repas des aînés in future - more appropriate to my age and stamina.

 

Drilled, Countersunk and Plasterboarded

29 September 2009 21:16

Today I started my project to insulate the roof of what I sometimes pretentiously call my atrium but which is best described as an entrance hall.

I managed to pick up 10 sheets of "doublage" insulated plasterboard from Castorama Agen - they have a convenient 'drive through" area. I got the guy with the fork-lift to position a pallet-load to the rear of my remorque, so it was just a case of sliding the sheets on. The trailer is 2m x 1.25m and the sheets are 2.5 m x 1.2m, so I removed the rear of the trailer and supported the 0.5 m overhang with an old door. I was pleased with the help and friendliness from the staff - much better than they used to be at Casto.

Drove very carefully back to Tessel Bas and unloaded with Xine's help - the sheets aren't very heavy but they're cumbersome. This afternoon I cleared the room of pictures and furniture and removed the vertical blinds, which will need to be shortened and repositioned.

Tomorrow I'll start rewiring the lights - I intend to replace the 12v spots with low consumption plafonniers. I'll also need to shorten the door to the kitchen grenier before I can start fixing the plasterboard panels with Peter's help when he arrives next week. The hall now seems very big and bare and it echoes!

 

Brico Bulletin/Plasterboard Progress

5 October 2009 21:46

Once again I find that working on old French houses makes a nonsense out of any estimates of the time likely to be taken.

I had to trim 60mm off the top of a high-level access door to the grenier above the kitchen - it wasn't just a case of passing it through the table saw - more like rebuilding the door and taking the time to remove and make good ancient bodges applied by ancient bodgers - it took a whole day!

I've now also put wiring in for half a dozen small plafonniers, which enable me to use low wattage eco-bulbs, and the option of three or six lights on, depending on the use of the room.

Today I tried to establish the availability of a lève-plaque should I need one - I'm a bit worried about feeding wires through holes in the plasterboard while holding the sheet and balancing on a ladder. Locadour didn't have one; Point P had one but it was out on hire, return unknown. So I concentrated on my home-made extensible plasterboard pusher. I had to pop into Gamm Vert for a hinge to suit same, came out with a new cats' water bowl and a packet of puce and tique treatments as well. I can't be trusted in Gamm Vert - I always come out with more than I intended to. I've set up a plasterboard cutting station on the terrace - tomorrow should see a trial installation to validate the methodology.

At least I'm one of the few people who own home-brew versions of both a soffit ventilator installation tool and a plasterboard pusher!

 

Brico Bulletin/Plasterboard Progress 2

8 October 2009 21:50

On Tuesday I put up three sheets of plaque de platre, as a trial installation in one of the most accessible places - learnt some lessons about cutting accurate square sheets to fit inaccurate trapezoidal areas and the benefit of generous clearances.

Today, fortified by strong young son to help aged dad, we put up five more sheets. I went down to Point P to pick up the lève-plaque that they'd promised to hire me only to find that some miserable sod hadn't brought it back. So I had to employ my Provisional Patent Plasterboard Pusher together with access afforded by that robust table, weakened only by the carving of names by vandals at the Not The Nick's Birthday Party all those years ago.

We've now got some 50% of the job done - I'm knackered and Peter is slightly tired. I wish I were 25 again! Tomorrow we tackle the highest bit of the plafond!

 

Toulouse Engineering Weekend

19 October 2009 15:08

There are some photographs relevant to this text here.

Some 19 engineers and their better halves met at Toulouse for a regional weekend organised and sponsored by the Institution of Civil Engineers. Engineers of South West France and La Vie en France were well represented with 10 engineers belonging to either or both groups. The ICE contingent included Richard Coackley, their Vice President and President Elect. I had to explain that my walking stick was a "maladie du bricolage au genou" rather than anno domini and it turned out to be a prudent measure with all the weekend's walking.

The technical programme kicked off with a visit to The Natural History Museum/Jardin des Plantes for a presentation of the building and its restoration - the building incorporates several modern features into a heritage site, such as a voluminous atrium and an extensive glass wall, all designed to present the exhibits in an attractive, interactive setting. A rapid tour of the exhibition areas served only to act as a taster for further, more prolonged visits.

 A series of lectures at Betem Inginièrie covered Toulouse and its buildings and a fascinating new beetle-shaped building with opening wooden-framed "wings", destined to be a leisure centre at Cap d'Agde.

 Following a pleasant buffet lunch in the sunshine Richard Coackley presented a thought-provoking paper on the social and economic impact of meeting the power requirements for the future.

A short ride to the Airbus A380 Final Assembly Line gave me another opportunity to see the stupefying scale of the facilities that can turn these monsters out at up to one a week. Disappointingly the visit to the model room and training simulator wasn't possible.

The "technical day" culminated in a civic presentation and gala dinner in the impressive building of the Toulouse chamber of commerce.

Saturday continued with the bright, crisp weather, which was ideal for a walking tour of Toulouse and its impressive architecture with the ubiquitous flat pink brick and a smattering of stone.

Saturday afternoon most people visited the Cité de l'Espace - as we'd "been there, done that" we had a pleasant lunch in one of the little restaurants above Les Halles, toured the Musée des Beaux Arts in the old Augustin monastery and scoured FNAC for English paperbacks.

We rejoined the rest for dinner in a pleasant restaurant on the Place du Capitole.

Sunday needed an early start to fit in the busy day's activities; we took a péniche on the Canal du Midi from Renneville to the point of "partage des eaux" just past Port Lauragais. The canal was really beautiful in the bright sunshine; the golden leaves of the plane trees lining the  canal emphasised by the deep blue sky.

Lunch was on the péniche; definitely the best cassoulet I've ever tasted.

Joining the coach again we made for the old favourite, Carcassonne, its conical slated towers and extensive views at their best in the clear autumnal air.

Then back to airport, railway station and hotel parking for the journey home after an excellent weekend.

 

Plastered - and Angels Visit Tessel Bas

30 October 2009 10:40

Tuesday saw the last coat of white paint on the walls to match the blinding white of the newly-painted insulated plasterboard. On Wednesday the pictures and other clutter were replaced and the house became a home again. I'm quite pleased with the result - any botches covered up well and the room is much lighter and warmer. See picture here - taken before the ox yoke was replaced.

In retrospect I almost bit off more than I could chew; I underestimated the difficulty of manoeuvring and fitting heavy panels at heights of up to 4m and couldn't have managed without young son's help. Furthermore, without scaffolding, every operation demanded several trips up and down the ladder for tools and materials, much to the detriment of my 70-year old knees. But it's done now and in time for the visit of Xine's son Simon and family.

I adjourned to the garden yesterday, clearing up several tonnes of leaves, which had been neglected by me in plasterer/decorator mode, preparing for the arrival of Simon today. Relaxing after lunch on Thursday there was a text from Simon at Stansted Airport that said that he was boarding. Panic! Someone small and sweet had got their arrival date wrong - so she made up the beds while I drove to the airport. Very lucky - had my mobile phone been in a different room, or had the SFR coverage on my new Leclerc mobile been absent as normal, or had the phone been switched off, there would have been a sad family stranded amidst the delights of Bergerac International Airport!

But now we have two little angels, 3 yrs and 2 yrs, at Tessel Bas called Millie and Olivia, who by the speed at which they dash around, could well be the namesakes of this year's hurricanes!

 

E. Leclerc - Coiffeur

9 November 2009 21:58

I've always hated having my hair cut - ever since I was plonked down on a cushion in the barbers chair every 3 weeks, amongst the smoky fug and the "gentlemen’s' weekend requisites" of a Midlands barber, for my short back and sides.

When we came to France I was scared of being caught embarrassingly lacking in some time-honoured ritual in the French barber's shop and, pleading too much bricolage and not enough time, hacked at my own remaining hair with my electric clippers, bought for 17s. 6d. from Headquarters and General Supplies c.1945.

So eventually the bricolage and the excuses ran out, and I braved a French barber in Villeneuve, a crusty old chap looking like Yves Montand in a Claude Berri film. At least he was a Ch'ti, so I could understand his French, but he took hours to cut my residual fuzz with one snip per hair.

Enter brave E. Leclerc, champion of the masses. He has opened a new mini-mall in the Villeneuve store, with paper shop, optician, flower shop - and a coiffeur!

Now, I am wont to visit said hypermarché on Mondays, to return the Saturday DVD hire and buy a baguette and a Saturday Getalarph. Today I was wandering, hirsute and unshorn, past the new coiffeur when I spied the enticing words "Coupe homme €12". Considering Papet in Villeneuve charged €15, it was worth a try!

Shambling in like King Kong on a bad hair day, "Qu'est qu'on doit faire," I asked. It turned out that you had to sign in on a list at the door, like in "What's My Line" but without the occupation. Then you went and sat down at a cutting station and filled in a green form, which was a demand for services. "Coupe homme" was featured at only €10 - even better! However, after a few minutes a sweet young mademoiselle came and checked my form and gently rebuked me for not filling in "shampoo €2" which was, apparently obligatory, even though my hair was quite clean after my shower. Then I was led to a shampooing station where the SYM gently washed my clean hair, but I have to say that the experience of having my aged head caressed for the first time by a sweet young French miss might have been unnecessary but was not at all disagreeable.

Towelled and dried we returned to the cutting station where the SYM made short shrift of the tangled ancient mane with a few expert snips - I learned a new word; sideboards are "les favoris". All finished, she said that I was "beau" - it might have been a lie but it made me blush and got her a good pourboire.

And back at Tessel Bas the boss approved too!

 

Christmas Lunch

25 December 2009

As last year we had Christmas Day lunch at the Restaurant de la terrace in Grezels, département du Lot, accompanied by our neighbours Jean and Ingë. The seven course menu was still a trifling €35 and the atmosphere friendly. Here is the menu:

 

Potage St Germain

6 huitres du banc d'Arguin

Foie gras de canard au Jurançon

Saumon fumé

Chapon avec des petits choux farci

Salade - Fromages

Bûche de Noël

Vin du pays compris et blanc sec avec du poisson.

 

Felled By An Oyster

27 December 2009 19:26

Oh dear - guess who must have eaten a dodgy oyster on Christmas Day?

I spent all last night on the loo and calling for Huey and Ralph on the Great White Telephone - I think it's viral gastroenteritis, so I'm on a water but no food diet now.

 

Help! I am a refugee from "East Enders"!

31 December 2009 22:51

We decided several days ago not to go to the village Reveillon for several reasons; the admission was now €60 a head, the food was by a caterer who did the Repas des Aînés this year and wasn't so good, and it's impossible to leave early as the dinner goes on and on and on until hours after midnight. In addition the village organising committee has changed and the old équipe don't speak to the new équipe, so none of the old lot turn up any more and it was them we'd got to know.....

It was a good thing as it turned out, as I still haven't really fully recovered from that dodgy oyster - I had a repeat of morning sickness the day before yesterday and I'm far too old to be pregnant.

So we decided to have a simple, light but good meal between us, sharing the cooking as a team, which we do well. As planned, it was simply foie gras and toast with an airelles confit and a small glass of a 1999 Loupiac, followed by a small daim (venison) steak quickly sautéed and served with a crème fraiche and griotte confit sauce, some of Xine's crème fraiche potatoes and sprouts, and a glass or two of 2000 Gèvrey-Chambertin. The venison was lovely - everything a good steak should be.

No-one could face pudding or cheese!

What do we call the next decade? It can't be the "Teens" or "Teenies" because of 2010 and 2011.

 

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