Sunday, 19 October 2014

St Catherine

I am reliably informed by a quick Google search that St Catherine's day is the 25th November.  According to the French, it's a good day for transplanting plants:

A la Sainte Catherine,
Tout bois prend racine.

That is, everything tree-like takes root (if transplanted) on St Catherine's day.   I take this to mean that generally, Autumn is a good time for transplanting things, and there is a certain logic to this.  The cool, damp weather means that plants don't lose much water through whatever leaves they have remaining, and the roots, being in soil that can be expected to stay moist until early Summer, has time to recover from the shock of transplantation.

I'm starting a bit early this year, but I'm hoping that Madame Catherine won't be too angry with me.  The hazelnut trees in my garden drop their nuts everywhere and even the industrious squirrels can't prevent the occasional ones from germinating into trees where I don't want them.  It seems a waste of a good tree just to dig them up and put them on the compost heap, so I transplant them to the field opposite, where I hope they will form the foundations of a little coppice.  I loosen the soil around the roots with a pick-axe, and then pull the tree out, trying to keep as much root with it as I can.  I transport them in the barrow over to the field, keeping the roots covered with soil so even the finest ones don't dry out.



I've tried a number of methods to get hazelnuts to grow there.  I started one year by sticking new-growth twigs into the ground, hoping they would root: a complete failure.  I spent ages one year planting a nut every six inches or so, again with no success.  The only thing that has worked is transplanting young trees and even that hasn't worked 100%.   Out of last year's plantings of maybe 12 trees, four are still live.  But still, that's better than any other method I've tried.

Young trees transplant easier than older ones.  Books will tell you to plant a young, small tree wherever possible: it will establish more quickly and will overtake the bigger, older one.  At my place the distinction is less subtle: older trees always die, young ones sometimes don't.

The field has been left to its own devices for a couple of years.  I have quaint ideas that it might be some kind of sanctuary for wildlife, or at least become one.  So I have to mow a line in the grass in order to get at the soil.  Then I hack a small area clear of grass using the pick-axe, and dig a suitable hole for planting the tree.  Young trees are a good idea here too, because they need a smaller hole that is much easier to dig.


Once planted, I water the trees by taking over a couple of containers of water.   At about 25 litres per container, that's a watering can-full for each of today's four trees.   If it doesn't rain for a while, I'll water again as necessary until the winter wetness sets in.   I did four trees yesterday and I'll do another four trees tomorrow.

The grass next to the fence at the northern edge of the field is short: next door's cows reach under the wire to eat it.



Saturday, 18 October 2014

Ding! Dong! Amazon calling!

I cracked.  I love the zoom on my big camera, but the thing is just too big.  I miss being able to stuff a camera in my pocket and set off, without having this great weight hanging around my neck.   The new compact cameras with 21x zoom have caught my eye, and with a trip abroad coming up, it's time for an early Christmas present.  The Amazon package arrived today;



It's a Samsung XB350F.  Rolls nicely off the tongue, don't you think?  It was launched at 250 quid or so, but is cheaper now, I guess they'll be bringing out a new replacement model soon.  But it suits my needs; 21 times zoom, decent reviews and it'll fit in my pocket.

It comes with a quick-start guide, but the full user guide you have to download off the web.  Odd. And Amazon helpfully tell you that people who bought this camera also bought this memory card.  Good idea I thought so I clicked on it without thinking too much, only to find out that it's a full-size SD the camera takes only a micro SD.  Argh!!  So a stop off at the local Super-U to get the right thing.   Here's the first two pictures taken with it; no zoom and max zoom.  Hand held, strong sunlight.  Not too bad.


Friday, 17 October 2014

House plant

A friend gave me this house plant as a few struggling leaves in a pot.  It's now doing rather well, but does anyone know what it is?


Saturday, 11 October 2014

L'abbaye d'Evron

The abbaye at Evron is right next to the basilica, in the centre of town, by the market square.  A huge combination of buildings and gardens, it used to be a convent up until a few years ago.   The nuns, I believe, became too old to manage the daily routine of life there, and moved out.  The building was empty, unused and for sale.

A big unused building like that, slowly decaying in the middle of town is a big problem for the local authorities, and they had been wondering for a while what will become of it.  They had thought about moving the council into it, but the cost of renovating the building and bringing it up to current norms was too high.

The problem was solved by the building being bought by the Communauté Saint Martin, an organisation that is part of the catholic church, in order to run a seminary there.   They have spent about five and a half million euros on renovations and refurbishment.   They had an open day last weekend so you could walk around and take a look (and learn more about the mission, natch).    Here's some photos.

The training and selection is rigourous, an annual intake might be 20-40 people, while maybe 5-9 will graduate.  The dining room tells the story: three tables for the first years, two for the second years, one for the thirds.



The dinner bell is operated by a rope that passes into the kitchen.   The dining tables were laid out to show the style of meals and of serving.   The little plaque above the door has evidently been rescued from the old building - dinner for 13.  I don't know if the water dispenser works, but in one of the rare displays of faulty workmanship, it is not quite vertical.

I was interested to see a book of sheet music iin the ancient style, displayed near the entrance.  I imagined that this would be some relic of past musical activity, but no.  I was surprised to see, in their modern, stark church, a clearly new book with the same musical notation.


Many parts of the building had been renovated, and those parts that are wood have mostly (not all) been done in oak.   The pews in the modern church were of a formal design, no frills, and gave a very quiet atmosphere, despite the crowds of curious visitors.


The gardens are quite large, with lines of fruit trees delineating different vegetable-growing areas.  These haven't been maintained by the nuns, but doubtless the arrival of young, fit and enthusiastic men will sort things out.   The community is supposed to be self-sufficient; they repair their own vehicles, grow their own food, and keep bees.


It was Anita who put all the clues together: it was the vicar in the garden with the lead pipe.


And finally, a few random pics.





Thursday, 2 October 2014

Differential circuit-breaker

I remember the first time that I came across one of these, it was being demonstrated on "Tomorrow's World".  The presenter (who was, for some reason, not the usual Raymond Baxter) touched his finger against a live mains wire and a neutral one, then leapt backwards shaking his painful, shocked, finger.  But the thing did its job: he didn't die, and the electricity got switched off.



In an electric circuit, the current goes out down one wire and back along another, which is why it's called a circuit: the electricity does a round trip.  With normal 240Volt mains electricity, there are three wires: the live wire for electricity going out (glossing over some details), the neutral wire for electricity coming back, and a third one, the earth wire.

The earth wire is literally connected to the Earth, so it is at the same potential as the ground, your house, and pretty much everything connected to it.  The neutral wire is connected to the Earth at the power station and at various points between that and your house.  There might be a small potential between the earth wire and the neutral, but not much.  I have never measured more than 5 volts.

The idea behind a differential circuit breaker is that the same amount of current going out down the live wire should, in a correctly connected and functioning circuit, be coming back along the neutral wire.  If it's not, then it must be coming back via the Earth, and if it's doing that, it might be getting to the Earth via your body, and this is unlikely to be doing you any good.

So the differential circuit breaker checks to see if there is a difference between the currents in the live and neutral wires, and if there is, it disconnects the electricity supply.  It provides an important safety function.   Its use is mandated in all new electrical installations, and all major revamps of old ones.  There really is no excuse for not using them; they are life-savers and don't cost a lot.

I got one the other day to install in my fuse box that is due for a revamp.  It's one for three-phase mains that I have here; the ones for normal single phase mains are smaller.  You might have one already fitted in your fuse box: good.  But I bet you didn't know that you're supposed to test them once a month, did you?  I certainly didn't until I read the instructions that came with this one.  They have a test button that if you press it should cause them to activate.  The one on mine is the blue button next to the switch throw.






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