PHOTOS APRIL 2009
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It's obviously April Fools' Day today - it must be for I have gone to pay my taxes. And surprise, surprise, I'm in Brussels. Caliburn needs to be serviced.
In the good old days each commune had its own tax office, very intimate and very personal and very friendly. But not now. There's this huge monstrosity just like the Cook County Assessors' Office in The Blues Brothers and getting in to see someone is an absolute nightmare. If I described it too you it would take up far too much room so I'll leave everything to your own imagination.
But Brussels also has a good side to it, and that includes some of the people whose acquaintance I've made while I lived here. This is Mike Deverell and his legendary lederhosen-clad yodelling teddy bear.
Mike is very keen on widening the circle of his friends so we meet up quite often for a Mexican. He told me that on one occasion he had come into Brussels for an Italian, but unfortunately the Italian made good his getaway.
By the way, if you want to see Mike's legendary lederhosen-clad yodelling teddy bear in action at the same time as Mike squeezing his cock, then you need to go to this link.
I didn't stay long in Belgium as I had itchy feet and was dying to get home again. This is the sight that greeted me on my arrival. In fact as you can see, nothing much has changed since I left although my brussels sprouts have now run to seed.
Somehow I find that rather symbolic. After all, Brussels is quite a seedy place if you ask me.
The weather is nice though.
The first task that needs to be done however is to unload Caliburn. My trip to the UK was a major shopping expedition for all kinds of things that I need round here.
You can see the solar panels that I bought. There are 8xKyocera 130-watt panels that I am going to mount on the side of the house here to generate the electricity. What you can't see are the ...gulp ... 20x92-amphour Hawker deep discharge batteries, and neither can you see the 90-watt Marlec wind turbine.
I'm not going to want for power with that little lot.
There's not much room in here as you can see. It's a good job in some ways that the money I was intending to transfer over to the UK to finance this enormous spending spree never actually made it over. After all, where would I put any more stuff?
And it's not just the volume that you need to consider either. The 20 batteries weighed almost three quarters of a tonne and poor Caliburn was right down on his springs. It was an interesting drive home, that's for sure.
While I was away, Claude was watering my plants in the greenhouse, and they seem to have gone berserk.
Now before I left I sowed some mustard and cress seeds. But these don't look anything like mustard or cress to me. The opinion of everyone who has commented on this pic is that these are tomato plants. And I don't see any reason to disagree with that.
I've no idea what's happening there.
Of course you know by now that I'm a big fan of industrial archaeology and in fact I completed my B Sc Technology Honours Degree with a course in historical technology. Railways is of course one of those things that figure highly in historical civil engineering and here in the Combrailles there are some fine examples of railway engineering, as keen readers of my pages will recall.
Pionsat was on a railway line - now dismantled - that ran betweem Montlucon and Gouttières. It had one of the briefest lifespans of probably any railway line anywhere in the world - opened in the early 1930s and closed in the mid 1950s, although the southern end had closed down much earlier than that.
This abandoned viaduct is at La Cellette about 3 miles southeast of Pionsat.
This is the new Rutland 910 wind turbine and I bet you are wondering why I've taken the side panel off.
Tha answer is that I wanted to see what it looked like inside and to photograph the internals for posterity before I erected it. This is pretty important because having had all the adventures with the old one, it's important to know what's what before you do anything.
Surprisingly there's no maker's plate on it - just a stick-on label that won't last too long in the weather we have over here. So what I did was to write all the information into my Permanent Notes book (I have a huge "indexed book" - a thick A4 notebook that has an alphabetic index and in here I record absolutely everything of any use about anything concerned with the farm) and then copied it in indelible ink onto the inside of the inspection panel so it's there for posterity.
Actually, you've seen something very similar to these internals before.
And there's always gardening to be getting on with. I'm going to put more of an effort into it this year than I did last year. I've decided that already.
One bed has already been dug over and I've planted some cabbage and cauliflower in it. Not all, I've merely thinned out the seedlings. I'm half-expecting many of them to peg out before they establish themselves and meantime there are others developing in the seed trays in the greenhouse that can take their place.
I've now dug up all of the brussels sprouts that had gone to seed and that's where I'll be putting my tomato and lettuce plants.
And you can see all the rocks I pulled up. You wouldn't think I cleared out these beds last year.
I'm also pretty heavily into old vehicles, especially French ones (not for nothing am I living in France) and I always keep my eyes open for exciting and unusual things. Just like this in fact.
If you had to think of a couple of vehicles that epitomised the France of legend, one of the ones would be bound to be the "corrugated iron shed on wheels" otherwise known as the Citroen type H van. They were all over the place until a few years ago - finding one now still on the road is a rare event.
I'd die to have one of these here to go along with my Traction Avant and think of the fun I could have with a cherry-picker. Citroen made a few with Perkins diesel engines and that would be my preferred option.
Back last spring I planted some broccoli in my garden. And from then on I never saw it again. I had no idea where it went to.
Once the snow and the frosts cleared earlier this year, I noticed that a nice greeny plant had established itself in the garden and was looking quite healthy even if it was a bit leggy. I had no idea what it was, so you can imagine my surprise when I peered inside and saw the broccoli heads developing. So that's where it went.
The local Intermarché changed hands the other week and is now a Carrefour Market. With the changeover, the prices have gone up and the quality has gone right down, especially with the fruit and veg and certainly with the bakery. The bread is appalling.
The raisin bread that they used to sell was excellent but now there is nothing for me to eat as a special treat at the weekend. I have however found some readymix bread dough at LIDL (good old LIDL) that all you do is add water. My oven is a tiny thing out of a scrap caravan and it isn't much good, but one of the bread mixes on offer is a ciabatta that needs only 25 minutes on a very low heat. Stick a handful of raisins in that lot and it's worth a try to see what happens.
Keen readers of my mighty organ will know with sadness that Liz Ayers, who features prominently in these pages, died in March 2009 after a short illness. She always wanted to be a tree so I asked everyone who remembered her to plant a tree in her memory.
Liz was also a keen fan of LIDL and so when LIDL announced a special delivery of fruit trees, I decided that I would create the Liz Ayers Memorial Orchard. That way, whenever I get my hands on a nice juicy pear I shall think of her.
You saw in a pic above the new Rutland wind turbine that I bought for down here on the farm. It's no good of course sitting on a workbench, so as Terry had a free morning and the weather was nice, we took the opportunity to take down the Air 403 that had stalled, and fit the Rutland.
We haven't quite got it right though. It's not pivoting on its axis in the wind so we need to take it down and refit it - probably grind off a couple of millimetres from the top of the pole. But when the wind is blowing face-on to the blades it goes round quite impressively.
When we do the roof it's going to be mounted right on the apex on a 6-metre pole so just imagine what it's going to do when it's 5 metres higher up and pivoting into the wind.
There's lots of rubbish that accumulates around here. If it's vegetable matter it gets composted; if it's glass or metal it's recycled; if it's soft paper it's shredded and used in the composting toilet. But there are still things that need disposing of otherwise, and burning is the option for that.
If it's clean rubbish it's burnt in the house and I use the heat for cooking baked potatoes and for making the dough rise for my breadmaking experiments. But dirty rubbish and weeds are burnt outside in the galvanised steel dustbin that I bought in Hawick and with which I am really impressed.
Whenever I need to light a fire the blasted thing never ever seems to take. But if I'm doing my best to avoid setting things alight, I can conjure up an impressive conflagration without any effort at all. That's why whenever I get a good blaze going when and where I want it, it's worth a picture for posterity.
It went out just after this.
And the football club still goes marching on. Pionsat's 2nd XI are playing Beauregard Vendon and need to win in order to stay at the top of the table. They manage this quite comfortably with an impressive away win.
Even better, news filters through that their nearest rivals, Mozac, can only manage a draw in their match. This means that the team cannot be caught at the top of the table and so win the championship and promotion to the second division of the Puy-de-Dome league.
You remember the shot above about the bread that I made. Well quite frankly it was a dismal failure. The centre and the bottom were totally uncooked despite all of the time that I had left the loaf in the oven.
Liz at Fournial suggested that I try to make bread rolls instead - the lesser mass in each roll might make them cook better. Anything is worth a try so that's what I did. And do you know - they came out really well. I'll do this again.
Here in the Combrailles we have the Anglo-French Conversation Group. We meet on three Monday evenings per month to chat about local events, about what's on and also about a set topic chosen the previous week. French-speakers have to speak in English and English-speakers have to speak in French and everyone helps and encourages everyone else.
I had to write some publicity for the group and so I reckoned I would take a good photo to go with my news article.
Meantime the gardening continues apace and I now need somewhere to sow all my peas and beans which have been quietly pushing out shoots in a damp environment in the greenhouse.
This bed had the potatoes last year but I dug all of those up (I hope). There are still a couple of leeks left behind that I need to eat sometime soon. In the meantime this is as good a place as any to do my sowing.
From the reverse angle you can see that the garden is taking shape again and looking quite nice. And if you look in the foreground slightly to the right of centre you will see that my garlic is now going berserk. That's impressive. I quite like garlic.
You can also see my LIDL greenhouse, which is also impressive.
I'm pleased that my idea of raised beds for the vegetable garden seems to be working so nicely. It's much better than having endless rows of plants that you can't remember what they are and trampling on everything that you have forgotten that you planted.
I keep a careful note of the statistics about the farm and mid-April saw a period of many records being broken. Some time in May 2008 I had a record figure of 83.5 amp-hours generated by the three solar panels on the barn. I didn't think that that would be beaten as now I have a decent set-up in the house I'm drawing much of my current from there and so the batteries in the barn stay pretty-much charged up.
However a brilliant sunny day during which I did two machine-loads of washing and had a mega-charge-up of the battery-powered tools saw a phenomenal figure of 90.1 amp-hours generated.
When I went out at the end of the night to take the statistics that figure had increased to 90.8 amp-hours.
I also made myself a heat exchanger out of bits and pieces. I use this as a test-bed to see if my theory about solar water-heating holds good. You can see in here that the figure for the temperature inside the heat exchanger on this day reached 55.0 while the ambient temperature was 32.0. This was a record and justified my optimism.
But the record didn't stand for long. The temperature sender that is fitted to the thermomenter has a maximum of 70.0 degrees. As I type this on the 2nd of June I notice that the temperature has gone off the scale on 7 days. It's clearly working.
It was so warm here for a spell that another thing I tried out was some solar water heating in some glass jars and putting them in full sunlight.
I found a couple of big glass jars and filled tham with water, and then wandered off to look for my temperature probe. I was then sidetracked and the whole project slipped my mind. But never mind. I'll try it again.
I have to say that two things happen when you reach my age. The first is that you forget absolutely everything and I can't remember what the second thing is.
Keen readers of these pages will recall that on the side of the house I had an AIR 403 wind turbine that I bought in Arizona in September 2002. It was this that we took down to put up the new Rutland.
I cannot recall it ever having turned a blade in all the time that it was up there, so I was interested to see what was going on with it. The hub was a little loose but there was no apparent reason why it shouldn't work. I have a wind turbine to install at someone's premises in June 2009 and I know that it is terrifically windy there. I'm going to put it up there along with the other one and see what happens.
I have to admit that my soldering is total rubbish and with the new lead-free solder it's even worse. Making battery cables is a nightmare, so much so that if I do anything for anyone on a formal basis, I buy them in ready-made.
But while I was on my travels around the UK I picked up a proper cable crimper and ends. I've seen better crimpers, that's for sure, but it makes a good connection all the same and with insulation tape wrapped tightly around (I can't wait to get all properly installed so that I can use the heat gun) the job isn't so bad.
There was a walk around Pionsat given by Marianne, the local historian who used to live in Alsager and who taught French at a school in Crewe. It was quite interesting and we learnt quite a lot.
The mound in the centre of this pic with the new house on top is formerly the site of a fortified camp from the time of the Gallo-Romans and later. The original settlement of Pionsat was at the foot of the mound.
The large house was one of three that represented a project by a wealthy businessman. At the turn of the 20th Century there was much unemployment around here. He engaged many of the out-of-work tradesmen to construct this enormous house and two others as some kind of act of benevolence.
He had an ulterior motive in that he was hoping to be elected mayor of the town. But when the ungrateful locals voted for another, he threw teddy out of the pram, picked up his ball and went to play in another town.
Although Marianne didn't say it, I have heard it said that the philanthropist made his fortune from running a brothel. Maybe that's something that Strawberry Moose and I ought to consider.
You all know by now that I keep a kind-of web page for the local football team. I take pics and write a commentary and post them on line.
It doesn't always work out though, especially on this particular evening when not only did we have the darkness, we also had a thick and persistent fog. Any kind of photography was out of the question tonight. This was bound to upset some people but it couldn't be helped.
By the time the night was over we were having a torrential downpour and so we all took to the stand.
And the reason that we were still there was to celebrate the promotion of FCPSH's 2nd XI who had won the championship of the Puy de Dome 3rd Division.
I left at about midnight and the whisky was still being passed around. I was told after that some people didn't make it home until 03:00 the next morning and there were a few sore heads.
The next afternoon was the team's final match and so they all lined up for a photo shoot to give me an opportunity to demonstrate my prowess. In fact, this photo was accepted by the local newspaper which published it a few days later.
I'm quite pleased with the way that it has come out and it's certainly good enough for publication. Now that I know who to talk to at the local press, I'll submit a few more for next season.
The 2nd XI's final match was against Sauret Besserve. Over the course of the season the Pionsat players deserved their championship and Sauret Besserve are quite awful so even with shuffling the team around, Pionsat comfortably disposed of the visitors.
They aren't going to find it so easy next season though in Division 2 and if they achieve a lower-mid-table position they will do quite well. There are some strong teams in Division 2.
So now that I have my trees for Liz, they need to be planted. But I'm a long way from actually having any clear space for this as the orchard is overrun with scrub right now and it all needs to be cleared out.
The answer seemed to me to buy a load of buckets, pierce holes in the bottom with a heated blunt instrument, and put the plants in there. Then put the buckets into some plastic boxes and keep the boxes well-watered.
When I went shopping with Liz-at-Fournial the other week we bought some strawberry plants between us. I put mine in the greenhouse while I debated where to put them.
You can imagine my surprise when I poked my head in there at the end of April and there was already one strawberry fully-developed. This is quite a major achievement for me and I am so impressed. My garden is going to do me proud this year, I hope.