Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Tiling break

There is at last enough floor area in the room finished so I can get the furniture back in, with a little help from my friends this morning. Life will be back to normal, fairly soon.

There is a bit left to do around the steps, and in the tower, but this afternoon I decide I've had enough of tiling for the moment. There are Dahlia tubers to be brought indoors after the wife has potted them up. These seem to have survived the -15 degree temperatures, which is a nice surprise. When I dug up the tubers in the Autumn, I was very careful to label them properly so I would know what colour flowers they will make again this year. This tuber is labeled "Bristol Panache". Hmjmmm I can remember that that was the name of one of the varieties I planted, but I can't remember what colour it was.

Meanwhile, the Jasmine is starting to bloom in my conservatory. It makes a gorgeous perfume.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Spring is happening with some speed now. The Forsythia is out, the Hawthorne is in blossom, and Japonica is starting to open its flowers.

The first house I ever lived in as a child was a prefab in Sholing, a suburb of Southampton, and there was a big Hawthorne bush just outside. It was big enough you could get inside it, and it served as a den for many a secret meeting between friends. So now the smell of Hawthorne blossom takes me right back. I hesitate to use the Woody Allen term "Proustian rush", but you know what I mean.

Alice in Wonderland is showing in 3D in Laval, so I went to see it. I guess we can expect more and more big films to be in 3D from now on. I wonder how this will translate to home entertainment. Will we have to get (new, expensive), special sets, players and 3D glasses to watch our 3D DVDs? Or will they find a technology that is compatible with existing sets. We shall see. I think I'm classed as a "late adopter"; I have only recently bought a Blu-Ray player. Meanwhile, the municipal fountain was running, and new plantings have been made by the roadside.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


When choosing tiles for the living room, the wife and I came across some round mosaic tiles. Hand-made from small shaped tiles, these can be used as a focal point for a room. They seem to be known as medallions. As it happens, the tiling project includes a round tower and so we thought it would be cool to have a round mosaic in the middle of it. But they turned out to be expensive, so we passed.

As the project continued, I was attracted more and more to the idea, so we decided to bite the bullet, and we went to the tile shop to buy one. Three problems: none of the examples they had in stock matched our tile colour, the colours in the catalogue were not true, and finally they are on 6 weeks delivery. I need to finish the project next week, so 6 weeks delivery time is a killer.

So we hit on the idea of making one. We went and bought some squares of mosaic tiles, split them up, and the wife spent some time experimenting with designs. Here's two; the second one might well be the one we choose to run with. It will be an interesting task to lay the thing, get it all at the right height on the tile cement, all the tiles evenly spaced. Watch this space :)

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

A door-gone problem

Since the new floor is now higher than the old one, all the doors that open inwards have to be rehung, and a bit planed off the bottom. So it's off the hinges with my conservatory doors, and onto trestles so I can trim them.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Tiling break

Tiles are heavy, tile cement is heavy, and laying tiles you have to keep getting up and back down. Time for a quick break and a walk round the garden.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Project - phase 4, tiling

So the walls are painted, the new electrical fittings are in place. Nothing left for it but to do the tiling. Tiling is a perfect lesson in error accumulation in 2-D geometry, and you have to be alert to possible traps, every step of the way.

First, decide which wall you want the tiles to be parallel to (rooms are never square) then draw a line in the middle of the room parallel to that wall, with a pencil. Decide how far from the parallel wall your line of tiles is going to be (at the edge to which they are parallel, you want to have to cut the tiles to a little under half their width), and mark out this line, parallel to your first. This is your tile line. Decide how you are going to position your tiles along this line, according to whatever aesthetic principle you like, and mark it.

Position a piece of taut string above your tile line, since when you put tile cement down, your line on the floor will be hidden. Now you can start to cement the tiles. Use a straight edge at all times to make sure your line of tiles is straight, and spirit levels to make sure they are level, and eyeball them to make sure they are the same height. When you are happy, let your line of tiles dry, and tomorrow they will be the reference point for the rest of your tiling.

Day 1: straight line. Day 2: two more rows of tiles each side of the straight line.

Meanwhile, Spring is happening in my garden, completely without my help.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Painting project

The underfloor heating project is progressing nicely. The floor now warms up when it's supposed to, and to about the right temperature. Next, before laying the tiles, it's sensible to paint the walls. They're now in a light, neutral colour, and it's a lot brighter than what went before. And to keep the shiny new tone, some new electrical sockets and switches too.

Monday, 15 March 2010


The French seem to be a bit picky about vegetables. We fed sweet corn (maize) to our guests at a dinner party a while back, and they were asking "Do people (as well as cows) eat these?". The same goes for parsnips. (French for parsnip: le panais). You can buy them both in the veg section at the supermarket, but still.

I love parsnips. Boiled to soften them and then crisped up in some nice hot, greasy animal fat, they're wonderful. They taste sweeter after they've been frosted, since they make some kind of sweet-tasting anti-freeze. Yum!

Last year I was inspired to grow parsnips by a book "cook your own veg" (as if!) by Carol Klein. Parsnip seeds germinate slowly, so Carol instructed me to "mark the row of parsnip seeds with radishes", without giving me any idea of how I should do this. So I planted the parsnips alongside the same number of radish seeds, and sure enough, there came a nice row of radishes. These were so dense that they suffocated the parsnips. When I got round to pulling them up there were a few straggly parsnip seedlings that I left behind, and to my surprise they grew into a decent row of parsnips.

I have been eating them all Winter, and now they are starting to re-grow. If I leave them be they will just run to seed, so I dug the remaining ones up today. They can stay in the fridge until needed.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Music collection

I have a big collection of music CDs. As a friend pointed out, many of them I will never listen to again in my life, so why keep them? The trouble is, I don't know which ones I'm going to want to listen to again, so I have to keep them all.

This of course takes up space. I could record my CDs into MP3 format which is at least compact, but selling the CD or even giving it away while I have a digital copy, robs musicians of their reward and would be illegal anyway. So I'm resigned to having to find space for an ever-increasing collection of CDs.

I'm becoming outmoded of course. The modern way to buy music is to download it. I can even use music services to feed me music all day every day should I so choose. And if I can stream what I want when I want it, why do I need a collection of music all of my own anyway? Sound quality is the reason right now, but I don't see that remaining long as a justification, the way bandwidth is growing. The other reason is the lack of a broad catalogue of streamed music that isn't pop, but again I think that problem will also go away in time. One day, maybe, my hifi will be an amplifier, speakers and a digital connection, and I will finally be able ditch the CDs.

Today there was a flea market in Laval. Like a UK car boot sale, but in a big hangar. Mostly it was dealers; if you want non-pros, you go to the vide greniers that take place mostly at the end of the school Summer holidays. I bought a few CDs. For 2 euros for a CD that plays, it's hard to go wrong. If I only ever play it once, it's still good value. And I think that the coming prevalence of digital presentation might do away with the simple pleasure of finding a musical bargain. So I enjoy it while I can.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Blog awards

My little blog got an award yesterday. I like the fact that other people enjoy my ramblings, even though I try to keep the content limited to observations of day-to-day happenings. You won't find many deep and meaningful observations about life, much high political intrigue or philosophical insights. Just the stuff that goes on.

The awards are self-propagating, in that the award recipient is supposed to nominate a number of other winners, and so on, so that it rolls on as some kind of never-ending blogsphere meme, perhaps one day to revisit its original author in a grand homecoming reception.

Anyway, the Sunshine Blog award is mine (Thanks, Fly). Here its is:

And since we are supposed to pass on this award to twelve other bloggers (that seems a lot to me; the author was clearly motivated to ensure the long-term survival of his or her award) Here's a list of a few blogs I read frequently, that you might like. Molly Potter is either a nutcase or a highly creative person who thinks outside the box most of the time. She's probably been called both. Anyway her blog is entertaining and thought-provoking and worth a read. And Molly, I'm sorry I didn't respond properly to your award a while back. Please consider this to be my public apology. I very much enjoy Jonathan's unpretentious observations on sound, music, and what it's like to be a music teacher and practicing musician. Mimi can write poetic English, and her observations on her life can be funny, moving, profound, all at once. Much like Mimi, Lia presents her views of her life very different from mine, in her own personal style. Mark's thoughtful blog always offers something to think about. This police Inspector's blog gives you the low-down on the workings of government, as they filter through the home office, the police higher management, the local cops, and finally onto the street. Don't read it if you are prone to high blood pressure. Like the above Police Inspector, this one gives you the inside view on the French criminal justice system. Though perhaps calling it a criminal justice system is an insult to organised crime everywhere. One of the things I like about blogs is the insight they give into lives very different from one's own. Here's one such, from a lovely lady. Last but not least, Dr Grumpy is always good for a laugh, even on the grayest, most miserable of mornings. His insane interactions with the insane public are simple, direct and funny.

Finally, please don't feel slighted if I follow your blog but you're not listed here. I enjoy reading all the blogs I follow; I appreciate you all.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Finished product

At last! The new flower bed/shrubbery that runs alongside the guest parking area is finished. It's about 45 metres long and, say, an average of 5 wide, so there's 225 square metres of ground, all of it either forked or pick-axed, stones removed (to build the little edge that runs around it) and then covered in pine bark chippings to keep the weeds down. Phew! It was one of those jobs that was going to be finished by Spring. I'll claim I just made it in time.

This sunset was spectular as I drove home from my flute/singer practice session on Monday. Sorry it's a bit blurry but it was blowing a gale.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Spring already?

The arrival of Spring is, as usual a surprise. Not that it doesn't happen pretty reliably at about this time every year, but of course, the garden projects that I was cheerfully predicting in Autumn would be done by Spring remain unfinished. And now I have to divert my efforts to those seasonal tasks that just won't wait, like planting seeds.

All thoughts of plant care and garden maintenance disappear when I look at a seed catalogue. My mind goes straight from buying the seed packet, with its seductive images of perfect flowers and vegetables, directly to superb results in my flower beds or on my plate, with no thought for the effort needed from me in between. So I always buy too many. Quite how I'm going to manage, especially with my living room furniture currently taking up most of the space in my conservatory, I have no idea.

But anyway, today I make a start. Here's seeds of perennial poppies, chili peppers, and tomatoes. And for good measure, here's some fuschia cuttings I took last Autumn. When cutting the plant down for Winter, I thought it might be a good idea to stick some of the twigs into some compost to see if they sprouted, as an insurance against the parent plant getting frozen to death outside. So I stuck them in a pot, covered it with a plastic bag and ignored it for the Winter. Result: two new plants.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Garden mixture

I have three big walnut trees in my garden. One has had a tree surgeon working on it, and looks much better as a result, one of the others, in a less prominent position also needs some work. So I set to, with my Dutch friend and his chain saw, to chop off some large branches that were drooping to the ground or had partially split from the trunk.

We are starting to have some Spring-like days here, and one warm afternoon I noticed that the stump of one of the branches I had sawn off was weeping sap. (French for sap: la sève) The lowest stump was weeping the most, the next higher up one just a little, and the still higher ones not at all. I was observing the rising of the sap in Spring.

Anyway I don't want my tree to bleed to death so I went and got some sealant, and it is painted onto the stump in this picture. Wierd stuff, the colour of brown boot polish, with a consistency very like Marmite, smelling of pine resin. It's very sticky and you apply it with a brush. Here is the result, a happy stump all nicely protected against sap loss and fungal infection. Someone told me it's better to prune walnuts at the start of Winter. Hmmmmmmm, thanks, but too late. Let's hope that all is not lost.

This shrubby plant, flowering from the end of February is, surprisingly enough, a Honeysuckle. It has tiny flowers the size of a finger-tip, with the sweetest scent you ever came across.

Well hello, my old and beloved friend. So nice to re-make the acquaintance.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Country walk and curry

For no special reason there was a country walk organised today by our ex-pat club, culminating in a curry lunch. I always enjoy a good walk, but the prospect probably wouldn't be enough to drag me out of bed for an 8:45 departure and hour-long drive to get there, except that there was a curry at the end of it. So off we went.

The walk was good, if a bit chilly, some pics below, and the curry was excellent. The guy I sat next to at lunch was born half a mile from where I used to live in Laleham, and played along the river banks as a boy, where I took pleasure in walking as an adult. So we discussed the Lucan Arms pub, Penton Hook lock, and the island that has now been turned into a nature reserve. All good fun.

I think these electricity-generating windmills kind of jump out at you on the landscape. And this fench farm cottage is variously striped, a bit like French hedges.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Fixing a hole

There was a bad storm in France yesterday and the previous night, leaving many homes flooded and tens of thousands of people without electricity. So I'm glad we were spared the worst and I just have a few tiles off the roof. A slipped tile is not normally an urgent problem, but a few adjacent ones had fallen, leaving a hole. So today, now the wind has dropped and it's not raining, I'm up a ladder sorting things out.

I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in,
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go......

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