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DIARY 2004

Selected days from the year 2004, our second year of living in France. These entries are abstracted from emails and often don't include accents. My apologies for the “franglish” – most were written for other ex-pats who have the same fault!


Monday, January 19, 2004 22:55

Loo Blues

Why is it that everything turns out to be so blooming complicated? I’ve been refurbishing our little toilet - a room just big enough for the basin and nowt else.

So I stripped all the tiles off, made good the worst of the holes where the plaster came off as well, fixed a baguette rail as a division between the rough and the smooth, so I can crepi the rough bit and pretend that it’s meant to look rustic!

Then I decided to fix an extractor fan with a timer so that it continues running after the light is switched off. This requires another excursion into the grenier, to renew my acquaintance with rat poo, cobwebs and mummified mice.

Firstly there was no sign of the wiring to the light - back downstairs I found that was hidden by the beading along the poutre. Then I needed to find another connection to the live side of the switch so that the timer function will work - all connections securely hidden in some china block brique!

So I have to attack a wiring junction box/birds nest that has all three phases, identify the phase I want and connect to it, provide an in-line fuse and wire it up.

Yippee! - fan works - no more poo smells! Gloom - fan is noisy - it’s made in England! - ceiling panes resonate and magnify noise.

So I have to devise some acoustic isolation with foam draught excluder and rubber washers - limited success - fan now sounds like a Boeing 737 with hush kit instead of a Vulcan scrambling to beat the 4-minute nuclear warning.

The next major phase will start when SM Christine d’Aquitaine departs for the Royaume-Uni this Thursday - then I can disconnect and remove the toilet basin, decorate & tile behind it, modify the plumbing and replace with the new toilet that’s sitting in the barn.

Since this is the only facility we have, I’ll have to fire up the caravan loo or use the great outside rural toilet. Well I can’t expect Her Ladyship to do that, can I? And the cats’ litter tray is too small! I hope visitors bring their own potties.


Tuesday, January 20, 2004 22:48

Rude Remorques

So I went down to the local Verts Loisirs outlet to buy a trailer in the sales.

I need a trailer for when I no longer have the Landcruiser - the Yaris is commodious from a volume point of view but is length-disadvantaged and 2.4 metre lengths of wood won’t fit.

Anyway a lovely man with a lovely Gascon accent - no nasal vowels and all the “e”s at the end of the words were emphasised (fortunately he also spoke slowly) - came and spoke to me and made me buy a trailer by tempting me with discounts and cadeaux of baches plate, roues de secours and jockey wheels.

Towed it home with the Beast which sneeringly sprayed mud all over it in contempt. But even the trailer running, winker and stop lights all worked first time! Long live European Norm! (never met him!).

Now I need to get the Yaris equipped with a towbar, but I can’t find a towbar fitter, mainly because I don’t know what to look for in the Pages Jaune. Now I know that a towball is a “rotule” (d’attelage) - my big Harraps says that a towbar is a “timon de remorque” - but I think that as “timon” is a bar as in shaft for a carriage, it may mean a different type of towbar - like that they use to tow lorries - a sort of rigid towrope. Every Frenchman has a trailer - where does he get his towbar fitted? Also I’ve been looking at the specs: “PTAC” I assume means “Poids Totale avec Charge” or gross trailer weight, “Poids a vide” and “Charge utile” I understand, and I assume “Essieu” is the axle rating.


Friday, January 23, 2004 21:51


Loo-Less and Fancy Free

So Xtine was yesterday successfully put on the aeroplane to Stansted. Last night I left the bedroom door open so the cats could keep me company. Sophie was sweet, dived down under the bedclothes and cuddled up to my back. Jolie got the hump and slept on the clothes chair until early morning when I got the nose-nibbling, loud purring and beard-washing treatment!

I am now loo-less, it came out easily, no problems. I managed to meet all my day’s targets; chip tiles off from behind loo, seal plaster, add plinthe (skirting board) tiles. Tomorrow - fit new pipe and tap, apply crepi around lower walls and leave to dry before fitting loo on Sunday. The old loo and cistern should look quite nice with a few geraniums in them next summer - assuming Xtine gives clearance to the idea!

Dinner tonight was one of Xtine’s creations, a delicious endive & chook in mustard sauce, found as a left-over in the freezer, washed down with a remaining half bottle of Bordeaux Malesan 2K1 (sounds like something to disinfect the loo!). So far I’ve managed to deploy my Vacu-Vin stopper, so I can leave half of the bottle without it going off. Not sure I’ll succeed tomorrow - well it is Saturday, after all!


Thursday, February 05, 2004 21:56

Vet Report - For pet lovers!

Our soft, furry baby Jolie was abandoned to the care of the vet yesterday. I’d rehearsed “chatrer” but they insisted on “steriliser” - sounds much more clinical! The receptionist said that she’d ring with news, and when we could pick her up.

I got on with my lumberjacking, but got worried when we hadn’t heard by late afternoon. A phone call found that the afternoon receptionist wasn’t au fait with the arrangement, so I went and collected our Jolie. I learned two new words - “pansements” - dressings, and “points” - stitches.

She was a quiet girl, didn’t howl in the car like she sometimes does. To keep her away from the rough attentions of Sophie we took her into our bedroom - she tried walking across the bed with rear legs that didn’t quite function, and then collapsed for a major session of knocking out the zzzzs.

At bedtime she was still there - I couldn’t see her, but she’d burrowed down under the bedclothes next to Christine to keep warm. Later on, in the early morning, she obviously felt better; we got the “cat-on-the-chest”, “loud-purring”, “nose nibbling” treatment - no-one got much sleep!

Today she’s taken it easy; she’s not allowed to go out, but didn’t seem to want to go. Sophie has been very good and understanding with her invalid sister. Jolie has that “I hurt” look, but sweetly rewards any fuss with her usual loud purr.

I know all the arguments about how responsible and public-spirited it is to have your cat spayed - but I can’t help thinking that it’s wrong to deny something so pretty the opportunity of reproducing. I’d never have forgiven myself should something have gone wrong.


Monday, February 09, 2004 22:53

Je suis un bûcheron et ça plane pour moi

I tackled two biggish ash trees yesterday - both about 20m tall.

One fell obligingly where designated, but the other was a few degrees off and tangled with a nearby oak and no amount of tugging would free it.

Now the tree-felling manuals don’t tell you what to do if this happens, only that it’s dangerous and that you should avoid doing it! A tractor would be useful, but I’m the only bloke in 47 who doesn’t own a tractor!

So I thought about it and decided that the only way was to cut lengths off the standing trunk, trying to ensure that the folding, falling trunk didn’t trap the chainsaw or fall on me. I cut V-notches on both sides of the trunk, than did plunge cuts on the edges until the tree was balanced on a wasp-waisted bit. Then a hefty prod with another bit of tree broke the wasp-waist and the tree pivoted down the slope.

I did this three times before the tangle was cleared - once the tree broke prematurely, grabbed the chainsaw and spat it out derisively the other side. At last the trunk stopped, faltered, then gently moved in an accelerating crash through the surrounding saplings, fortunately avoiding yours truly who was taking large steps in the other direction.

Today was the job of limbing and bucking the trees and bringing the bûches up the slope (I wonder if bucking and bûches come from the same (semantic) root?).

Two big trees weigh an awful lot - by the time I’d got the lot to the top I was down to the T-shirt and wringing wet with sweat, despite the cool but wonderfully-sunny day. But now they’re tronçonned and stacked and ready for next winter, and there’s a bit more of the view-to-die-for revealed. And I’m pink, tired and showered and the pre-dinner beers went down well tonight! And it’s better than Radar Systems Engineering any day!


Friday, February 13, 2004 23:37


As it was a lovely sunny day we went to Bergerac for a pre-Valentine lunch and a look-round. Bergerac is one of those places that I always seem to be bypassing but never stopping at, and I’d never gone into the town.

Access was very easy; we parked in a free car park by the Dordogne and walked into the old town. I liked it. It didn’t have the Hollywood charm of Sarlat, but it had a lot of interesting, winding, narrow little streets, many colombage houses and lots of crumbly unloved bits.

We lunched in an ordinary but adequate cafe, it was a toss-up between going inside or sitting outside in the lovely warm sun, we chickened out and sat indoors.

After lunch we went to a repro furniture shop, “Promo Meubles” (how do they think of these names!?). Luckily they were having a sale (ends 18th Feb folks!). They had lots of lovely refectory tables and the like in solid oak at €1100-ish - pity we don’t have the space.

We ended up buying an oak coffee table and took some measurements of a couple of Louis Philippe armoires and a commode in waxed aulne (alder). Back home we confirmed that they would fit and I’ll take the remorque there tomorrow to pick them up.

Now all we need is a big wardrobe for the Australian Room!


Sunday, February 15, 2004 22:47

Aux Armoires, Citoyens

Yesterday I took the new remorque out on a serious and meaningful expedition - we went to the Bergerac Olde Furniture Shoppe - the execrably named “Promo Meubles”, having been tempted the previous day I came back to buy two Louis Phillipe repro armoires and a matching commode.

I got back at apero time so left the laden Beast and trailer for today. To avoid scratching the new acquisition I took the front, back and sides off the trailer, but I was soon to find that a big hardwood armoire is no lightweight. After strapping the thing to my sack barrow I managed to get it into the house, then (just) into the bedroom, and, with the last gasp, managed to right it and deploy it in position.

The next one was partially disassembled, so was easy to get into the bedroom, but needed a few more last gasps to assemble it.

Now I’m knackered, there are a number of small muscles in the back that are complaining of torn bits, but the bedroom looks smaller but more capacious.

Promo Meubles stuff seems to be made in Spain, but it’s very solidly made, from real timber, in the traditional way - dovetailed joints, etc. They have a big range of “farmhouse” stuff: fromagieres, confiturieres, etc., all using traditional carpentry techniques, but, I suspect, using modern machines for accuracy and repeatability. And, as usual, they were very pleasant to buy from, two guys with a warehouse making a few bucks, enjoying life and fully prepared to help the customer and have a laugh at the same time. I think the prices were very reasonable for the quality. There’s plenty of oak, we bought alder, a hardwood that takes a lovely finish - ours is stained with a wild cherry wood finish, which is warm and friendly. At last we can get rid of the cardboard hanging boxes that we’ve had for over a year!


Monday, February 16, 2004 21:58

Cats & Cupboards

Jolie had her stitches out today. She didn’t like getting into her pet carrier - it takes her to horrid places where she gets hurt - but she was marvellous in the vets; me at the biting end with a handful of neck fur, Christine at the other end holding two back legs, and the vet in the middle unpicking the stitches - but little Jolie made not a murmur, even though she was shaking with fright.

Back home she told little sister all about it and they settled down to a big, long cuddle - a pile of fur with eight legs! Now she’s bouncing around with no problems - what a sweet, resilient cat, and a sweet and understanding little sister.

For the rest of the morning we unpacked boxes and old furniture and filled up our new armoires - I’m the sort that doesn’t feel at home in a new hotel until the case has been unpacked and all the stuff installed in the cupboards - at last now the last hanging box has been unpacked - after over a year here - and its contents put away - so imagine how satisfied I felt! While the mood was upon us we went and ordered another rangement for the guest room.


Tuesday, February 24, 2004 22:47

Miracle in the Wood

As it was such a lovely sunny day I had to play outside. So I decided to fell one of the tall oaks that hides some of the view-to-die-for, to give me some good firewood for next year.

I was a little worried about this one - I could only fell it downhill into more trees, but there was a narrow gap, and if I was really accurate, it should fall all the way to the ground. So I felled a small sapling that could have got in the way, got a long piece of wood to use as an aiming aid, and tried to cut my Humboldt notch as near as possible at right angles. A miracle happened! The tree fell within a few inches of where it was intended to fall.

So I limbed and bucked it, and stacked the logs at the bottom of my escarpment, and pondered on easy ways of getting the bûches up to the top. How about charging for the Woodland Walk - admission free but exit requires the possession of an oak log! Or, more positive, a Tessel Bas Woodland Theme Park - take our Woodland Walk to the Lumberjack Experience! Feel the weight of a Real Oak Log! Imagine how French pioneers felt when bringing home logs for the hearth place!

Then I decided that all this musing was non-productive - far better Do It Yourself - so I did 25-odd return trips up and down the slope with ½ to 1 metre bûches, thinking that if I don’t get angina moving this lot then the old ticker must be performing well!

Then, at the top, the chevalet was loaded with each bûche and log-sized tronçons cut, then split and stacked in the barn. Hard work, but very satisfying and so nice to work in the warm sunshine. The pre-dinner beer didn’t touch the sides!


Sunday, March 14, 2004 00:45

Big, Brown & Happy

We’re back from the slopes, respectively in one piece.

We had great weather, great snow and great skiing; every day gave us warm sunshine and powder skiing, until the last afternoon, when it warmed up and became soft at the lower levels. Last night it rained at the resort level, but we awoke to a foot of snow on the cars, so we had a little shovelling before we could leave.

The accommodation was in a big, granite-built apartment block, which had been completely updated in the mid-90s and was very well equipped, sparkling clean and very agreeable.

I would recommend the on-line booking firm and the accommodation to others.

Barèges had good, but limited skiing opportunities, mainly of the blue (intermediate) standard, but it is linked to the La Mongie runs by a new 6-place chairlift, so there is a big ski area to explore.

Christine Gillis made a real hooligan of herself, swishing past her husband, zooming up behind innocent snowboarders and frightening them with noisy hockey-stops. With the memory of my torn muscles of 2002 at Samoens still fresh, I took it steady!

For my birthday I got a beret basque! Glad to be back, but have to prepare for the trip to the UK to unload Landcruiser and caravan.


18 March 2004 10:14

Nightmare on the M25

A fast and efficient journey to Calais - there was a contraflow on the lead-in to the A89, but the autoroute itself was a help in getting to the A20 quickly and the last non-autoroute bit to Brive was reasonably uncongested. I think I’d choose that way to get from Bergerac to the A20.

I had no problems with a new Paris bypass route via the N10, A12 and A13,

although some of the urban bits of the N10 needed close concentration to

weave a caravan through.

We started off at about 07:30 and managed 530 miles to an aire de repos on the A28 north of Rouen on the first day, which left a leisurely 100 miles to get to Calais, catching the 11:00 ferry.

We had a painful reminder of why we live in France when we got caught in the

aftermath of a two-lorry fatal collision on the M25 - it took us 5 hours to

do the few miles between the A127 Southend turn-off and the A12!

After carefully inserting the caravan into the narrow drive next to UK Base,

we collapsed into bed!


30 March 2004 08:39

The Boat Race

We stayed Saturday night in brother and sister-in-law’s pad in Balham, one of those enormous Victorian terrace houses with three stories and a cellar.

The evening was dedicated to dinner and a red wine consumption competition, followed by hearty pint glasses of cognac, so Sunday morning was a bit bleery.

We had a pre-race Champagne reception chez one of brother-in-law’s Rotarian friends in

Lavender Hill, then to Putney for The Race. To us French country bumpkins a

Sunday morning in south London, with its hustle and bustle and ethnic

diversity was quite a culture shock!

Tethered to Putney pier were the Oxford and Cambridge University hospitality

boats, and our boat, which was hosting a charity lunch featuring 19 Mayors

of London boroughs, resplendent in their regalia, and some Rotarians plus a

couple of hangers-on from SW France.

Being next to the start point we had a good view of the three races - the

acceleration of the slim craft was amazing to behold. The opposite river

bank had a large TV screen which showed the progress of the race. The

post-race post-mortems were probably best viewed at home, but the atmosphere

on the boats and on the surrounding river banks more than made up for it. 

The train home was a coach - the usual Sunday rail-knitting was going on -

and I could have got nearly to Paris from Agen for the rail fare.

We are now Landcruiser-less and unencumbered by caravans, so we can return to our

little French-registered Yaris with pleasure but wiping away a tear for the

faithful lost Beast.


Wednesday, March 31, 2004 22:09

Back at Tessel Bas

We had a pleasant and uneventful flight from a warm and sunny Stansted to a partly cloudy Bergerac.

What a difference there is in the time and effort required to drive and that required to fly! Cerise the Yaris was waiting patiently and started first time. Tessel Bas was nice to come home to; it had put on a special display of aubretia on the stone walls. It was warm outside but a little chilly inside - a big warm log fire soon cured that! But I missed the pussycats - I missed poor Magic left in the UK, Jolie in the cattery until tomorrow, and Sophie being spoiled rotten by Dolores. Never mind, we’ll soon be all together again!


Friday, April 09, 2004 21:31

Living in France

A typical French experience –

Today I went to get an attelage fitted to the Yaris so that I could tow the new remorque. The service receptionist is a kooky blonde who flirts with her eyes, even with 65-year old has-beens. She persuades me that, since they’re busy, they’d like the vehicle all day, so would I like a free loan car.

Well, of course, I said, with visions of a nice, new Corolla or Avensis to take me home, so that I think “Gosh, this is nice, maybe I’ll buy one!” So I got a battered Citroen Saxo of indeterminate age and 93 plates with a broken driver’s seat and door, bright yellow in colour where the many dents hadn’t removed the paintwork. Exciting to drive, particularly for those with only dim memories of a manual gearchange and not on the right hand side to boot.

So the kooky blonde rang me up at home to come and pick up the Yaris, we had a joke about the “torpédo” she’d lent me and the Yaris towbar and electrics were well fitted and worked first time. And they’d washed the car.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004 22:06


Managed to get a petrified Xtine to the dentiste, her sore teeth chattering with fear.

He wasn’t the first choice, as recommended by our doctor, but he was competent, sensitive and, wonder of wonders, he spoke passable English.

The bad news is that she’s got an abscess under a tooth so it’s a root canal job. I must look at what I get from the CMU and the mutuelle!

I’m glad that we seem to have found a good man, as Xtine’s UK dentist represented a major tie to the UK, which will have to be broken some time.

I had a shock this pm - the solitary CD that bore a year’s worth of digital pictures became unreadable for reasons unknown. The hardware seemed OK but the CD Writer couldn’t read it in Direct CD mode. I was devastated at the prospect of losing a year’s photographs into thin air. Fortunately my laptop also has a CD writer and that was able to read it. I transferred all the pics the laptop hard disk and then to another CD, then “closed” the nearly full Direct CD. Having been closed properly it could then be successfully by the ordinary CD drive on the desktop. Moral: CDs aren’t infallible; always have a back-up if the CD is the only place where data exists. I spent the rest of the afternoon backing up back-ups!


Monday, May 10, 2004 20:33

Visit to the Dentist

Christine went to the dentist for the first of two root-canal appointments. The dentist spoke commendable English, and invited me to sit in the surgery during her treatment.

The equipment he used was quite modern; there was no dental nurse and he did everything himself, including mixing filling stuff and fielding the telephone. He was adroit and Christine said he was gentle.

The whole procedure was over very quickly, with little fuss. I was very impressed; I remember having the same treatment in the UK, which seemed to take much longer, with many more processes. Christine too was impressed and said that she would like him to become her permanent dentist. Another step towards full integration!



Thursday, May 20, 2004 10:19

Our New Pool

Our new pool is simmering quietly in the sun. Its rippling blue surface extends into the horizon for over 2 metres, an ample reward for the generous investment of over 47 Euros. Unfortunately son Simon’s girlfriend Sarah didn’t bring her cossie so my surreptitious plans have failed. The cats, however, are intrigued by it, and I wonder how long the vinyl can stand cat’s claws?

Yesterday we went to Biscarosse Plage for lunch, had a paddle afterwards, then climbed the Dune de Pyla and had a look at Arcachon.


Saturday, May 22, 2004 21:41

Saturday Shopping

We had a good shopping trip this morning. Sophie was booked in for her Leucose and Feline SIDA tests and the various “vaccins”, she had to be “a jeun” and early in the morning, so we had a head start at the Villeneuve market place this morning.

The market was much more full of goodies than we normally see later on Saturday morning. The array of fresh vegetables was so wonderful - the towers of radishes, piles of orange carrots, bright green asparagus, dark green courgettes - and fresh, sweet, local strawberries, simmering quietly in the hot morning sun and filling the air with their sweet perfume.

Christine dashed round and did her usual act of charming little old boys into giving her the best of the bunch.

Afterwards we went “a deux” into our favourite chemist to ask for something against the “rhume des foins”, which is getting both of us but particularly Xtine as the tree pollen moves into overdrive. Our favourite man was there, a gentle, educated man who speaks educated French and some English - he, as usual, used just enough of both languages to ensure that we came away with a couple of remedies, a homeopathic pollen and an antihistamine, and that we enjoyed the transaction and came away the richer for having spoken to him.

Then the Leclerc experience, with a Catherine Deneuve look-alike aged about 18 as the till jockey, who was so sweet that we left once more feeling enriched, as we drove back up the hill to our little bit of paradise. Don’t you just love France!


Friday, June 11, 2004 21:48

Sophie’s Op & Hello Campers!

Poor Sophie Cat went in for Her Operation today. Not at all keen on Jolie getting breakfast with none for her, but was put in her transit box and taken to the vet without a murmur.

Picked up a very dosey cat tonight, back legs not under control, but she sought out her favourite retreating place - Christine’s bedside sheepskin rug - out of the way and kneadable in case there might be a nipple in there somewhere!

Meanwhile at Tessel Bas the temporary campsite manager was making sure that the Tessel Bas Tranquillity Base Campsite was in good order to receive incoming campers: two big swish motorhomes from the Elddis Club to which we belonged when we had a caravan.

Today was hedge-cutting; not a trivial task with 200m of hedge. I’ve now got sunburn and aching everything. Xtine did sterling service as raker-up into piles for collection by the auto portée and trailer. Tomorrow lawn cutting, Sunday flower borders, Monday stake out direction signs!

And people wonder what you do to keep yourself busy when retired. Talking of which, the State Pensions people are giving me an extra £46.35 pw for my dependent dolly bird! This week’s has already been spent on summer blouses (blice?). No E121 though, and a new URSSAF demand in the in-tray!


Tuesday, June 15, 2004 11:04

Campsite Update

Happy campers have been meeted and greeted and feeded, but inauspicious start when one motorhome tore off its exhaust on the approach path. Silly design - normal Peugeot commercial chassis takes the exhaust outlet through the chassis - to accommodate lockers the exhaust has been taken around and under the chassis, in the centre of the wheelbase, right where the ground clearance is smallest when negotiating humps.

Took exhaust to local welder this morning to “souder le crochet arraché” - he did it straight away; when I protested at the ridiculously low cost of 5 euros he said it was in sympathy for our defeat at football! What a lovely country!


Wednesday, June 16, 2004 23:15


Illustrious host (male) risked life and limb by crawling under craftily elevated motorhome to replace newly welded exhaust this morning. Escaped this arvo to resume tacking tasseaux to the bathroom walls with chevilles a frapper so I have something to which I can fix the lambris.

Illustrious host (female) took female chums shopping in the Yaris .

Happy campers seem contented - the weather’s been good to them. I hate to think how they’d be if we got another tornado whipping through like last year’s June 4th. The ladies have worked out a good approach to dinner: each one cooks dinner for themselves, then bring it to a communal outside table for consumption, using our plates and then our dishwasher.


Sunday, June 20, 2004 20:44

Grandpa Status Refreshed

My second grandchild has informed me that my daughter Susanne, his mother, gave birth to a third child yesterday, at the age of 38. It’s a boy and is to be named “Aster” (!) So now I have four grandkids.


Friday, July 02, 2004 21:53

Bathroom Project Report #1

Awoken early by the insistent purring of a gorgeous, silky, black & white female who had shared my bed to celebrate her first birthday.

 After nourishing breakfast of Auchan English muffins avec beurre de crabe, got the marteau burineur on full song, backed up by the big sledge hammer to désencastrer the encastré ancienne baignoire, thus providing more useful hardcore, not for Ian to read this time, but to form a solid base for next year’s patio.

Regrettably the bath was quite a bit longer than its alcove and was deeply set in, so the removal process was slow and painful, with frequent recourse made to the elementary principles of machines, particularly those referring to the mechanical advantage of the lever, in order to slide the bath out from its alcove.

I managed to take a break, grab Sophie, and give her the four-day mushroom ear treatment with the anti-mycoside stuff. As I only dabbed it on, instead of squirting, I was forgiven. By the time the bath was free my doctor’s appointment was looming and my assessment of the weight of the old cast iron bath was “Cor bloody ‘ell”, so it was left, while I went and had an al fresco shower in the garden, using the garden hose attached to the sous-sol sink. Fortunately the only witnesses to this naked geriatric gambolling in the garden were a couple of red squirrels and a mole.

I picked up the prise de sang results on the way to the doctor. They were not good; triglycerides were higher than they were just after the Tessel Bas Bash. Doctor found that my beta Blockers were not good for those with hypertriglycerosis, so has cut my cocktail of pills down to my usual ACE inhibitor and another antihypertensive. At least the blood pressure was 14/8, which is quite good for an old fart. Went into Villeneuve for the new pills, it was very busy with shoppers and tourists enjoying the warm sunshine. Back home I couldn’t face manoeuvring heavy bath via labrynthine route outside, so decided to leave it until tomorrow - I need to prop it vertically on my castored trolley.


Saturday, July 03, 2004 21:37

Cast Iron Bath - Exit Stage Left – BPR#2

I was concerned about the baignoire en font émaillée - I can dead lift about 200 Kgs max and lifting one end of that bath was about as much as I could do - so it must have been something like 400 Kgs total. And, since the exit from the bathroom was into a corridor and then another corridor, all with little doors, I couldn’t use my remover’s thing with castors, as it was too big.

So the only solution was to stand the bath on its end and walk it out, recognising that if it started to topple I might not be able to stop it and it would ruin all my new decoration and maybe me too. At last I made it into the relative open area of the lounge and I could use the trolley. Now it’s sitting next to the hardcore tip, awaiting the “101 Uses for An Old Bath” topic - how about filling it with terre de bruyere and making a repository for rhododendrons and azaleas!

The next problem was getting the new bath in. As it’s an angle bath, there’s at least 6 ways to approach the problem. The first five I tried didn’t work, and I was looking at the walls wondering which one was the easier to pull down and rebuild; then I tried the sixth way which worked.

I measured up and looked at all the inputs and outputs. The good news was that the large hole already made between sous-sol and bathroom could be used. The bad news was that it was too big and would show from under the tabliere around the front of the bath. So I spent an age, heating, quenching and thus softening the supply pipes, bending them as appropriate, inserting a length of 100mm plastic pipe to take the supply pipes and the waste, shuttering and then concreting the larger hole to fit the 100mm pipe. Tomorrow - first job is to muster appropriate floor tiles from the barn and tile the now-uncovered bit of the bathroom floor.


Sunday, July 04, 2004 21:45

Bathroom Progress Report #3

After a pleasantly cool night and early morning the thermometer rose to 34 degs C, good for lying by the pool sipping a cold one, not good for those incarcerated in bathrooms, grafting!

This morning I mustered all the old tiles and bits of old tiles for the bathroom floor that I could find stashed away in the barn - as the new bath is an angle bath it exposes some of the under-bath area previously hidden from prying eyes. Matching up to the old tiling was fiddly and slow - the main tiling pattern is like brickwork, but it had been finished in a line, so I had to chip out into the main tiled area to maintain the pattern. But the Patron Saint of Carreleurs was looking over me - not only did I find just the right amount of old tiles to fill the area, I also mixed the just right amount of a rather expensive mortier colle to finish the job.

The next job is to do all the finishing that would be difficult with the bath in place - I fixed tasseaux in place for the lambris on the wall near the bath (but on the other side of the parois de douche). About another day of this finishing, then I can cut channels in the wall for the piping and fix the mitigeur thermostatique bain/douche. With the heat outside, the al fresco douche-dehors was positively enjoyable. I’ve now got a nice little shower facility outside the sous-sol door, with a shelf for soap and shampoo, a panoramic view of French oaks and surround-sound cigalles.


Monday, July 05, 2004 22:18

Executive Summary - Bathroom Refurbishment Project Report #4

Celestial pyrotechnics from an orage at 5 am - woke up Jolie Cat who had to be let out for wee-wees, and I had to unplug my modem in case the lightning got it. As a result, the Project suffered a delayed start date, I didn’t get up until just before 9 am.

Spent the whole day fiddling about with the lambris panelling; there were two difficult 135 degree outside corners to deal with, necessitating 22.5 degree mortice joints. I’ve now done all the panelling on the left of the bath - it looks good in its pale limed-oak finish. Some problems with the skirting boards which had warped - since the bathroom will have condensation I’m eschewing ferrous fixings wherever possible, and using lashings of neoprene adhesive where other fixings are not possible. However in this case I helped out the adhesive with some Polytops from the UK. These are stainless steel nails with white plastic heads - used for fixing plastic fascia boards, etc. and they came in very useful.

I now intend to tile before fixing the bath - saves covering the bath in dropped tile cement with the inevitable scratching problems that will occur. Sun came out this afternoon - still warm and this morning’s rain, while better than nothing, just disappeared down the cracks in the lawn.


Tuesday, July 06, 2004 23:34

More Delays in Stricken Bathroom Refurbishment Project - Report #5

I had stereo pussycats again to lull me to sleep, but Sophie didn’t last long - disappearing through the open window to do some important mousing.

This morning was pleasantly cool, with a useful amount of rain that still just disappeared down the cracks. So before I can tile the bath area I had to make good some of the holes left where the old bath was set in, and blend in the edges of some of the ancienne carrelage. Why is my plastering always good when I’m going to cover it up with tiles?

However, having plastered, there was nothing further I could do until it had dried, so I went into town to buy beer, bread and cheese, but first I had to get a few bits for plumbing in the hot & cold water pipes to the bath.

Since I’m building the mixer tap into the wall I needed an “appliqué” elbow so the pipes can run up the wall in channels I’ll cut with the diamond saw on the angle grinder. The connection to the old pipe has to be a solderless joint as it’s near some plastic pipes and the gas pipe.

Unfortunately nowhere had a complete set of 14 mm pipe fittings to do this - I ended up getting bits from Bricomarché, Leclerc and Gamme Vert and spending ages peering at bubble packs trying to find what I wanted.

France has several piping systems, none, in my opinion, the equal of the UK Yorkshire fittings and compression fittings. You can get fittings to solder to which you have to apply the solder, which may be soft or hard solder. You can get at least three kinds of solderless fittings and a “biconique” compression fitting. And then there’s plastic. In plastic I could get all the bits except for the cuivre/PE raccord, so I stuck with copper and had to buy a 14 mm pipe bender and a set of solderless fittings.

So then I went to Auchan for my beer, bread and cheese - got diverted into the “instant meals for one” section. France has a better range than you could get in the UK, but they share the characteristics of anything that’s stuck in a tin or sachet and is then warmed up; it all tastes the same. The best things I had last week were couscous (two sachets, cous cous and sauce separate) and a Pataks Chicken Tikka (have you noticed how “Pataks” said in an eastern accent sounds like “Buttocks”!). So I bought some more “eastern” things - tonight I had a Chop Suey (Auchan own brand) that tasted OK but which was unlike any other chop suey I’ve ever had. So I went through the checkout with all these meals for one and a load of cat food, and got that indulgent look the girl reserves for little old folk who live on their own with their pussycats.

And when I got home I’d forgotten the beer! And there was a phone message saying that the meuble for the vasque had arrived in Cedeo - so all I need now is the radiateur sech-serviettes, and a team of workmen!


Wednesday, July 07, 2004 22:42

Oh No! Not the Bathroom Report #6!

Cedeo is a newish bathroom place in Villeneuve. The staff are willing but not very competent, and it being the time of “les vacances” doesn’t help! I went there to pick up my furniture thingy that goes under the sink (I had to try to translate “meuble sous-vasque”!). The boss man was serving in the shop so the usual chap was obviously on holiday, and everything took ages.

Finally I got the actual thing, and he insisted on unpacking it to see if it was undamaged. He also looked for the handles, which were not fitted, as usual. We couldn’t find them in any of the drawers, so he got a fax sent to Italy where the thing is made to get them to send the handles to me directly.

Then I offered to pay for it, asking for a refund on something I didn’t want, all of which took ages to process through the computer. Then I tried to pay with a Carte Bancaire - the EFTPOS terminal hung and I had to write out a cheque......... and so it went on!

When I got the thing home I unpacked it properly, and what did I find? You guessed, the handles! It took so long that picking up that item was the only thing I managed to get done this morning, apart from nipping in to Auchan for the beer I forgot on Tuesday!

This afternoon was a bit more productive; I cut holes and channels in the old tiling to take the new tap supports and the feed pipes. You have to see the dust that a high-speed 10” diamond saw produces when cutting through stone to believe it. I had to stop and get a fan, as I couldn’t see what I was cutting! I’ll have some serious dusting to do before the boss returns! Then I had to drill holes for the pattes a vis that hold the fittings to which the thermostatic mixer connects. Inevitably one fixing hole found a good purchase in a chunk of solid stone. The other found some of the mud daub between two stones. So I had to chip all the mud out, clean and humidify it and fill with quick-setting cement, pushing the rawlplug into the cement before it set.

So, as it was 19:00, time for the 6 o’clock UK news, that was it - the cement will dry properly overnight to take a screw tomorrow and I should be able to fix the pipery in tomorrow - after I’ve bought some 14 mm pipe to replace the 16 mm pipe I inadvertently picked up the other day!


Thursday, July 08, 2004 23:13

Blasted Bathroom Whinge #7

Off to get some copper pipe and other odds and ends from Leclerc; got a ceiling fan the same as the one we got last year for €28 for the Australian Room. Called in at Carobain to see if the towel radiator was in, yes it was - yet another load of strange things to connect to! This afternoon I fitted the coudes appliqués (screw-on elbows) into the holes I’d cut in the wall and fixed them in with quick-setting cement. I’m anxious to make a strong job of this, as the thermostatic mixer is quite a big and heavy thing and could be leant on by those showering; so I want it to be solidly fixed.

Then I had to do some pipe bending - my first effort was inadequately annealed, so it flattened the pipe (copper is softened by heating to a dull red and quenching in water - the French call it “cuit” and you can buy rolls of “pre-cuit” - ready annealed pipe, but you then have to straighten it (and as you do so it “work hardens”).

The next attempt gave a good bend - I’d switched the atelier lights off so I could see the red heat of the pipe and its extent, and also slightly greased the moving part of the bender. Unfortunately the bend was misplaced by about 2 cm. The next effort was misplaced in the other direction - I wasn’t allowing for stretch as I bent the pipe. Learning quickly I cut the next pipe long and bent it, then trimmed it to size - success! - this finished the supply to the hot tap.

Unfortunately my self-training on the bender had used up all my 14mm pipe and it was knocking-off time anyway. Tomorrow - buy more pipe!

Today was cooler than it’s been for ages - still shorts weather but it dipped below 20 degrees - I didn’t eat outside for once (boeuf bourguignon - three minutes in the micro-onde!). Sunny in general, with a couple of showers and moderate to strong winds which insisted in blowing all the leaves dropped by the thirsty trees into the house. I was worried by dire reports on the weather in East Anglia but Xtine said it was OK.


Friday, July 09, 2004 21:50

The Bathroom Report #8 – the Movie

I got up bright and early to go and buy vast quantities of copper pipe for the Gillis School Of Pipe Bending. I even managed to call in at the Mairie, before 9am, and pick up my free distribution of sacs-poubelles.

At Leclerc I bought some pipe and a handy pipe-cutter to increase my productivity, so I don’t need to go to the atelier to hacksaw the pipe to length. Inevitably my first attempt at pipe bending for the cold system was perfect - I always finish a job thinking that I could do it properly next time, then promptly forget all the techniques learned so next time I have to re-learn them! Anyone need some 14 mm copper pipe?

I fitted the mitigeur bain-douche and did a system test - almost OK, just an ooze on one tap union necessitating more PTFE tape. The elbow unions were set in quick-setting cement, then the pipe channels and other holes filled with enduit generale. Then I plastered the step at the bottom of the old tiling so I can get a smooth surface to seal to when I fit the bath, and added to the studwork supporting the lambris ready for the radiateur seche-serviettes.

Tomorrow - fix bath supports to wall and start tiling. I thought of going to the Friday shindig in the Place Lafayette but was too knackered. Maybe the week after next!



Saturday, July 10, 2004 21:58


BPR (Bathroom Project Report) #9 follows:

So I got up, fortified myself with bacon & eggs, and did some planning and measuring, then went off to Gamme Vert for some bois, chevilles a frapper, mastic pour baignoire, etc. On my return I fixed the bath supports to the walls and checked the measurements - I’ll have to pack up the tablier (the thing that skirts the angle bath) as the floor sags in the middle of the room (clearly self-levelling mortar wasn’t known when the concrete floor was poured!). I gave the wall a coat of pre-carrelage primer and planned the tile sequence.

After lunch I mixed a couple of 5Kg lots of Emfiflex high-performance mortier colle (recommended!) and tiled most of the area, leaving just the bits that needed special cutting, for pipes, etc. I enjoy tiling, there is a rapid reward as the place looks better with every tile, and there is a feeling of permanence - that fire-glazed stuff will certainly outlast me. But I have a feeling that someone else, in another 30 years time, is going to say “Lets tear down all those outdated light-coloured tiles, what we need is some nice, fashionable, lavatorial brown!”

And tiling is tiring, so as I had used up the last lot of colle I knocked off as it was coming up to 19:00.

Tomorrow: Finish tiling, leave to dry.

Monday: Grout tiles, leave to dry.

Tuesday: Install bath & waste pipes, maybe shower head and screen.

Wednesday: Clean up house

Thursday: Wash clothes and bedclothes and GO TO BERGERAC TO PICK UP XTINE YIPPEEEEE!!!


Sunday, July 11, 2004 23:06

BPR 10

Bathroom Project Report 10:

As usual with tiling, the final tricky bits are the most time consuming - 5% of the area takes 50% of the effort. I’ve put a thin, moulded, coloured tile to break up the light coloured tiles; this goes round a corner, so how can you mitre a tile at 45 degrees? I ended up marking the tile up by eye and cutting it with a 10” angle grinder with a diamond saw.

I also had problems with the window - with the extra thickness of tiles the window wouldn’t open fully.

I fiddled and tinkered about all day, finishing at about 8 pm - I had to finish today to keep to my schedule. I’d dearly love to have watched the British Grand Prix but wasn’t allowed to because of my low productivity. Still, the tiles look nice now; the light-coloured tiles make the room nice and light, but were starting to look a bit public-loo-ish; the coloured strip works well to relieve this effect. Tomorrow - Grout!


Monday, July 12, 2004 22:15

BPR 11 - an official grout day

As promised, today was a really grout day in Tessel Bas. The day started cool - no more than 13 degs, but warmed up to 24-ish. Mostly sunny, but there was a usefully heavy shower (une ondée, rather than une averse!). If it keeps on I’m going to have to cut the lawns again This activity was meant to take no more than the morning, but by the time I’d raked out excess colle, pulled out the croissillons, grouted, smoothed the grout lines and cleaned up the tiles, there was a day gone! The tiling looks nice now with its virgin white joint lines.



Tuesday, July 13, 2004 22:38

BPR 12

I had a day, for once, when everything went right. My breakfast egg burst forth into the poele as a magnificent double-yolker, smiling happily at me with its jaundiced grin, instead of being pale and tiny and breaking to dry into a yellow sulphurous mass. A successful fried egg always presages a successful day.

All the tasks which had worried me as being potential problems went swimmingly, and for once the converse didn’t apply, all the things I wasn’t worried about also went as expected.

My mitigeur thèrmostatique has a simple spigot interface with the raccord in the wall, and I was worried that it might ooze water. I’d got lots of PTFE tape, but I’d also got some good old plumber’s mait from the UK, so that in the event of trouble, I could combine it with the filasse (hemp) to give a good, traditional joint (not of the smoking kind!). I took the precaution of getting an écrou a plateau to pull the male part tight against the female part (ooh!) and impart some extra étanchéité. But I slapped on loads of PTFE tape and there was not a soupçon of ooze, or even Ouse!

I was worried about fixing the angle bath to the wall - I couldn’t use the standard fixings since they assumed a right-angled room (!), so I devised a method that used some springy pieces of galvanised steel strip formed to press the underside of the bath edge to the wall. I found some appropriate bits of metal (they had been the hangers in some wardrobe crates for our move to France). Once again I was reminded of the wisdom of never throwing anything away. I fabricated 6 fangle brackets and they worked first time.

I was worried that the waste piping (PVC pipe using solvent weld) would have one leaky joint, meaning that I’d have to make it all again after going into town to buy more elbows, etc. But all the 40mm pipery went together like a dream and didn’t leak. At the end of the day I started to fill the bath with water to ensure the silicone mastic beds down well overnight - then decided to fill it with hot water and jumped into it.

I lay back in the extra space (our previous bath was a small one, but with the replacement you lie along the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle, so you have 1.414 times the length to stretch out in! As I lay back I reflected on a successful day, then noticed a tile with a spot of grout in the middle, and a bit where the paint didn’t quite cover well enough...........

I sat on the little seat at the right angle of the bath and tried the shower - gently, as I haven’t put up the shower screen yet. Nice! I haven’t got round to fitting the vasque and its meuble, nor the sèche serviettes, but at least my beloved, our son and his squeeze won’t have to join me in the al fresco naked showering routine! Tomorrow - look at parois de baignoire - I expect problems as such things usually assume that walls are vertical (Ha!), and fit shower bar, and tidy up house.

I had a small port with my coffee tonight in celebration. Yes, I know I should drink it as an aperitif here, but some things are sacrosanct!


Thursday, July 22, 2004 20:30


While Pete’n’Bernie were here major works were put on hold, but I did fit the curved shower screen and the shower bar and sealed all round. As is befitting Christine of Aquitaine had the first, full-blown, thermostatic shower and graciously praised my humble endeavours.

However the old washbasin remained. Today I went down the brico and came back with yet another big bag of plumbing bits. Then the old lavabo was torn out and consigned to the hardcore pile, and the plumbing in the sous-sol was also removed. The new one is now in position, but needs some tiling around it, then bolting to the wall, then plumbing in the hot, cold & drain. Then I can finish the lambris around it. After that all that remains is the fixing and plumbing of the radiateur seche-serviettes. No storms (yet) but very humid and 39 degrees C this arvo. I had the blowtorch going sealing off the lavabo pipes and was sweating buckets!


03 August 2004 12:33


New Computer Report

I’m pleased with my new beast - it even asked me what I should call it should I connect it to a network, so I called it “Charles”.

Charles is a Compaq Presario with 2800 AMD Athlon, 512 MB RAM, ATI Radeon

Graphics 9200 with 128 MB, DVD reader and DVD/CD writer.

It was pre-loaded with Windows XP Familiale, but as usual it had to spend some time online downloading 14 Windows Critical Updates. There is a similar process for HP/Compaq software driver updates, and of course the virus signature updates. I was impressed by the thoughtful interface to HP/Compaq.

I didn’t bother with attempting to network the old and new PCs, preferring to set up connection parameters independently and filter junk before transfer. The old Address book was exported to a floppy, then weeded of junk and imported to Charles. A rather messy set of bookmarks was sorted into alphabetical order by Home Page Generator and put as a single bookmark on Charles.

I didn’t bother with MS Works, which wasn’t preloaded, instead I loaded Office 2K, then Corel Paint/Draw/Rave and Autoroute. Recently-downloaded copies of Adaware and Spybot were copied from the old “Downloads” folder, and a paid-for key-registered copy of Easy Password Manager was transferred as the zipped download plus the registry key. At one time I was surrounded by the laptop and two PCs, all working at once! At least it was a change from plumbing and got me indoors out of the heat. I think I’ll need to load Irfanview as the XP image management seems a bit limited.

The French language operating system gives me fewer problems than I expected -

familiar things are where they always were, just called something different.

The only problems occur when you’re looking for something and don’t know the French for it; I’ve just spent some time looking for the tickbox that switches on the file extensions, only to find that French for “extensions” is “extensions”! I also found it amusing that when I loaded the printer driver for the little Canon printer that I’d bought in the UK to go with the laptop, it insisted on producing all its menus in French!

I have a love-hate relationship with the AZERTY keyboard; I like the convenience of keys for accented letters, but hate having the numbers on a shift function. No wonder French typists use the number keypad.

It’s certainly much faster than the old beast, whipping through SETI tasks in a fraction of the time the other one took, and its connection reliability to Tiscali.fr is much better - so I take back some of the things I said about them. The 15” TFT monitor is quite good and probably good enough for most things I need to do - maybe I’ll go for a 17” when they get cheaper.

Now I’ve got a reasonably stable Windows platform I intend to load Mandrake Linux in another partition, when I’m feeling brave, and maybe get another (qwerty) keyboard.


13 August 2004 19:34

Marriage Proposals

At last we’ve got the wedding plans for son Simon and his Sarah sorted: they are getting a quick registry office job done in the yUK, then a blessing in the lovely Pujols Mediaeval Church and a shindig chez nous!.

The Aquitaine Anglican supremo, Rev Michael Selman at Floirac has been helpful and is organising a lay “blesser” and the curate of the Villeneuve paroisse has agreed to the use of the church and has booked it for “the day” in May 2005. Xtine is getting excited already!


21 August 2004 23:17


Current Project

Friends called round the other day with a 32-litre box of Cahors rouge to keep me going for a couple of nights............

They found me in the grenier, covered in cobwebs and mouse poo and starting my latest project; the study/computer room. I desperately need office filing space and a quiet area!

It’s only a little room, about 3 m x 2.5 m, an annexe to the cave, but, although part of the house, has been, up to now, more of an outhouse than a room.

The ceiling is high, up to the rafters, and can’t be reduced, as this room is where access to the grenier is achieved by means of a very large oak door.

I’ve started by pulling down the sheets of hardboard in the roof, revealing

‘insulation’ consisting of many expanded polystyrene box lids nailed to the rafters.

There’s an attractive old poutre that I shall leave ‘apparente’.

I thought of several options for the rest, but have decided to add more insulation and cover the ceiling in cheap knotty pine lambris. Plasterboard was a close second but more difficult to erect single handed, and the laths for the lambris leave more room for semi-rigid calorifugeage.

Before I put the roof back, however, I’ve got to provide mains wiring, telephone and an aerial for my communications receiver.

The mains wiring was 1.5 mm2, mainly for lighting, but with a 6 amp two-pin socket and a highly illegal 10/16 amp three pin socket with no earth. Since I need to run two or three computers and electric heating, this wasn’t man enough. So I’ve spent today locating an appropriate connection point and wiring a couple of double earthed socket outlets with 2.5 mm2 copper to it.

The lighting wiring is in good condition and can stay, but with the power outlets removed.

While up in the loft I took the opportunity to put down some raticide to deal with some of the scurrying noises that keep the cats so fascinated. I put the raticide in offcuts of 40 mm PVC drainpipe so the cats can’t get at it.

Tomorrow - finish the mains wiring and add the telephone sockets.


24 August 2004 22:25

Computer Room Project Report

A reflective day today; Sam, a dear friend and ex-colleague died of heart failure in the UK at the age of 57. At one time we were both going through terminal marriage failure during the same time period and were quite close.

Unfortunately Moichael O’Leary’s Estimable Oirish Airloine isn’t offering any cheap flights for the funeral at all at all, and the cost of a return fare would be considerable. I never got to know Sam’s new wife so I can’t offer any support. So I’m left with a feeling that I should be doing something but not sure what.

In the computer room I fixed battens in the ceiling across the rafters and put panels of high density, outdoor quality, fire-resistant expanded polystyrene sheets between the battens. Halfway through changed the charpentier hat for the electricien hat to wire the new fluorescent light.

All battens were soaked in Xylophene, while I was at it I wire-brushed the old poutre and soaked it with Xylo. You cannot believe the mess that wire-brushing a century-old beam will create, most of which went down my neck. Then brushing on Xylo is a messy task - at least I won’t catch vers du bois or even capricornes! The computer room and I stank like a church just treated for death-watch beetle and the evening shower was most welcome!

Tomorrow - fix doorframes while the lambris stacked in the room is

acclimatising to the ambient humidity.


30 August 2004 17:56

Time Out

A wonderful couple of days with friends at a party in the Dordogne - even the journey was enjoyable - we went via Montflanquin, Villeréal, Montpasier and Belvès - one quaint

bastide after another, with lovely countryside in between.

The company and the food were marvellous and it was so pleasant stay in a luxurious caravan and to have a nostalgic trip in a Landcruiser to see Tayac Mike’s wonderful folly. I’ve had another look at their excellent website http://www.fermedetayac.com/ (I love the Pythonesque sound bites!), which cannot convey the sheer scale of the project. Now whenever I feel daunted by my little jobs at Tessel Bas I’ll just have to think of the Ferme de Tayac!

However Christine was a bad girl and jumped into the pool in her best party frock. Allegedly sober, too!


19 September 2004 22:33

Fitting in Slowly

This morning we went to the ceremony to inaugurate the refurbished Mairie at Ste Colombe de Villeneuve, which has had a major makeover. It was a typical French “do”, everyone milled around chatting for over an hour, waiting for the free vin d’honneur. Unfortunately we had to endure the speeches first - by the Maire (read from a script), then three “impromptu” speeches from prefecture fonctionnaires of progressively increasing importance. By the time all this was finished it wasn’t clear whether a drink or a sit-down was the most important, but we stayed true to French tradition and remained standing.


20 September 2004 22:23

Termites? No, Ants!

The day started by packing Xtine off to her French conversation classes at Le Temple sur Lot. She was apprehensive about it so I drove there on Sunday, found out where the hall was and the parking places so she could devote all her energies to her class.

Then I had my own session of French conversation - The Termite Man was lost on his way to my house and I had to find out where he was and then vector him to Tessel Bas. I’d noticed a tas de sciure under one of the beams in the grenier - above the pile of sawdust was a capricorne hole, so I’d had mental images of capricornes chomping away at vital structural timbers and had called the Termite Man for a controle gratuit.

He took one look and said it was ants - sure enough the pile of sawdust included little black bits that on closer inspection proved to be ant corpses.

Apparently certain ants use old capricorne galleries as nests, but as part of their housekeeping they flush rubbish, sawdust, dead mates etc out of the nearest capricorne hole. Since ants aren’t xylophageous there’s no need to worry, but ant powder will stop the mess if it bothers you. Just shows the futility of needless anxiety!

Xtine arrived back from the conversation class with a bunch of homework to do. Apparently she’d been assigned a 65-year old French man as a conversation partner, so I was sorry for her to get stuck with such an old person, until I recalled my own birth date!

Then Xtine needed taking to the dentist - the filling he put in a couple of weeks ago fell out so there was no charge, which was very fair.

As background jobs I put a couple of coats of matt white on the porcherie

(now bureau!) walls and another coat of undercoat on the doors (nice paint -

Dulux Valentine glycero undercoat - goes on well, covers well and is

microporous - but expensive!). I also used the new boys toys (bandsaw,

tablesaw and electric planer) to make some shelves. I don’t know how I could

have survived this long without an electric planer. My Dad’s old wooden

jackplane is going to collect dust in future!

And what wonderful weather - pleasantly warm with the clear air that adds

lustre to your vista!


29 September 2004 21:11


Because of a rabid dog illegally imported from Morocco a Rabies alert was declared in our area of Aquitaine.

We called in the vets today to ask about Rabies vaccine - as the clinic was

lightly loaded they said bring the cats in right away. However catching the

cats and stuffing them into their carriers was another story - so, somewhat

scratched and to the tune of synchronised and anguished mews, I made my way to

Villeneuve. The last time they went in their carriers was for their sterilisations, which perhaps explains the reluctance.

Both cats were well behaved for the vet but I left €93 poorer. They were given the polyvalent vaccine that also deals with FEV etc, so I don’t need to take Jolie for her booster in November.

Back at base Jolie is not speaking to me, but Sophie made up for it by sitting on my lap.


07 October 2004 21:05

Porcherie Almost There

Some gardening was badly needed as there is a Family Inspection tomorrow by Simon and his betrothed, and those who have been playing in their new Porcherie have neglected it.

The Porcherie is now refurbished and has two établi d’ordinateurs and a number of étagères for printers, scanner, communications receiver, TV, hi-fi, etc. The ancien PC will be moved in there tomorrow, the new one will stay in the verandah, pro tem. This is because I’m waiting for the double-vitrage installers, who, in addition to doing the verandah windows and door, will be putting a new window in the Porcherie. After this has been done I’ll need to jointoyer the stone reveal with mortier bâtard and new PCs and me sloshing mortar around are mutually incompatible.

The PC sorting out is all the XP Service Pack 2 thing. The following is for any techies out there with HP computers running Windows XP who want to apply SP2.

Received wisdom is that SP2 is a Good Idea and much more secure than before, but some programs may stop working unless you apply updates to their drivers. Windows Update has been nagging me for some time to do the big 260 MB download; but I applied for the CD, which arrived the other day. In cautious mode I looked at www.microsoft.com/sp2install for the latest updates - this suggested, inter alia, that I look at the HP website http://tinyurl.com/3tp8n for updated drivers - sure enough there are some big downloads so that quite important functions such as System Restore will work back to restore points pre-SP2 install, what’s more these have to be applied BEFORE you install SP2.

Now the next worry is “will these updated drivers work on a French version of XP?” So I found the HP France version of the HP website http://h41111.www4.hp.com/pond/windowsxp/fr/fr/index.html which used the same driver numbers as for the English, sorry American version. (I quote “the nVidia graphics driver may not work as good with SP2”!!! - it obviously makes you confuse adjectives with adverbs!).

Still unsure I found an email facility to the Assistance Clientèle HP so I asked them if the English drivers were the same as the French ones – they came back in a couple of hours with an affirmative answer.

So now I have to download some 7 - 8 MB files from HP before I can apply

SP2. Then Norton won’t work, so I’ll have to download the Symantec fixes.

I’m impressed with the HP reaction to the Microsoft Update - but it seems you need a degree in Computer Science and lots of patience!


09 October 2004 19:52

Double Trouble

So Simon & Sara’s flight last night was delayed, so they went off for a

coffee and then the delay was reduced and they missed the flight! So they’re

arriving tonight on the late flight.

And I switched the new computer on this lunchtime - blank screen, possible hardware problem. Spent ages on the helpline listening to awful music and gave up. Got on to the online support using the old computer - none of the suggestions worked. I think it’ll have to go back to Auchan. I never even got round to installing SP2 - I’d done all the preparatory work but hadn’t installed SP2 itself.

I’ve now dug out the laptop, which is a lot faster than the old desktop but it keeps whingeing that its AV program is out of validity (McAfee), so it’s pay up or Grisoft. But now I’ve forgotten how to use a Qwerty keyboard!

Bloody computers!


11 October 2004 22:37

HP Sauce

I spent most of this morning listening to the awful waiting music on Hewlett Packard’s Compaq help line.

First to get a technician.

Then, after I’d been instructed to try a few procedures without result, the

line was automatically disconnected at the expiration of the allowed period.

Then to get reconnected.

Then, when they decided repair was necessary, waiting for the transport people to arrange pick up.

Then, when the transport people were too busy, I was asked to ring back in an hour’s time.

Another long wait to get connected to yet another technician, to re-explain the problem, and to wait yet again for the transport people.

Finally I got someone who will pick the thing up tomorrow for a suspect graphics card to be replaced.

All charged at 34c a minute! I could nearly have bought a new computer!

And, if anyone wishes to exercise his French, try using it for remote diagnosis of an obscure PC problem on a crackly line with a technician who is probably in Bangalore!

Tomorrow I have to stay in all day while a TNT van tries to find Tessel Bas!

At least we managed to sort out a hotel in Villeneuve for the guests coming to The Big Wedding, a posh hotel for the Newly Weds and saw the Anglican priest to discuss the service, so today wasn’t wasted.


19 October 2004 20:46

Charles is back!

Charles the Compaq was returned to home today, with a new graphics card and driver, and all my data and loaded programs intact; he’s sending this email for me.

The double-vitrageurs returned today to parfaire their work - they’ve done a good job and earned their pourboire. Of course, having a draught-free, well-insulated verandah has coincided with a hike in the temperature outside. But at least sounds from outside are well suppressed.

I went and banged on a nearish-neighbour’s door - he’s a plumber. I want him to procure a replacement boiler for me and hopefully fund his work with the difference between 19.6% and 5.5% TVA - the latter rate is for renovating properties over two years old. The job needs a lot of work on large diameter steel pipe for which I have neither the tools nor the inclination to do it. He’s going to send me a devis.

I went into Villeneuve and at one point was tinkering with the car’s heating controls thinking they were stuck on hot, when I realised that it was the air outside at 22°C that was warm. I bought ‘er indoors a chest freezer at Prix-e as she was complaining that the fridge freezer was always full of baguettes, though why she should want to freeze her chest beats me!

On to Gamme Vert to complain that the light fitting I ordered to match the only one they had in the store hadn’t arrived. I was appalled to find that they had four on display and hadn’t bothered to phone me.

Back home to assemble Charles and check him out after his 5 days R&R. I may feed him XP SP2 tonight as a reward.


20 October 2004 22:08

Sooty and Sweep

I’ve been meaning to get my chimney swept for some time, so as to comply with the fire insurance requirements. I had “Ramoneur” written on my TTD (Things To Do) whiteboard; then I saw the cheap rods and “herisson” kits in the brico, bought one and changed “ramoneur” to “ramonage”.

Today I covered all the furniture, removed the rugs and stuck a little polythene “tent” to the mantelpiece and disappeared within it together with my kit de ramonage. Fortunately wood soot is much nicer than coal soot, less dusty and pleasanter smelling. There was surprisingly little mess, so Xtine is still speaking to me. But the evening shower was extra necessary!


25 October 2004 22:43

Ponderings from the Porcherie

Visitors arose late, as usual for those arriving on the evening Ryanair and suffering from the one hour jet lag, which allowed Xtine to go to her morning conversation class. This afternoon we dropped her off for her afternoon class in Castelmoron, then went to Laparade for a panorama of the Lot valley, then to the Prune museum. It was the first time I’d been; it’s worth a trip as it makes the basically simple prune process quite interesting. I was interested to find that they had a yoke like the one I’ve put up in the verandah, with the double crochets which is apparently a classic pattern.

This evening, friend Nick had a go at teaching my XP Edition Familiale to speak English. He installed Partition Magic, created a new partition on the C drive, installed Norton Ghost and created an image of all the C drive’s NTFS files in the new partition, then uninstalled SP2, then tried to update XP French to XP Pro in English (no joy).

So he then restored the original XP + SP2 from the ghost image - and it still worked, but still in French.


Quite a bit of IT wizardry, but to no avail, but I’m not really bothered as

I quite like my French OS. And I’ve got some (legal) freebies in the way of

Partition Magic, Norton Ghost and Microsoft Publisher plus XP Pro and XP

Office upgrades that I can put on my laptop and W98 machine should I feel


Tomorrow, Villeneuve Tuesday market, then Penne, Bonaguil, Montflanquin etc............


31 October 2004 23:0


I apologise for boring some with this subject, but cheap, good booze is a fact of French life and certain little piggies such as yours truly don’t stay out of the trough. Maybe there are others out there?

I got my blood test results on Saturday morning.

The Good News is that most readings are mid- to low- on the acceptable scale, including cholesterol, and that the triglyceride level is down to 60% of the last reading.

The Bad News is that the triglyceride level is still 140% of the maximum allowable level.

So it’s a “good but could try harder” report. Not surprising, past experience has showed that 2 to 3 months is necessary to get down to acceptable levels.

In the meantime, to celebrate the month’s abstemiousness, tonight I broke open the bottle of 2001 Clos des Jacobins Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé - absolute nectar! - A fruity, berry front, a long, flavoursome middle and an oaky but round and mature finish.

I didn’t dare tell Xtine how much it cost, but it was cheap compared to a month’s daily plonk. Maybe I should have one really good bottle a month?

We drank it with chicken, which sounds sacrilegious, but this was one of those hand-reared, yellow-skinned chickens, done on the tournebroche in the oven so that it’s covered in crispy browned skin, and served with a red wine sauce. Yum Yum.

Isn’t France great?


02 November 2004 22:37

Boys’ Toys

A magical sight on the trip to Villeneuve this morning: I went via Pujols, which is set high overlooking the Lot valley. Pujols and its mediaeval church were basking in warm sunshine, but the valley was completely filled with mist, which looked just like a white frothy sea lapping at the old town.

Anyway, my yard was full of leaves, yet again, so I was on my way to buy a leaf souffleur/aspirateur/broyeur (which blows, sucks and mulches!). As I’ve had good service with my Stihl chainsaw and hedge trimmer, I bought a Stihl version.

Back at home its powerful little motor made short work of blowing the leaves into a pile, then mulching them, so I was able to mow all the grass as well.

I also gave the local plumber a bon de commande to fit a new Dietrich (not Marlene!) boiler, so an expensive day!


04 November 2004 21:46

21st Anniversary Treat

It wasn’t massively romantic, but we very much enjoyed the day out. At the card swapping ceremony this morning I had to admit to writing “de mariage” on an ordinary “anniversaire” card - I couldn’t find any that weren’t awful and which didn’t have those cute little wheels on that dial up the number of years, implying that it can be re-used next year on a DIY basis! Mine had the obligatory sunflower, but I bought some “heart” stickers to romanticise it up a bit.

Then I cooked her a robust English breakfast, after which we drove down to Agen for the train to Bordeaux. Which sounds simple, but it’s an easy and pretty drive, there’s a cheap long-stay car park at the station, no queue at the ticket office, the ticket clerk was helpful and charming and got us booked on the TGV for the return trip, and we had an excellent cup of coffee in pleasant surroundings while waiting. And the fares were only a small part of what the fares in UK would be.

I said to Christine, where did the UK go wrong, then amended it because I’m not sure we ever had it right. Even in the days of good service to the wealthy by the peasantry the latter were probably spitting in the soup.

France has that republican feeling - when you visit a chateau you get the feeling that the French visitors are looking at “our” chateau. In England it’s always someone else’s stately home. Oh dear, I’ve got on my Sunlight box!

In Bordeaux the first priority was to find a nice restaurant for the Official Romantic Lunch - we got on The Tramway outside Bordeaux St Jean and went to the Centre and found a nice pavement café where we enjoyed a pleasant and very reasonably-priced traditional lunch of the Landais salad and magret kind, washed down with a nice Bordeaux Supérieur, and talked of our honeymoon and the 10th anniversary (Cairns in Queensland), and the 15th and 20th (Paris).

Then, of course, it was shoppies time, so we wandered through a few shops, ending up in the Galleries Lafayette where the carte bancaire took a bashing. New clothes for me is a bit like gilding doggy doo, so I contented myself with a Natasha St Pier double album in the Virgin Megastore.

By this time we’d got ourselves up a different bit of the tramway, which, of course, broke down, so we had to walk a couple of stations but made it back to the Gare St Jean in time for a comfy TGV back to Agen, Cerise the Yaris and home.

It all went so well that I would definitely do it again. Once again a marked contrast to our trips to London from Essex, which always have me muttering “never again”. It was my first trip to Bx centre and I liked it very much - some super buildings and busy but a “friendly busy” rather than a “threatening, stressful busy” atmosphere.


22 December 2004 21:45

Backward Readers

When I was in employment I read at least two books a week. After retirement, virtually none. Take today, for instance:


Rise at 08:00

Make breakfast for beloved (healthy grapefruit & toast)

Make breakfast for self (fried suicide pills)

Take missus to Auchan for big Crimble shopping.

On return, give walls of verandah a second coat.


Touch up other paintwork.

Clean any paintspots from tiles, scrub & wash floor.

Move furniture, hi fi etc into verandah.

Erect Xtine's Castorama Xmas tree, fit lights.

Knock off at 18:45

Quick shower & watch news


Fill dishwasher

Check emails.


Shortly I'll start some yearly update work on my website, then will probably knock off at about 11:30 or so, by which time Xtine will probably have stopped watching TV so I can sit in a comfy chair and READ. But I know that the eyelids will start closing, so I'll only manage a page or so.


This particular book is "The Big House", a history of Sledmere House in Yorkshire, written by one of the family, Christopher Simon Sykes, full of well researched and fascinating facts on life, love and economics in a big country house through the ages.

I find it particularly fascinating as my Uncle William worked there as a footman at the age of 16, prior to an untimely death at Singapore in WW2.

When going through family papers while compiling a genealogy of my family, I found a literate and beautifully written letter from him to his sister, my mother, in careful copperplate handwriting, describing how the Big House was going through hard times and staff were being laid off.

So I found Sledmere House on the internet and found that it was open to the public and had a museum. So I wrote to them, asking about that period, and got a handwritten reply from Sir Tatton Sykes no less. What's more, my Uncle Bill's letter was entered into the library and became featured in the book, with "William Irons" proudly listed in the bibliography. Which was nice - it gave some purpose to his short and largely wasted life.


But it's a big book - I just hope I'm spared long enough to finish it!


01 January 2005 11:03

Hot Night in downtown Ste. Colombe

An interesting night at the Reveillon des Deux Années in the village foyer

rurale. "Interesting" because it was pleasant and instructive to compare the

French at play with the English equivalent.


It was a catered dinner by a local traiteur and, despite the large numbers and limited facilities, the food and wine was of a good standard. Christine, who has outside catering experience, approved of the "mass assault on a per-table basis" technique, so everyone at a table gets hot food at the same time.

I was intrigued to see that there was very little serious drinking, despite the wines being inclusive; the French have a much more grown-up attitude to alcohol. At our table over half were drinking only water or perhaps just one glass of red with the main course.

They were also ready to leap about on the dance floor from the start, instead of starting slowly but building up to a befuddled riot like in the yUK.

The music was provided by a disco set up and consisted of a lot of old rock & roll to which everyone jived, some quite expertly, but in the manner that was popular in sixties England. But, like so many country areas, it was the accordion polkas that really got everyone going.

I was impressed by the local's staying power - we were wilting by 02:30 and were glad to follow the first leavers!


We were seated with a Frenchman, his brother and German wife, an older lady

from Villeneuve and her grown up children from Bordeaux. None spoke any

English so it was good practise for us. The couple with the German wife was very nice, spoke educated French and live just around the corner from us, so that was a useful contact and we exchanged coordonnées.


It was a pleasant way to start 2005, which I hope will see us integrating further into our community.


May all your dreams for 2005 come true,

Bonne Année!



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