PHOTOS MAY 2009
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As you know, I have the roof of my house and barn to do, and my friend Terry has part of his barn roof to do as well. And the price of hiring scaffolding is astronomical to say the least. I'm told that its as much as €9 per square metre per week.
That kind of price is ridiculous and there's no way that I'm paying that. Neither is Terry and so seeing that he is a keen fan of eBay I set him a task to prove that he was worthy. And didn't he just come up trumps.
Heaven alone knows how many square metres of scaffolding there is here, but it's fairly modern "Kwikstage" stuff and this entire load cost just £1100, or $1500, or €1300. And delivery all the way from the UK was just £300, which was probably even more impressive.
We quickly recruited a gang of labourers from amongst the Anglo-French Conversation Group, and we had it all off the lorry and into Liz and Terry's barn in a matter of half an hour.
Of course, seeing that we are round at Liz's, there are bound to be some edible delights on offer afterwards, which is probably why there is always such a rush for volunteers for a chantier communal down there.
From left to right we have Alex, Simon, Liz, Lika, George and Guillaume. Not that many, but as I have said before, it's quality and not quantity that counts. In any case, the more numerous we are, the less vegan cake we each get to eat.
Simon is new to the area and knew nothing about the legendary Viaduc des Fades at the bottom of Liz's garden. You of course, keen reader of these pages that you are, will know all about the viaduct having read my opus on the subject.
After a surfeit of chocolate cake we took Simon for a walk through the tunnel and on to the viaduct so that he could see for himself what all the fuss is about.
A few days later I had to go to the Chamber of Commerce at Mozac to register myself as self-employed for my Renewable Energy business. Liz is extrememly interested in this and so she decided to come along for the ride.
It was far too nice to go home afterwards so we went for a drive down to the Plateau de Gergovie, south of Clermont Ferrand. It was up here in 52BC that the Gauls under Vercingetorix gave Julius Caesar's army a mighty hammering.
I took dozens of photos and I'll put them up on a separate web page in due course.
You can tell from the above pic that the view is rather spectacular. This view gives you a much better idea of what it's like.
This view is of the city of Clermont Ferrand and was taken from right on the top of the plateau. I have to admit that it's come out really well, even though I was the one who took it. Right in the centre is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, dating from the 13th Century and built of the black pierre de Volvic, which is actually volcanic lava.
We talked earlier about our system of chantier communal. Most of us are either individuals or couples and there are many jobs that we need to do that are effectively outside our competences or require more hands than we have available ourselves. So what we do is form working parties and go round to different people's houses on an informal rota basis to undertake all of these tasks in a group. That way it's much quicker for everyone concerned and also much more motivational.
Here we all are at Ingrid's. Some of us decorated her hall and bathroom while others emptied and cleaned out her stable for the donkey that she has acquired.
And the football season seemed to go on for ever. But that was due to the awful weather in winter when there was hardly a match played in December, January and February.
This is the final match of the season and it involves Pionsat's 1st XI who play in the Puy de Dome league's 1st Division - about level 11 of the French pyramid. They were playing Charbonniere les Vieilles and won 3-2, to finish the season in a lower-mid-table position.
I'm keeping a list of interesting purchases that have made my life easier while I live down here. And there is very little easier than this machine.
From LIDL as you might expect, and it is in fact a branch cutter. And I don't mean thin twigs and the like - this will easily cut branches of 5cms diameter without a great deal of effort. Where the ordinary lopper won't go, this thing will and when I've been cutting up branches for firewood this has saved me a great deal of effort with a bow saw.
One thing that some people might find surprising is the rather relaxed way that France deals with planning applications. Here we are in a place of historical significance and the owner of this plot of land has the authority to erect a couple of wind turbines;
And quite right too. There's tons of wind as you can tell by all of the kites that were flying around, and it's a shame to waste it. Of course, if this were in the UK all of the NIMBYs ("Not In My Back Yard") would be up in arms.
But never mind. The monument to Vercingetorix is also spoiling the natural beauty and furthermore, it was built without planning permission. We can pull that down straight away.
Arriving home, I encountered this beastie on the pathway to my house. It was about 20-25cms long, I reckon and just lying there taking in the sun.
I've no idea what it is but I described it to someone and they reckoned that it might be a slow worm. But if you have any ideas as to what it might be, please .
Talking of slow worms, I did hear a story about a lady friend of my acquaintance who discovered a snake in her living room. I asked her if she threw it out and she replied that she couldn't catch it. It slithered away much faster than she could run after it and it led her a merry dance all around the house. She described it to me and asked me if I knew what it was
"Ahh yes"I replied. "it's called a Calculator Snake"
"A Calculator Snake?"
"That's right. A very fast adder"
We mentioned wind turbines earlier, and this is another magnificent example of one such turbine.
Between Combronde and Riom near the village of St. Hilaire La Croix there's a ridge that overlooks the Limange and the Val D'Allier to the south-east and here they've erected this beautiful wind turbine. The wind coming over here was certainly impressive and I could fully understand why they would want to do so.
It's all very well people objecting that they might be unsightly, but would you rather live next to this in Kent, England or this in Wyoming, USA? Or would you rather have hundreds of miles of electrical cable bringing your electricity from an eyesore in someone else's backyard?
The village of St Hilaire La Croix is very pretty, and well worth a detour even if there isn't a brocante in progress.
There are two important attractions here. The first is the huge artificial lake right in the centre of the village - a lake that is absolutely teeming with fish. The second attraction is the 12th Century church, which was formerly a resting place for pilgrims travelling to Santiago de la Compostela.
It is said that the fishpond was built by monks who attended to the welfare of the pilgrims. The catering was attended to by the chip monk and the fish friar.
One of the beauties of a satnav is that if you set it up to take you somewhere and let it do its stuff, it can sometimes take you to some impressive places.
Just like here in fact.
Travelling from St Hilaire la Croix to St Gervais for the plant fair, it suddenly brought me out onto the top of this cliff overlooking the Gorge de la Sioule near to Chateauneuf les Bains.
The road down to the gorge itself was impressive too - a series of hairpin bends. But there was nowhere to stop and take a photo.
Back in April I was pleased to photograph my very first strawberry. But that was nothing like as exciting as being able to pick a large handful from my own garden and eat them.
Smothered in vegan soya cream and eaten cold after a vegan pizza and garlic bread, it was one of the nicest meals that I could remember. There's no doubt at all that gardening is one of the most rewarding hobbies that exists. Especially when you can eat strawberries like these.
We had a few days of real heatwave here in the latter half of May, and no day was hotter than that of the 20th of May when the outdoor temperature reached 35.1 degrees Centigrade.
And if that wasn't hot enough, it reached 48 degrees in the greenhouse (although that was subsequently improved upon) and went off the scale (i.e. over 70 degrees) in the heat exchanger.
If you remember back to March 2009 you'll recall that I planted into the wet soil some of the tree offcuts that had sprouted buds whilst lying on the floor.
I now needed the bed for my plants so I pulled them up and much to my surprise, several of them had grown roots. These I put into little pots ready for when I need to plant them as part of a hedge.
On some of the others, the buds had developed into leaves even though they had not set down any roots. These I put into jars filled with very muddy water. It will be interesting to see if they manage to put out some roots. It'll be nice to grow my own hedge from these offcuts.
The football hadn't quite finished for the season. In order to raise funds the Pionsat-St Hilaire football club organises a six-a-side competiton. Teams pay to enter and the prizes for the winners are ... er ... worthwhile.
The opening rounds are mixed and the later stages of the tournament are divided according to ability dependent upon a team's performance in the opening rounds. This encourages teams of all ages and abilities to compete and stand a chance of winning something.
Highlight of the tournament had to be the penalty shoot-out between a team of girls and a team of regular players from local clubs in the Puy de Dome league.
The guy keeping goal is Francois, the goalkeeper from St Priest in the Puy De Dome League Division 1. He's not a popular person in these parts due to some of his antics at a football match a few weeks ago . Here, he's comprehensively beaten by a beautiful penalty taken by one of the girls.
And it wasn't a fluke either. Earlier in the day she had scored another magnificent penalty.
Towards the end of the evening football was interrupted by one of the most impressive storms I've ever seen here. We had a tempest that lasted about 10 minutes with gusts of wind that even registered on my recalcitrent wind turbine.
What you see on the photo that look like grains - they are in fact hailstones. I had my camera set on 1/1500 to record the football and the hailstones were so large that at that shutter speed they registered on the photo.
You can see how big the hailstones were by looking at the damage that they did to my parasol. It's totally wrecked, which is a shame because I rather liked it.
What was ironic about all of this was that at La Cellette just a couple of miles down the road from Pionsat they had had no rain at all yet the road back from town up to my place looked like a whirlwind had passed by.