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Selected days from the year 2003, our first year of living in France. These entries are abstracted from emails and often don't include accents.

31 December 2002 21:55

On the Way

(From an Aire just north of Orleans........... )

Reveillé at 05:30 didn't go down too well, particularly after the 01:00 bedtime after fond friends had bid us farewell at the Black Buoy, boy! Left UK Base prompt on schedule at 07:00 - departure facilitated by having deployed caravan ready coupled to Beast outside in road, scandalising neighbours. Cuddled big son and pussycat particularly hard in view of potential time away.

Uneventful and timely trip to Dover through roads infested by only that traffic that had bothered to work during the Christmas fortnight -arrived in plenty of time to make headlight dip modification with black tape and modelling knife. P & O trip was efficient and anodyne compared to the last ferry trip, squeezed in amongst the truckies on Norfolk Line. Slight delay due to berth modifications at Calais but otherwise no problems. No lunch - a bit early with the 10:00 sailing.

Made good time down the A16 and A28 without being diverted and lost in Abbeville like last time, didn't get assaulted by Nicole in her Clio in Rouen like last time, but weather was grey, misty and drizzly and particularly cold until we'd cleared the Channel coast.

After Rouen the A13 and A154 led us into the long, non-autoroute N154/N12/N154 route through Evreux, Dreux and Chartres - we finally hit the A10 south to Orleans as the oncoming lights were merging into indecipherable amoebas and the long blinks were threatening to become cat naps, so the sign for an Aire de Repos was very welcome.

So "Chateau Caravan" has been deployed - the gas-fired chauffage centrale kicked into life, the hot water system switched on and the laptop used to download the latest emails.

Then Gin & French's, a very nice chicken in tarragon sauce with parmesan rosti potatoes and peas, stilton and biscuits, washed down with a nice Australian Shiraz. It's sheer hell, this camping business!

We should make our temporary staging post at our friend Andrew's palatial pad and home to lost animals by tomorrow afternoon - the thermometer is rising, which is definitely a good thing!

I don't suppose we'll see in the New Year, Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………


01 January 2003 22:39

New Year's Day

We drove all the way down from Orleans and are now at Andrew's pad, content and full after having a lovely dinner and chat with Andrew and Carole, five pussycats and three dogs.

The journey was uneventful but not easy with rain most of the way and quite a bit of mist due to low cloud on the high bits. A head wind and the long drags upwards on the A20 meant that we used loads of diesel. The A10/A71/A20 is a good route and with virtually no traffic on the holiday. The single carriageway N21 from Limoges through Perigueux was slow but pretty even in the bad conditions. But, as my Dad would have said, at least the rain's warm down here!

Arriving at Andrew's just before dark we managed to get ourselves stuck in a position that low reduction and both fore & aft and lateral differential locks wouldn't fix. Chalky mud with the consistency and grip of wet slush just let The Beast slide sideways. Gave up and left it for tomorrow - I asked Andrew if I could borrow his tractor but he alleged that he didn't have one!

I thought everyone in 47 had a tractor!


02 January 2003 22:32


Today we found that the money transferred from the UK to both the notaire and to my French bank had arrived, we went to the property, chatted up the owner, signed to continue the supply of electricity, arranged continuation of the house fire insurance, bought a few things in Leclerc Brico (French telephone adapter, French plugs etc) and had yet another lovely dinner with Andrew & Carole.

I still loved the area even in the winter; the sun obliged by showing its face and the weather was very warm for the time of year.

Tomorrow - the Acte de Vente!


03 January 2003 23:03

Property Owners Nouveau!!!!!!

We've DONE IT!

For our appointment at the Notaire's office I searched through my extensive wardrobe, chosen in mid-August before all our stuff disappeared into store. I decided that the beige chinos were better than the trackpants, despite the missing top button repaired with a safety pin. I decided that I could wear the shirt outside the trousers, since the weather was quite warm and appropriate to the casual, laid back, English property magnate look. And it covered up the safety pin! Fortunately we encountered few large steel surfaces to which an English property magnate, or his safety pin, might stick, with the inevitable resounding "boing". Delectable Christine inevitably looked wonderful, if slightly bemused at the more esoteric points of French legal jurisprudence.

Our Notaire was young, female, and quite attractive and was thus able to dominate the proceedings amongst those horrid male chauvinist males who were thinking of anything but the niceties of Repartition du Droit de Propriété and  Les Clauses Exclusives des Vices Cachés. So it was only a matter of time before we had read, initialled and signed umpteen pages, despite the valorous protestations of the vendor who thought that Christine should sign first, before he had formally undertaken to sell. Vive la différence! We received a bunch of keys and a promise that we may receive an authentic copy of the Acte de Vente in the fullness of time.

Equipped with an attestation de vente we went to France Telecom, ordered a telephone line, received a number, but we'll not be able to use it until 8th January. It all seemed rather amateur as if they really didn't know what they were doing but they were really nice and polite which made up for it all - there seems to be a sustainable pattern here! We also bought a digital wireless phone, without answering machine as there appears to be a gratuit "1571"-style service.

After a victualling run to Auchan we repaired to chez Andrew, where a tasty platter of sautéed chicken was washed down by a nice bottle of Moet & Chandon, by way of celebration, a smooth Gevrey-Chambertin (it's not illegal to drink Burgundy in 47, unlike 33!), and an entire bottle of 1989 Cruz vintage port.

So back to Chateau Caravan to report to higher command and listen to raindrops starting to soften that blasted mud even further.

Tomorrow - désenfoncer Chateau Caravan de la boue, redeploy to Tessel Bas and jump about yelling "it's mine" in front of bemused, beret-basque-advantaged local peasants and their bicycles and their strings of onions. Zut Alors! Les Anglais sont toujours fous, quoi!


04 January 2003 21:35

Unsticking and Installing!

So Chateau Caravan was surrendered from the muddy depths with the combined efforts of Andrew, Carole, Xtine and your correspondent. The early morning downpour didn't help. Since the top of the soil was covered with a couple of inches of slimy, chalky mud with a coefficient of friction approximating to that exhibited by molybdenum disulphide grease, we found that the best method of extrication was muscle power. Afterwards the land didn't exactly look like the battlefield of the Somme in 1914/18, but we did look for the odd dead German and howitzer (and beach towel, of course).

We had an uneventful few miles from Andrew's garden through Villeneuve to Tessel Bas; we managed to get along the very narrow approach roads without meeting anyone coming in the opposite direction. On the way the weather cleared to give some pleasant sunshine and a bracing 10 degs C. Once there we managed to pivot Chateau Caravan, despite a small area of drive for manoeuvre, into an appropriate position. Since our furniture isn't coming until Monday we had a period of grace so that I could spend most of the day exploring house and land. As homework I made up several adaptor leads with a French 10A plug and an English 4-socket 1 m extension lead - to give me a breathing space before I have to change them all. Testing these revealed that there appears to be the usual random choice made between "line" and "neutral" and whether or not to connect an earth pin in sockets fitted to the house. While walking in my "park" in the sunshine I was disturbed by three frisky bullocks - aah the penalties of living in the countryside!

But for most of the time I was exploring - all the funny little different levels and strange little rooms and the massive barn space. Well, who can blame me for playing with my new toy!

I've fired up the chauffage centrale to warm up the thick stone walls - the oil boiler ran up with a noise like a 747, but couldn't be heard from the house and soon got all the rooms toasty and warm. But with no furniture until Monday we repaired to faithful Chateau Caravan for dinner and bed. The mobile signal on the laptop is a bit iffy, but I got a reasonable signal on Bouygtel.


05 January 2003 22:07


Vendor's Visit

My vendor craved my indulgence re his carrying on clearing the barn - he'd emptied the house but there was still stuff in the 350m2 of barn - I'd seen it before he started clearing and he'd already done pretty well. So yesterday and today he and his aviator son (in the Armee de l'Air) were shuttling to and fro with the obligatory trailer. As a result I was able to ask him about some of the more peculiar bits.

One was a 10cm plastic pipe with a cap on it, sticking out of the skirting. It was empty and only went down to the sous-sol. Speaking tube to the engine room, I wondered? Then I realised that as it was in the salon it must be to provide draught for the fire, and so it proved to be; before the wood-burner insert was fitted there was a difficulty in getting the fire to draw. If I get rid of it I may be able to have a wider, more open plan door to which it is adjacent, but I'll see how the fire behaves first.

We also did a little business on the central heating oil; there's a large tank full of oil in a petit dependance. So I'd surreptitiously been and measured and dipped the tank - I reckoned there was 2520 litres in the 3000 litre tank. So when we both went and measured it together I was quite happy when he only made it 2400 litres. I suppose I could have said I didn't want it, but I've had that done to me and it's not nice and leads to all sorts of acrimony.

The barn's more or less empty now and ready to receive all my rubbish arriving tomorrow. The furniture can go in the house but the cardboard boxes will go in the barn and be withdrawn and unpacked singly to avoid falling over umpteen boxes.

As with you the day's weather was wonderful - Christine & I went and "beat the boundaries" of our plot - quite tiring in itself. The air was crystal clear and pollution free and the area calm and tranquil. Absolute bliss. Maybe we'll sleep in the new place tomorrow as opposed to Chateau Caravan - I've had a foresaid heating on to heat up the big stone "storage heaters"!


07 January 2003 00:51

Déménagement Accompli

After this morning's snow the weather cleared to a beautifully sunny, crisp, cool day. I checked the plugs in the kitchen, prior to plugging in the fridge and dishwasher which were scheduled to arrive later - I found the usual French disease; Line and Neutral swapped, which can be dodgy with UK appliances, and no earth connection, which can be fatal with anyone's appliances. Poked around in the birds’ nest of wiring - the Line and Neutral come from a three-phase junction box feeding the barn but the earth seems to come from nowhere. To be continued.

The déménageurs arrived late afternoon instead of mid-morning as promised. They had two lorries; the small one could get near the house but the large one only just squeezed in to the end by the well. There was just a man and a boy so we had to help to get the unloading done in a sensible time. All the furniture went into the house but the cardboard boxes were swallowed up by the barn, to be pulled out one by one as needed.

We finished quite late - thank goodness for Chateau C, which continued to give us a bed, and a working kitchen while the house was in chaos.

The temperature dropped smartly after dark - it's -3 degs C now and still falling!

And so to bed, with the realisation that all the problems of furniture removal, storage, splitting between two houses and delivery to France are finally over.

 We now just need to start on unpacking a barn full of boxes!


08 January 2003 21:41

More DIY

Well, it started grey and miserable, and it persisted. We had a good, solid sleep, aided by the thought that there were no pressures other than our own desires to make our nest as comfortable as possible.

The big fire in the salon kept in overnight - a few logs on this morning and it's still going!

Otherwise, largely a plumbing day: almost got the dishwasher operational but there's a stop tap that leaks from its stuffing box when switched on and doesn't respond to the attentions of the stilson wrench - needs new innards or a new stop tap soldered in. The loo cistern kept dribbling into the basin - someone had mended the flush mechanism with a steel screw which had disintegrated - replaced with a stainless steel version from the caravan repair kit. The washing machine was plumbed in to the (only) outlet which is cold, but there is a hot pipe nearby begging for a T-piece and tap to be soldered in. The tumble drier was set in place in the sous-sol with its efflux aimed at the entrance door.

A few cardboard boxes were opened and transferred inside - I restored the birds nest of wiring at the bed head which features Australian 3-pin plugs (for two alarm clocks and one bedside light), which are now connected via a UK 13A plug to a 4-way 1m extension lead with 13A sockets, all fed by a French 3-pin plug but plugged into a two-pin socket. Wait for it - there's still one 13A plug on the other bedside light, plugged into the 4 x 13A lead. The reason for all this is that the Aussie sockets are a lot smaller and neater than the UK equivalent, and I'm still using my temporary transition kit which consists of several B & Q cheapo 1m 4 way extension leads fitted with French plugs; I recommend the approach for those who don't want to spend their precious first few days in France wielding an electrician's screwdriver! I shall eventually restore this nightmare to a sensible bank of French two-pin sockets.

Dinner was manchons de canard, sauteed and pressure cooked with garlic, leeks and potatoes - fortunately I'd opened the box with the pressure cooker, and amazingly found the weight thingy that sets the pressure.

FT didn't connect me today as promised and my aluminium box seems to be less of an impedance to mobile phone signals than metre-thick stone walls.


10 January 2003 21:52


It started grey and cold but the sun came out about lunchtime and the air was as crisp and clear as a gin & tonic - wonderful stars tonight. Our France Telecom phone line should have been operational on Wednesday, but a continued absence of tonalité required me to gird up my loins and fight the FT call centre number trees and dreadful music using my expensive UK mobile. When I finally found a human being she was kind and tolerant of my indifferent French - said that as far as they could see it should be working, so put me on to "faults". They tried to ring me back, it didn't work, then volunteered to call back on the portable, which they didn't, presumably because they forgot the +44 bit at the front. Finally the new phone burst into life, but before Christine had found me to answer this horrid thing that might have a foreign person on the other end, they'd rung off. Ten minutes later, FT van screeched to a halt, nice man didn't seem to be upset that the phone was, in fact, working, but we couldn't get to it in time.

 So this means that I can dial my UK ISP on a medium expensive landline at 56 KB/s (or so) instead of a very expensive 9.6 KB/s, so after a day playing with my long-lost tools in my big, big playroom I moved the laptop into the house (it appears that an aluminium box is less effective as a Faraday cage than a stone box). I also de-commissioned the outside computer room, formerly known as Chateau Caravan, draining all the water as the temperature was still -2 degs C.

 Peter had kindly posted the remote control for the little caravan television, that someone with a beard had forgotten to pack, so when it arrived I tuned the multistandard receiver into the local stations. Good reception, even if mediocre programmes.

 Tomorrow - really must get the bits for the plumbing jobs that need doing - I think some French laid-back-ness has crept in -(I wonder if the French have a word for "laissez-faire"?)


11 January 2003 22:24

Plombage de Jour

Very chilly out. Warm and snug in - the big log fire has been going continuously since we moved in - I've learned the technique; good bed of ashes below, close the doors, close the air inlets, back off the damper until it just doesn't smoke, voila - nice smouldering fire that will burst into life when the damper's opened next morning.

 Off to Leclerc's Brico/Bati/Jardi for plumbing bits - Christine wisely went to Gifi while I was teaching myself french plumbing by looking at the bubble packs.


Surprise #1 - can't get ordinary solder with lead in it - presumably because of the "saturnisme" regulations. Can only get tin/copper solder.


Surprise #2 - in the metric world 1/2", 3/4" etc still exists.


I knew that the French don't have Yorkshire Fittings and that they use 10, 12, 14, 16mm etc instead of our lip service to the old imperial sizes. So a new solder-in 12mm stop tap to replace the one in the dishwasher line was no problem, but I couldn't find a brass tap with a 3/4" hose fitting for the washing machine hot water supply. After some time I found a compression fitting that would fit a 12mm pipe (I've found a suitable T-piece with a blocked-off 12mm spur that I can cut off), and which had a female fitting to take an appropriate "robinet" for the "machine a laver". Then got another load of French plugs and another shower hose.

 Then LeClerc proper for the provisions. Christine was most impressed when I remembered the PIN number for the new Carte Bleue for the second time in one day.


Driving back home I thought as I entered Tessel Bas that I'd always wanted to come home and think how nice my home was. And now it was so!

After lunch I went off into a clearing in my wood to burn some packing paper - a shame to spoil the crystal clear air, but very few people were about to be bothered. For the first time I explored the southern boundary and looked up at the house on its limestone cliff, couldn't believe that it was mine.

On my return we had our first visitor - our neighbour, a Dutchman who responded to my French greeting with the protestations that his English was still better than his French despite 30 years in France. It occurred to me that we've still to receive visits from any neighbours in our English house! It appears that the village is gossiping about the new arrivals - and I thought we crept in unnoticed! Sooner or later we'll have to call on the Maire.

I thought about doing some plumbing, but decide there's plenty of other days - soon I'll be so laid back I'll be horizontal!


14 January 2003 10:52


Yesterday was the coldest day so far; both the caravan thermometer and the wireless inside/outside thermometer confirmed morning temperatures of about -7 to -9 degs C. I found that the "accel" switch on the oil chauffage centrale is in fact just a pump on/off switch, not a "higher speed" selector - without the pump the system works quite well on thermosyphon but the bathroom radiator doesn't work. With the big fire stoked up and the "Accel" en marche we could get the house nice and warm, with a creditable inside/outside differential of well over 20 degs C.

At these temps outside work was restricted to brief trips to the atelier and woodstore - look around at the view and the sunshine and dash back indoors! In the morning I signed up with Tiscali online, choosing their "unlimited" service - I hate surfing to the clock! No real problems but the sign-up process included the substitution of my normal DUN dialogue with a horrid "Tiscali Dialler" - this messed up all my other settings and my Demon connection wouldn't work as the Tiscali thing doesn't allow the choice of phone number - Demon needs a special 0044 number for overseas access. Got it working by deleting the non-functional 0845 numbers, but I'll need them to use the laptop in the UK. You don't seem to be able to display the connection speed either.

Brought all the "library" boxes of books in for Xtine to unpack, nearly rupturing myself in the process - aren't books heavy! I assembled the Hi-Fi component system, after a delay to locate the box with the speaker wires! It was nice to be able to play CDs with a good reproduction after all this time.

This morning started warmer - not quite freezing at 0.8 degs C but still sunny. Today's jobs - assemble computer to give the laptop a well-deserved rest and break out the big UK telly and digibox so that we can get the parabole man in to enable Xtine to get her fixes.


15 January 2003 22:23

Aren't French People Nice!

Yesterday was warmer; just above freezing to start with, then brilliant sunshine with real warmth in it at lunchtime. Dawn viewed from the bedroom was lovely - perhaps I should say "sunrise" - the big orange ball painted my wood with lovely colours.

The day's objectives of "get the desktop computer going" and "fire up the telly" were sadly missed. Most of the morning was taken up opening boxes - the housekeeper had found her Vax but no tools for the pipe. So all the rest of the unopened boxes had to be opened - I found them in the end, inevitably in the last box!

 I thought that madame would best be pleased if I postponed "playing with yet another computer", better get the telly going - at least she can watch some video tapes.  So the video cabinet was assembled and the widescreen telly unpacked and placed on top. Whoops - on plugging it in it displayed a raster for about 20 seconds then cut out. Since it just sits and flashes it's remote control light - I don't think it liked being brought into a warm room from a cold barn! Now I have to get a UK telly fixed in France.....

 Today's morning was a repeat performance of the orange tree-painting against the pale grey horizon, but was several degrees warmer - no air frost but a little rime here and there.

I needed to do some bank business, so popped into Villeneuve, and also went the post office - once again these ordinary, common tasks were made to be a pleasure by the pleasant, friendly and courteous attitude of the people one meets from day to day. The bank clerk was lovely, another bank employee I had to see couldn't do enough to help, the estate agent from whom we bought the house came by and we had a pleasant chat, I went to the post office and, though they were very busy and I only wanted some stamps, the desk clerk showed me all the attractive designs that were available. I left the town feeling enrichened by the experience of doing a few routine chores that would have been miserable in the UK, because of the pleasant, helpful and friendly attitude of everyone I met.

Back to the car which had been baking in the sun and was positively sub-tropical inside, then off to Auchan - bought some bits and bobs in the sales - mop buckets, brooms, iron and cobweb brush to keep 'er indoors busy; electrical bits, a big thermometer and a log splitting wedge for the handyman. Back in paradise I made a support bracket for the new washing machine hot tap and fixed it to the wall of the sous-sol. I thought limestone was soft! - I blunted two masonry drills making a couple of holes in the stone wall! Then I reassembled my Australian flat-pack computer desk; one of the most complicated bits of flat-packery I've ever encountered - this is the third time I've made it up and it doesn't get any easier! Got the drawer and the keyboard shelf round the wrong way the first time - and I don't have a waste paper basket to kick!

Tried the telly again, in case it had dried out or something - said a quick prayer to St John Logie Baird but it didnae work.


Saturday, January 18, 2003 00:08

Elec Bills, Buying Cookers, Firing up Long Lost PCs.

Our initial EDF bill was due today and since I’d heard dire stories of non-payers being cut off I thought I’d better take it to the EDF office. Yet another lovely lady who was so pleasant to me I felt inches taller on the way out. I like the easy way of paying bills; produce the GIRO-like thingy on the bottom of the bill (called a TIP), together with a printout of your bank account details, provided by your bank and called a RIB, sign and date the TIP, and Robert est votre oncle.  I opted to pay subsequent payments by direct debit - you’ve got to pay it anyway and it removes the hassle.

We then went on a cooker hunt - browsing round Conforama, Auchan, But etc. for a mixed fuel (bottled butane + an electric oven, grill and hotplate). My vendor had left us an ancient one but the oven was too filthy to use and the electric ignition on two of the hob rings didn’t work. We ended up with a "Rosiers" one in the sale at 100 € off, it seemed to be a pretty substantial and well-made beast. While the Carte Bancaire was being prized out of the wallet Christine found a microwave oven and a kettle that we couldn’t do without. Once again the shop assistant, the cashier and even the bloke who wheeled the thing out of the store and quickly replaced the town gas jets with butane ones were all pleasant. So we came away with the cooker in The Beast - something we found impossible in the UK - and the UK lot were sour-faced and uncommunicative too!

Back at Tessel Bas I reckoned the Desktop PC was aired sufficiently to be connected, fired up and connected to Tiscali - this is being typed on the old PC. Poor thing’s been in storage since mid-August - 5 months!


Saturday, January 18, 2003 22:47


Today’s job was to remove the old cooker and install the new.  The old cuisinere was also a Rosieres, early eighties from the instruction book data but containing neolithic encrustations of dinosaur grease in the oven. It weighed a ton! Getting it out of the house demanded the comprehensive application of The Principles of Mechanics Chapter 1 - the Lever and The Inclined Plane, ably assisted by Delectable Christine who was the Straw that Prevented the Old Fart’s Back from Breaking.

 The Installation of the new device went well, with the installation engineer tut-tutting about all the pressurised caoutchouc tuyau which was just pressed on to bits of pipe without even a suggestion of a jubilee clip (colliers de serrage). The same applies to the installation in the sous-sol; the idea of the connection coming off a full 13Kg bottle of butane, then filling the sous-sol with a mixture of gas and air, then same mixture encountering the pressure-jet oil-burning chauffage centrale, fills my mind with nightmare visions of Christine and myself, whose bedroom is just above the sous-sol, being launched, in nothing but our jamas, towards the wonderfully brilliant full moon that is currently shining down on the Lot & Garonne like a big arc lamp.  If we live until tomorrow there will be installed a two-bottle changeover system so we don’t have to suspend the cooking until someone goes to change the empty bouteille at the nearest station service. I am getting laid back - fancy leaving things until tomorrow!

 The new high speed 2400W kettle was fired up tonight, at the same time as the lave-vaisselle, with the inevitable consequence that the EDF fairy said that enough is enough, I shall trip my breaker and sod your computer. So I fumbled my way outside and down to the sous-sol, amply illuminated by the aforementioned moon, to reset the breaker, then back to the computer to watch it repair all its “lost chains”. Tomorrow - fire up the new microwave (its also on the same phase and same spur as the cooker, dishwasher, electric kettle and toaster!). Oooer!


Monday, January 20, 2003 00:00

L’Établi (The Bench)

One advantage (?) of buying French products is having all the instructions in French. I read the instructions that came with the our new Rosieres cooker over breakfast - amazed to see that cooking times (for roasts such as beef and leg of lamb) are still expressed in time for the weight in ”livres”. Do French cooks still use these units? Do they just assume a livre is half a kilogramme? 

Then to be installed was the new microwave oven - at least, being a Whirlpool oven, the front panel controls were in English, or at least American English. But the instruction book was in French and it came with a nice recipe book in German, French, Dutch and Italian! I had to read the instructions in French then give Christine a short course on what all the buttons did. One day the manufacturers will realise that a lot of the buyers of such things are coming from England! 

The next job was to install the second gas bottle and a changeover system - now when the bottle runs out in the middle of cooking dinner I shan’t have to dash off to the local service station for a replacement. 

At last it was time to start The Bench Project. The barn had a redundant loading platform made of substantial angle iron - I planned to use this, suitably covered with planking, as The Bench.  Already I’d been trying to hacksaw pieces of steel held in a vice with my feet wrapped round the vice and squatting on the floor like an Arab in the Souk!  The iron framework was dragged into position in the atelier, the scaffolding legs further reinforced with bolts - I wanted to use my arc welder but it takes 12.5 Amps at 230v and I’ve only got a 6 amp supply in the atelier (although the barn has some three phase outlets).  After some fiddling about with blocks to level the less than perfect barn floor, the frame was secured to the atelier wall. I tried to use Rawlbolts but the bit of wall turned out to be hollow brick so I had to use heavy duty cavity fixings.  Tomorrow - fix heavy timber to the front of The Bench and cover the rest with planking, screw vice, bench grinder, etc., to the top. Fix up some electrical points, preferably with an earth connection. Try and find my USB expander so that I can connect wheel mouse and digital cameras to the PC.  Gosh, what a wonderful playroom I’ve got!


Monday, January 20, 2003 23:37


Project Bench - Progress Report  The Bench framework has been passed as suitable for ongoing amelioration. Since the narrowest dimension is such that the other side cannot be reached, the design is that of a “Peninsula” Bench, with access all round the two longest and the shortest side. Some considerable time was spent tearing down non-structural beams supporting horizontal shelving, with a view to deploying this as a Bench surface. However most of the beams were too large and the better quality shelving was found to be well perforated with woodworm. So I had to raid the vendor’s pile of useful wood, which he said that he would return sometime to collect but that, in the meantime, if I needed some .....

So two substantial 2” thick planks were fixed to the working edge of the metal framework, the rest being filled with a hollow, but substantial 5-ply sandwich. As soon as they were in position, the Vice was mounted! I now have the largest bench in the whole of Aquitaine. It would certainly perform sterling service as a catwalk in a fashion show, or, with the addition of a vertical pole, an ideal stage for a lap-dancing club. Maybe I should contact the firm of the late-lamented Y S-L, or even Peter Stringfellow, in case they would like to hire the facilities. Just think, I might even get a cold, germanic kiss from Claudia Schiffer! Quick - down to the vendor’s porn room for a quick check on the playboy bunnies! Tomorrow - decide on what power sockets to fit - 16A 3-pin (needs an earth spike & wiring) and the circuit wouldn’t take it, or be honest and just provide a bank of 6A two-pin sockets.


Monday, January 22, 2003 22:34

Son of  “The Bench”

So “Project Bench” moves slowly to a close, like most Marconi Radar projects it was late and over budget but it worked and did more than was asked for.  Since only 6 Amp two-pin power was available in the Atelier, the three-pin plugs I installed had to have an earth; my bench grinder definitely did. So I found a convenient hole through which I could run the bit of green & yellow wire to an outside stake. The latter was made out of yet more of the vendor’s stuff that he’s going to come back and collect - a metre of 16mm copper pipe with a sharpened end driven into the earth outside. At least that was the theory - about half a metre down I met virgin limestone - I managed to get down a bit more with a long 14mm masonry drill. Some dishwasher salt was added to lower the earth resistance, in a plastic bag with holes top and bottom for a slow release. The outside crepi on the barn wall was made of what appeared to be a tungsten carbide mix - no way would any masonry nails for wire cleats go into it. So I had to drill holes with a masonry drill, pack them with wood and nail the cleats into that.  Finally The Bench was ready for Customer System Acceptance Tests; the earthed plugs met their electrical checks and sawing in the vice produced no untoward wobbling (at least, not of The Bench!). A pass!

 But, looking under The Bench, there was a space crying out for a shelf. Fortunately there was a suitable shelf with welded steel supports, unused and in another part of the barn. This was removed - with a little adaptation - just the job! It will have to be finished tomorrow - at a crucial stage the power went off - Christine had switched the 2.400 watt kettle on at the same time as the electric oven - with a 9KW three-phase supply you can only expect 3KW per phase and the oven, the kettle, the toaster and the dishwasher are all on one phase. Her ladyship was heard to declaim “I want a proper house with proper electric”. Looks like someone will have to practise the French for “Please Monsieur EDF, give me a 12KW single phase supply”.


Sunday, January 26, 2003 20:00

Pendre la Cremaillère?

A dull, grey day outside, but warm, cosy and friendly inside, thanks to lovely company - almost a housewarming! Allison drove down on Friday night with Tyler and Callum - it was lovely to see her again. Saturday started cold, with sub-zero temperatures and a rimy frost, but instead of the sun coming out and warming the day as usual, it stayed misty until after lunch. We went into Villeneuve to the Saturday market - I bought a camellia and a begonia basket - carrying them my fingers were frozen carrying them back to the car. That afternoon the sun did come out - the temperature shot up and the two boys had a wonderful time abseiling down my limestone cliff, afterwards quietly drawing, painting and doing puzzles, without a word of protest about my defunct TV. That evening I stopped, entranced, as the setting sun shone down the valley below us, lighting the distant bare tree branches so they looked like red smoke. For Sunday lunch we had some lovely extra guests - Andrew and Carole with their razmoquets, Joe and Megan, and Dolores and Joel. Wonderful company - that rare event; a lunch party that we hosted that we enjoyed as well! Now the kitchen’s cleared up, the second filling of the dishwasher is in progress and we’re curled up by the big log fire. Bliss!


Wednesday, January 29, 2003 22:16

Free To View Card

A nice Frenchman came to install a parabole today to go with my digibox. He did a good job - hid the horrid dish low down behind the cheminée so that it couldn’t be seen, and removed some ugly brackets previously used for the yagi antenna that my vendor clearly cherished so much that he couldn’t bear to be parted from it.

I got told off by Christine for hovering over the poor man. At least I managed to find some spare écrous et boulons for those missing from the DIY kit that was the parabole! He (nice Frenchman) looked at the en panne télé anglais, gave a gallic shrug and took it off to his atelier, leaving me with a loan replacement.  Now “my digibox” was left (accidentally or on purpose) by the vendor of the house in Wivenhoe - it worked, but didn’t have a remote control when son Peter played with it, I have no experience with, and am a complete ignoramus regarding, the use of satellite receivers. Said digibox had a “Sky Viewing Card” of dubious provenance - it seems to perform some major miracles, notably that of enabling ‘er indoors to listen to the Goings On In Ambridge Steam Radio without the hisses, pops, bangs, whistles and squeaks that afflict the 200kHz transmission from Droitwich. It receives all sorts of news to keep ‘im outside happy, such as CNN, Sky News, ITN News.


Saturday, February 01, 2003 23:01

Texas Tronconneuse Massacre

I got my delayed Christmas present to me today - a Stihl chainsaw with a 48.7 cc motor and a 45cm blade. Brmmmmm (cackle cackle!) Once again I got a very nice man in the shop who, when asked to recommend a saw, tactfully and unprompted recommended the one that I wanted! So of course I came out with spare chain, two stroke oil, chain oil and a ridiculous orange hard hat with yellow ear defenders and a visor - makes me look like a psychedelic Mickey Mouse - but at least the local chasseurs won’t mistake me for game (I hope!). So I started easily, cutting up some firewood, then graduated to thin trees, then some slightly thicker trees - of the seven that I felled six fell where they should, the other fell in the opposite direction, but thought it might (it was leaning). Just practising my Humboldt notch before I get on to serious oaks!  Then the rain got worse and I came in wet and covered in sawdust!


Monday, February 03, 2003 22:48

Arms of Stihl

The chainsaw's a wonderful bit of kit - capable of generating far more firewood than my aging back can cope with! Today the weather started foul and then got worse - the estate safety officer inspected the slippery rain-soaked muddy hillside and the trees groaning in the gale and put a banning order on my forest clearance, which at least enabled me to stack the mountain of wood that had accumulated in a pile at the foot of my hastily-constructed saw horse (chevalet). So I ordered a digibox remote control, attempted to personalise my Top Message greeting (failed miserably, lost in a tangle of dimly-understood touch trees), repaired a broken desk light, unstuck a seized-up salt mill and added a couple of 16 Amp sockets to The Bench, just in case any visiting pole dancer needs an outlet for the pink strobes. At least it gave the arms a rest from the chainsaw and the back a rest from some of the wood lifting.  Christine is starting to emerge from the worst of the flu bug - at least her hollering for breakfast in bed was more spirited this morning, and she managed to cook the dinner this evening.


Wednesday, February 05, 2003 23:58


We got our “en panne” TV back yesterday from the menders. It was nice to get back to a decent picture. However, when setting up the Dolby Pro Logic for the surround sound speakers, I found I couldn’t - the menu item had disappeared from the set up process. Checking the bill which showed that they’d reprogrammed it. Woke up at 4 am fighting an anticipatory “where’s my Dolby” battle with the mender, and trying to phrase “you’ve loaded the wrong software into the flash EPROM” in French. Gave up and decided “it doesn’t work” would get better results and be easier French! Took Christine in to Villeneuve for her Big Adventure - her first appointment with a French hairdresser. While waiting I took the telly back to the mender - yes, they had loaded “le logiciel incorrect” and were very nice about it - it will be fixed tomorrow, in the meantime I can retain the loan TV. My anticipatory worries were yet another example of a battle I didn’t have to fight. Over lunch in Villeneuve we shared experiences on how nicely we had been treated by these two service industries, and how much better than the UK our experience has been so far. Off to Auchan, bought a toaster in our post-prandial euphoria, then back to Tessel Bas via the route that is both the scenic and the direttissima. 4 miles of the best route to the supermarket I’ve ever experienced! The trees got a reprieve again - very wet and slippy underfoot!


Thursday, February 06, 2003 22:29

Home on the Range

A lovely day which started with a wonderful sunrise colouring treetops that weren’t there at sunset, because some vandal with a chainsaw had cut them down!  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky all day, the sky was a deep blue and the sun was quite hot as it beat down on the south-facing slope that I was clearing. A sort of elemental day - man in wood cutting firewood - woman comes out and helps stack the rapidly growing woodpile before going in to cook nourishing meal to keep man going. Made me think I should be making some more fine, strong sons to cut the wood when I get too old (next week). Christine was not too keen on the idea! In any case the sons would grow up to read Media Studies and Origami and leave the old sod to cut his own poxy wood! 

Cue film - wide elevated shot shows small homestead set near large wood. Centre on and zoom to man, stripped to the waste, wielding large felling axe as he chops wood. Pan to homestead window, shabbily dressed but voluptuous wife peers through net curtains at man. Pan to man, centre on rippling back muscles as he swings the axe. Cut to wife’s reaction shot as she observes and appreciates rippling muscles before returning to the pan fried hominy grits - close up of thoughtfully excited expression signifies a new baby come thanksgiving........  

You wish!  Nothing in this description means that the male gender cannot be substituted for the female gender and that I’m sure somewhere in the world big handsome girls are swinging axes while their men are busy in the kitchen cooking spaghetti Bolognese and chips!


Friday, February 07, 2003 23:00

I’m a Lumberjack and I’m OK (I think)

Another day of cutting down trees, eating my lunch, and going to the lavatory! 

Lovely weather, rime on the fields down in the valley to start but just above freezing up where we are. The temperature soared as soon as the sun got going - Mickey Mouse protective helmet got quite hot to wear.  No trees got felled today, but all yesterday’s felled trees got hauled up the slope, some entire but most chopped into manageable bits. All met their fate with “La Veuve” Tronconneuse.  Christine, looking delightful in designer logging gear, took umpteen barrowloads of tronconneuse output to the woodpile.  One very long, straight, thin tree looked ideal for a flagpole or yacht mast - I couldn’t chop it up, so hauled it up the slope with a succession of rope & pulley lifts, using tree stumps as anchors. It’s now lashed to a large tree at the top of the cliff, awaiting ideas on how I can get the rest of it on to the slope - I’m lacking muscle power and anchor points. I shouldn’t have trimmed the beard - it’s sapped my strength! But it’s nice to use all those lectures on “Machines and the Elements of Mechanics” - my couple of pulleys did double my pulling power and let me do things I couldn’t otherwise.   Christine kept telling me I should stop - you should listen to your body, she said. I do, I replied, sometimes it makes some really disgusting noises! My principle is that hurting muscles are an inconvenience you have to ignore.

So tonight I’m suffering from acute tronconneuse shoulder, and Christine is saying ”I told you so!”. Tried some internal application of Cabernet Sauvignon and vintage Port - feels much better now!  Some emergent leaves show that the sap is rising - better get down to it or I’ll need to leave the wood two years before I can burn it.



Thursday, February 13, 2003 22:49

Auto Portée

The Ride-on-Mower was delivered today; shiny and new - I soon got it dusty and grassy zooming around in Toad of Toad Hall mode. I was a bit worried about some of my slopes, but they seemed to be no more than the 14 degree recommended maximum so I zoomed up them, no problem. I tried the mulching attachment, but, with my carpet of oak leaves, it seemed better to orientate the mowing runs so that they’re progressively blown into oblivion down my cliff. I had to curtail all this fun to get on with a new chainsaw project: clearing the observation platform/bridge at the end of the park. Another few trees met their maker and were duly stacked by Christine in the barn - I must work out the cubic metrage - she now needs steps to add to the pile which is several metres long.  In the armchair after my therapeutic bath I settled down to read my Honda Engine Owners’ Manual, only to discover that it was called a “Manual del Propietario” - in Spanish! Now French I can (just about) handle but my Spanish is largely restricted to “una cerveza por favor”. Thank goodness for the internet - American Honda Motor Co had a downloadable pdf of the 13 HP motor! The whole thing appears to be an Electrolux Outdoor Products machine, rebadged for Verts Loisirs. I’ve yet to find the fridge for the cool tubes of amber liquid!  Now I need to find a name for it - Harry the Honda? (it’s American) - George (bush)? or how about Henri Treize (cheval vapeur)?, Tony the Tondeuse?


Thursday, February 20, 2003 22:19

Put on ladies clothing and hang around in bars

More lumber jacking today - tackled three serious oaks - ended up with three felled, two limbed, bucked, carried up the cliff and sawn into fire sized logs. It was nice to have the help of my 19-year old son Peter - I tried felling two against their natural lean, so they tangled with adjacent trees and needed ropes, pulleys and lots of effort to free them - one falling tree managed to straighten out the open hook of a pulley I was using! And that oak is heavy, man - lifting two trees up the escarpment, even in sawn bits, is serious work! So we’re both moving very carefully at the moment to avoid the twinges of over-used muscles. But the pair-bonding thing of doing risky “mens’” stuff and the mutual support felt good.


Saturday, February 22, 2003 22:23

Logging – the Trailer

Today Gillis Senior bought a little remorque for the auto portée, so all the heavy oak logs could be moved from the chevalet area and into the barn. Since Peter has just passed his driving test, he, of course, was designated driver - a complicated route with reversing at either end. Having never reversed with a trailer, of course he made a foul-up of it, but he learnt creditably quickly. He had a lovely afternoon playing choo-choos with the new toy - the last load even included a bearded old fart! Dinner tonight was a traditional Ian speciality (I’ve cooked it at least three times! -  magret de canard with a creme fraiche and black pepper sauce). With some nice basmati rice and Turkish saffron it went down well. Tomorrow we’ve booked a posh birthday lunch in our friendly neighbourhood mediaeval village, Pujols, which is currently having one of those “Un des plus belle villages de France” make-overs, so the grotty old tarmac is being torn up and replaced by “authentic” 11th Century cobbles. It’ll be nice to explore a local restaurant - who knows, it could become the watering hole de jour!


Sunday, February 23, 2003 23:02

Peter’s Birthday

A roller for the ride-on would be great - I’ve currently got a plague of moles - it’s not so much the piles of earth - I can live with those - spread them out and then mow them - it’s the raised tunnels just under the surface - a roller would be just the job to flatten those so that the mower doesn’t scalp them. I mustn’t be too ambitious though - I’ve got some steep bits and would hate to be flattened by my own roller!

Posh Nosh for Birthday Baby Gillis was decidedly epicurean - mainly nouveau cuisine and beautifully presented. The weather was clear, warm and sunny and did justice to the view from Pujols Haut over Villeneuve and the Lot valley. After lunch we walked to the end of the impasse which is our access road - it snakes down the escarpment to a little ruisseau at the foot of the valley - return via a little cattle track that ends up on the lower boundary of my wood.  My evening walk I time so that I can catch the sunset pyrotechnics as the setting sun lights up the bare branches of the distant valley floor - a particularly good show tonight. Prompted by Christine I counted the trees in the “park” - or arboretum, even. I was astounded to count 84 trees - they’re lovely but you get a little dizzy going round each one in the auto portee!


Tuesday, February 25, 2003 21:49

Prodigal Son Leaves

We dropped him off at Bergerac and waited until the HS146 was just a spec in the sky. Now the dishwasher’s too big again, the frying pan’s too wide (copyright Joni Mitchell) and Christine’s got a frequent dose of the sniffles. I just managed to get back and send him some photos of his take-off when he rang to say that he had arrived home, had picked up Magic and was cuddling same. How small Europe has become.  For his last day he insisted on being taken to Condom - just for the name. Just as well, it was shut. Still, it was a chance for us to look at some of Gers - we drove down through Porte Ste Marie and Nerac and back through Agen.


Wednesday, February 26, 2003 11:14

Re: Prodigal Son Leaves

I try hard to look at things from Peter’s point of view - I do remember being 18/19 although it was a very long time ago - everything seems so black & white, so crystal clear - unaffected by all the baggage that you collect from experience. I know that to youngsters of that age Mum & Dad are a couple of quaint little cameos that are fading into the background whereas he has a future full of exciting possibilities - whereas to us he is and has been a major part of our raison d’etre for 19 years. So sometimes we have to bite the quivering lips and let him get on with it - and it’s not all that unpleasant to be “us” for a bit, instead of Mum & Dad.


Thursday, February 27, 2003 22:39


With Peter gone and all the lumberjacking done there was no excuse not to start the kitchen refurbishment. Yesterday I had to go into the loft to disconnect the wires that was fed down the tubes of a trendy 1960’s room divider so that a highly dangerous two-pin 6A socket could be placed in handy lethal drip range of the sink. I managed to locate and cut the appropriate wires (using insulated side cutters!) without disturbing ‘er indoors Womens Hour and descended covered in cobwebs, dried rat poo and bits of laine de verre. Eventually the trendy room divider was added to the growing pile of 60’s tat. 

A lovely warm morning with really hot sun was wasted on shopping - then calling in to collect my tronconneuse that had been serviced after all its hard work. As I came out of the shop I realised that I’d just had a long and technical conversation on the maintenance and repair of chainsaws, in French, and had understood it all! On y va! 

On the way to Auchan we went into the new Gamm Vert store on the Bordeaux road - bought some strimmer line and a 300 watt halogen uplighter to show up the cobwebs on the poutres in the salon. 

This afternoon I really wanted to drive the auto portee round the park and collect all the dead branches brought down by the gale in my new remorque, but it started to rain so I had to start stripping some delightful wallpaper, about 30 years old and featuring a French Tartan pattern and many other markings that were not part of the original pattern.  The “thistle” finishing plaster skim within a couple of feet of the skirting board is loose and flaky in some areas.


Friday, February 28, 2003 22:44

How to Avoid Wallpaper Stripping - Lesson 1

Today I was going to continue stripping wallpaper.  The problem is, wallpaper is "Inside".And if you’re in SW France on a nice warm day, "Outside" is a far preferable place to be.

So I found this quick job to do: clear up the leaves after the gale. Soon found a problem - big bit of land, lots of lee nooks for leaves to blow into. Lots of leaves. So - fire up your new toy, the auto portee with the remorque. Get into a rhythm - fill remorque, vroom vroom, beep beep dump leaves .........where? Big problem - no compost heap. Quick search for compost heap/snake incubation site - I honestly couldn’t find any part of my patch that I’d sully with a compost heap. So I decided to chuck it over the cliff like all the other residents did. So its vroom vroom, peep peep, back up to precipice, tip trailer, back to leaf collection, vroom vroom beep beep... When leaves are mostly collected - what about fallen twigs/branches in the arboretum? - vroom vroom. beep beep - collect twigs/branches in remorque - feed to hungry Precipice. Then some of the bigger branches needed cutting into troncons - so what better to use but my new, freshly serviced tronconneuse - and while it’s warm - how about that rotten, half dead oak that spoils the view from the atelier - yowl, yowl, gnaaaar vroom vroom - expired oak, all tronconneed!

Then there were a few bits of longish grass on the slope leading to the spring, for which we’ve ancient rights of access, despite the well, the cistern and the mains water supply we’ve got already - vroom vroom, beep beep whoops - new toy stuck down slope - fat rear tyres skidding. Merde! Tried everything - I could pull the thing up but couldn’t stop it going down again. Had to wake up the boss, snoozing gently over her Woman’s Hour - got a rope lashed to a handy tree (I’ve lots of handy trees!). I tugged, SWMBO moved choc under wheel. Eventually new toy was restored to terra plana. Just because I’d been playing all day with my new toy and had got into a big mess, Christine thought it very funny! Well, of course, it was - but very ego deflating!


Saturday, March 01, 2003 23:26

Samedi en Lot & Garonne

Started mild but rainy. Fire extinguisher salesman made an early appearance - yes, we could do with one but they’re 275 Euros each - I’m sure I should be able to do better elsewhere. In the meantime, if there’s a fire we pray for rain or wee on it! Traditional Saturday morning look round Villeneuve today. Dropped Christine into Leclerc while I went into Leclerc Auto for some grease and motor oil, then Leclerc Brico for some decorating stuff. Window-shopped around the paint area - somewhat confused - it’s difficult to identify familiar paint types such as emulsion, oil-based gloss, acrylic, etc. Spotted some textured paint which might be a possibility to disguise the less-than-perfect walls. After lunch the sun came out, but I was good and stayed in to strip some more delightful pink and grey French Tartan wallpaper - as the old stuff disappears, the relatively light paint underneath makes the kitchen seem lighter already. Knocked off early as I’m duty cook on Saturdays - tournedos and chips with whole artichokes.... yummy and buttery...


Wednesday, March 05, 2003 23:31


Spent the previous two days chiselling damp, mouldy plaster off the kitchen wall - some fell off with a touch, some needed the attention of bolster and club hammer. Got into a rhythm - I found a Dolly Parton record that had just the right beat for the impact of hammer on chisel. The bolster was one of my Dad’s - I like using his tools. I would like to think that he’s somewhere feeling pleased that he’s indirectly helping me, but my scientific background says that this may be possible but very improbable. But tools that have been used by others develop a personality of their own with wear, and using them makes me feel close to my Pa, who would have loved to be here.

Already the render is beginning to dry out without being covered with impervious vinyl paper and soggy plaster of Paris, so I believe I’m doing the right thing. I’ve removed the plaster below a horizontal line and will paint the render with matt floor/wall paint. The junction I shall disguise with a baguette (dado) rail. Of course the kitchen’s now like a building site - using a rotary wire brush to finish off caused mountains of dust that didn’t go down too well with ‘er indoors!  Today the morning was cancelled, due to taking ‘er indoors to Villleneuve for a hair appointment - she still can’t face driving big car on narrow roads, despite the total absence of traffic. By the time she came out all the hardware stores had closed for ze two-hour lunch so I had to do without buying my crepi and filler. As compensation for this wasted day I awarded myself a mowing session on the new auto portee - the sun shone lifted my mood no end.

Tomorrow - back to the chiselling! - I wonder if Michelangelo said that?


Saturday, March 08, 2003 23:08

Grumble de Jour

Well my day could have been better, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t bore you with it!  It started with the failure of insurance company to abstract the money for my UK insurance in a timely manner - checking the credit card account on the net showed a continuing non-payment, so I woke with a start this morning at stupid o’clock, wondering if I was still insured. So I tried several UK 0800 numbers, getting the nice French lady who regrets that the number I dialled is not available several times, until I finally got a dialling tone, then fought my way through the “press 1 for awful music and an interminable wait” tree to a pleasant young Scots lady who didn’t normally work Saturdays so her computer was taking ages to do anything and “wasn’t it a good job I wasn’t paying for the call” - wince! I eventually established that the payment had actually been received and I was insured on my holiday in Europe.  Then Villeneuve chose to have a car parks tous rempli situation - so I circled a few, humming to myself the traditional ditty: 

”Round and Round the car park

Like a daft old prat ,

One Step, Two Step,

What do you think of that?” 

Not a lot is the answer.  Eventually I found a space - dived into it. Went to the parking payant machine - dug in pocket - not a sou, franc (old or new) or euro - all money still sitting on bedside table. Daft old prat!  Shot into Villeneuve to find Christine who’d wisely bailed out earlier and bummed 30 cents off her - back to machine - queued for machine, almost got there but person in front put in a bent coin which jammed the machine - walk to distant machine and back.  Wandered around Villeneuve for a bit, bought some veg in the nice market in the Place Lafayette. Took Christine and dropped her in Leclerc. Off to Brico - parked, went to get chariot - bugger, no 1 Euro piece to put in trolley slot. Back to Leclerc, found Christine, bummed another 1 Euro piece. Back to Leclerc - needed a pee - so had to go into store then out to get trolley...oh dear!

In store I spent some time reading the labels on bags of various kinds of filler, plaster, mortar, etc. so I could relate what I wanted to what was on the shelf. Then off to the electrical area, to work out what I needed to replace ancient electrical sockets with nice new electrical bits, but retaining the old plaster-depth boxes. Found a very voluble French couple designing their rewiring job on the fly, counting up sockets and switches and deciding which switches were va-et-vient (two-way) and which not, all at the tops of their voices. Spent some time waiting for them to move on - they didn’t - I finally gave up - went and rescued Christine from incarceration in Leclerc with a trolley full of groceries and noone to take her home.  Back home via Brico Marche - things started to improve - a quiet electrical area, a knowledgeable and attentive helping-person and all the bits I needed!  Back home my vendor turned up for the logs that he sort of promised me then decided he wanted - persuaded him to leave some as “frais de stockage” but still had to watch while he plundered my log pile. Bummer!  At least the Mortaire de Reparation did a good job on the odd trou in the render! And it was a warm sunny day, just like a UK summer’s day!


Monday, March 10, 2003 23:18

Old Fart's Birthday

Superb day in the Lot & Garonne - brilliant sunshine and we reached 24 degs C - it was hard to buckle down to the kitchen refurbishment project, but I managed to change the funny ancient French sockets for funny new French sockets.  We both sat outside for lunch and I caught a dose of pink sun disease! 

Bonking update - the bonking frogs had a short bonking session tonight; I had a theory that they’re like cicadas (cigalles) - the temperature has to be over a certain minimum value before bonking commences. Just like humans, really! However last night was equally warm but bonk free! 

The garden looks nicer by the hour - a load of wild violets and grape hyacinths is populating the park under the emergent prunus blossom, and my evening walk around the boundary is a sheer delight.

Sunrise and sunset now occur at noticeably different places on the horizon, giving subtly different light shows at dawn and dusk 

Opened a bottle of 95 Fleurie tonight to celebrate my birthday - bought in 1997 in Fleurie on our way back from Tuscany it has had a chequered life, stuck in a hot caravan until it got home, then stored in the best alternative to a cellar that I could think of - a wardrobe in an unheated bedroom, then put into storage with the furniture and then lugged all the way back to France before being put in the proper cave it deserved. It had thrown a very heavy sediment, but was absolutely delicious, smooth from fruit through middle to the tannin and very more-ish. Yum!


Thursday, March 13, 2003 11:22

Self Indulgence

Another gorgeous day in paradise! Yesterday was too hot in the car and in town for tee-shirt and trackpants - I can see there’s going to be a serious outbreak of knees in Tessel Bas soon! I was also very wicked - since no-one bought me any pressies for my birthday (apart from a very sweet cuddly brebis from Christine) I treated myself - sand paper and sugar soap from Leclerc Brico Bati Jardi, potted geraniums, 230 mm Angle Grinder, diamond disks for same, Chinese Workmate and Tile Cutter from Auchan brico sale, quartz halogen spot plafonnieres x 2 (for kitchen to replace horrid fluorescents), terre cuite pots and impatiens plants from Gamm Vert. Today - pot the plants and play with new tools! Work out how to irrigate pots when back at UK Base, using programmable irrigation thingy.


Thursday, March 13, 2003 22:21

Jeudi ensoleillé

Yet another day when the gorgeous hot sun tempted me out into the garden and wouldn’t let me back indoors! I potted the new geraniums and impatiens in their new pots, and planted a camellia in the park. Working in the sun on the edge of the escarpment and overlooking the view was just heavenly, if a little hot. Spent some time looking for my spade - couldn’t find it anywhere. Only the bloody shovel! Then I realised that I’d left it at UK Base. Foolish boy! Now I’ll have to buy a weird French spade! I went down into the wood to dig some hopefully ericaceous soil from under the trees for the camellia and planted it, using a fencer’s graft instead of a spade. Then I found that the irrigation trough which supplies the pump and collects water from the barn roof or from the big cistern under the terrasse was full of mouldy old leaves so I mucked that out. A number of large frogs were not at all pleased to be transported to the compost heap, but loads of tadpoles remained in the pond - clearly all the frog bonking has not been in vain! Hot work in the sunshine! I suppose I should be more focused on the kitchen refurbishment........but, there’s always tomorrow!


Friday, March 14, 2003 22:37


Today I fitted the two quartz halogen plafonnières to the kitchen ceiling, in place of the fluorescent striplights. Not as simple as it sounds; the fittings really needed an earth connection, but the previous fluorescents didn’t have one. So it was up into the grenier again, using my hair as a cobweb duster and lying around on shredded laine de verre and mouse poo. I couldn’t make head nor tail of the electrician’s nightmare - a number of green/yellow wires seemed to be current carriers, so I traced the house earth wire from its stake in the garden through to a junction box in the grenier and used that to connect a new earth to each of the two ceiling lights. One of the lights had been wired with a gash bit of flex, so I replaced that with a new wire housed in a new piece of flexible conduit (“gaine”). Finished the day decidedly mucky, covered in cobwebs and mouse poo and with sore arms from the fibreglass. The lights are a qualified success - the sparkling quartz halogen lights show up glassware, etc and make food look like the illustrations in a food mag and look much better than the fluorescents. But there are some dark areas, one over the sink will disappear when we I install the over-sink unit with it’s built-in qh luminaires.. 

The weather, once more was sunny and hot and it took real determination to grovel in the grenier. While walking between the house and the atelier I have to pass the puit which is one of those covered pillbox sort - the front had been boxed in with a grille and a fibreglass plate. Unable to further contain my curiosity I took the grille and cover off - wow! - a big (2m +) diameter well sunk through the limestone - with the water surface some 14 m below. That must have taken some digging! With mains water, ample rainwater collection and even access to a spring I don’t need the well - but it’s really nice to have one, if only to throw coins down for luck! Ding dong bell, there wasn’t a pussy in the well (fortunately!)


Sunday, March 16, 2003 23:42

Sunday Treat for t’Missus

It was such a lovely day again today that I couldn’t waste it indoors, chipping off kitchen tiles, so I took ‘er indoors out for a Sunday afternoon spin - I didn’t have a motorbike and sidecar so we had to settle for the ’Cruiser. 

We went firstly to our neighbouring town, Penne d’Agenais - I was most impressed - much better than I’d expected - a well-kept mediaeval town with an interesting church with Moorish domes and some impressive views in the clear, sunny spring air. The peak on which the church was built was called Pierre Aigue or Peyragude (sharp stone) - in 1182 Richard Coeur de Lion, who was then the Duke of Guyenne, built a fortified castle there. Between 1412, the year of the birth of Joan of Arc, and 1431, the year of her death, the English lost and recaptured the castle four times.

 So we stormed the peak and claimed it for England yet again, but were met with blank indifference by the bemused locals. After ten minutes we couldn’t thing of anything to do with it, so we relinquished command and bogged off to Tournon d’Agenais. This was nowhere near so nice - similar impressive views but fewer mediaeval columbage houses and a grotty church patched with concrete, with flaking plaster and a hideous concrete bell tower. But both vantage points afforded some wonderful panoramas or our home countryside, with its softly swelling and voluptuous curves simmering in the afternoon sun.  Back to the mute accusations of the unchipped tiles - but there’s always tomorrow! (have I caught the French disease already??)


Monday, March 17, 2003 21:41


No stripping - had to take Christine in to a Villeneuve quack for her for a 6000 mile service. Convenient médecin - or maybe I should say médecine - she was a lady - situated next to a path lab and pharmacie. I was translator so I learned some more medical French.

This afternoon I glued some baguettes on the wall - wooden mouldings to separate the lower area that I’ve stripped the plaster off from the upper area with intact and good plaster. The moulding was just a flat strip with rounded corners - variously described in Leclerc Brico as “Chant Plat” or ”Champlat” - I think the latter is correct but the pronunciation is the same anyway. Unusually for me I’m trusting the “No Nails” stuff - usually if I use that stuff I back it up with masonry nails or screws as well! I’ve located some porous anti-saltpetre matt white paint that’s made for damp walls that I shall use on the lower bit of the wall. It’s probably unnecessary, as taking off the awful vinyl paper has allowed the wall to dry out, but better safe than sorry.


Friday, March 21, 2003 10:01

A Typical Day of Little Jobs

I started by organising the water pipes and irrigation - I’ve got an irrigation trough by the barn that’s fed with roof water or by water from a big cistern under the terrasse - it has a three-phase motor and pump to distribute the water.

Having done that I watered the plants - the calcaire sucks the water away in no time and some things are starting to look dry. The aubrietia perked up no end and its purply-lilac colour looks wonderful contrasted against the limestone walls. 

Then I washed the caravan and tucked it up in its cover - I told Christine that instead of her looking out of the kitchen window and seeing the garish white thing it was now grey and crinkly - just like you she replied! 

Then a new excuse to stay in the garden was needed - so I tried a new approach to lawn care - the lawn has suffered from molehills and from holes caused by the hoofs of the occasional stray cow that wanders in. So I thought I’d combine the two effects - gather up all the molehills and use the spoil to fill up the trous. Fairly effective, but I ran out of soil. Taupes 0, Vaches 1.  So to earn at least one or two brownie points I returned to the kitchen and chipped off some tiles - in many cases the adhesion of tiles to plaster was greater than that of plaster to wall so I’ve now got some plastering to do before I can put up more tiles. Some of the plaster that came off revealed some nice stone - I feel sorry for the French plasterer who spent all that time creating a nice, civilised smooth wall in the 60s, when all us Brits want to do is tear it off to reveal the rustic stone!


Friday, March 21, 2003 10:33

Severe Knees Warning

Meteo France have reported a virulent outbreak of shorts in the Lot & Garonne, accompanied by sightings of pasty white knees. Furthermore a swat team from the Paris-based BCBG Police De La Mode are investigating reports of the public wearing of sandals together with socks by immigrant English pensioners. Demure French damsels are advised to lock themselves indoors to avoid terminal shock at this awful sight.


Monday, March 24, 2003 10:41

Missus’ Treat

Missus’ treat this Sunday was a drive westwards - sticking to the Haut Agenais then diving down through the riot of plum blossom to the Lot valley, then Castelmoron, Laparade and Clairac.

Castelmoron doesn’t get many column inches in the guide books, but it was a pleasant town on the banks of the Lot, a little like a small Villeneuve. Despite it’s name the inhabitants seemed not unusually intellectually disadvantaged.

Laparade sits comfortably like a blob of custard in the hills above the valley, an atmospheric if unexciting village which has lashed out on a year 2000 belvedere and table d’orientation for its impressive view of the Lot valley from Villeneuve to Marmande.

Clairac was simmering gently in the hot afternoon sun and was strangely empty considering the weather - like a village version of the Marie Celeste. Its speciality is a number of attractive colombage houses, and some not-so-attractive ones that were crying out for a bit of TLC.

One of the strange things about France, and I suppose part of its attraction, is the way that some of its rich heritage is left to slowly crumble! 

Back to Poulet Jaune spit-roasted on the tournebroche in the new oven - yummy!


Tuesday, April 29, 2003 21:17

Kitchen Progress

Used big new angle grinder today, with diamond disk, cutting channels in the wall for the gaine for electrical wiring to extra kitchen prises electrique. Marvellous machine - cuts stone like butter. Some of the holes for the plaster-depth boxes revealed the original straw and dung “mortar” that was rammed between the stones of the old building. The downside was the incredible amount of dust created - it took longer to clear up than to do the job and needed face mask, protective goggles and stupid hat!  I managed to plaster the boxes in, but the wiring is tomorrows job (after the mid-week Auchan trip). Meanwhile Christine carried on with wallpaper stripping in the couloir - I shall really miss that French wallpaper - not! I’m near the end of the destructive phase - from now on it’s constructive, so should be more satisfying.


Thursday, May 01, 2003 23:20

Kitchen Project Report

As it was a holiday, I was allowed a real treat - to postpone kitchen refurbishment until I’d finished the lawns. So I did my Mr Toad impression on the auto portée, a little chilly this morning but not chilly enough to prevent deployment of the knees. The forecast had promise voilé and so it was, with a gradual degagement to bright, warm sun later on in the day.

After lunch it was back to the wiring - I connected the extra sockets up but the mains had to be found amongst the aforementioned fibreglass, rat poo, cobwebs and mummified mice in the grenier. I connected one phase to the cooker, microwave, etc., but I need to get the electric kettle on a different phase to balance the load - postponed until tomorrow, after I’ve been in to Villeneuve to buy a coupe haie - my electric Black & Decker one blanches at 300 m of laurier! I’m impressed with the design and quality of the Legrand electrical fittings - it’s nice that they’re backwards compatible with the old plaster boxes.


Friday, May 02, 2003 22:29

More Wickedness

I was very wicked again today. I went and bought myself an expensive Stihl hedge trimmer, one of those with a long arm like a glorified strimmer. I’d been trying to cut 300m of laurier with the electric Black & Decker, but waving the whole motor up and down, at the same time wrestling with the mains cable, was just too knackering. The new one hangs on a harness round the shoulders, balanced nicely so you only have to tip the balance to make it (the hedge trimmer!) wave up and down. The cutting end has an adjustable angle so it’s easy to do the top of the hedge. Playing with my new toy in the afternoon, I realised it had been assembled incorrectly, so took it back to the shop, rather than tinker with it myself - as usual nothing was too much trouble to get it right.

Then, as it was spitting with rain, I thought I’d walk round Leclerc’s Brico/Bati/Jardi - of course I spotted something else I needed - a large capacity back-pack sprayer so I could spray weedkiller on the weeds and grass around the trees in the park, to make cutting the grass with the auto portee an easier option. And I didn’t do ANY kitchen refurbishment! But Christine carried on stripping!


Saturday, May 03, 2003 21:49

E106 denied

I had my first admin hiccough today - the DHSS came back to say that I can’t have an E106 - basically because, being retired for several years, I haven’t paid my “stamp” for the past two (you don’t need to do so after 60 in the UK). This means that I am not covered, healthwise in France - bad news. The good news is that I will be covered in ten months time when I reach UK pensionable age and qualify for an E121. How silly - I’m covered in the UK but not France. I thought we were part of a united Europe?


Sunday, May 04, 2003 22:35

‘Er Indoors Sunday Treat

After a weeks solid stripping ‘er indoors deserved a little treat; we went to the Chateau de Bonaguil, North of Fumel and on the Lot & Garonne and Dordogne border (once at the junction of Perigord, Quercy and Agenais). The day had started cool but rapidly warmed - the short drive from Fumel got progressively prettier - a marvellous time of year with the brand new luminous greens of the trees and the hazy blue of the distant horizon. Bonaguil is a mysterious castle - with unknown origins and very clever defensive engineering. I couldn’t help thinking how impregnable the edifice would have been in its day, but how vulnerable to a small modern fighter-bomber it would be today. We spent a happy couple of hours treading the smooth stones where millions of feet had trod before, and retreating to the boat-prow-shaped keep which was the last redoubt of the castle and so high as to form ample material for nightmares of vertigo. The drive back past Penne d’Agenais was hot enough for me to consider, but decide against switching on the air conditioning - it was nicer to smell all the spring flowers as we wafted past. Back to an evening walk around my bit of paradise and a tournebroche-roasted poulet jaune – yummy!


Monday, May 05, 2003 21:17

CdS CPAM CMU and all that – update

Today I decided that my first port of call should be the Mairie re the Carte de Sejour. I phrased my initial questions to the Mairie secretary about the folder of documents that I’d compiled to conform to the list they’d given me previously. The initial responses were cool to say the least, I’d called on a day when they’re not officially open to the public - just Tuesday and Friday mornings. But with Christine’s charm and my trying to be, at least for once, slightly tactful, she warmed to us, although I have to say she was about the only slightly hostile person I’ve met in France. About all I really achieved was to receive yet another sheet of instructions, this one saying that an E121 from CPAM was mandatory, and, what’s more, that all the English docs (birth certificates etc.) had to be translated by an official translator - news I really didn’t want to hear! At least I got the address of an obviously well-heeled and busy traductrice!  By this time, of course, THE LUNCH hour was approaching, so I went home to collate some more documents for CPAM and eat my sandwich. The CPAM office in Villeneuve-sur-Lot is craftily concealed, it doesn’t appear in the local Directory and even my Mairie didn’t know where it was. However the Mutuelle Sociale Agricole, another Securite Sociale outlet was in the directory - we queued for some time until a very nice, polite and helpful chap directed us to the right place. Here we queued again, this time with an efficient “take a number” system like in Tesco. At last we saw a very pleasant young lady who politely told us that we didn’t need an E121 for the CdS and that our Maire was talking through his mayoral hat and who gave us the CMU affiliation form to fill in - of course I had anticipated every piece of paper they would want, except one - a statement of my 2002 earnings, so they can rob me of 8% of it. Back home to sort out all the docs, attempt to convert financial year earnings into calendar year, and that’s how a typical day in the Lot & Garonne can disappear in no time! At least it was cloudy and hissed down towards evening, so I didn’t miss a sunny day in the garden!


Tuesday, May 06, 2003 21:27


Woke early, mythered a bit and decided to re-jig the resources bit to add more verisimilitudeneity. Fortunately I had an already-created spreadsheet that I could adapt to sum Christine’s valeurs mobilieres income, at the same time changing the column headings to be in French. Didn’t finish until Ze Lunch was looming so ate my sandwich looking at the hissing rain. After lunch I managed to get to see the nice lady I’d seen yesterday - she believed all my sums and photocopied everything to pass to Agen - was quite happy with untranslated birth and marriage certificates, all she needed was a RIB - b*gger - that’s the only bit of paper I didn’t have! So back to Tessel Bas and back to the CPAM with a RIB. Hopefully it's in the pipe now. Not looking forward to the payments though - I’ll just have to git my teeth and think of France for ten months! Back again to Tessel Bas - at last the rain had stopped - just the tinkling of a stream. Stream - I didn’t know I had one! – I went investigating, and there was a little ruisseau tinkling down the hill. I always wanted a stream - now I’ve got one, albeit transient! Continued the evening stroll, found that the cherries were ripening and brought one in for Christine to try - yummy! Each evening I seem to find something new on my beating of the bounds.

Another day being an accountant when an electrician is desparately needed!


Wednesday, May 07, 2003 22:03

Merde du Rat

After doing my supermarche chauffeur bit ce matin, I did the electrician bit this afternoon - so it was back into the land of rat poo, mummified mice, cobwebs and itchy fibreglass - with restricted room in the edge of the roof pitch. I was trying to find another phase so that I could balance the phases by putting the 2.4KW kettle on a different phase. This involved metering across the live terminals of various junction boxes, looking for either 0 volts or 415 volts. 0 volts would mean I had found the same phase, 415 volts would mean that I was across phases 120 degs apart. I didn’t like this much, 230 volts is bad enough but 415 is quite lethal. However I eventually found such a supply, craftily disguised by a yellow wire (I was metering from the yellow phase!). I ran all the cables in their gaines, added a socket in the ceiling above where the kitchen island unit will be, but left the actual connection to tomorrow - I need the power to be off so I’ll have to work by torchlight.  Being an accountant is almost preferable - spreadsheets are (just) better than rat poo!


Tuesday, May 20, 2003 21:16

Grès Émaillée

Off to the carrelage shop this morning - we were lucky to find that rare thing - the only design that we wanted was also one of the cheapest. I was quite amazed at the weight of 22 square metres of Grès Émaillée tiles for the kitchen (= glazed sandstone, fired in one process that gives a strong, stain and shock-resistant tile). The Beast looked quite squat at the back but hauled himself up the Pujols hill, no problem. A secretarial afternoon, filling in Pension Forecast forms, shuffling cash on the Internet banking, doing some more of Christine’s Tax return, reading up about tiling - I’ve never laid any floor tiles before - start in the middle or at a corner? - lay all the full tiles and do the cutting when the rest are dry, or cut as you lay? 6mm or 9mm squares on the spreading trowel? 4mm or 5 mm grout lines? White, grey or coloured grout? Gosh, decisions, decisions - worse than being at work!


Thursday, May 22, 2003 21:06

Knee Pads

Fortunately I had some of those - bought them when I was installing one of those Diarmuid Gavin trendy decks in the Wickham Bishops pad. The next best thing I bought for the tiling was a long straight line - a 2.5 metre length of box-section aluminium that is predictably straight - unlike the usual bit of wavy deal I find in the garage.  So I used all these measuring things - including the T-square I bought instead of beer at University - maybe I should get a laser line marker - ad nauseam - I must have spent most of the morning shuffling lines of dry tiles, measuring, sucking my teeth and tut-tutting under my breath. Characterful French stone houses do not have rectangular rooms. I ended up with a sort of Croix de Lorraine of dry-laid tiles that all fitted and gave me believable cuts at each wall. I mentally tore up all the books and advice I received and made my own mind up to suit my own, idiosyncratic little room. So then I made up a small quantity of colle - laid some of the “keystone” tiles - found it easy, so had lunch.  Then I mixed up a large quantity of colle, using the digital scales of “elle dedans” - which only weigh 5Kg at a time, combined with the measuring jug of elle dedans to measure out the water. 

At 5 o’clock the lumbar muscles finally gave up, I grabbed a quick shower and wandered around my perimeter. including the “woodland walk”. Shutting up the barn, I noticed that the bats had separated because of the hot weather; instead of hanging in a muttering, rustling, leathery bundle they were hanging separately aloof - I could count nine little miniature Count Draculas!  Back at the bunkhouse I viewed the laid tiles - all seemed level, all grout lines were straight and of the same width. But I’d managed to lay about a quarter of the room before anno domini caught up!


Friday, May 23, 2003 21:03

Tiler Man

I managed to lay about 40 tiles at 30 cms x 30 cms today, which sounds fairly good but it still only comes to about half of the kitchen. It didn’t help that it was so hot and nice outside - at least I’d got some experience to make it easier, put a rock station on the portable and got down to flashing my bum cleavage like proper workmen do! Yet again I could only just stand up at the end of the day - Christine even took pity on this sorry specimen of humanity and took over the washing-up.  I knocked off at 6 pm and took my evening walk - three items of note tonight: 

1) The 9 bats are now 14. I’m not sure whether this is due to procreation or miscounting - may be the latter - the warmer the weather becomes the less inclined the bats are to cuddle up together. 

2) An enormous and unusual poppy has appeared in the wild bit - a bright Barbara Cartland pink, it has a flower that’s shredded like a tarts knickers. 

3) The bamboo is sending shoots out into the park area - sharp spiky things are thrusting up out of the lawn. They’ll be mown down by the auto portee – I wonder if you can eat any old bamboo shoots or do they have to be a special variety?


Sunday, May 25, 2003 20:35

Carrelage Weekend

Miserable weather on Saturday meant that the afternoon task was not playing in the garden but exploring the limits of the lumbar muscles yet again. This time I deduced that although filling in the room quarters is an efficient and safe way of maintaining alignment, the spreading of colle is best done over at least 4 tiles (@ 30cms x 30cms). Thus I was working diagonally but in bigger chunks.

By now I could judge the size of the cowdab of colle that was needed for on tile, so that combing it out with the notched trowel produced a nice level surface, a gentle squirmy pressure seated the tile and it was usually level, if not a few taps with the rubber mallet fixed it. A reasonable stint of work was to mix up 10 Kg of dry powder with 3 litres of water - this gave enough colle to lay about 23 - 25 tiles before the colle was starting to stiffen.

As a result I was able to have a Saturday afternoon carrelage session without completely knackering the lumbar regions, plus another on Sunday morning.

As a result of this improved productivity due to improved working practises, I applied to Senior Management for a work-related bonus. Request granted - I was allowed to discontinue tiling and take Sunday afternoon off to do some recreational lawn mowing.

As the sun had by now made a welcome reappearance I had a pleasant afternoon chuntering about on the auto-portee.  Little to report from the evening stroll - the bat barometer was confused; some bats were cuddled together (presumably female bats having a gossip) and the rest were hanging individually (presumably males being ostracised by the females for poor performance in the sack while hanging upside down with one foot). The frog bonking has been totally successful - the irrigation trough is teeming with tadpoles (tétards (nm)).


Tuesday, May 27, 2003 21:18

Still in Limbo

I rang France Telecom first thing on Monday - spent some time on an expensive UK Mobile going up and down “press 1 for boring music and an interminable wait” key trees, finally found a person who promised to get the absence of tonalite on the phone line looked at. 

Without the distractions of the computer, managed to complete the laying of the full tiles.

Evening spent sitting bored in front of the telly.  On Tuesday I spent some time on the mobile trying to gee up FT, but only got a message that said they were only accepting life & death messages.

Got stuck into doing the cutting of tiles to fit around the borders of the carrellage. I found the Chinese tile cutter I got from the Auchan sale wasn’t really man enough to deal with heavy floor tiles - modified it with some extra reinforcement and clamped it to the bench with big “G” clamps - now works OK but it means a trip to the barn for tile-cutting sessions.

I found the angle grinder with a diamond disk cut the tiles well, but you needed a steady hand - so I clamped it into the workmate with the disk sticking up out of the guard and used it like a conventional motorised tile cutter - it worked well on the more complex shapes.

My planning for ease of cutting was largely effective, but inevitably there were a couple of tiles that had difficult cuts with thin slivers (he was good in Sgt Bilko, wasn’t he?).

One tile in particular, around the door jamb, was shaped like a cubist rhinoceros with a pointed horn - try as I might, I couldn’t avoid his horn breaking off! At least it gives me something to look at and remember the whole exercise!

After lunch I tried FT again, this time found a real person and expressed my pas-contente and déçu-ness with their performance - an hour later a pleasant man in an FT van turned up and told me he wasn’t surprised that my phone didn’t work as he’d noticed that a camion had taken out the overhead line on a virage down the road. Connection promised for demain matin when an equipe will arrive to deal with the problem.


Wednesday, May 28, 2003 23:09

Glorious Sunshine

Today I had to do the Auchan taxi run - the Beast was steaming in the sun when we got back to it, despite leaving the sunroof open.

I like going to Auchan - the run is entirely on little country roads winding their way through the plum and nut fields and there are some lovely views over the Lot valley as we traverse the escarpment that leads to Tessel Bas. 

Before lunch I tackled that difficult tile cut again - the cubist rhinoceros with the fragile horn. I made a jig for the angle grinder, already clamped in the workmate, but now supplemented by a jury rig of plywood and duct tape to hold the tile being cut in a comfortable and stable position. I used masking tape on the cut lines to stop the diamond saw chipping the edges, then fed the tile into the saw very slowly. The Health and Safety at Work man would not have been amused. But I succeeded; now I don’t have an Achilles heel in the carrellage that would niggle at me whenever I looked at it! 

After lunch the angle grinder came in again, this time with a metal-cutting disk, to nibble out some squares in an old scraper so I could use it to spread the colle over smaller spaces. Fixing all the peripheral tiles is not a trivial job, it’s fiddly and there were over 50 of them. But now, at last it’s done.

All I need to do now is the jointoiement - I’ve got some ivory coloured grout and a raclette to spread it with. I left a small expansion gap around the edge that I was going to fill with translucent silicone, but advice from a builder friend confirms my feeling that I can just fill it with grout. 

It’ll be nice to have a cooker in the kitchen again, and the caravan will appreciate the rest..  I think I could now write a good book on the subject of floor tiling, but the main thing I’ve learned is that it takes a lot longer than you anticipate, and that it’s really hard on the back muscles!


Thursday, May 29, 2003 21:32

Really Grout Day in SW France

A wonderful day - really hot, both lunch and dinner spent on the little level bit next to the goat room, overlooking the view. This is where we want our jacuzzi to be sited, as soon as we have time to enjoy it! A whole spectrum of birdsong combined with the chorus of the crickets vs. the frogs!  So I could now write the “Grouting” bit of the Tiling manual, carrellage chapter. Friend was quite right in his “shove a whole lot down and splash it about” advice. But I would add that when the temperature is in the low 30s the grout goes off much more quickly, which means that you have to work faster, which means that the sweat from the brow splashes on the inside of the glasses and dilutes the grout with salt water! And the rubber raclette that you use to spread it with only works when it’s pushed, so you have to work from the inside out, which really means that the best place to start is in the centre. And that if you use a finger to smooth the grout lines the finger gets sore after a few tens of metres of grout line. It’s my Saturday night finger too!  Still, it’s all finished bar the polishing off of the excess grout, and I think I can be proud of it, even though it took bloody ages to do!


Friday, May 30, 2003 21:03

Chiennes Perdues

We’ve been adopted by two doggies - this morning there was a GSD bitch wandering about and when I came back from doing Christine’s hairdresser taxi there was a spaniel bitch too. They were clearly together - they play together and can’t be separated for too long without becoming anxious. When I first saw them both I was going to shoo them off but the spaniel rolled over for a tummy tickle and you can’t spurn a girl with her legs in the air! Both are in good condition and are very affectionate, if a little tatty from romping in my wood - the GSD may have a touch of hip dysplasia and the spaniel is getting on a bit. I gave them water as they were obviously very hot.

On my evening walk, they decided I needed some company and followed me down into the wicked wood, then along the promenade to the end. Here we separated - dogs went into the arboretum while I returned along the promenade - they then dashed hither and thither until they could find a way down the steep stone wall to find me! At dinner, outside in the garden, they snoozed gently under the caravan, just nearby. I’m undecided as to whether they’re lost or abandoned - sadly I think the latter is the most likely.  Now Christine says I can’t keep them - sniff - a pussycat but no, repeat no dogs - so what do we do?  I daren’t feed them or they’ll become permanent installations - there’s a weekend coming so everything will be shut.  RSPCA equivalent? Police?


Saturday, May 31, 2003 21:56

Up Dog-Date

Both dogs on the doorstep this morning - little spaniel looked very weak but managed to wag his stumpy little tail and roll over for a tummy tickle. We went off on our normal Saturday V-s-L market trip, then Leclerc. Bought some dry food “for difficult dogs” and a trendy dog bowl (elle dedans didn’t want dog gob on her best china).

On our return we paused in the teeming metropolis of Ste Colombe de Villeneuve. The notice-board outside still had the same yellowing planning applications as it did last time we looked. No one stirred in the heat, not even the rustle of curtains being hastily closed. What a pity we have no bar or shop in the village. No phone number, but the name of M Le Maire was given, so maybe we’ll be able to look it up in the phone directory.

Back at Tessel Bas, only the spaniel was still there, greeting us like long lost parents. She didn’t tuck into the food immediately, which was probably a good thing, but it all disappeared during the day. I had a long afternoon getting tired and thoroughly messy sugar-soaping kitchen walls and standing with my upper body in the cooker “hotte” cleaning off the grease. After a well-deserved and necessary shower I went on my therapeutic walk around the boundaries - all that the spaniel needed was a nod, and up she jumped all waggy tailed and delighted. After this exercise she lay panting under the plastic table while we had dinner and appreciated the lovely evening. No sign of Perdita the lost GSD - I quite miss her. Hope she’s OK - I’m surprised she left her funny little mate, they seemed to be close. Oh well, I suppose it halves the problem!


Monday, June 02, 2003 09:33


I rang the Maire this morning; I need to go into the Secretariat du Mairie tomorrow and make an “Attestation” - so that it can be checked whether the pooch has been reported lost. Then I keep her until Friday when she gets taken to the Canine Bastille. No sign of the German Shepherd who has moved on. 

Somewhat peed off - a letter from CPAM now wants all the bumf on income that I sent them for 2002 but for 2001 instead - this means another accountancy session and another big wait at the local office. Meanwhile the kitchen painting project is on hold....


Monday, June 02, 2003 22:44

No Name Dog

I took a pic of our little stray, so not to task my powers of description in French too much, when I visit the Mairie tomorrow. She’s really got her paws under the table now - on Saturday she was a very feeble mutt, now she’s dashing hither and thither on my evening walk, which is greeted with that ecstatic enthusiasm that only a dog can show. She’s even barking with proprietorial indignation at the neighbour’s dogs (a dose of their own medicine!) and chasing all pussycats away. Very well behaved, she sits on the step of the open door, would like to come in but doesn’t, and understands English. Still doesn’t have a name, though. Since “Spaniel” (Espanioul) is clearly from Iberia, then “Perdita” would be appropriate, but that seemed more appropriate to the German Shepherd. Not much point, I suppose, if she’s away on Friday.


Thursday, June 05, 2003 08:59


There was a big storm last night at about 21:30. Violent winds and torrential downpour for an hour and a half, electricity went off, of course. Certainly the worst weather I’ve ever experienced, including the Michael Fish 1987 hurricane.

The rain was bashing the windows like machine gun bullets – no-one was brave enough to attempt to close the shutters.  Our entrance hall is lower than the outside, protected by a small rise in the concrete, which was totally overwhelmed by the major river that used to be the driveway. Water started pouring in - we got an inch or so - glad we’ve got tiled floors. Found all the candles and deployed the caravan 12v fluorescent light with a 12v battery - next time they’ll be more handy and not tucked away in the barn. Mopped away like crazy and filled loads of buckets.

Went to bed early, electricity came on at about 00:30 (we’d left a light on!).  Damage report - 

Significant: Large branch across driveway preventing access - one of those nice trees with an ivory-coloured wisteria-type flower. Large oak down in wood (unfortunately not one that hides the view to die for!). Heavily laden late-fruiting mature cherry tree partially uprooted (I may be able to save it if I get the chain hoist on it while the ground is still soggy) 

Other: Many large branches elsewhere - glad I’ve got a chain saw. The whole garden is ankle deep in shredded foliage - I plan to raise the sides of the auto-portee trailer to collect it in. There’s a lot of work to clear it all up.  Ho hum - must put on knickers and bra and fire up the chainsaw!


Thursday, June 05, 2003 20:57

Tempête Continued

I got cross with the chainsaw which wouldn’t start - I had to take the plug out, clean the plug in alcool a brule, mend the plug connector that had fallen to pieces, then at last start on my little jobs, but not until I’d rigged up some high sides on the trailer so that I could carry lots of light stuff.  Talking of alcool a brule, it had a picture of an oil lamp on the label so I tried it in an old oil lamp when the mains went off, but it burnt like meths. Reading the label told me it was in fact a mixture of ethyl and methyl alcohols - in other words meths. I suppose I could burn central heating fioul, but the clean paraffin stuff that doesn’t stink would be nicer.  Straightening the cherry tree went well; I used an old double/single chain hoist plus some ropes attached to a nearby tree - managed to straighten the tree and tamp down the exposed roots on the windward side. I’m just wondering how long it will be before the capillary roots re-establish themselves, the soil dries sufficiently and I can remove the supporting ropes.


Saturday, June 07, 2003 09:33

Quarante-Sept Ensoleillé

Lovely hot sunny morning - so hard to link it to the screaming fury of the other night. Hard day yesterday - finished troconneusing the larger broken branches, raked up the smaller branches on promenade and park, leaving just leaves. Then got the auto portee out with the mulching attachment which did a good job at chopping up the leaves. Garden now looks respectable, although most flowers lost their blooms.

Fun time in the afternoon was limboing on the auto portee under the hawser that’s keeping the cherry tree upright - if I got it right I rewarded myself with a cherry picked on the fly, donated by the cherry god from one of the other cerisiers.


Saturday, June 07, 2003 21:49

That Dog

My trip to the Mairie on Tuesday elicited the fact that small Mairies in 47 don’t hold stray dogs at the Mairie - they call the Chenil Departemental who send a car for them. A phone call was made, I took DWNN to the Mairie that afternoon, handed her over to a nice young man who was kind and sympathetic and that was the last I saw of her.

I had that little dog for only four days but during that time she was my shadow - if I wanted a screwdriver from the garage and I turned round, there was my little shadow helping me fetch it. On Saturday I really thought that she was on her last legs, but a few decent meals and she was such a different dog. If I went on my evening walk the excitement and gratitude that she showed knew no bounds - she seemed to love Tessel Bas even more than I do. 

Christine and I did not want a dog - we didn’t want to take on the responsibility - the reasons being many, but for me in particular the main reason is that I tend to develop an inordinate and disproportionate affection for them. The decision to take her to the kennel man was mine and Christine didn’t pressure me - had I insisted on the dog staying she would have agreed. 

On that fateful Tuesday I got the car out and said “En voiture” - she jumped in excitedly “I’m going on an outing with Daddy” written all over her doggy face. I felt dreadful.  My last sight of her was peering out of the kennel van looking slightly concerned.  On the way back to Tessel Bas I had to drive very carefully because of the tears welling up in my eyes.

I thought then, and I still feel, that I had let down my little friend.  Now, when I wake up, there’s no “bow wow wow” as she shoos the neighbour’s cats off “her” patch. No little face waiting excitedly at the door. No one to help me fetch a screwdriver.  And it will be a long time before I can really enjoy my solitary evening walk.  I tell myself that I rescued a stray on her last legs. But I know that I could have done more for her.


Saturday, June 07, 2003 22:39


Haute Couture at Tessel Bas

Wonderful day weather-wise - hot, but not too hot - over 30 degs C outside but a pleasant 24 degs inside, thanks to the “storage cooler” big, thick stone walls. 

Villeneuve market was busy and full of yummy veggies - I saw “draught” cornichons on sale for the first time.

In honour of the hot day we bought a pedestal fan - after an intensive search of the garage we remembered that we’d given our Australian one away to younger stepson - new one cost 20 Eurines which I thought was a good buy. 

The afternoon was mainly spent pushing a broom, clearing up shredded trees.  In the heat I had problems with sweat dripping into my glasses and eyes, making the eyes sore. Christine came up with a solution - a sort of Alice Band thing that she uses to keep her hair out of her face while applying make-up.  It worked well, but was a pale powder blue which clashed with my pink bra and panties!  Christine kept calling me “Rambo” all afternoon, but spoiled the effect when she insisted on sticking a pink carnation in the sweat band! 

I ventured into the wood - far more damage than I’d thought. One of the big oaks that took the brunt of the wind had lost several big branches, and a big oak with a trunk some 1.5 m in diameter on a neighbour’s land had fallen across a small chemin, with its foliage on my side. The good news is that its loss reveals more of the “view to die for”. I’ll clear the bits which block my “woodland walk” but carrying buches of heavy oak up the escarpment will wait until cooler weather and someone to help me! 

The Kitchen received scant attention - tomorrow, tomorrow!


Wednesday, June 25, 2003 22:55

Court Circular - Christine of Aquitaine visits Court of St James Close

Christine of Aquitaine set off early for Bergerac Airport and arrived with an un-cool time to go before boarding. Anxious that no special treatment should be afforded to her, she sent her driver/footman to purchase a €3.30 baguette jambon for sustenance.

She had already passed through to airside before the more cool passengers arrived for the crush to check in before the 30 minutes expired. She was, however, gratified that the airport had lashed out specially on new departure facilities, and was even more pleased when a specially chartered 737 arrived, instead of the plebeian HS 146.

Modestly she thought of the cost borne by Bergerac Airport for the runway extensions, then held her breath as the arriving aircraft braked heavily, just making it in the hot conditions - maybe they didn’t actually extend?  The driver/footman waved the departing aircraft off and waited until it was a tiny speck that twinkled out in a distant cloud, just as the light blinked out in his life for the next three weeks. 

An uneventful trip back to Tessel Bas needed the egg-nishner on full.  Waiting to greet him was a miffed kitten whose mummy had left when he was asleep. So a picture was taken, and emailed with a feline pat to the left mouse button. The process needed careful monitoring, of course, resulting in more terminal lacerations to the knees as La Bête Grise à Quatre Pattes attempted to climb up on Daddy’s lap. Eventually the call came that her excellence had arrived in UK Base, that younger son Simon had met her and that the French staff could stand down. 

The bricoleur/driver/footman spent some time trying to feed a fish wire down a pipeway leading between salon and sous-sol, to establish where it came out. This was a heaven-sent opportunity for certain small quadrupeds of the genus felix catus to play with the fish wire, getting it very tangled and making the workman very cross. 

The pre-dinner evening walk revealed only one new thing - the fig tree at the east end of the arboretum has ripe figs now - I picked one and munched it on my walk. My previous encounters with figs have been boxes of Badger’s Chinese Figs at Christmas. These are refreshingly different with a subtle taste. 

Dinner for one? What a sad phrase - reminds me of going out in California when the waitress would yell - “table for one” - and you felt so ashamed! Seriously - I love cooking for people, but for yourself - it’s a pain! I had a tin of cassoulet on toast - which actually was quite nice.

But the bottle of “Seigneurs de Bergerac” was nice and seemed somehow appropriate. Not sure about the flageolet beans, though - I’ve had the Lot Trots for a week and they should kill or cure! At least I had the prime position at the table outside, a view and, what’s more, no boring red-faced old fool in the way!


Sunday, July 13, 2003 22:59

Temps Caniculaire

Tessel Bas made 38 degrees (over 100 degs F) today at about 16:30. I stayed in most of the afternoon - it was just too hot outside - at one point it was 28 inside and 38 outside - coming indoors felt quite chilly.  So although I didn’t have lunch outside I did manage dinner, it had come down to 33 - ish by then. When I came in there were some anvil-shaped clouds building and there is the sound of distant thunder so I may have to unplug the modem soon.


Wednesday, July 16, 2003 22:40

An Apology to French Beef

Christine’s back and I am complete again. My Mrs Mop efforts passed muster and she liked the colour I’d painted the walls. But she did complain about France being cold and rainy when it’s 31 degs in Essex. 

Her No 2 Son Simon had taken her to the airport, but had overslept and she hadn’t managed breakfast. So an urgent priority was to feed the beast. Lunch was washed down by a nice Gaillac and some Madeira so she crashed out for the afternoon. 

For dinner I’d planned a barbie - our first since moving to France. A long time ago I’d bought a cheap but large B&Q barbie to replace my old one that had died of tin weevil. I was pleased that it worked quite well. I cooked some marinated Faux Filet very quickly so that it was slightly charred on the outside but red and juicy inside - it was scrummy! And the nice bottle of Mouton Cadet complemented it beautifully. Starters were Prosciutto and Melon, a nice garlicky salad went with the beef, and a lovely bit of goat cheese on straws as pudding - yum! What a lovely change from tins!


Thursday, September 11, 2003 21:36

Kitchen Update

Admit it - you’re all dying to know how the kitchen update is coming on! No? Maybe someone’s interested? No?  Just in case, here it is:- 

Most of the Lapeyre units have now arrived, the missing ones haven’t held me up but the expected deluge of bits when everyone got back to work didn’t happen. Black marks for sticking to delivery promises, Lapeyre. 

The old kitchen sink unit has been angle-ground out and replaced. No problems with the plumbing. Cutting the hole for the tap in a brand-new ceramic sink was, however, not a task I’d like to repeat. I practised on the alternative tap positions on the old sink - I found that a chisel could crack the glaze and the best thing was a large flat-ended nail punch. nevertheless when it came to the real thing I chickened out and drilled several holes with a glass drill and knocked out the bits in between. But with every blow I visualised the brand new sink dropping into a pile of bits to put in plant pot bottoms! I even cut the big hole in the worktop in the right place! 

The Lapeyre stuff is quite well designed and goes together easily - where it matters the wood is solid oak, there’s a lot of plywood and only a minimal amount of chipboard in places where it doesn’t matter. But the installation assumes that the walls are straight and at right angles - I’ve had a lot of mods to do to get the furniture to adapt to my crazy old stone walls. The stuff could be designed to better adapt to irregular walls and floors.

Today I was fixing a large (2.2 metre high) cupboard - I’ve got a gap at the back that varies between 0 and 32 mm! Yet more moulding strips to buy!  I was also unlucky finding fixing points for the suspended overhead cupboards - out of four heavy duty fixing points, three fell in the gap between limestone boulders - finding nothing but loose sandy plaster or mud & straw for the rawlplugs.

 So I had to excavate a large hole around each fixing point, removing the loose stuff and replacing it with quick-setting mortar well keyed into the wall. On my newly painted wall of course! However one thing I’ve learned is that you can make a hell of a mess with a chisel and club hammer but that it doesn’t take long to fix the mess with a bucket of plaster and a float! And I thought limestone was soft - but I can take the tip off an 8mm masonry drill on just one hole drilled into it! 

So there you are. Exciting, wasn’t it. But it keeps me out of the estaminet!


December 25, 2003 13:18

La Grande Bouffe

We WENT OUT on Christmas Eve - to the Villa Smeralda in Pujols (just up the road from us).

An unusual and delicious fixed menu for La Veille de Noel - it comprised: 



Spanish Ham. 

Foie Gras d'Oie.

Mussels sautéed with squid & lardons. 

Artichoke mousse. 

Capon with truffles, courgettes stuffed with carrot mousse, mashed potatoes with candied garlic. 

Sicilian Cheese (an offer we couldn't refuse!) 

Chocolate Roulade. 


As usual I'd forgotten what was on the menu, and how many dishes, so wasn't quite sure of the pace and what to fill up on. My favourite was the moules, I tucked in and was definitely running out of steam by the capon. The dessert was a real effort - there was very nearly an enormous explosion with chocolate roulade scattered all over the Haut Agenais!  So we had a very light breakfast and haven't even started cooking lunchinner yet! 

We've been good children and have only opened one pressie each, so far!


December 26, 2003 11:16

Christmas Day

 We were so blown out from the Xmas Eve dinner out that we couldn't eat on Christmas Day until late. 

Our escargots were excellent, the foie gras-stuffed magrets de canard done to perfection and the pommes dauphinois (made with real gruyere and cream) just right, with a crunchy cheesy bit at the edges.  What was really nice was that we both did the cooking together - we work well as a team and made the results so much more enjoyable. 

The wines matched the meal perfectly - the 95 Fleurie was bought in Fleurie in 98, brought it back to UK in the caravan, stored it in a wardrobe in an unheated bedroom, then shipped it back to France with the furniture, where it finally got the cellar it deserved. It had thrown a lot of sediment, but, decanted, was superb. A testament to the survivability of wine! 

Before the clearing up we walked round the plot and caught the last golden-pink rays of the sun as it cleaned out the valley below us ready for next morning's mist. 

During "Amélie" we had a snack of lumpfish caviar and blinis with the rest of the white wine from the first course. What a pair of piggie porkers!


December 31, 2003 22:34

New Years Eve


This is the first anniversary of our departure for France.

We had oysters and venison!


Sprinkle some Worcester Sauce and finely chopped streaky bacon(or any bacon for that matter) over the opened oysters, grill for a few mins till the bacon has crisped a bit and eat!!
They were delicious, without that snot-swallowing yukkiness of the raw oyster.
I didn't believe the roast deer cooking times - 20 mins at 280 degs C! – but it came out bloody but very tender and tasty. A major success was Xtine's caramelised onions that went perfectly with the venison, as did some lightly sauteed girolles. Yum Yum and double Yum!

But no-one had room either for pud or for cheese!


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