Saturday, 31 July 2010


My Buddleja is in bloom and attracting lots of butterflies that flit past as I watch. The never stay still though, so they're hard to photograph. Here's a couple for you. OK one is on the grape vine, but it flew there from the Buddleja, so it counts


Thursday, 29 July 2010

By bike to St Suzanne

When I were a lad, I'd go exploring the hinterlands of my home town, Fareham, on my bike, of a Sunday morning. I'd set off at a random time, without a wristwatch or navigation aid, and go exploring towns and villages I didn't know, generally trying to get lost. At some point in the morning, the idea would strike to go home, so I'd take what I thought was the most promising direction, and off I went. I would always get back just as lunch was being served. It was uncanny.

My special "explore the French countryside on a new bike" present to myself of a few years ago has been gathering dust in the shed all this year. But a quick pump up of the tyres and it's ready for action, and I took it to St Suzanne. OK, to be accurate, I took it to the river valley part of St Suzanne, not all the way up the hill to the castle, but I like river valleys anyway.

Monday, 26 July 2010

River walk

I'm off for a walk along the river, back via Saulges. Want to come?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Vin aux noix

This is an alcoholic drink made from fortified red wine, flavoured with walnuts. I first drank it in Belgium, and it is time to make it again. You can find the recipe under the "Belgium" link.

The ingredients are all lined up, ready to go, you just cut the walnuts into quarters, mix the whole lot together, and store the result in a cool, dark place for three months to steep, remembering to give it a good shake every now and then to let the flavours mix. I keep it in the downstairs laundry room so I can remember to shake it every time I go in. It's a bit late in the year to be making it, because the walnuts are starting to develop their shells under the green covering. Ideally, you should be able to stick a pin into the nut and not feel any resistance due to the shell.

Everyone has their own recipie, and since discovering that the drink exists, I have tried it in several versions made by friends, including one using walnut leaves as well as the unripe nuts. It tastes better if left to mature for a few years. In my case, there's no chance of that happening....

Friday, 16 July 2010


My new power supply for my PC came today, I fitted it and it works. Hooray! So now I have my old PC back for faster uploading of videos and posting to my blog. Oh, yes, and work. Here is a picture of the PSU, resplendent in its new home.

There is a small problem: The new PSU only has three SATA disk connectors and I have four such disks. They are configured in a redundant RAID array, though, so the PC still works fine, it just complains that one of its disks is missing. I must get a splitter cable....

I took the opportunity to update the Bastille day post too, with a new picture and video.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Bastille Day

The French revolution is celebrated on the 14th July, the day of the famous storming of the Bastille. This event was almost wholly symbolic, since very few people were released from captivity as a result.

At St Suzanne, the celebrations start on the evening of the 13th, with a concert by the Harmonie, followed by a parade through the town of children with chinese lanterns, then the fireworks. This year was a bit special, in that some of the side-streets have been renovated during the past year, so the Harmonie did a little parade through them as a form of inauguration ceremony. The evening terminates with the "Firemen's Ball" which is a very informal excuse for socialising, dancing and getting drunk.

Here is a clip from the street parade, and one of the fireworks display.

Monday, 12 July 2010


It's not that shopping is boring, but it just doesn't occupy 100% of my brain.

Lunch was in the Italian restaurant in the shopping precinct. Two women met and were stood beside a shopping trolly in the concourse, gassing for the entire duration of my meal, and were still at it as we were walking out of the mall. I mean, I know it's possible in principle, but it's impressive to see it for real.

Promocash has a new chilled goods department. It's basically a 100-metre-square walk-in fridge. You come into the shop from 31 degress outside, into the fridge at 5 degrees, and it feels cold. It reminded me of a joke, that, unusually for my repertoire, is repeatable on a family-friendly website:

A mother polar bear is walking with her cub in an arctic blizzard. The cub says:
- Am I a polar bear?
- Yes, of course. Daddy was a polar bear, I'm a polar bear, so you're a baby polar bear.
- OK

They continue for a few minutes and the cub pipes up again:
- Are you sure I'm a polar bear?
- Yes, of course. Daddy was a polar bear, I'm a polar bear, so you're a baby polar bear.
- OK

A few minutes later the cub asks again:
- Are you really sure I'm a polar bear?
- Yes of course. Why do you keep asking if you're a polar bear?
- I'm freezing

My thoughts turn to the colleague who told me this joke, years ago. He will be known as Phil, and what I remember most about him is that he was chunkily built, not especially tall, not especially rugged, not especially handsome, but girls would drop their knickers for him at the drop of a hat. He was amazing to watch in action, his apparently effortless style more like a Torville and Dean routine than anything else. His most famous success was when he serviced an attractive young temp in the ladies' toilets at work. I think he was carpeted for this by his boss's boss, but I don't think it did his career any long-term harm. Bargain.

On average about once a year, a lightning storm fries my WiFi/ADSL Modem/router. This year being no exception, I went out a couple of weeks ago with a budget of 70 euros or so (about the going rate) to replace my fried one with a new one. They are getting hard to find, since most internet subs now come with such a device, branded a "Livebox" or some such, so we had to look in several supermarkets to find one. Well I found one "on sale" from 140 euros to 70. Yeah right. Well it's about the right price, so I bought it anyway, and this blog post comes to you via that very device. Today I looked in a different supermarket to see if they had any, for future reference, and they did, and these ones were indeed, on sale, a proper mark-down this time. 20 euros. I bought one, I nearly bought two. I now have insurance, and I can guarantee you that from now on, lightning will avoid my phone line until this spare one becomes obsolete and can't be used as a replacement.

Shopping trolleys seem to be a lot better these days than they used to be. I remember they never used to go straight, but wouldn't steer either. Modern ones are much better. You can tell if you've got a really good one, you can give it a good shove, ride on the back, and it goes in a straight line, doesn't spin, and doesn't throw you off. Of course you need something in it to weigh it down, or else it upends and throws you off anyway.

Tip: When loading up a car with shopping, don't put glass bottles right at the back of the boot, cos when you open it, they fall out and break.

Coming back from shopping the wife and I were discussing the usatisfying purchases we have had to make this year. A washing machine to replace the old one that failed (and that then didn't work) The new modem/router to replace the fried one, and other sundry annoyances - oh yes, the car battery that failed for no reason. There was a smell of fried electronics when we opened the door back home. Yep, my PC had fried while we were out, despite its being turned off. Power supply fail. I figure it's worth investing 30 euros to see if I can get a replacement power supply, before thinking about a new PC. At least the data is backed up.


Saturday, 10 July 2010

Jumpin' Jack Flash

Friday night is Harmonie practice night. So there I am, 11:30 PM, tired, played out, in the car ready to go home. Key in the ignition, turn, and.... gronk. The lights are dim, the starter motor doesn't turn. Flat battery. Hmmm how can this be? The car turns everything electrical off automatically, and I drove here in the daylight anyway.

So having failed to fix the problem with a jump from a friend, he gives me a lift home (thanks Gabriel) and today I return to St Suzanne with the wife to see what can be done. I give the car a good 20 minutes of jump lead connection, and yay! it starts. Nothing too serious wrong with it, then.

We set off to drive home, but the wife reports that at low RPM the car is dodgy, the lights on the panel are flickering, the engine is not running smoothly. (At higher RPM it's running fine) So we head for the garage.

So the symptoms are: Battery goes flat. The most likely possible causes are the alternator failing, or a broken fan belt, or a dead battery. But when the car is revving well, there is plenty of current. So the recharging system is working, so there is probably no problem with the alternator or a fan belt. Diagnosis: failed battery, although why that should be is beyond me.

The car now has a new battery, and it's working fine. If the battery wasn't the root cause of the problem, it should last about a week. I'll keep you posted if problems recur.

Monday, 5 July 2010


The Mayenne being a major agricultural area, we have agricultural shows, and last Saturday the Harmonie was invited to play a traditional rôle and serenade the cows and visitors at the show. The day was hot, the music just fine, and we got free drinks after. All to the good.

In the afternoon, we combined three Harmonies and played in the grounds of the castle at St Suzanne, as part of a "Planète en fête" celebration, which seems to be a show of eco-friendly technology (windmills, solar panels, etc) and bio food. And locally brewed beer. And an excuse for a drink. There being three Harmonies present, we played nine pieces in all, three chosen by each band. That meant that for every piece there were about 1/3 of the players who were well familiar with it, which always helps.

This is a neat scheme for watering a tree. My friend Leo gave me this fine Copper Beech tree last year, and it suffered a bit in the drought, being a way away from the house and out of reach of hose pipes. There is a limit to how much water you can carry in cans. I hit on the idea of taking water in the trailer, and was thinking of waterproofing it with a scrounged bit of pool liner (the pool installer being obliging). It was the wife's idea to fill the three dustbins that I use in Winter to store the Dahlia tubers, and so I did, putting the lids on to reduce spillage, and took them over using the mower as a tractor. A bit of hose for a siphon, and it all seems to work. 160 litres for the tree, 80 litres for the pumpkins.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Gardener's perks!

If you have to weed your veg patch under scorching sun, it's nice to have a few perks to keep you going!

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