Sunday, 23 August 2015

Tuppence a bag

Our soft fruit harvests have been variable year-on-year, but this year we are having a good crop of raspberries.

The strawberries and gooseberries are ripe in late Spring.  The first year we got a fabulous crop, with even more smaller crops of strawberries later on, around August/September.   We also got a good blackcurrant crop.

The year after, the strawberry harvest was pathetic, as was the gooseberry crop but we got good blackcurrants.  It took me a while to work out the problem with the strawberries and gooseberries, but what was happening was the blackbirds were eating them.   At this time I planted the raspberries.

This year, the birds discovered the blackcurrants as well, so I have complete crop failure on three fronts.  I can see that some serious netting is going to be needed.

However, now is the time for the raspberries, and we have a good number this year, plenty to fill a few bowls, add some cream, and make a nice healthy, high fat dessert.  I think the blackbirds must have gone elsewhere.




Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Getting hosed

In France, if you have been had, they say you have been rolled in the flour, (se faire rouler dans la farine) or simply rolled.  One of the many phrases for getting stitched up in the UK is getting hosed, which seems to me especially appropriate in the case of hose licences.  I could never class as anything but fraud, that an outfit can charge you a fee, a "licence" for having and using a hose, on the basis that you use more water, and then ban the use of hoses precisely when you want to use them, i.e. during a drought, to water your garden.

Water shortages are not unknown here in France, but the rules are different.  At the moment, we have a light restriction on watering.  No-one, not even a farmer, is allowed to water during the day, and this regardless of where the water comes from - the tap, a river or his own well.  You're not allowed to water lawns.  You can only water after 8PM and before 9AM.  This of course is an open invitation to leave any watering system on all night, but on the other hand, it seems fair to me.

I'm slowly getting around to turning my water storage cubes into a useful watering system.  I have an electric pump that fills them with water from the well; now I need to put in a system to empty them under pressure, to feed sprinklers.  I bought a pump for that the other day, now it's a question of wiring it in, and getting the hoses all into place.  Since the surface pump isn't supposed to be run dry, I'll need a float switch as well.



My garden is showing signs of water stress here, and we've been watering every day, at the appropriate times.  Some rain is expected Thursday.  Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Grand Moulin at Ste Suzanne

France has a schizophrenic attitude to its water mills.  On the one hand you can get grants to refurbish them; on the other, the government wants to stop you from using them.  They are an important part of the heritage (patrimoine), or causes of imbalances in the natural state of things.

The situation as I understand it is as follows: if your (small; less than 150 KW) mill has been in place since before the revolution, (precise dates vary between regions) you have an absolute right to use the power of the water to your own ends whatever these may be: your rights are fondé en titre.  If your mill was built after this time, but before 1919 you are likely to have written permission from the state to use, in perpetuity,  the water power - your rights are fondé sur titre.  After this date, you probably have permission that is limited in time, and it might or might not have expired.  If you need to renew permission you might not get it, especially if your river is category 1 for pollution (i.e; the least polluted).  You can find a more detailed explanation here.

And now the state is claiming that water mills, even those fondé en titre, that have fallen into disuse for 20 years (why 20, exactly?) have lost their rights to water power (which idea is being challenged in the constitutional court), while at the same time, you can often get a grant to refurbish your mill, such as might be available to the Moulin du Gô just up the road.

The problem is water pollution and its impact on the wildlife population.  The discharge from farms gets into rivers, and the sunlight transforms the chemicals in the water into toxins.  The dams that hold the water back for the mills slow the water flow, and give the sunlight more time to act.  Also, fish cannot easily migrate past the dams, with knock-on effect for birdlife, e.g. kingfishers, etc.  So the parts of the civil service responsible for freshwater fish and water quality make life difficult for you by trying to persuade you to remove the dam, and the parts that like to restore the heritage like to help you out.

We went to visit Le Grand Moulin de Ste Suzanne today.  This has recently been refurbished by the state, at taxpayers' expense, as a tourist attraction.   It used to be a powerful mill, driving three large millstones, powered by the river Erve.  The restoration is a mix of modern and traditional.  The shaft of the mill wheel used to be oak; now it is steel, mounted in a modern ball race.  The mechanism is the traditional English style, that is to say, the small cogs are metal, the large ones have wooden teeth mounted in a metal frame.  The small cog on the shaft that drives the millstone is moved into place using a modern, manual, hydraulic pump instead of the old method where it was pushed up with a lever.


The hydraulic pump is the little box on the right; you insert a handle into the lever at the top, and pump it up and down.  There are two hydraulic lifts, one each side of the small cog, looking a little like darts welded to the base plate.  The one on the right has a safety clip in place to prevent it moving accidentally.

If I read it correctly, according to a little computerised display, the mill is calculated to have a bit more than 200 watts of water power available to it.  Pathetic.  The reason for this weedy power level is the fact that the dam to back water up for the mill has been removed.  The water getting to the mill these days is (relatively) a trickle, and the wheel even stopped turning in July when the river level dropped.

The exhibits and explanitory notices in the mill give details of the history of milling, the political contexts and evolution.  For example, I didn't know that it used to be illegal to own your own personal hand-grinding stones to mill flour - you had to use the baron's mill, and pay the taxes to do so.


I had never realised either, that millstones were made up of different smaller stones held together - I thought they were carved from a single stone.  Apparently the best ones were made in La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, and were exported from France to the world, including Australia, the USA, and Asia.  The industry employed over 4,000 workers in the mid-19th century.


Saturday, 1 August 2015

Village entertainment

There was an evening of entertainment organised in the village for last evening and night.  For no particular reason that I could discern.   Starting off with a guided walk around the village, with musical entertainment stops, it ended up with a showing of the 1960s film Hair on a big inflatable screen, which finished about 0h30.   In between these, the Moulin du Gô was open to visitors, and food and drink were served in the village.

I didn't do the walk, nor did I participate in the musical entertainments: I'm still not 100% after my kidney stone interventions, so I'm taking it easy.  I did however, visit the moulin du Gô.  It has been vastly improved; the mill stone is connected up, it all works, and the mill can now make proper flour;  there were big sacks of it lying around.   I don't think they have plans to supply it on a commercial basis, but it was nice to see the water wheel doing its thing.   I really like what they have done with it.


The food was described as fouée (f) which seems to be a French version of pitta bread, cooked by the local baker, and stuffed with your choice of fillings, in our case rillettes or tomato salad, or cheese.  They are, apparently, traditional to the Touraine and surrounding areas.

There was also a bunch of local kids selling cakes to make some money.  They called their enterprise "Crazy Young" and spoke to you in English if you wanted.  The name sticks in the brain somehow.   You can tell how busy the village road is, by the fact that the queue for the fouées blocks it, and nobody minds.


I have to confess that a mis-spent youth meant that I had never seen the film Hair (nor the musical, in fact)  So there was something iconic about seeing it for the first time, at night, in an open-air setting, in a big field beside a river in France.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Jardin François

The Jardin Francois is about an hour and a half's drive from us, and, having nothing to do this Sunday except take it easy, we decided to go and take a look.  It's in the middle of countryside, in a slightly raised location, and has been thoughtfully and tastefully done.  The owner also offers chambres d'hote in the restored buildings as well, so you can stay on-site and use the place as a base for exploring the area.

The garden is moistened by a spring, and the owner has taken advantage of this in creating a network of small, linked ponds and water features.  And since it is fairly acid, (pH 6.2 or thereabouts, he told me), there are Azaleas, Rhododendrons, and other acid-loving plants.

The garden offers broad vistas, and smaller intimate displays - it works well on many scales.   It is enhanced with well-chosen ornaments, and I liked the small collection of cast-iron hibachi barbecue grills.  I also liked the home-made climbing rose frames made out of the iron rods used for reinforcing concrete (I could do that here!).



A garden well worth visiting.  And as a special bonus, we got to see a collared grass snake that was minding its own business sliding along just behind a piece of border edging material.  I saw what I thought might be a beetle scooting along, and when I peered over the edging, I saw that it was the head of a snake.  We surprised each other, and the snake disappeared promptly under a bush.


Saturday, 18 July 2015

We interrupt this programme...

Congratulations, Mark, your he-male has been selected for the prize draw from GED (Garden of Earthly Delights), Inc, for this month's special offer...... kidney stones!

Boy, do they hurt.  First symptom was a mild general gut pain - I thought I'd eaten something that was going to cause problems later.  The later problem was curling-up pain, and a quick trip to the doctor who said it might be a gut spasm, gave me some pain killers, anti-spasm pills (both useless) and sent me off for blood tests.  After the second wave of pain about a week later, he told me it might be kidney stones, and sent me off to get an ultrasound scan, that I booked for the earliest that I could, at the polyclinic, for a couple of of weeks' time.  After one further wave of pain during the week while I was on holiday, I had no discomfort at all.

So I turn up at the polyclinic, thinking "this is going to be a total waste of time, because the stone has gone now".  And the ultrasound guy says, "Ah yes, you have a kidney stone.  9 millimeters.  You need to have a CAT scan and an X-ray, and see the urologist".  So I asked when I should come back for all of this, and he says "You stay here, we're doing them now"   And they did.

And when I get back to the reception area to pick up the scans, the urologist is there, saying "You're in luck, the sonic shockwave machine that breaks up kidney stones is expensive, and travels from hospital to hospital.  It's here tomorrow.  You get checked in tonight and I'll sort you out straight away."   Which is how I came to spend two unexpected nights in hospital getting fixed.

They only put me out when I was on the machine, it's quite an impressive device, it shows where the shock waves are concentrated, and they can scan it along the length of the stone.  It makes a kind of clicking noise.

Now to be fair, the urologist did tell me they'd be putting in a probe, (they call it a probe (une sonde) but we'd call it a stent), and he told me that its purpose is to widen the kidney tubes so that the shattered bits of stone can come out more easily.  He didn't tell me how it would be going in; that was something I worked out later.  I suppose it should have been obvious.  So the first pee after the op was a bit of a shock.  Unsuspectingly, I just pointed and opened the sluice gates as usual.  Big mistake.   Not only was the output a glorious red, but it hurt like crazy.  Next time I made sure I was on the paracetamol drip, and the release was very carefully controlled.

So here I am at home, taking things easy, on a diet of pain killers, anti-inflammatorys and something that is supposed to make me pee less often. I'm using the time to sit at my desk and do a clean Win7 install on my PC, something I have been meaning to do for a long time, since it has been blue-screening fairly often.

One of the things I like about the French health system is that your medical records are yours.  I have here, the utrasound pictures, the scanner results, and the x-rays.  I also get blood test results; pretty much everything that pertains to my health.   My PC scanner didn't do a very good job of scanning the x-ray picures, but it got the CAT scan results showing the stone shining like a little star in the heavens.


According to the doc, the inserion of the stent is achieved using stiff inserters so that it can get down all the tubes, which is why it hurts.  The extraction, scheduled for three weeks time, is achieved with flexible extractors, is done under only a local anaesthetic, and doesn't hurt.  Yeah right.   I'm not looking forward.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Toulouse

Toulouse, la cité rose, is the end point for the Canal du Midi, a centre of space research, and a place of historic importance.  There is also someone who reads my blog in that general area.  (Hi!)

We stopped off there on our way to Carcassonne.  I got two nice short-sleeved, collared shirts in the C&A sale for 15 euros (result!), had a nice burger lunch at l'Atelier du Burger, and bought some coffee in the Nespresso shop.  Culture vultures, us.


I've always been impressed by the Nespresso ad campaign.  It seems to combine poshness with a sense of self-parody - a bit of everyday posh, if you like.  We wandered into the immaculate shop, and went upstairs (where the buying and selling and tasting is done), and there was a picture of George Clooney in person to greet us.  All the coffees and machines were displayed in immaculate symmetry of design.  You could even get a free cup of coffee to confirm your preference.


Notwithstanding all that, I'm not sure that Nespresso isn't a bit too posh for plebs like us.  No sooner had we gone upstairs in the shop than I dropped a massive fart, and Anita spilt her free coffee all over the counter-top.  Never mind, as long as they continue to accept us for membership into their exclusive club, we'll buy their coffee cos it's good.

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