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DIARY 2005


The diary is compiled from email sent during the year 2005; as it was intended mainly for expatriates it contains a fair amount of “franglish”, for which I apologise. After three years here the French word often arrives at the fingertips before the English!

DVD Players

22/01/2005 14:12

Peter's here at the moment, bored, as he can't play at lumberjacks with daddy in the rain, so he said that I was a mean old fart and made me buy a DVD player for his mother in The Sales. Apparently everyone in the UK has their own personal DVD player, even the dogs, cats, hamsters and guinea pigs. So I was indoctrinated, exposed to several films, including Harry Potter, and can no longer say that I'm the only adult in the observable universe who doesn't own a DVD player. It gave me something to do, compiling a DVD picture CD of my family history pictures and adding appropriate sound tracks.

Burns Night supper tonight so maybe haggis tatties and neeps will fuel some lumberjack work tomorrow, if the weather brightens up.

Je suis un bûcheron et ça plane pour moi!

27/01/2005 23:27

It was cruel that the weather was so foul when Peter was here, and ironic that it should be so nice just after he left. I really wanted some help with some tree felling and it would have been quality time together. Sadly it wasn't to be.

The past three days have been wonderful, bright, crisp starts and weather that is chilly (-4 °C this morning) but suited to physical work. I had to clear some mature ash trees, to improve the daylight to the salon window and to provide some logs for the fire.

I'd decided to fell some and to pollard the others. The straight felling jobs were the easiest, the only requirement was to fell in the correct direction - by now I can cut my Humboldt notch to fell the tree roughly in the right direction.

The pollarding was trickier; most of the branches looked trivial but on close inspection were of thigh size and of a weight that could easily toss an incompetent feller out of the tree.

I adopted a plan to minimise the risk; I climbed a ladder to the first branches to be cut, and felled them leaving about a metre length; this gave me something to hang on to. One branch leaning towards the house was tricky; it was leaning towards the house and risked damaging the tiles. For this I left one other vertical branch and tied the leaning branch to it, with a short amount of slack. I cut my notch to send the branch sideways, but gravity took over and would have hit the house had it not been for the rope.

I've now felled four trees and pollarded two more - it's hard work but satisfying There's something elemental about a day's hewing wood, coming in with cheeks like a fresh-smacked bottom, then a long shower and a rewarding beer!

Unfortunately the felling is the exciting and dramatic bit, I've still got big pile of bûches to cut into logs and all the twigs to clear up. But there's always tomorrow!

Changing Francs

28/01/2005 15:53

I wanted to change a bundle of French francs in coins and notes into Euros - coins are only accepted up to the 17th February this year.

Changing the francs was a good illustration of French bureaucracy at work. I took the bundle of francs to the local Trésorie: each denomination of coin required its own form in duplicate with much head scratching and pencil sucking, the notes were processed separately, but they couldn't change the 100 franc note, that had to have a form of its own and it had to be sent away and there was a 10 day wait; presumably they needed to check whether I was an international criminal laundering my ill-gotten gains!

I've just been in to collect the change; there was a big queue and equivalent wait and once again there were forms and signatures in quadruplicate this time, plus a need for proof of identity; although strictly not now required, the Carte de Séjour comes in very handy on such occasions.

In contrast donating the money to the tsunami relief was child's play - Google has its own link page http://www.google.com/tsunami_relief.html and I chose the International federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies at http://www.ifrc.org/helpnow/donate/donate_response.asp which has an online payment form. Two clicks and a simple form and Bob's your uncle!

The Franc

28/01/2005 21:33

Here’s an interesting history of the franc that I found:


The franc was originally a French gold coin of 3.87 g minted in 1360 on the occasion of the release of King John II ("the good") , held by the English since his capture at the Battle of Poitiers four years earlier. It was equivalent to one livre tournois (Tours pound).

French franc

Though abolished as a legal coin by Louis XIII in 1641 in favor of the gold louis or ecu, the term franc continued to be used in common parlance for the livre.

French Revolution

The franc was re-established as the national currency by the French Revolutionary Convention in 1795 as a decimal unit of 4.5 g of fine silver (theoretically slightly less than the livre of 4.505 g, though the new coin was set in 1796 at 1.0125 livres, reflecting in part the past minting of sub-standard coin).

With the creation of a gold franc in 1803, gold and silver-based units circulated interchangeably on the basis of a 1:15.1 ratio between the values of the two metals (bimetallism).

World War I

World War I severely undermined the French franc's strength, as war expenditure, inflation and postwar reconstruction financed partly through the printing of ever more money reduced the franc's purchasing power by 70 per cent from 1915 to 1920 and a further 43 per cent from 1922 to 1926. After a brief return to the gold standard (1928 to 1936) the currency was allowed to resume its slide, until it was worth in 1959 less than a fortieth of its 1936 value.

The new franc

In January 1960 the French franc was revalued at 100 existing francs. Old franc pieces continued to circulate as centimes (none of which were minted for the first two years), 100 of them making a nouveau franc (the abbreviation NF was used for some time). Inflation continued to erode the currency's value but at a greatly reduced rate comparable to other countries, so when the euro replaced the franc in January 1, 1999 , the new franc was worth less than an eighth of its original value.

Many French people continued using old francs, anciens francs as a unit; large sums such as lottery prizes were often given in centimes, since these are equivalent to the old franc. This usage continued right up to when franc notes and coins were withdrawn in 2002, with speculation as to whether older people would carry the factor of 100 conversion through to the euro, the scaled-down version being called, naturally, the euro ancien .

From January 1 , 1999 , the value exchange rate of the French franc against the euro was set at a fix parity of 1 EUR =6.55957 FRF . Euro coins and notes replaced it entirely between January 1 and February 17 , 2002.

Occam's Razor

01/02/2005 23:41

Occams Razor is a test for logical thinking which says that, in essence, the simplest answer is the most likely.

I've spent sometime today trying to get the Driver for my new Photo printer (a Canon Pixma iP5000) to talk English on my French computer.

The installation disk was a multi-language disk with every language you could think of on it, I could see the English bits on the CD but it insisted on loading French.

Since it didn't ask me what language it should install I guessed that the simplest explanation was that my PC told it that it wanted French. Eventually I found the tick box, in "Options Régionales et Linguistiques"/"Options Avancées" in my Panneau de Configuration.

I changed the box to English, uninstalled all the French and reloaded - result (mostly) English (all the non-Unicode text and menus).

So the simplest answer proved to be the right one.

Which is more than you can say for the following text on Occam!

Occam's Razor "one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything" Occam's razor is a logical principle attributed to the mediaeval philosopher William of Occam (or Ockham). The principle states that one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed. This principle is often called the principle of parsimony. It underlies all scientific modeling and theory building. It admonishes us to choose from a set of otherwise equivalent models of a given phenomenon the simplest one. In any given model, Occam's razor helps us to "shave off" those concepts, variables or constructs that are not really needed to explain the phenomenon. By doing that, developing the model will become much easier, and there is less chance of introducing inconsistencies, ambiguities and redundancies.

Nettoyage de Cuve

09/02/2005 23:05

Two nice young men arrived yesterday to clean out my oil tank. I shut the boiler down, then they connected their equipment: a trolley bearing a small petrol engine, a pump and two large filters, and a large portable plastic cuve. They spent about three hours passing the residual oil in the tank between my tank and the plastic one, filtering it on each pass. One of the filters was a fine steel mesh, the other was a mineral filter containing a disposable charge of "roque". They charged a total of 200€ for the service, which I thought was not unreasonable for the time they spent.

Most of the muck in the tank turned out to be fine rust particles from the steel walls, so I've only extended the life of the thing. I have a feeling I may have to consider a new plastic cuve located next to the old one, as the old tank would have to be cut up to remove it. This could be a dodgy process for a tank full of oil vapour.

I left the chaudière off overnight ready for an oil delivery today, which didn't happen, so I cleaned the oil line filter and put the boiler back on tonight - there's about 400 litres of clean oil left in the tank. We'd missed it; the wood fire keeps the salon nice and warm but the peripheral areas got a little chilly.

Things that go bump in the night!

16/02/2005 17:50

Last summer we had "things" which ran at high speed the whole length of the house in the gap between the soffits and the fascia boards.

They'd drive the cats mad - I sent both of them into the grenier but they couldn't flush them out of cover.

I got some Bayer "Racumin" pour rats et souris and put it in old off cuts of plastic drainpipe (to keep the cats away) and placed them in the grenier - no effect on the beasts.

Then I got some Scotts raticide in plastic-covered weatherproof bricks; they remained untouched.

Finally I bought some Operats Plus Paté for Loirs, Lerots, Rats et Souris - I poked the sachets into the soffits. The noise stopped and I later found some of the sachets, empty and licked clean.

I never saw them but I think "the things" were probably Loirs (=dormice) or maybe Lérots (=garden dormice). They are known for damaging roof insulation and they'd certainly had a go at some polystyrene in the porcherie roof.

I await the warmer weather to see if they emerge yawning and scratching ready for another few laps of the Tessel Bas Grenier Grand Prix!

Restoring Painted Stone

20/02/2005 23:07

Some time ago I searched for advice on removing paint from stone. The reason is that I've got a semi-circular niche in the salon that I believe was once the opening to the bread oven, but some vandal has painted the stone in white.

I attacked it today. I tried several methods:

Hot Air stripper - useless, stone kept the paint too cool.

Chipping with a small chisel - worked but you have to be careful at the edges or big lumps fall off - and it's slow and painstaking work.
Wire brush - hard work and it left paint in the depressions.

I ended up using paint stripper. I don't like paint stripper, particularly on wood, it tends to bleach, discolour or de-naturise the wood. But it worked OK, if slowly on stone.

The steps were (working in small areas and having several areas in different stages):

Apply generous coat of stripper - leave for about 20 mins.
Scratch paint thoroughly with a moulding scraper.
Apply more stripper -leave for 20 mins.
Scrub vigorously with a hand wire brush.
Apply more stripper.
Carry on using wire brush to remove last of paint.
Scrub with a bucket of diluted Cillit Bang and a scrubbing brush, twice, changing the water once.

I now intend to chip out the old mortar, brush with a wire brush and angle grinder and then repoint with mortier bâtard.

It looks nice already, so I'm quite pleased. Exposing the stone shows where the stone has been worn when loaves were added to the oven and a small amount of fire stain confirms it as a bread oven. I'm going to add a couple of lightly varnished pine shelves for the display of memorabilia.

Management Report - Salon Refurbishment

22/02/2005 22:18

Up early worrying about a sick pussycat - Jolie hadn't eaten for two days and wouldn't budge from her radiator, looking very woebegone and "hangcat". This morning she seems a lot brighter and has since wolfed her breakfast, lunch and dinner, so crisis over. Both pussycats dashed out only to find cold white stuff around their paws, so they soon came back in.

Clint, M le Facteur, brought our proxy vote authorisations from Colchester Borough Council so we're re-enfranchised.

Today was beam refurbishment: all the beams are black with dark lambris between and it makes the salon look very dark. I fancied a sort of limed oak look; it would be authentic as treating oak beams with unslaked lime was a way of stopping insect attack.

I started with a good scrub of the beam with a wire brush in the angle grinder, removing all unused nails while I was at it. Next I sanded the beam: the best device was a disk-shaped flap wheel for rust removal on metal. When that wore out I used a flexible disk with a 36 grit abrasive paper. It is an awful job, creating vast quantities of dust inches from the face that is blown about by the angle grinder. I had a facemask on but the breathing kept misting up the inside of the goggles and the outside of the goggles rapidly acquired a layer of dark brown/black dust. Fortunately I'd sealed the entrance to the couloir in plastic and kept the salon doors shut. The salon ended up deep in dust and clean up took ages.

I then tried filling the grain with white enduit de lissage, applied with a grouting squeegee. I'm not sure about the effect: I'll leave it until tomorrow when it's dried and has been sanded down. I may stick with the sanded wood finish, which is much lighter than it was before. The minor crossbeams will get a single coat of emulsion: I've had it with sanding!

The essential shower was followed by dinner, a delicious can of Lapin Sauté à deux moutardes, avec flageolets.

Continuing slow progress dogs Salon Refurbishment Project

23/02/2005 23:34

My baby son is 21 today. How time flies!

Jolie had a good day yesterday but went out in the evening and didn't come back before bedtime. I went out looking for her this morning - it was -2°C overnight. Found her in the Goat Room of the barn, cowering in a corner, while A Bad Barn Pussycat was lording it up in her cat bed. She didn't eat again today and is walking very gingerly - vetsville tomorrow if no improvement. I'm keeping her in, too.

The big salon beam was hand sanded across the grain to remove surplus enduit - it looked OK so I decided to do all of it. It needs a day to dry so I got on with other jobs: fixing a plastic baguette to the grenier for the satellite feeder and the surround sound speakers, installing a new power point near my chair to avoid a trailing wire.

I also cut some narrow pieces from an old flat brique and neoprened them to the fireplace hood - I'm going to crepi it later.

I experimented with matt emulsion paint on the smaller beams but it didn't look good - there's a dark lasure stain on the beams that bleeds into the white. I sanded some corner pieces and will otherwise leave them alone: the big cross beam is the focal point and I've dealt with that. Tomorrow I'll sand the excess enduit off and maybe give it a coat of clear lasure.

Open Letter from Jolie

24/02/2005 22:41

Dear Mummy,

He's a silly old fart, but I think his heart is in the right place and he loves us.

I felt a bit rotten this morning, didn't fancy my brekkers again although that greedy little cow of a sister noshed it down of course. I thought I'd veg out for a bit, as I feel bad.

But then the old geezer picks me up, tells me he loves me and how pretty I am, then wham, bam, I'm put in the pet carrier! What a cheek - he even put me in Sophie's carrier! Then it's out to the car and bounce, bounce and swerve down to the Villeneuve vet! Shouldn't happen to a dog, even!

But the nice lady vet was kind to me, except for the thermometer bit which was a bit embarrassing, and I got an injection to make me better, and some Aunty Biotticks compromising thingies.

Back at Tessel Bas I snuggled down on mummy's sheepskin rug, 'cause it reminds me of my real mummy's tummy, 'cept there's no nipples in it (giggle). I tried to get some sleep but the old fart was making a big noise and lots of mess, like he usually does; Mummy's going to be really, really cross when she comes back and finds out what he's done.

Tonight I felt much better and I went and looked in my bowl and daddy put some food in it. Then he went and had a shower (he really needed it, he was absolutely covered in dust!) so I jumped on his lap and cuddled up and told him how I appreciated him taking me to the vet and making me feel better.

I'm going to get some more sleep now, so I can fight back when that greedy little cow tries to barge me away from our food bowl.

Prrrrr Miaow,

from Jolie
(The vet lady said that I deserved my name (giggle))

Hopes Rise for "Doomed" Salon Refurbishment Project?

25/02/2005 00:16

Progress suffered from pussycat vet trip but it was nice to get out of doors and see other human beings.

The remaining surplus enduit on the big poutre has been sanded off and I think it looks OK now - being lighter it's more of a feature and less a hovering black cloud.

I attacked the side supports of the fireplace with some trepidation; the vendor had assured me that there was stone beneath, but that was when I was interested in buying. So I made an exploratory incision with the marteau-burineur - hit pay dirt - stone! I then stripped off the render to the front and sides, revealing not only stone but also some original flat terre-cuite briques! Repointed with some mortier bâtard they should look very nice.

All this demanded a lot of work with the pneumatic chisel and created lots of noise and lots of dust (again). Again it took a long time to clear up, but I've now finished destroying things and can start being constructive, without making dust.

Salon Refurbishment Project to deliver on time?

25/02/2005 23:04

Jolie slept late by the bedroom radiator and ignored the insistent miaowing of her greedy little sister yelling for breakfast. She sauntered out at lunchtime and joined in the dive for the lunchtime bowl of mog nosh. She even ate the two tablets of doxycycline that I'd hidden in the Felix Emincées de Lapin. Then she wandered out to inspect Tessel Bas, returning in good time to get her head down for the afternoon.

I played safe tonight and had a Christine-made Shepherds' Pie, made with real shepherds of course. The contents of last night's tin of Coq au Vin a la Rainal Roquelure exploded in the micro-onde, so I had to decarbonise it before I could heat up the boite d’Emincées de Champignons to go with it.

I enjoyed my constructively artisanale day; I pointed up the newly exposed stonework and had a good crépi.

I'm getting better at the jointoyement des pierres apparentes - you start by throwing away the trowels and use your hands. Rubber gloves stop your hands going all dry and wrinkly. Picking up a wodge of mortier bâtard you squodge it into the gaps with the heel of your hand ("squodge" is a technical term used only in Tessel Bas), finishing it off with the fingers. Before the mortar goes completely dry you use a scrubbing brush to texture the surface and blend it into the surface of the stone. Then use a sponge to wipe the mortar off the surface of the stone. When dry give it a scrub with water to remove any loose surface deposits. The mortar goes "off" quite quickly (< 1 hour) so you need to make several batches.

I crepied one wall because it was too smooth and stuck out like a sore thumb compared with the rest. Obviously done in the era when smooth plaster was good! Then I did the "hotte" of the fireplace - I wanted a rough surface to help with residual heat transfer, so I floated the crepi on and then marked it with regular presses of the nose of the float. I think it looks OK now.

So now all I need to do is paint it all!

Salon Refurbishment Project Enters Crucial Phase

26/02/2005 21:55

Joliepuss's improvement continues; I knocked off work early tonight (18:30) to have one of my walks around the patch, when I was spotted by a certain black & white cat who bounded up and told me in no uncertain terms that I was on no account to attempt to have an evening walk without her.

She chickened out on the scary bit down in the wood, though. I felled a couple of oaks a few weeks back and have stacked the bûches ready to bring up the steep slope for cutting into logs. So each time I take a walk I stop en route and pick up a bûche. It's healthier than a Kit-Kat. And the Kat refuses to carry bûches!

I had been wondering during the day about what wickedness I could get up to, since it was Saturday night. Finally it came to me. Double egg & chips, with a gammon steak! Gradely! Went well with a half bottle of claret.

This morning was occupied with putting undercoat on the boiserie, then this afternoon was tiling. There is a rule in Tessel Bas which goes "If it moves, cuddle it; if it stands still, paint it; and if it is horizontal, tile it!” Anyway, I've got spare tiles to use up! There's a window cill and a "window seat", plus the side to the fireplace, which yelled "tile me", so I obeyed.

Tomorrow is going to be a grout day!

Xtine Report

27/02/2005 22:54

Christine took Peter into London on his actual 21st birthday and they did silly things like wandering round the Tower of London. In the evening Bernice had organised a little do with their friends and then the youngsters went off to celebrate.
On Saturday they had a dinner in a nice restaurant in Wivenhoe with my son Tim, Christine's son Simon & fiancée Sara and Christine's brother David and SIL René (she's Dutch) who are great fun. Apparently I was toasted, as I was paying!
She says it's very cold and has had to borrow a hot water bottle; clearly I have my uses!

Joliepuss has eaten all her meals today and has managed to resist the barging away from the food bowl by that greedy little cow Sophie. Both cats have spent a long time indoors - they don't approve of snowflakes on their noses!

Salon Refurbishment - fair stands the wind for France

28/02/2005 00:39

Despite serious self doubt, the Tessel Bas - based skipper of "Salon Refurbishment" is expected to reach completion in time for the deadline set by the arrival of Ryan Air FR8592 at Bergerac at 17:00 hrs on Wednesday 2nd March 2005. After a long solo voyage, eating frozen left overs and sustained only by the emails of his well wishers, Ian reported that he has only a final coat of emulsion paint between him and the French record.

This magnificent achievement is due to a final spurt on Sunday when a marathon session of grouting and gloss painting with many heart-rending displays of emulsion culminated in the final sous-couche completion at 19:45. With brush, roller and paint tray cleaning to do, it was after 20:00 hrs before he could adjourn to the galley.

By another stroke of luck, an anonymous frozen lump in the ship's freezer proved to be a Thai Green Curry in excellent condition; at a stroke a modicum of basmati rice was fashioned and the whole delicious repast washed down with a robust half bottle of Seigneurs de Bergerac 2002.

Some of the tedium has been relieved by the skipper's collection of records by French crumpet; last night was Hélène Segara (best of), tonight was Natasha St Pier (L'instant d'après). Both have some good duets; Helen Segara complements the Italian sensation Laura Pausini very well in "On n'oublie jamais rien, on vit avec" and does commendably against the powerful tenor of every woman's dream, moody Andrea Bocelli in "Vivo per Léi". Natasha is easy to understand, being Québecoise, and her well-known "Mourir Demain" with Pascal Obispo is excellent. Pascal is also easy to understand, despite being a local boy (from Cap Feret on the Arcachon basin).

Airplane 2005 & 1/6th

03/03/2005 23:22

Scene 1: Tessel Bas 14:45 CET 2nd March 2005
An old codger, yearning for his beloved, receives a call from Stansted Airport.
"Hullo Darling, we've had an early call and are just about to board the aircraft".
Old codger beams a toothless grin and cuddles himself with anticipation of the hugs to come.

Scene 2: A Florist in Villeneuve-sur-Lot 15:43 CET
Old Codger "Oui, mademoiselle, les roses bleues et les roses blanches iront bien avec mon salon nouveau et seront parfaites pour ma femme qui arrivera bientôt";
Cut to Yaris Verso parked outside, zoom to mobile phone ringing, unattended during this short time.
Cut to Stansted Airport, glamorous Audrey Hepburn look-alike pouts with frustration and cancels unanswered call - how can she tell the old codger about the flight delay?

Scene 3: Bergerac Airport
Old Codger arrives at Airport at 16:40. Settles down to wait for flight arrival. Snoozes until 17:00, then scans approach path for incoming Ryanair plane. At 17:05 wanders into shed laughingly called the terminal building to find what's going on. Tannoy announcement "Departing passengers are advised that Flight 8593 will be departing from Bordeaux and coaches will be here to pick them up at 18:00hrs". No check-in clerks around to elucidate. Probably all hiding!
Old Codger mutters, angrily, "Shoot, better get to Merignac pronto!"; Leaps into trusty Bordeaux Red Yaris: "Hi Ho Cerise, you're going home!".

Scene 4: Ryanair Flight 8593 circling Bergerac, zoom into cockpit view
Pilot "Roger Bergerac Tower, understand you have continuing unserviceability of Fire & Rescue truck No 2 so we cannot land. Request diversion to Bordeaux Merignac".

Scene 5: A Yaris Verso making slow progress on the D936 through St Foy le Grand etc etc ...
Car stops near St Emilion. Old Codger has been thinking again (it takes quite a jolt to get the aged brain into gear!). "If the departing passengers need to go to Bordeaux, maybe they're going on another plane, and the arriving passengers are going to Bergerac after all - maybe the incoming plane has a problem that won't allow it to take off? Come to think of it, maybe the incoming plane has landed rather abruptly, like against the side of a mountain, or in the form of an aluminium shower after a mid-air? Starts to panic. Tries ringing beloved's mobile - no answer. Tries ringing Peter at home - he's on line. Sudden inspiration – nearby friend! Checks phone list on mobile: yes - there she is! Nearby friend is in, and calms panicking Codger; she tells him to stay where he is, rings Another Friend for the number of Bergerac Airport, establishes that the incoming flight has gone to Bordeaux, rings Old Codger who breathes sigh of relief.

Scene 6: Yaris Verso approaching Bordeaux rocade.
Mobile phone rings - it's AH wondering where I am and if she should make her own way home!

Scene 7: Arrivals Hall Bordeaux Merignac
Audrey Hepburn is struggling with trolley loaded with cases, suddenly spots Old Codger tapping away on mobile trying to find her. Their eyes meet; (slow motion) they dash towards each other, his beard flowing slowly in the wake, finally clasp each other with eager arms, locked together until AH requests a little time to breath during the bear hug that she's getting.

Scene 8: Bordeaux Merignac Car Park
Hand in hand, trolley permitting, they find Cerise waiting patiently, and she finally gets her blue & white roses. The Yaris disappears in a twinkle down the A62 to Villeneuve.

……………………….And They All Lived Happily Ever After
(and she liked the Refurbished Salon too!).

The Making Of (Notes)
I think the initial delay was due to no second fire truck. When it was clear that one wouldn't be available they headed out anyway and made a last minute diversion request to get a slot in Bx approach. But no one can argue with slavish adherence to safety standards.
Tessel Bas/Bergerac/Bordeaux Merignac/Tessel Bas is 316 km.
I was going to pop into the supermarket on the way back for some salad to go with the dinner I'd cooked, but they'd closed when we got back to Villeneuve at about 22:00.

Passport Renewal, ADSL and Painting

18/03/2005 22:52

Loins were girded this morning for a trip to The Mairie, re Passport Application and ADSL.

I'd downloaded my forms from the British Embassy website, got a typically unflattering identity photo from the Auchan booth, and had prepared a translation of the instructions for countersigning passport applications and endorsing photographs, for the benefit of Le Maire.

Fortunately the Maire has a New Dragon, a kindly, helpful dragon with bags of politeness and old-fashioned courtesy - even a smattering of English! I explained that I required "quelqu'un d'importance" who had known me for over two years, and the form was completed, photograph endorsed and everything taken in for the Maire's signature, in about five minutes flat. So easy, and a pleasure to boot!

When I mentioned ADSL she wanted to know if I wanted to sign up - they're collecting signatures. The bad news is that they've only got 18 so far (100 needed), but they haven't yet distributed the form. I gave her the Ariase site (http://www.ariase.com/) printout for the commune that showed only four households wanting ADSL - she was interested and took a copy.

With over 25°C on the outside shade thermometer working outside was in order so I started sanding and undercoating the outside woodwork - a slow job but I got most of the boiserie on the facade done. It's nice to paint wood that's not rotten - in the UK my windows ended up with more filler than wood. Here they use better quality wood!

Excommunicated !

24/03/2005 16:10

The story, en bref, is that during Monday evening "Something Large" drove beneath the telephone cable crossing the road at a junction about 100 m away, but didn't make it. Both cable and steel catenaries were brought down and left looking as if a giant pussycat had been playing with the cable, and chewing the ends to boot. On Tuesday morning I phoned FT technical help on 1013, who promised to fix it within 48 hrs.
At about 1700 last night the tonalité was restored and I found that I could ring out, however my mobile phone showed a strange number when rung from the house phone, 3103 answering service didn't work, neither did the Tiscali connection who check that the subscription and caller ID match, which of course they didn't. Calling the house phone didn't work. Calling the alleged number of the house phone brought a harassed French housewife to the phone. FT were informed this morning.
Clearly the Knit 1 Purl 1 at the top of the poteau en bois had been incorrectly accomplished; a further junction box located more conveniently at my boundary was visited several times during the morning and the conversation between the two ouvriers (in unintelligible
Gascon patois) got more heated during the morning. Just after lunch Christine's DIL rang, so they'd fixed it at last.
Back at the computer 147 emails lay waiting.

Cement Mixer, Putty, Putty.

31/03/2005 22:06

The other day I bought myself the male equivalent of a new hairdo - a cement mixer (bétonière)!
The Yaris Verso was happy to accept yet another enormous load on the way back from the Castorama sale.

To justify this extravagance I've planned a new terraced patio area instead of the uneven grass where the outside table normally sits. This has been designed to have suitable concrete borders and step-down divisions to justify the new purchase.

Today I went to Point P and chose pavé autobloquant (interlocking blocks) in a 4.5cm warmish-coloured version. Consulted on the conseils de posage, the nice man said it was OK if I levelled and compacted the earth, covered it with a GeoTex membrane and 3 - 5 cm of sand. So I ordered 30 m2 of everything - delivery next Thursday so that gives me a few days to excavate and level the area.

All Fool’s Day

01/04/2005 22:09

All Fools Day saw me levelling earth for the new patio. Maybe I should have hired a bloke with a bobcat. But it was a wonderful day, the knees got a bit browner, the muscles got some good exercise and the large beer afterwards tasted good. I also dug up quite a few large lumps of stone for the embellishment of the dividing wall between terrace levels.
So far I've set out marker pegs, dug trenches for the concrete edge supports and started levelling by moving one cheese-shaped segment of earth to its inverse segment of air, for the upper terrace. Jolie helped by periodically inspecting the trench and jumping in the barrow. She wouldn't have approved of a noisy bobcat.


Project Patio continues..........
02/04/2005 23:54

After a morning off, Villeneuve market and Leclerc, I sprayed some of the grass with sodium chlorate to discourage further growth, then got going on the upper terrace and distributed the earth to a first approximation of level. The earth is a good base for the blocks, a clay and limestone mix with a fair proportion of pierre concassé - I think the bit I'm digging up was previously a vehicular access to the barn.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I'll mark out and start levelling the lower terrace, which is about twice the size of the upper. Marking out a large area is quite difficult; I use pegs at significant points and mark the pegs with the desired soil level, taking into account the thickness of the pavé, the thickness of the sand layer and a slope of 1 - 2cm per metre for drainage. My problem is that my regle du macon is only 2.5 m long so I have to use intermediate pegs and transfer the level from peg to peg. I tried the laser level but you can't see the damn spot in bright sunlight!

Once I've got the levels approximately correct I shall dig further trenches at the borders in order to put coffrage boards in so I can pour concrete in to stabilise the edges of the blocks and prevent rocking. These runs of concrete will provide reference levels so I can get an accurate level to which I compact the earth.

I keep hoping to find buried treasure - so far I've found some bits of broken tile with a rather pleasant blue and white pattern. This reinforces my opinion that someone came along about 30 years ago and said, "lets get rid of all that horrible blue and white and make everything a nice brown colour. Plus ça change ......!

I've also found loads of limestone boulders that have been saved for a pressure wash and decorative use in the step down wall.

I hope for a full day tomorrow. So far the muscles are holding up - pick and shovel work uses the big ones. Some activities like panelling a ceiling with lambris left me wincing next day because they use unaccustomed bits of the body.

Patio Pleasantries

03/04/2005 21:47

The miserable rainy start to the day was swept away by bright sunshine, a cobalt sky and a brisk breeze to keep me cool.

I marked out the second level area and devised a way to use the laser level. I found that a white board behind the target peg made it easier to spot the errant damn spot. The peg was inscribed with a number of lines at 2 centimetre intervals so I could read the position from the laser level position.

I then started the hard job of digging trenches interconnecting the levelled stakes. Loads of tree roots and chunks of limestone made it hard work and slow progress.

I managed two border trenches before 'er indoors ordered me in at 18:30 (double time on Sunday!) before my heart attack.

The satisfaction after a good day's physical work was almost enough but the large beer as reward was the icing on the cake.

I'll sleep well tonight zzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZ

Pavé Delivered

07/04/2005 22:06

Big excitement in the lieu dit Tessel Bas ce matin. The large Point P lorry arrived prompt at 0800 as scheduled - fortunately I'd fed the cats, Christine and myself.

Unfortunately large lorry only just fitted the drive; negotiating bends was thus a difficulty. With much gesticulating and shouting of "arrêt!" we got the lorry some way down the drive but it ground to a halt by the well.

So I compromised and suggested he unload the 3 tonnes of pavé, the half m3 of mélange de béton and the four sacks of cement there and then.

I was impressed with his HIAB - the crane on the back of the lorry (how congruent that it's called a "grue"!) - he had a little remote control box like a radio-controlled aeroplane enthusiast might use, but for picking up tons of stuff at several metres distant.

Malheureusement it broke down. Oh woe - it needs a computer to diagnose it and the computer is in Bordeaux. So we tinkered, tapping connectors, tugging cables, unplugging plugs. Finally it started to work and the stuff was quickly unloaded, the cheque signed, the pourboire proffered and palmed in a single, practised movement.

So my next job was relocating the aggregate mix and cement. While in the mood I decided to move some of the sand I've got in the oil store, using the trailer on the auto-portée, so I managed a couple of loads - tricky as in the wet conditions the auto-portée wheels spin. Why do they make balloon tyres with a tread pattern that fills up with clay, giving the effect of a pair of slicks? I ended up loading only the front of the trailer to give more down force on the tow bar and rear wheels and sprinkling some sand on the slippy bits.

The rain continued to fall and the working area was now sodden so the argile stuck to my boots, so accurate levelling was "ruled out" (ouch). So I went foraging in the wet wood for more rocks. I spotted some and crept up on them, ensuring I was downwind before pouncing on them before they escaped. Lugging them up the hillside was good exercise!

Requirement Creep

10/04/2005 22:31

"Requirement Creep" is the term used with regard to contracts that acquire extra facilities to be provided, under the original budget, as a result of poor requirements management.

I regret to inform you that Project Patio has been so inflicted.

Not only do we have two terraces at different levels, Senior Management has decided that a Pergola is now an essential component of the project! Said pergola has to bear a grape vine so that diners in high summer are tempted by the bunches of grapes hanging down, so that scantily clad maidens can pop grapes into their mouths. I wish!

So today has been spent levelling the lower and larger terrasse to ± a cm or so, ready for the layer of Geotex polypropylene and the covering of sand. Not an easy job: particularly when large rocks are encountered just under the surface. However it was completed at the expense of several aching muscles. I found a conventional pick invaluable for this; swung slowly in an arc like a pendulum it can skim an inch or two off the surface level.

However the upper terrace now has to have pole sockets for a large pergola and I'm darned if I'm levelling soil that I'm about to disturb by digging postholes. So Tuesday will require the purchase of some pressure-treated outdoor timber.

I've looked up the needs of a grape vine; it looks like I can shortly buy a vine that will make growth this year but will not fruit until next year, after careful pruning!

Any recommendations for a heavy-fruiting white grape?

Christine's Birthday

18/04/2005 10:56

With no planning we decided to take off somewhere nice and be self-indulgent. We shoved the pussycats in the barn with a feeder fountain and jumped in the car. For me it was nice to put on clean clothes instead of paint-spattered track pants!

We'd though of going to Toulouse, which we haven't seen, but in the end decided on St Jean de Luz, which we visited en route to Spain in 99.

We set off early-ish and got there in time for a look around the town and to choose an hotel - we stumbled on the Hotel Almadies in the centre, just above the main shopping street; expensive but a delightfully chic and comfortable room - thoroughly recommended!

After a quick walk round the town we lunched on yummy moules Irrintzina & frites, then drove up the mountain into España at Dancharria and looked at the shops full of Spanish tat and the queues of French drivers at the petrol pumps.

Back in St JdL we followed the "tourist walk" around the town, featuring an unscheduled horizontal ice storm along the prom (hails of grêle - or maybe grêles of hail? - were alternated by spells of sunshine).

We found a pavement café with sufficient windbreaks to enable us to sit away from the Gauloise fug inside and spent the aperitif hour with a couple of Ricard and a view of the world.

Superb dinner - I had a plateau des fruits de mer with oysters, winkles, whelks, clams, prawns, little brown shrimps - all wonderfully fresh and tasty. Xtine had a saumon carpaccio and we both had a half lobster, all washed down by a very nice Sancerre.

Next day after a leisurely breakfast we motored slowly home, this time avoiding the autoroute. We were going to stop in Mont de Marsan to have a look around and take lunch. But we weren't very impressed by the town (didn't the RAF flatten it in the war?) so we kept going and had a late lunch at home. One disgruntled Jolie in the barn, Sophie, the more athletic, had been up in the rafters and had found a way out!

We count ourselves very lucky at living in a country where we can drive in a few hours to an area that is quite different in scenery, atmosphere, culture and even language - all those unpronounceable words with Xs in them! St Jean de Luz is a very pleasant upmarket resort - perhaps a little too many kitsch boutiques with Basque names, but the distinctive red and white architecture is everywhere. I looked in the odd immo window out of interest and was astounded at the asking prices.

Back at Tessel Bas I managed to perform the coup de grass in a brief dry period, but this morning the rain is back and I'm looking out at my carefully levelled mud patch where concrete is still to be poured and prepared pergolas are to be erected and block paving is to be laid! Maybe it's an auspicious time to do the Form FD5!

Project Patio resumes...........

21/04/2005 22:02

Spent the morning finishing off my faux stained-glass fanlight - I'm quite pleased with the result. The black cern is too thin though to simulate lead - it really needs something extruded from a large cartridge gun. It's also difficult to create a homogeneous colour - small areas are easier as you can flood the pool left by the cern.

This afternoon my prayers were answered - the sun came out and the swamp outside dried. I was able to erect the pergola, with the joints held by serres-joints. Spent some time getting it level, straight and square (a bit difficult working solo), before mixing and pouring concrete with the new bétonnière. Nice to have at least one part of the project set in concrete!

The weekend starts here so I was allowed a glass or two of rouge with dinner.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, complete assembly of pergola and start laying a concrete strip for the edge to the pavé.

Has it Stopped Raining Now?

26/04/2005 09:20

I spent yesterday planting over 160 geraniums/petunias between and sometimes during showers - I was anxious to get them into the soil and growing ready for the Big Wedding in a little over three weeks time. I say "planting", it was more like opening up a squodgy wet hole in the clay and squeezing the plant into it, with trowel and me getting covered in wet clay.

Thankfully this morning has dawned bright and sunny - at last I can start pouring concrete!

Tomber à plat ventre

26/04/2005 22:16

What a super day - continuous blue sky and sunshine, it got to 27°C shade temp in the patio chantier and shorts were worn from start of work.

I made good progress, pointing a wall and adding extra stones at the top to provide an edge to the pavé and shuttering and concreting three edges of the upper patio. I even mixed my own mortier bâtard (a 1:1/2:4 mix of cement, fleur de chaux and sand) to give the pointing more of a stone colour rather than grey mortar.

Nurse Christine had to be called out when the old fool, dashing to get the concrete poured before it set, tripped over a heavy steel pipe and applied hands, elbows, face and body rather forcefully to the gravel drive. No bones broken but gravel rash, a bloody nose and multiple contusions made the rest of the day uncomfortable!

Went hunting rocks in the wood again. Cunning little devils, lurking under ivy, but I managed to bag a couple.

Naked Knees

27/04/2005 22:28

Fortunately while doing my water-less drive diving exhibition I was wearing knee pads - they stop the knees getting brown but avoid accidental abrasion and would enhance my street cred should Ste Colombe de Villeneuve decide to install a skateboard park.

Sleeping was a problem though, I usually sleep in the foetal position and lying on either side was painful - bruised hip on the left and strained arm on the right. After some practice I managed to get into a "ladder climbing" position with the left arm carefully thrust under the pillow and the right cuddling my soft toy wombat, so I managed to sleep until a change of position was demanded. Fortunately I had some NSAID pills from my gouty days that eased the aches and pains.

Good progress was made today, I was given time off from Auchan duty to maximise exploitation of the sunny weather. The coffrage and cement pouring is now finished for the upper terrace, and I started on the wall marking the step down to the lower terrace. I've found some béton chimney conduit sections that are ideal as a base for the wall, allowing me to decorate the top with pointed stone.

It was really hot in the sun so the fat, pasty white body was revealed to the sun and is thus now a fat, pasty pink body. The only real problem was sweat falling on to the inside of the spectacles, so I affected my powder blue Alice band and did my Poofter Rambo impression.

Shortly I'll have to go and get some treated timber for a simple fence for the edge of the lower terrace; otherwise it's only a matter of time before someone has enough falling down water to make them think it's a good idea to launch themselves off the stone wall, which is about 8 ft high at that point.

Naked Knees 2

28/04/2005 22:47

This picture shows the Patio Project in full swing.

Notable items include the pergola in all its glory, the upper terrace levelled and edged and ready for laying the Geotex membrane, the sand layer and then the pavé and the new cement mixer in the background. The right near corner is a corner bed that is designed for the vine to grow up the pergola and hopefully cover it with succulent bunches of grapes. The pile of rocks just in front of the mixer were all organically grown in the garden soil and liberated by yours truly with his faithful pick and shovel.

In the foreground is the lower terrace. Today's job has been to cut away the earth to the concrete edging of the upper terrace, lay the coffrage held down with the red chevillettes in the foreground and to mix and pour the concrete therein. The square hollow concrete blocks are the remains of an old chimney conduit that will be mortared in place on this foundation and topped with stone as decoration and with earth-filled hollows for wall plants. An aperture in this wall will provide a step down to the lower terrace. I intend to crepi the exposed front faces of the blocks.

Not shown is the bright pink back and shoulders of the workman who only kept his shirt off for this morning but is somewhat sunburnt now.

I enjoy recycling old bits, I think the chimney conduit was originally in the kitchen. The surrounding stones have some attractive lichens that I don't intend to clean off - I want it to look like it's been there a long time!

Les Genoux Restent Encore Nus

29/04/2005 22:57

But the shirt stayed on and the "Disneyland" baseball cap, still covered with genuine cobwebs and dead spiders from the grenier, was deployed as an anti-UV Radiation device.

Today's little job was to cement the bits of old chimney conduit to the newly prepared foundations.

A straightforward job, but complicated by the sheer weight of the bits. Two of the old sections firmly connected together weighed over 50 Kg - a lift that required the bending of the knees to avoid a hernia, and which ensured a sore back that night.

Complications were sealing the ends of the "pipe" - Jolie decided to investigate and came out with cobwebs on her nose. I sealed the ends of the pipe with some stone and mortar, checking for concealed pussycats at the same time.

More "Requirement Creep" - the small one from indoors was brought, blinking, out into the sunlight and asked to opine on the step height. She wasn't very happy, so I shuttered and poured an area to take a short step.

As the bed for the vine is now more or less ready, I think I'll buy one tomorrow. I'm still undecided whether to buy a white dessert grape or a local. Would two up the same tuteur get inextricably tangled?

The body aches so much tonight that I'll join the Leclerc shopping run tomorrow, and maybe cut the grass in the afternoon - a day off seems very attractive!

Found another windfall rock in the wood tonight and bore it home in triumph

Vines and Pergolas

30/04/2005 21:27

Anyway I've bought and planted a vine; I chose one with at least two robust leader shoots. Needless to say, by the time I'd got it to the car the main shoot had broken off. I met Xtine in the supermarket and bought some cable ties to protect the remaining shoots until I arrived chez nous.
I also bought a couple of 40 litre sacks of terreau, a rot-proofed tuteur and some GP engrais.

I soaked the vine before planting, which involved digging a Big Hole, planting the vine, and then filling with a mixture of terreaux and engrais, firming well and watering.
I pruned off the broken shoot and left just two healthy-looking shoots, and tied the shoots to the tuteur that leads at an angle from soil level to pergola upright.
I think I may buy another vine (being an ex-engineer, dual redundancy appeals to me) and plant it next to the existing one but with a separate tuteur.

Set In Concrete

02/05/2005 22:22
Thanks to direction by Megan Tilley (who was staying while the stork brought a new brother) and inspection by Andrew, I managed to shutter off some more bordures for the pavé and dig post holes for the guard rail, then poured concrete in the bordures and in the post holes. The latter were a devil to dig; the fencer's graft I was using allows the digging of very neat holes in loam, but argilo-calcaire with football-sized limestone boulders is a different story.

I ended up with large ragged holes; fortunately the homegrown boulders were useful for economising on concrete. I should be ready to lay the pavé later this week.

Hopes Rise for Doomed Patio Project

05/05/2005 22:18

Bladdy Wevver!

Yesterday I laid the sand layer on the upper terrace and spent some time levelling it as closely as I could.
Then it rained, no, it poured!
No way could I lay the pavé blocks.
So the pussycats were overjoyed at free nighttime access to the new sandpit - cum - litter tray daddy had made for them.

This morning it was still raining, so I decided to move the pavé blocks nearer to the patio from the park where the Point P lorry had dumped them.
So I moved about a tonne of blocks, half the total.
Late morning the rain eased, so I experimented with various ways of block laying, x, y or diagonal. "X" gave the minimum wastage, so I laid the blocks on the wet sand that had been slightly compacted by the rain, pausing to re-level in one area where a pussycat had done a big smelly poo!

So the tonne of blocks has been through my hands three times today, to pick up and stack, then to lay.
My arms ache and I do not want to see another block for several hours!

We may visit the Foire de Bordeaux tomorrow!

Foire de Bordeaux

06/05/2005 22:26

The body wasn't working at all well today - another tonne of block paving would really have broken it, so we decided to go to the Foire de Bordeaux instead, as the weather looked reasonably promising.
It was an excellent day out.

Easy journey there on the virtually empty A62/Rocade.
Easy parking (€4.50).
Reasonable entrance fee (€6.50 pp).

The large open air space was dominated by leisure vehicles and swimming pools. Having no interest in the latter we concentrated on the leisure vehicles. Unfortunately the majority were motor homes/camping cars, again of no interest to us, with just a few caravans. Hobby were the best represented, with a range of sizes. There were a few Hymers and the odd Adria. It was interesting that every van had a fixed double bed - once an unusual option and our Elddis was the first fixed bed model - now they're all doing them!

I tried to steer Xtine to the trailer tents - towable by her Yaris - but she was having none of it; she quite like a Hymer with a dry weight of 1300 Kg, so I steered her to a little Hobby but she wasn't keen on the toilet-cum-washbasin compartment for some reason.

In the enormous halls there was a great deal of everything - kitchen gadgets to fine art. Some superb fireplaces took my eye - I love the "island" ones that sit in the middle of the room, and there was one that was suspended by its flue pipe from the ceiling, hovering over the floor with a space beneath it!

From the sublime to the ridiculous - the lounge furniture comprised awful French suites that look like stuff from the 50s and 60s.

I got away without buying, or promising to buy anything!

But an abiding impression was the vast range of nosh bars - from top-notch restaurant to burger bar, all full of people attending to the sustenance of the inner French person!

Wishes Granted

09/05/2005 09:19

No sooner had I cast my wishes in to the Dreamers Well, than my fairy godmother waved her magic wand and a jolly, hard working, industrious, big gnome called Andrew turned up on my doorstep with builder's barrow and shovel. He shifted the blocks and the sand and passed me the blocks; most of the blocks had been laid by mid afternoon when he left to cook dinner for new mum Carole. Oh to be young and forty!

Now I just have the cosmetic bits to do and it can rain without turning into a swamp!

Completion Ceremony?

13/05/2005 22:06

I was musing about things today, as one does, and I remembered one of the more useful management courses I did - on Interviewing techniques. A lot of it was trite, asking open questions - what, how, why, when - the sort of thing the practised interviewee gets very good at fielding. Then there was a suggestion - ask the potential employee in what (work) situations he/she felt really happy and fulfilled. The principle was to, if possible, offer a job that provided such situations, so you get a happy and productive employee.

So I applied it to myself. And the thing that turned me on was relaxing after completing a job that was difficult, that you didn't initially think you could achieve, but that with planning, hard work and strategy you did in fact achieve. And the few beers and the satisfied sleep afterwards are the absolute best!
 With the final, post whacker brushing-in of sand, a pressure wash of the new stonework and the planting of some sempervivum in niches in the stone, my Patio Project is now completed, with a week to go before The Wedding.

I had time to trim the branches of trees in the lunch area, clip some hedges, strim the edges and mow the patch before the lovely day turned nasty and brewed up a big thunderstorm.

I'd hoped to have a celebratory apero on the new facility. But I contented myself with standing in the rain with a golf umbrella, watching the rain flow down the 30 m2 of block work, wondering if all my farting about like a silly old hen with straight edge and spirit level to get the drainage right would actually work. And it did! So that was almost better than the apero.


Well, I did say "almost".


See the separate description devoted to the society event of the year!

Jolie Perdue!

02/06/2005 22:15

Today was perfect weather - hot but not too hot, not a cloud in the sky, a warm evening to encourage lingering over dinner, atmosphere fresh and crystal clear.
But our day was ruined because our baby Joliepuss has disappeared for a day and a half, something she's never done before; I try to be optimistic but I have a bad feeling, as I had when Peri disappeared.
We both doted over that cat - she was so sensitive and sweet and more often than not shared our bed.
I've searched the area to no avail.


04/06/2005 22:43

It was not a good day, mog-wise.

I awoke from a dream where I was in a tent pitched outside Auchan and someone bought in a lost cat in a trolley that turned out to be the Jolie puss; waking up to find it untrue was miserable.
Returning from the mornings shopping in the Villeneuve market was not pleasant either - Jolie always used to greet us with that "Where have you been" look. Something in the eye again!

Now Sophie has been enjoying her new status as Top Cat, complete with all the fuss and a prime position on Mummy and Daddy's bed. She stayed in while we were out, but wandered off after her lunch.

Now the neighbour opposite is the village loony; he went wrong when his mother, who was renowned for driving fast around the local lanes, finally killed herself in a car accident Our Dutch neighbour told us that his neighbour's had problems with Les Flics - in particular shooting at a former girlfriend.

So shortly after Sophie had disappeared there was sounds of shooting from the neighbouring property, and I feared the worse. The gun sounded like a small game thing, like a .410 or a .22 rifle.

So I got on with the afternoon's little job, which was fitting mosquito blinds to the kitchen, imagining our Sophie being the target of this lunatic.

It was so lovely when she turned up, late and hungry and yelling for her food!

I'm burnishing a little tarnish off the French dream at the moment.

Sitting out in the tranquil evening with surround sound bird life helped.

Our Jolie

04/06/2005 23:02

Sympathetic to the human unwillingness to accept death as final, I find reincarnation a comfortable fallacy. I often indulged in the thought of "coming back" as a big, comfy mog, partial to firesides and laps. But how to say to the owner "hi, this is me in here" using pussycat gestures?

Sometimes when I awoke at 4am mythering about worldly things Jolie would come and sit on my chest. She let me hold her paw for a long time between my finger and opposable thumb. And when I squeezed her paw gently, saying "hi", she'd curl her paw around my finger and squeeze back.

I wonder who she was?

Sometimes I kidded myself that she was my long dead mother. She was certainly kind and gentle enough.


06/06/2005 10:41

She was a shy cat and never went far away - she only went down into the wicked wood if I went with her. I cannot believe that she just wandered off.

Purely on the basis that the simplest explanation is the most likely I suspect the village loony who lives opposite. He's had some recent trouble with the Dutch neighbours (on my side of the road) - he likes creating "sculptures" out of junk and strings of oil drums which were rattling away near their bedroom window, animal skulls on the fence, scarecrows hanging in the trees, and, significantly, firing his gun on a property which is much smaller than mine. They complained to him, nothing happened, they whinged at the maire who got a counsellor from the prefecture to talk to both parties; as a result the more extreme junk was removed. Recently he's taken to keeping some sort of small chooks (maybe quails?). I could see that he'd have a strong motive to keep the local cats away and a bit of target practice with the local mogs could explain the sudden disappearance of both Peri and Jolie. He'd have to be good though - to drop a cat without it escaping wounded can't be easy. His gun sounds like a small shotgun or a .22 rifle. He has a history of irresponsibility with firearms and was in trouble with the Flics for shooting at a former girlfriend.
Only a young man, he lives in what used to be the family home until his mother who was known for driving fast killed herself in a car accident. A daughter visits him occasionally and the father comes about once a week.

I've been up a couple of times with a photo of Jolie to ask if he knows anything about her and to sniff out the atmosphere, but he's either not in or not answering the door.

Whatever the cause I've lost more than a cat, she was a close friend. She never strayed far away from me, unless I was operating noisy machinery (as I was on the day she disappeared). I can just manage to get round my evening walk without her, but the lip quivers at some of her favourite spots; going through the park she'd dawdle then dash down with excited meows to stand on the platform near the barn to be petted and told what a pretty girl she was.

Sophie is a great consolation and is revelling in the extra attention. I just hope her effective camouflage and extra turn of speed keeps her away from The Bad Thing That Gets Pussycats.

Jolie Update

08/06/2005 13:19

Apologies for boring non-cat lovers.

It's now a week since we last saw her.

Yesterday I had a long chat with our Dutch neighbours who welcomed the chance to unburden themselves about the antics of the loony neighbour, but who hadn't seen anything of the Joliepuss.

Today I finally managed to meet and talk to the loony neighbour who had dropped in for lunch with the kooky daughter. I showed them a picture and told them when she went missing and said that we missed her very much. They were sympathetic and, of course, they said they hadn't seen her. But I was watching both of them closely for any non-verbal, body language signs of deception, guilt or evasion and I didn't detect any.

So I have discarded my "shot by loony neighbour" theory, which is good in that it makes us feel much better living without a perceived threat. But she is still missing, just as abruptly and finally and without trace as Peri.

Was it a Fox?

09/06/2005 11:29

Yesterday Xtine saw one of the neighbouring mogs treed by Something In The Wood which she couldn't see but which had disappeared when I investigated.
 Last night we were woken by a dreadful noise - really loud, I first thought that something major had gone wrong with the plumbing - like steam escaping into a drainpipe. Then I realised it was outside the bedroom window, which was open with just the shutters closed. I lay awake wondering what it was and trying to describe it - perhaps not so much steam, but a bronchial wheezy old man coughing down a well?

This morning I thought I'd find out what noises foxes make - found an interesting site with lots of different noises, depending on whether they are fighting, playing, calling for a mate, etc.. The one that was most similar to the sound we heard (Christine listened and she agrees) was the sound of a fox declaring his territory: http://www.angelfire.com/ar2/thefoxden/fox_territory_call.wav
This is reedier than the one we heard but perhaps ours was a bigger, older fox.

I looked up the sound of sangliers and found nothing like it - most sanglier noises were pig-like and (it sez 'ere) they don't eat small mammals. And is a sanglier nimble enough to catch a cat? I doubt it. But a trained predator like a fox could.

Sophie came in unscathed this morning, covered in sticky burrs so she'd obviously been in the wood. She is a very athletic cat with long, strong legs. I found her sitting on top of the bird box the other day, scaring the poor inhabitants. I'd purposely put the box about 4 metres up a large, smooth ash tree trunk but she still managed to climb it. So I'm happier about her chances as a survivor.


Poor Jolie had little short legs.

Ongoing Tasks Chez Moi

09/06/2005 22:24

Just in case you might think I've been lounging in the sun, pretending I'm retired, here's an outline of today's little jobs.

After the successful fitting of a roller mosquito blind in one window of the kitchen, I started to attack the other window. Unfortunately the outside of this window was still in lavatorial brown, and the embrasure was caked in layers of white paint.

So the window was removed to the barn (how nice that most windows and doors in France are readily removable by lifting off the hinges) and undercoated. In the meantime the embrasure was soaking in paint stripper.

A scraper and rotary wire brush got some of the paint off, revealing some quite nice narrow height brickwork. Several further coats of stripper still left some paint on the bricks. So I tried a stainless steel pan scrub in water, which got some more off. So, after the wall had dried, I tried a small angle grinder with a metal sanding attachment, which worked brilliantly, removing the paint and revealing smooth terra cotta bricks. Then I put a small diamond saw in the angle grinder and cut out the mortar between the old bricks, ready for repointing in mortier bâtard. The stone on either side of the nice brickwork is still a little stained, but a wipe over with some "ton pierre" mortier bâtard should colour it enough.

I found some time to wander through the wicked wood - looking for “you know who”. I went down the bit where I have droits de servitude to the "source" - last time I saw it cattle had muddied it, but no cattle have used the spring for some time and it was a cool, clear, limpid pool with dragonflies lazily preening nearby. Guessing it would be a good fox venue, I looked around and found a track leading to a shady spot where the grass had been pressed down in a circular pattern by a fox-sized animal; leading out from this to the outer world there were several trails, all empty. So I walked a fair distance in the other direction, all on tracks skirting my land, with my senses tuned for clumps of black and white fur, smelly fox wee or droppings, or buzzing columns of necrophiliac flies, without anything to notice, apart from the vigorous growth of practically everything at this time of year and how difficult it is to see in the undergrowth.

Faire La Noce Encore

12/06/2005 10:47

Super evening last night at the Allez & Cazeneuve repas dansant.

The commune is next to ours and is a little disappointing as it consists of scattered houses and has no real village as such, but the village hall has a spectacular setting on the side of the causse overlooking the Lot valley.

Last night it was still and warm and the sunset was superb and soon replaced by the slim crescent of the moon.

There was a typically long-drawn-out five-course dinner of very good quality and a floorshow by a chanteuse backed by an excellent dance troupe of young ladies in skimpy costumes (I averted my eyes, of course). Unfortunately we got stuck on the Brit table so there was no conversation practice. We ran out of steam at about 01:30, just as the dancing was starting, so goodness knows how long it went on for.

Repas du Quartier

13/06/2005 11:40

The inaugural "Repas du Quartier", held yesterday, on the terrace in front of the old church at Le Laurier, was a resounding success.
A perfect hot summer day saw over 50 people gather under the trees for an Auberge Espagnole - everyone brought a plate and some booze and the organising committee provided beef, chicken and duck.
 The church is a well-known local landmark - its distinctive tower decorates the top of the slope leading down to the Lot and its terrace has yet another superb view.
For once we were the only Brits which was very good for our French conversation practice.
We knew a few people and our genial and friendly maire was there to introduce us to others. We had the cosmopolitan end of the table, a francophone Belgian and his German wife.
What was really nice is how many people knew who we were and where we lived, and came up to introduce themselves. But no-one had seen our lost pussycat :-(
On the short walk back to chez nous we thought how lucky we are to live in such a lovely area.

 Montpellier - La Chaleur, La Merde de Chien & Les Graffiti!

20/06/2005 16:11

I’d been looking at pictures of Montpellier architecture. It made me realise that Montpellier was yet another French town I'd avoided, because it was a town and for no other reason. We also needed a short break after all the wedding work, before Xtine goes on her Summer State Visit to the UK.
So I booked an hotel on the Internet and Cerise the Yaris took us down the autoroute via Toulouse and Narbonne to Béziers. The temperature started to climb after passing Toulouse. At Béziers we left the autoroute so we could motor along the coast from Cap d'Agde to Sète. It was a mistake - the scenery on the A9 is much better and it's clearly faster. The "coast" has lots of flat sand, iron-grey sea and cheap apartments.
A long time ago when I was significantly broke I had a miserable holiday with three bored kids in Norfolk at a place called Scratby, just next to a seedy place rejoicing in the name of California but with ice cream and kiss-me-quick hats. This area of the Mediterranean coast was similar but with heat, and perhaps not so scenic.
Signs on entering Montpellier gave dire warnings of traffic chaos and so it proved. With the temperature well into the mid thirties the air con was fired up. Eventually we found the underground multi-cary store park (sic) under the Place de la Comédie, noted the high car park charges and walked to the Hotel du Midi. This hotel was being refurbished; our room was brand new and tastefully fitted and decorated in a 1930s style, which matched the belle époque frontage of the hotel.
Next morning we found the office de tourisme, got maps, found out about the tramway, rescued the car and took it to the terminus at Odysseum and dumped it in a free car park. A cheap and quick journey on the tram got us back to the centre - the tramline is a simple double track with trams every five minutes or so running on a route which winds its way from one side of Montpellier to the other. It uses overhead electricity pickups, so is presumable more reliable than the Bordeaux equivalent.

I got to thinking about inner city hotels and transport - if private cars get forced out of existence, then your sales rep from Paris would catch the train to Montpellier and need an inner city hotel. So might these not be a good investment?

For two days we stayed in Montpellier, walking a lot (or at least dashing from shade to shade in the upper thirty temperatures!), looking at the architecture, doing a little shopping and eating out. We decided that we liked Montpellier - there's a charming old town that has been rigorously pedestrianised with rising bollards, some wonderful old buildings, and some excellent new architecture.
It's all walkable too, one day we walked from the Water Tower and Aqueduct on one side of the old town to the end of the new "La Défence” look-alike bit on the other side of the city.
Negative points that stick in the memory and to the shoes were the graffiti and the dog-poo. The city must have a population of highly-competitive graffiti vandals dedicated to spraying their tags on the most obvious but most inaccessible walls, and neither the dogs nor their owners took any notice of the dog loos.

On the third day we collected Cerise from the Odysseum car park and headed south and east, looking at places like La Grande Motte and Le Grau-du-Roi - more refined than Scratby-sur-Mer but I'd want to have one of the boats in the marinas to escape if I holidayed there. We stopped for lunch at Aigues Mortes - a wonderful place with a beautifully preserved defensive wall.
I did the 45 minute walk around the walls, the 30 minute tour of the big tower, and reflected on the irony of the place; the walls were never attacked and the port rapidly silted up. So all that beautiful stonework has only ever been useful as a tourist attraction. However once the route to the Mediterranean from Paris was sandwiched between Aragon and the German catholic empire and Aigues Mortes was the only port between "France" and the Med.

From Aigues Mortes we went into the Camargue, going down to Stes Maries, then circling L'Etang de Vaccarès to get to Salin de Giraud. A totally different landscape, with white horses, pink flamingos and salt-resistant scrub. They don't seem to have any cowboys left, though, they presumably use ATVs or helicopters!

Back on Sunday via the scenic A9, A61 and A62; once again it cooled to the upper 20s after Toulouse. Once again I was glad to be back at Tessel Bas but so pleased that with a short journey we can find areas that are so different.

Poor Sophie had to wait until Monday morning to be picked up, but she’s being very affectionate - presumably being good in case she too gets sent away permanently!

Open Letter from Sophie Gillis

26/06/2005 12:27
Dear Humans,

Purrrrrlease may I solicit your sympathy?

I haven't had too good a time recently. Firstly my sister goes off and leaves us, then I got put in a cattery while my Humans went to Montpellier. Then I had to go to the vet for my vaccinations and my rabies jab.
 But on the whole, I was quite content, it was nice being Sole Cat and getting all the attention. Mummy was very upset when Jolie left and said that she'd never have another one, so I felt my position was secure.
You'll never guess what they came home with yesterday, without so much as a by your leave.

TWO kittens!!!!

It seems that Mummy's beautician knew the owner of a pet parlour who had a neighbour in Laparade with two kittens to give away.
So when I sauntered in for my tea, there they were, soppy pair, cooing over these horrid usurping newcomers. They gave me Sheba as a special treat but, sniff, they don't get round me like that!
They slept inside, while I was out hunting last night. When I came in for my breakfast I hoped they would be gone, but no, they're still here!
Mummy had made them a special bed, but of course they had to sleep on my sheepskin rug, next to mummy's bed. I suppose it is a bit like our real mummies’ tummies.
I suppose I'll have to get used to them; I've had a ritual growl, just to show my disgust, but when they dash towards me I run away, because
I'm not very brave. They're actually quite pretty; of course Daddy had to get his camera out take a picture of them. I suppose it'll mean he won't be so lonely while mummy's in England.
Those kittens don't even have names - how common! The marmalade and white one is a little boy and mummy wants to call him "Henri". Their real mummy was called "Vodka" so daddy suggested "Brandy and Ginger", or, as they're both pickles, "Mango and Chutney" or "Branston and ?" Maybe in view of their forthcoming operations "Abelard and Héloïse"?

Thank you for listening,

Purrr Miaouw


Nice Things That Happen in France

27/06/2005 00:01

Nice Thing #1:
A nice young chemist, searching on the Internet for information on "capricornes" - a guest reported munching noises from the bedroom beams. She finds a mention on my website and notes that I live in the same commune - result:- we get invited to a very pleasant afternoon tea with her and her husband, a biochemist, who are renovating a lovely house above the lake at Ste Colombe.

Nice Thing #2:
A pleasant German lady and her Belgian husband, who we met at the "repas du quartier" the other weekend, invite us to afternoon tea today - they live only a short walk away. We meet their neighbours from the chateau next door; an American artist and his wife who commute from New York. A wonderful conversation ensues which skips in and out of French, German, English and American English.

Nice Thing #3:
Getting home late I fire up the Weber Kettle BBQ, which takes an hour and a half to cook a chicken: sprinkled with Thyme and with a couple of Bay twigs placed on the charcoal it comes out tasting deliciously. But blissfully late, when the stars are coming out and the air is cooler. We sit together reviewing the day over a bottle of chilled rosé, with the cigalles chirping and the frogs "bonking" in the background.

Nice Thing #4:
We come indoors and can't find the baby kittens anywhere - panic! - but a prolonged search by Xtine in chickless hen mode finally locates our babies curled up in the wardrobe amongst daddy's pullovers.

It's a hard life - but someone has to do it!

State Visit Commences

28/06/2005 23:31

My Lady Christine has embarked on the Royal Ryanair Flight to Stansted.

Back at Tessel Bas, Henri and Gaby were in fine form and hadn't destroyed too many ornaments.
During my dinner of a fine can of Lentils and Saucisses de Toulouse, the mobile phone received a text message to the effect that Christine had been received in to the County of Essex and was the guest of honour at a civic reception at the Colchester Thai Dragon.

The hot and humid day made several false starts at raining, finally managing a respectable thundershower with a useful amount of rain, the only loss being some deathless prose lost to posterity when a mains blip thoughtlessly cleared out the computer RAM.

Sophie Gillis has not been seen at all today, although she may have eaten while we were out as we both conspired to leave the salon window open and much of the kitten's food has been eaten, either by the kittens, Sophie or neighbouring Bad Pussycats. I just hope the Thing In The Wood hasn't got her. Maybe the rain will encourage her to return.

And so to bed, dreaming of DIY projects to come!

To Mummy from Sophie

29/06/2005 23:25

Dear Mummy,

I hope you're having a lovely time in the UK - give my love to Magic.

I strolled back into Tessel Bas today. I'd had a lovely couple of days on my own, no horrid kittens, caught a few mice, the odd vole and had a nice mole for breakfast.

When I got in, the Old Fart seemed extraordinarily pleased to see me. I even got a barquette of Sheba!

Afterwards I went to my favourite place on daddy's seat, hiding under the table. But those horrid kittens came and played underneath the table, so I had to growl at them. They took no notice so I went and hid under your bedroom chair.

After a while I was woken up by the Old Fart banging about in the walk-in wardrobe, so I got up, and I got another barquette of Sheba!
It's obviously a good thing to do, disappearing for a day or so to keep our humans on their toes!

love from Sophie

To Mummy from Sophie – Jeudi

30/06/2005 23:37

Dear Mummy,

I thought I'd saunter back home with a nonchalant air, as if to say "who cares about kittens, and if you happen to have some Sheba, well, why not, maybe I could force some down"; I thought about mid morning would do; shock horror! The Old Fart had gone to the brico!

So I had to wait, with tummy rumbling, until he came back, laden with lambris and tasseaux. Those Horrid Things weren't about when I got in, so I had my Sheba in peace - Yum! Then I thought I'd go in to the bedroom, just in case you were there with your breakfast tray, and I could curl up and smell your toast and grapefruit. But the OF was in the wardrobe again, stripping that lovely French wallpaper off - he'll be in trouble when you get back!

Then I sauntered nonchalantly (got it just right by now!) round the end of the bed, then screeched to a halt with pads and claws smoking! Those Kittens were asleep on my mummy's sheepskin rug again! They did look sweet, I must admit, like a pair of soft furry bookends, but I was scared they might wake up and look at me. So I beat a strategic retreat.

Later on, tummy rumbled again, so I came in for tea - yum, more Sheba!
Kittens still there though, still asleep, they sleep more than I do. OF was plastering enduit on the grotty walls and cursing electrical wiring he has to replace. He never seems satisfied. Why he can't just leave it I don't know - seems OK to me.
He says that I'll grow to like Those Things.
Never in a million years!


Xtineless Day 3

01/07/2005 23:49

Decided the wiring in the walk-in wardrobe was unacceptable, so went to the brico for a couple of va-et-vient switches and other electrical bits.
On my return I couldn't face another day in the wardrobe so decided to strim and mow the lawns - not because the grass is long but because of the thousands of seedling ash trees, which are prospering as the grass turns brown.

In mid-strim I was pleasantly interrupted by one of the fleet of Tilley Sausage delivery vans, doing a barter deal - free sample sausages in return for label stationery to print the package labels on.

This evening I tried the sausages - a pork and Calvados and a couple of pork and Stilton. Quite simply they were the best sausages I have ever tasted - a very high proportion of succulent pork, meaty texture and wonderful flavour. Andrew has got to be on a winner there - the Brits will be hammering on his door for more!

The kittens are continuingly delightful - there was a re-enactment of the battle scene from Alien vs. Predator as I went to sleep, and the same when I woke up, but in between they're just two fluffy balls curled up together on Xtine's bedside rug.

Hot Saturday

02/07/2005 23:37

Awoke to someone very small patting my nose with their paw - Gaby has now accepted me and purrs almost as loudly as Henri.

Managed to rewire the lighting wiring in the walk-in wardrobe and fitted new switches in the couloir. Hot work - it got up to 35°C in the shade outside, but I kept it to 25 ish inside with shutter management, except for the bedroom where I needed to see with the power off.

Knocked off early-ish for a walk around the estate, a welcome shower, and death by cholesterol - double egg and chips with a gammon steak, a Tilley sausage and a bottle of Chevaux des Girondins 2K1 - 'andsome!

The kittens have been delightful. Snooty Sophie declined to put in an appearance.

Dimanche Sans Xtine

04/07/2005 00:49

And the Lord said "on the Seventh day thou shalt bog off down the vide-grenier at Layrac"

Well, it was a lovely day, I was bored with the walk-in wardrobe, I wanted to see Layrac (only driven through it before) and I thought I might be able to see Mike & Lucy.

The back road to Agen from Tessel bas is very scenic and always a delight to drive; at this time of year the sunflowers are wonderful - I encountered several people photographing them - worth the trip just for that.

I spotted Mike & Lucy right away - the big, smug grins at being in France were radiant - particularly Lucy's as she located more desirable brocante! They were off to a romantic late anniversary lunch, bless them.

Back at Tessel Bas the wardrobe beckoned - I put up the tasseaux for the lambris, with the help of the kittens. Quite hot this afternoon - upper 30s - shutter management kept it coolish inside.

Dinner was a tin of Raynal de Roquelure's finest Cassoulet avec Saucisses de Toulouse. Musical accompaniment by Hélène Segara and The Best of Fleetwood Mac - turned up loud enough to hear outside but not loud enough to annoy anyone passing.

Out of the Closet

11/07/2005 23:15

Today I've succeeded in sawing and applying some 20 linear metres of tasseaux rabotés to the walk-in-wardrobe today, and applying a coat of lasure to same.

So I've done all the little tasks I set myself, and 'er indoors should give me a gold star for effort tomorrow when she arrives back at Bergerac.

I'd pat myself on the back if the arms weren't so stiff!

The Flower Garden and the Sècheresse

27/07/2005 23:18

Another day with blazing sun, upper thirties temperatures and a brisk, hot, dry wind.

Doing the evening watering chore (it's cistern water so I'm not a bad boy) I wondered how other's gardens were faring?

For The Wedding I bought a load of zonal and lièrre geraniums, which have proved to be once more successful - I'm not particularly keen on geraniums but they do seem pretty good survivors. Those in pots that get water each evening are doing well, as are the petunias. Those in the flowerbeds get watered less regularly and are surviving, but not making anywhere near as much blossom.

I bought some "Pervenche de Madagascar" which have proved very good. "Pervenche" is a periwinkle, but these are big flowers, bigger than impatiens, but a cinqfoil, not four-petalled and come in lots of colours. But they love full sun and seem to cope very well with dryness - I've got several hanging baskets of them.

My two hibiscus are surviving, but haven't flowered yet and this is their second year - the one that was pruned before planting has what look like flower buds on it. They're planted in dry spots but as they are "swampy" plants I water them every day together with the potted plants.

All the roses have stopped flowering and are in survival mode.

The park looks like a cross between a desert and an autumnal scene - most trees and shrubs have shed loads of leaves to compensate and some figs have dropped their fruit.

The only things that are coming up fresh and green are ash tree seedlings - I've got loads of Frêne Blanc that self-seed, grow quickly and are deep-rooting. I've had to get the mower out twice, not for the grass that is brown and dry, but for the little forest of ash tree seedlings!

Last but not least the grape vines are spreading out across the pergola - they get a bucket of water every day. I've stopped pinching off the side shoots to let them spread sideways. I doubt if I'll get grapes this year, but I can but hope - most books say it takes three years to cover a pergola with grapes.

Bricolage Bulletin

27/07/2005 23:40

The last room in Tessel Bas to be decorated, the main bedroom, is now under way - the rest of the house has absorbed the furniture and we've moved into the guest room. The two big repro armoires didn't go far - solid alder is bloody heavy!

The last couple of days have been dedicated to wallpaper stripping - an unpleasant occupation - raising the humidity to 100% with a steam stripper in this heat is not a good idea. I also made a mistake by trying to strip paper off some chipboard that has been used to box in some wiring - the heat melts the glue in the particleboard and the bits come off with the scraper - damping with a sponge proved to be the best way

I tried to refurbish the main window but gave up - the putty has dried and is falling out and there is some rot at the bottom of the frame. I tried to remove the old putty and replace it with acrylic but broke the window doing it (it was only 2 mm). There are eight further panes and I'm likely to break most of them, so I decided to get our local miroirterie to fit a double glazed unit.

Other than painting/crepi-ing there's not a lot to do - I need to upgrade the power sockets and wiring, moving one socket, remove an old stuck-down carpet and replace with cedar parquet. Senior Management is applying pressure as we're without a guest room until it's finished.

DIY, Bed Heads and Quilting

29/07/2005 23:07

Today's DIY project was refurbishing the power wiring in the bedroom.
This had three 10A two-pin sockets fed from the sous-sol by 2.5mm2 PVC insulated wire in good condition, and a 6A two-pin unprotected fused socket fed by 1.5mm2 from the grenier.
The latter was definitely illegal so I removed it and its wiring. The other three should really have an earth, but they only feed small two-pin things like alarm clocks and table lamps, so I replaced two of them with 10/16A two-pin Mosaic sockets. The other had to be moved, as it would otherwise be behind a wardrobe. I plotted its likely course - trying to use the B&Q wiring spotter thingy which couldn't find it. So I gently probed with bolster and club hammer, cutting a thin line through plaster and render until I found the gaine, which I cut and left until I can get a new plaster-depth box.

Tilley Global Pork

11/08/2005 23:2

By Our Reporter on site at Tessel Bas:

Fears of world domination in the pork field achieved a new dimension tonight. It seems that not only is the international pork meat market being flooded by high quality produce from dominant international Tilley Global Woodland Pork, but also the pigs themselves are fanning out across France, eager to fatten themselves up!

Mr and Mrs Gillis were sitting in the quiet evening sunshine, partaking of a fine Spaghetti Bolognaise, washed down by a pleasantly light Beaujolais Villages, when their reverie was violently disturbed by a herd of piggy porkers, grunting, snuffling and truffling in their private woodland.

"It really gave me a turn", said housewife Christine Gillis, 29, "they fair startled our pussycats!". Bearded Ian Gillis, a self-confessed pork eater, had to be restrained as he dashed into the wood with a cleaver, yelling "More bacon!"

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

09/09/2005 22:56

(To clear the UK house prior to sale, I had flown back to the UK, helped Tim and Peter pack the stuff into a Transit Luton and flown back while the boys drove down – with Magic cat!)


Tim and Peter left with the virtually empty Transit at 8 am this morning. They were up at 6am but boys seem to need as long as girls in the bathroom these days!

Mum did the butties for the journey and dad did the bacon and eggs to keep the inner boy satisfied.

Her Blackness was, of course, missing when Peter wanted to have a farewell cuddle with his pussycat Magic - rotten fat toad turned up five minutes after they had left, so she asked me to send a farewell text to her master.

Xtine had some moisture coming from her eyes as they left and I was conscious of a new era dawning - our baby branching out without a family roof to shelter him. But he was assured that there's always a home for him here - it's only and hour and a bit from Stansted!

We had a posh nosh at the Lou Calel restaurant in Pujols last night, by way of a farewell and thank you to them both.

They're intending to stop before Calais and overnight before crossing tomorrow morning. When last heard of they had overdone the approach to Paris and had a good view of the Eiffel Tower!

Meanwhile in the barn I was unpacking a load of junk we don't really need!

Minor Disasters

16/09/2005 23:07

Today we should have “Completed” on the sale of UK Base. Should have, because the Deed of Transfer, signed by Christine and myself and posted on Thursday 8th September, had not arrived - over a week later! Most things recently have been taking three days; just because it was important sod's law applied.

So I had a busy morning; up at sparrow crack to get the director of Tilley Global Pork to repeat his famous witnessing of our signatures performance, back to Tessel Bas to fax it to my solicitor to check, then into Villeneuve to send it off.

I looked into DHL and FedEx, but there are no nearby depots. La Poste were still pushing Chronopost, TNT, which is affiliated to La Poste, is for parcels, and the young lady, who was very nice persuaded me that Chronopost was much better than it used to be and that it would certainly get to the UK tomorrow. Solicitors don't do common things like work weekends, so it only had to get there by Monday, so I thought it was a good bet. It cost €36 but she had very nice pretty hands with long fingernails that picked delicately at the keyboard, so I believed her. We shall see!

My solicitor promised that he'd get the purchase price paid into his account and would allow the incoming buyers to move in so no one has really been inconvenienced - there's no mortgage to redeem. But it was very annoying to have done everything by the book only to be thwarted by the postal service!

The latest from the on-line tracking service is that the letter left the La Poste gateway at Bordeaux at 21:15 - unfortunately that's the last report that one can get on line!


(PS the original document appeared before the one posted above – which took five days!)

Chateau Duras

22/09/2005 00:25

(Peter flew back a few days later as he wasn’t ready to start his term at Uni)

The Château at Duras is one of those places we've never got round to visiting, so, as son Peter is with us, we decided to use the lovely September afternoon to its best advantage and pay it a visit.

The drive itself is wonderful - down the escarpment to the Lot River, cross it at Castelmoron, and drive over the Haut Agenais through Tombeboeuf and Miramont du Guyenne - wonderful names and views to die for at every turn, made especially pleasant with the bright sunshine and the 27°C temperatures.

 The Château at Duras was interesting - a beautiful setting and the view from the top of the tower is stupendous. The rabbit warren of rooms included a ballroom with some very impressive charpenterie. But the general impression was that it needed much more money spending on it. Its last owner was an American coincidentally called Duras who bought it on a whim but let it decay - now it's publicly owned and being slowly refurbished.

After a walk around Duras - a pleasant, quiet little town - we returned via Montclar, another bastide that we hadn't "done" before. Montclar has a spectacular setting in beautiful countryside, but the town itself was strangely characterless.

Student Halls of Residence

26/09/2005 22:17

Our baby Peter went back to the UK on Saturday to his rooms in hall, after his cruel and inconsiderate parents sold his house!

We both feel extra protective as a result, and miss not actually seeing his rooms and thus being able to imagine him ensconced there. They are new rooms, so there must be a temporary shortage of pizza boxes. But Peter has always hung his clothes up on the floor so it will soon be homely!

I shall never forget my mother's face when she came to visit our bachelor house in Chelmsford when I started work. I thought it was great, particularly when all the nurses kept popping in from the nearby nurses’ home, but the state of the kitchen and the fact that we were burning the furniture to keep warm caused the blood to drain from her face, poor woman.
Fortunately burning was all the furniture was any good for, and no-one could remember the original tenants who appeared on the rental agreement - there was a regular turnover of residents and as long as the rent was paid that's all the landlord worried about!

Oh carefree existence!

Re-Registering Puddytats in France

08/10/2005 13:31

Now Auntie Magic has learnt to "miauler" and "ronronner" in French it was time to have her vaccinations checked and to get her implanted chip re-registered on the French database.

Her Controle Technique was just a paper exercise; the vaccination and rabies certificates were all in order and a form had to be filled in and 11 euros paid for the re-registering. Apparently she doesn't need a plate with "FR" on it fixed to the royal black bum.

Meanwhile Henri IV and Gaby have been booked in for their first vaccination session. For them I've opted for the tattoo - I think if they go missing you're far more likely to get a tattoo number reported in rural France than a chip that needs a reader. The tattoo can be done while they're under anaesthetic for the test.

That organised, all three were booked into the cattery for a weekend in November when we're going on a visit organised by the Institute of Civil Engineers to the Perpignan/Figueres Ligne de Grande Vitesse Tunnel.

Day out to Périgueux

14/10/2005 21:47

Our day out spent at Perigueux, on a trip organised by Xtine's Language class - a mix of French and English people.

We had to go back to that horrid practice of getting up when it's still dark (yuk!) in order to get there on time, but it was worth it.

We started off at the Gallo-Roman exhibition. Since the French contingent had organised the "do", it started like all French-organised "dos", with several people late, much milling around, much teeth sucking and negotiation about the entry fee and a prolonged discussion on whether the guide was to speak in French or English. In the end we plumped for French and those that needed them had audio guides in English.
The exhibition is centred on the "dig" and is very professionally laid out and very interesting. It's possible to visualise the villa from the site remains, and there is a lot of fascinating detail on things like the kitchens, the hypocaust under floor heating and the like.

The detail and the beauty of the artefacts on display - jewellery, tools, toys, games, writing instruments - convey the impression of a very organized and cultured civilisation. I remember feeling the same when I saw the Viking ship museum in Oslo - they were in to far more than looting and pillaging Northumberland!

There's an independent view of the museum "building" in a Guardian report at

Thoroughly recommended!

Perpignan - Figueras Tunnel

08/11/2005 18:43

Our weekend was to attend an exposition of the twin-tube tunnel being driven beneath the Pyrénées between Perpignan in France and Figueras in Spain. The tunnel is significant as it links the French TGV service to the equivalent in Spain, in particular to the port of Barcelona. Just don’t ask about the gauge problems or whether the Figueras-Barcelona International Gauge Line will be ready in time! However that was only the first day, the next two days were concerned with eating and sightseeing!

Our trip started on Thursday afternoon - the easy drive from Agen via the A62, past Toulouse to the A61 and down the A9 to Perpignan. A new toy to play with - the first trip that we've made via toll booths since we bought the Liber-T transponder. It worked well, so nice to jump the queues down the "t" lane - but we jumped when it beeped - didn’t know it did that!

We started off in lovely sunny, warm weather but it gradually became cloudy on the slope down to the Med from Carcassonne to Narbonne. Surprisingly we found the Park Hotel at the first attempt and were able to leave the car in the hotel park.

Friday was the "technical day", there was a talking head presentation. Then the coach was boarded and we did a tour of the French side of the tunnel and the earthworks and viaducts that will lead to the tunnel, and, after a pleasant lunch, we did the same on the Spanish side. The approach on the Spanish side is more complex but they were more advanced, as the bureaucracy is simpler. The twin tunnels are being driven from the Spanish side for the same reason. A tunnelling machine 160 m long and consuming 20 MW is something else! The weather was cloudy but largely dry.

Dinner that night was a posh nosh (I wore the wedding suit and a tie! - appropriate as it was our wedding anniversary!). The food was excellent: the restaurant has a Michelin star.

Saturday got off to a good start with a visit in perfect, warm, sunny weather to the tiny village of Castelnou, one of those tiny villages that drip down a hill like terracotta custard on a green pudding. Then there was a look round the fortified village of Villefranche de Conflent and Fort Liberia. A little yellow train runs up the valley from there to the ski resort of Font Romeu; we went as far as Mont Louis/Cabanasse and walked to the Solar Oven. At altitude the air was clear and fresh and the sky a perfect deep azure.

Saturday evening was free, so we dined in Perpignan.

Sunday started with a visit to the little fortified port of Collioure, a little gem of a place which was nicely busy on a sunny Sunday in November but which must be sheer hell in Summer! Lunch in a restaurant in hills overlooking Ceret was very pleasant, and the visit concluded with a tour around the Byrrh factory - in fact it wasn’t just Byrrh but Cinzano, Ambassador etc; most of the aperos you could think of. There wasn't really much to see, actually, a tank farm of enormous barrels built from staves looking like beams - one barrel contained over a million litres. Like in a brewery visit we all wanted the tasting at the end - there were about five different aperos to taste, unfortunately I can't say that I particularly liked any of them!

For those clucking "poor Christine" under their breaths, she enjoyed the weekend very much, there were lots of other wives to gossip too, nice food and lovely places to visit. I on the other hand had the pleasure of hearing other engineers waxing with boyish enthusiasm about their projects.
The trip back saw the 14°C of Perpignan change to 12°C after Carcassonne, then down to 10°C as we dipped into mist and fog after
Toulouse. However the Haut Agenais was bright and sunny and 14°C (although it was probably back to 20°C in Perpignan by that time!). All the pussycats had missed us terribly and were really nice to us after they had been picked up from the moggery! All in all a thoroughly pleasant long weekend!


13/11/2005 10:19

I was interested in the difference between the latest Harry Potter in the two languages (see below).

A wave of the 'baguette magique' - and Harry Potter translates into a monstrous 720 pages

The first British tome was a mere 190 pages long while the sixth, and latest, has grown to 607. But in France, Harry Potter is an even bigger phenomenon - by a whopping 120 pages.

Far from losing in translation, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - or Harry Potter et le Prince de Sang-Melé to the Francophones - has gained, ending up as a hefty 720-pager.

Throw a "wand" to its translator, Jean-François Ménard, and before you can say abracadabra in a French accent, he's transformed it into a baguette magique.

"English is a magnificent language," he said. "It is so concise and rich compared with French. It's normal that there are a lot more pages in French than in English - words and phrases in French are usually longer.

"In English you can say so many things in so few words." He who must not be named, for instance, becomes in French Celui dont on ne doit pas pronouncer le nom.

"It's true that we have to use many more words to say the same thing," said Mr Ménard. "But then translating is not just a question of being literal but of placing things in their context, of transmitting the humour and the tone."

Mr Ménard is the man who has brought all five previous Harry Potter books, or as they say in France "aREE PohTUR", to a generation of young Gallic readers.

His translation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sold 800,000 copies in 24 hours when it was released in France at the beginning of the month. The print run for this current book is a record-breaking two million copies.

"One of the biggest difficulties wasn't the new words; that was fun making them up and I was often spoilt for choice," added Mr Ménard. "No, the greatest challenge is making sure even the youngest French reader can enter this magical universe but also ensure that the book remains quintessentially English.

"How do you convey to French children who, on the whole, don't have any experience of boarding schools, the very English idea of Hogwarts with its prefects and head pupils and living away from home at a young age. It's another world to them."

As Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - the fourth film in the Harry Potter series - is released nationally, Mr Ménard said: "We have never seen people so passionate about a book before - and passionate all over the world. That has to be a good thing.

"It's giving children a taste for reading in a way that is quite extraordinary. I am constantly amazed at the passion with which people speak about Harry Potter."

Like Harry Potter fans across the globe - the books have been translated into more than 60 languages, and sell in 200 countries - Mr Ménard said he doesn't have a clue what fate awaits the young wizard when the seventh and final book is published. It is a prospect he views with mixed feelings.

"I'm impatient to know how the story ends, but there will be a big hole in my life when Harry Potter is gone. This young man has been a point of reference in my life," he said


20/11/2005 21:42

My equivalent of heaven:

1) Second attempt to tame Ash tree outside small salon window (takes light from same). First attempt at coppicing resulted in enormous bushy growth - decided it will have to go! Out with chain saw - cut down to a stump that may form a small seat, provided the "destructeur de souches" succeeds in killing the stump. After quite a long session, involving changing the chain once and topping up with fuel and graisse twice, decided that was enough for a Sunday afternoon. Will collect, split and stack the logs tomorrow. lovely to work outside in the sunshine and the clear, cool air - nevertheless ended up sweaty in a T-shirt with the work that had to be done.

2) Walk with my trio of Hunting Cats. This has got to a regular procedure and woe betide me if I miss out on it. All three have to come, to be cajoled and rewarded, told what pretty, good pussies they are. Even Big Magic comes along!

3) Long hot shower - bliss - a shower that I bought, and installed, to suit us, with unlimited hot water from the new boiler.

4) Snooze in chair, as befits a grandpa!

5) Aperos while watching Scrapheap Challenge on Channel 4 - I love deciding which one is going to win (it's an Engineer thing!).

6) Lovely gigot d'agneau à la Xtine washed down with a pleasant rouge.


23/11/2005 17:0

1) A well-fitting closed shutter can be expected to be superior to double-glazing in thermal performance (it’s thicker and usually of wood which is a better insulator than an extra pane of glass). The increased air gap improves the sound insulation too.

2) I've got an exterior temperature probe near my kitchen window. It reads a degree or so higher with the shutters open due to the heat escaping when the shutter is open.

3) Steamed-up windows - they don't steam up so much when the shutters are closed.

4) My lounge chair is near a window; the cold down draught from the window is absent when the shutters are closed.

I think shutters are a marvellous idea - warmth in winter, "coolth" in summer and extra security too. But you have to learn to use them - e.g. in summer open them to the cool night/early morning temperatures but close them as the temperature starts to climb. I can maintain a 10°C difference doing this, which is good when its over 40°C outside!

Blokes Wot Booze & Natter

25/11/2005 14:43

One of my favourite drives in SW France is from Villeneuve to Siorac and chez Avis. Lovely countryside and beautiful autumn colours, particularly the beech woods, with their contrast softened by a frosty mist. The route goes through poetic bastides, Montflanquin, Montpazier, Belvès - I can imagine riders dashing from bastide to bastide to avoid the brigands on the way - maybe they took the longer route from Montflanquin to Montpazier to have the extra security of Villeréal on their way?

Two kittens travelled with us - big Auntie Magic stayed at home for a bit of peace and quiet.

Once Les Girls had been packed off to the Ladies Wot Lunch "do", Dave and I went and found Tayac Mike in a pleasant bar and lunched on the plat du jour and a pichet of rouge, and discussed the world.

Back at Toumassou Dave lit the excellent new wood burning foyer and we warmed our toes in front of it and carried on discussing the world, with bricolage, France, South Africa and Australia receiving particular attention.

When the fed and watered ladies returned at last there was barely time for an appropriately light dinner before a lunch debrief and a short discussion of the ladies' world before retiring for the night. In the gite the entertainment was to try and stop Gaby the kitten practising her freestyle climbing of the textured wallpaper in order to gain a commanding position on the top of the wardrobe, fortunately without noticeable damage to the wallpaper.

All too soon we bade farewell and retraced our route to Auntie Magic, who denied her sourpuss image by giving Henri IV a big, smacking welcome kiss!

Random Gillis Garbage

07/12/2005 22:36

It was my Old Farts Club Christmas dinner in the UK today and for the first time I didn't go, so I needed appropriate compensation throughout the day.

Treat 1) Bought myself one of those "Senseo" coffee making thingies that makes proper coffee from coffee bags. Seems like a good idea for a couple of people to make themselves odd cups of coffee during the day. The coffee's quite nice.

Treat 2) The Men from the Miroiterie came to fit a big two-paned double glazed window in the bedroom this afternoon. Lovely job, all mess cleared up after them - they beat UK cowboys into a cocked hat. The view from the bedroom window, already quite nice, is much improved. They return tomorrow to fit new shutters.

Treat 3) Despite it being a booze-free day I allowed myself a glass of rouge!

Carol Service

09/12/2005 00:10

Christine and I and Kathy went to the local Anglican carol service tonight at the Allez & Cazeneuve parish church; a very sweet little church, both inside and out.

It was a lovely affair, mainly in English but attended by quite a few French people, with some French readings and one French carol. The choir and choirmaster from Monteton that sang at our Simon & Sara's wedding sang beautifully. The Anglican chaplain of Aquitaine, the Rev Selman officiated.

The service was followed by vin chaud and mince pies, very necessary after a chilly church on a cold evening, but we were soon back to Tessel Bas, a warm log fire and a hot supper.

Le Repas des Aînés

11/12/2005 20:46

I had to get the Character Map utility out to do those accents in the title - I'm using the laptop and it has an English keyboard with no accented letters and no number pad - but Repas des Aines would mean "Meal of the Groins"!

The day dawned with frog and fost (sic), so I ditched the little bicycle idea and walked; the 4 km to Ste Colombe Foyer Rural took about 45 mins. - a pleasant walk even in the conditions prevailing. The grass, the oaks and the fallen leaves had a light dusting of hoar frost, like icing sugar, and the fog gave it all a low-key, magical aspect.

At the hall I managed to pay, so I'm still considered a youngster! I'm recognised now, so I soon got talking to the Maire and his cohorts. I then found an English couple I've met before who have bought the local chenil.

When the time came to eat the Maire collared us and plonked us down at a table with a lovely French couple who farm the area around my house and whose farm is called "Tessel". He was brought up in Brittany, moved to Morocco and met his wife who was a farmer's daughter, became a farmer but was moved back to France. He was 75 but looked twenty years younger - due to his upbringing his French was very easy to follow. He's been at Tessel for 45 years, so was a mine of information on the area. Fortunately the English couple were anxious to practise their French, so little English was spoken.

The food was pleasant, though the wine was rubbish but a word in the Maire's ear by my farmer friend brought a better bottle!

The afternoon was rounded off very nicely by some traditional music; a six-piece band with trumpet, sax and two accordions, with a display of country dancing with the dancers dressed in traditional costume - the men in cummerbunds, waistcoat, bootlace tie and beret, the girls in pantaloons, umpteen petticoats, heavy skirts, delicate blouses, crocheted black shawls and a white mantilla-type headdress.

I left early-ish as I had no torch and it was getting dark - I got most of the way home, then was picked up and taken the rest of the way by my farmer.

A lovely day!



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