PHOTOS MAY 2010
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We've not had many old cars just recently as I've not seen so many about and in any case what I have seen has been stuff that I've seen before and described at great length. However at the St Gervais agricultural fair I stumbled across this Chrysler New Yorker.
According to the leaflet in the windscreen it dates from 1967
I've seen quite a few of these trucks around on my travels and I've never been able to identify them properly. But here was one with a leaflet in the window saying what it was.
It's a Renault Goelette truck dating from 1958 and rated at 11 horsepower. I don't know why the horsepower is seen to be significant but it's always quoted when information about old cars is displayed.
I spend an awful lot of my time on these pages bemoaning the great clear-up of French hedgerows and fields in the 1990s that saw thousands and thousands of interesting old French cars depart for the smelter. A national disaster if you ask me. If I were still with Nerina, she would be quite pleased however because our summer holidays in the 1980s consisted of us going to France and me abandoning her in a country lane while I leapt over a hedgerow armed with my old Cosina to snap something interesting that I had found.
So today was just like old times as I drove down this road that I have driven down hundreds of times before, did a quick double-take over something that I have never noticed before, did a u-turn through the traffic and disappeared over a hedge into a field, armed this time with my Pentax.
I've no idea what it is as I couldn't get close enough but the long bonnet, wings and running boards puts it at the late 1950s at the very latest. It's restored a little bit of my faith in rural France anyway - I don't know how I could have missed this vehicle considering all the times that I've driven down here.
I took this photo on the 5th of May today and just look at the weather. This is certainly the longest winter that I can ever remember.
We were on the way back from Clermont Ferrand late in the afternoon. Down there we had had some kind of desultory sleet but coming back over the top of the Col des Goules near Orcines we encountered this lot.
May? It's ridiculous!
I was at the footy match tonight where Pionsat were playing Lapeyrouse and never mind the footy - about 5 minutes before half time I happened to turn around and I noticed a cloud of water vapour rising from off the disused railway embankment at the back of the ground. It was quite astonishing.
The second half of the match was played through the banks of the cloud that was being slowly blown across the Overflow End of the pitch by a light but steady breeze. All in all it made for quite a surreal atmosphere.
Back home (I'm another 150 metres of altitude higher up from Pionsat) I discovered why the water vapour suddenly rose like that. All the clouds had gone and there was a clear sky with millions of stars. Some sudden temperature inversion and a pile of heat radiation into the atmosphere had caused the water in the colder air to condensate.
The weather here is totally astonishing. Snow on the 5th of May is one thing, but we can have some other violent extremes. In the 24 hours to 22:00 on 11th May we had 23.5mm of rain. That's a total of just over 120mm (almost 5 inches) in the ten days to then -an average of 12mm per day.
This photo was taken at another football match down in Pionsat. You can just about make out the Font Nanaud (the mountain pass between Pionsat and Gouttieres) in the distance through the rain. That's the horizontal grey line at about 2/3rds height. There's a darker squall clouds such as the one hovering over the goal and I estimated this at about 150 feet. It was one of many being slowly blown across the football pitch by the wind, drenching everyone and everything in tons of water.
His Nibs made some more new admirers today. Terry Liz and I did a furniture removal in mid-May and Strawberry Moose came along to take charge, supervise and in general look after the children while the adults did the work.
Of course this calls for a photo opportunity (have you ever known Strawberry Moose to miss out on one of those?) and here he is being feted by James, Samuel and Julianna while Liz, Esther and Lionel look on.
Mid May is also football tournament time at Pionsat and now that yours truly is a fully-qualified football referee for the Puy-de-Dome Football league I was asked if I would referee some of the matches. 39 teams took part and as I was asked to referee the final I ended up staying at the ground until ... err ... 01:15 in the morning.
I was thoroughly exhausted at the end of it though. At 15:00 when it all started I was leaping over the barrier onto the pitch. By the time the final came around at 00:50 I was crawling under the barrier on all fours.
The last match of the season for Pionsat's football team was at St Maurice and the fine weather had brought out quite a crowd.
Football isn't everyone's cup of tea and you can hardly blame some of the supporters for taking advantage of the weather. Mind you, the first half of the match was such that everyone else in the crowd would have dozed off too. It's not as if we had had a scintillating thriller with 6 goals and a couple of sendings off to keep the crowd on its toes.
My friend Terry has set himself up in business as a general handyman and he needs a trailer to help him move all of his equipment from one job to the next. I have plenty of uses for a large trailer too and I also have an old caravan chassis around here doing nothing very much.
So I towed it round to Terry's and we stripped it down to the bones and cleaned it up. It's not as good as it might otherwise be but it's a good-enough base to start on.
Here's the trailer duly finished, all painted up, with a new floor and with a full set of electrics.
And also with a tractor on the back.
The tyres on the trailer aren't looking so good. They are caravan tyres and so not up to all that much. One of them doesn't have a maker's plate but the other one does - and it's rated at a maximum 1016lb (475kg) and a max of 36psi, and none of this is right. I'll have to think about this
In May I was at a meeting discussing tourism initiatives in the Combrailles when this bird decided to join in by flying into the room. It's a hirondelle, so I'm told - whatever that might be.
Keen followers of my outpourings will know that I have more than a passing interest in local birds, but none of ... errr ... this type of bird.
One of the most important events in the calendar around here is the Plant Fair in St Gervais. The weather around here is, as you know, unpredictable and it can play havoc with your gardening as it has done this year with my plants. I've no leeks, no peppers, no chilis and so on.
But this area is the home of many people with a close affinity with the soil. Gardening, especially vegetable gardening, is quite a pastime. And so at the Garden fair everyone brings along their surplus plants and those of us who have been devastated by the late snows and frosts can buy them to replace those that we lost.
I've mentioned in other places that this area is, believe it or not, situated on a huge coal seam and one day in May a group of about 15 of us was taken by a local historian on a ramble around the Gouttières area to look at the remains of old coal mines. There's a shallow coal seam that runs through the area and at the turn of the 20th Century some attempts were made to exploit it.
Here deep in the woods at the back of Gouttieres we uncovered some old machinery. It dates from that era and is in fact some pithead gear - a winding frame of sorts and a steam engine to power it.
Several mines were sunk in the area between Gouttières and Lapeize and a great deal of investment was made in the area, with farmland divided into tiny plots for housing for the workers.
However all hopes were dashed as the coal quite literally turned to dust. The pits that were sunk lasted not even a handful of years before it was discovered to be uneconomical for the coal to be raised in sufficient amounts. Even the massive "Puits Michelin" at Lapeize lasted no more than 5 years and the huge area set aside for a slag heap is no more than about 20 feet high.
The area of Lapeize is also famous for the "Grès de Lapeize", a hard silty millstone grit type of rock with a close affinity to sandstone. There are 5 major outcrops in the Lapeize area and these have been quarried for centuries, if not millennia.
It's wonderful stuff for building and you can make these nice corner blocks of solid stone. Many important historic buildings in the area, including the Chateau de Pionsat, are made from this "Grès de Lapeize".
The quarries closed down just prior to World War II but some kind of desultory attempt was made to restart them once the war was over but it was doomed to failure. However in 1970 one of the quarries was bought for a pittance by a man from St Georges who was planning to build a hotel there and he needed the stone.
He took a wartime American GMC truck - 6-cylinder sidevalve petrol engine - into the quarry and it's still there.It's been robbed of many parts but its major components are still there. And it's not a mechanical bucket on the back, it's a mechanical prodder-type of ram-type of drill for breaking the stone off the wall and into manageable chunks.
I'd been out one day in the bright sunshine but on the way home it clouded over and the temperature suddenly plummeted. In a matter of just a couple of minutes it dropped from 32°C to just 14°C and we had an intense rainstorm.
A little later the temperature rose just as dramatically as the clouds moved on and the sun appeared. But suddenly it would cloud over again, we'd have a rainstorm and then the clouds would depart leaving us once more bright sunshine. The temperature would rise back into the low 30s and the heat caused all of the roads and the vegetation to steam - just like in this pic near the top of the Font Nanaud.
And upon returning home this evening after the chantier I had a tremendous surprise. Those of you with long memories will recall that back in the winter 2008-9 I cleared a plot of land of old trees, weeds, brambles and the like ready to make a parking place for Caliburn and the trailer etc etc.
Bernard, the president of Pionsat Football CLub put me hot-foot on the trail of a digger and I had had a chat with the driver but before I could arrange a date with him, he simply turned up while I was aout and did it.
We always need a milestone photograph of the first garden produce of the year.
Lunch today consisted of the usual salad butty but today it featured home-grown lettuce and home-grown radish. I've been using home-grown garlic and home-grown herbs for a while but today was the first time that I had pulled something important out of my new vegetable patches for food purposes. The taste at the moment is a little insipid but it will improve over time.