Monday, April 18, 2011

The yellow hill

Briefly mentioned dandelions in the previous posting. Spotted a few more up at the hill by the 'lightning tree' on ce matin's dogwalk. Strolled up the top, took in the view, then strolled back down again. Jockie ended up smothered with yellow pollen, as did my shoes and trews. Worth it though. Never seen so many dandelions. Must be millions of them up there. Really quite amazing. Truly spectacular.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's that dandelion time of year

They've suddenly exploded. Dandelions. Millions of them. All over the place. Turned distant fields from emerald to lime green. Get in closer and you see the yellow. Bright yellow. Made even brighter by the sunshine. People rave about sunflowers in France but I reckon the dandelions are just as impressive. Really spectacular. It's a great time of year to go walking.

Went out yesterday and took a few snaps. Then noticed some other wild flowers. Don't know what they are. The yellow ones look like cowslips of some kind. Probably quite rare but common as muck around these parts. And the little purple one looks like some form of miniature orchid. But I'm no gardener so I wouldn't know. Then snapped a few flowery things in the garden. Irises, tulips and apple blossom.

Some of the shots looked a bit flat so I beefed them up in this 'photoshop' programme that came with the camera. All very experimental and the sort of thing proper photographers frown upon. But I think it's rather fun.


For months now, perhaps even years, I've noticed that when I have shower, wash the dishes or pull the chain in the loo, the waste water doesn't disappear as speedily as it did when we first moved here. Not being on mains drainage (few people are in the French countryside), we rely on a septic tank (or 'fosse septique' as it's known out here) to deal with our effluent. We apparently have one somewhere out front, so a neighbour told us, but I've never known exactly where. There are no drain covers anywhere to be seen. However, there's a line of fast-growing grass going down the front garden which indicates where a drain-off pipe is probably routed. Out of sight, out of mind. I've never properly investigated the system because it's always seemed to work... 'til about a month ago. That was when Georgie and I (last time she was out here) noticed a patch of really soggy ground just below the bank in the front garden. Dug it up a bit and discovered a cracked drain cover, out of which water gushed when using an indoor tap, or shower, or loo, or whatever. Tank was obviously full and not draining away. Or maybe the antiquated 'fosse' had collapsed underground. Next day, Georgie returned to London and I was left with the problem. Since then, for a month now, I've been putting sink water into a bucket and chucking it out the front. Haven't had a shower or bath, been pee-ing round the woodshed and have only used the loo when absolutely necessary. Left to my own devices, I could probably exist forever like this. But Georgie couldn't. And she's due over soon. So something had to be done.

As always, I imagined the worst. Thinking we'd need a completely new system that met the exacting standards recently introduced by the French government, I scoured the internet and eventually tracked down a relatively local fosse septique installer. Asked them to come round, look at the problem and suggest a solution. Very nice lady turned up and advised that the best course of action would be to fit a new fosse at a cost of around 4000 euros (about 3750 quid). Hmm, pricey. Or maybe not. Maybe that's the going rate. Might be worth it if we're going to stay her forever but, as we still don't know what our life plans are, maybe it's not worth doing. There again, if we're going to sell up in the relatively near future, a new fosse might increase the house's value by more than the cost of installation. Or maybe not. All very confusing.

Then I thought, right... if a new fosse is necessary, I'd better get the old one emptied, otherwise sewage will be strewn all over the place when the diggers start digging. So, once again, I scoured the internet for a local (Creuse region) septic tank emptying company. Couldn't find any apart from a couple miles away beyond Gueret. Then tried the Correze region. Found one in Ussel, about thirty miles away. Gave 'em a ring. Explained the problem to a very helpful lady who didn't speak a word of English (my old French teacher at school would have been mightily impressed at how my French, although far from perfect, has improved since I failed my 'O' level French - outlining a sewage problem is a demanding test of one's ability to parlez-vous francais, I can tell toi). Very helpful lady said she'd send someone around next Monday.

Sewage wagon duly arrived. About an hour earlier, I'd dug out more wet earth from around the cracked drain cover in preparation for their visit. Briefly explained the problem to the man and his assistant and they set to work by removing the cover, emptying the contents and then shoving a 'blaster' hose up each of the three pipes in the newly revealed 'junction' box. Their fine efforts cleared the blockages and resulted in more smelly liquids (and rocks and stones) being transferred to their wagon. Then they explained the exact position of the fosse (just by the apple tree about ten feet from the front door and about eight feet down - no wonder I couldn't find an inspection cover) and the reason for three pipes in the junction box - one from the fosse (loos), one from the waterways (sinks, shower, bath and washing machine) and one (it may divide into three) which drains away down the garden. All very enlightening. Job done, they set off on their merry way.

Since then, the loos seem to flush more efficiently and, so far, there's no further overflow from the cracked drain cover over the junction box. Joy. And yesterday I had my first bath in ages and did a load of smelly washing. Am still putting dishwater in buckets though. Seems rather a good habit. Saves money when watering the plants. Talking of saving money, maybe we won't have to shell out on a new fosse after all.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunny Saturday

Hot and sunny with clear blue skies all last week. Trouble was, I stayed indoors most of the time editing and re-writing bits of my book. And when I wasn't doing that, I busied myself trying to figure out the questions (in French) on the form that Honda France had sent me in order for them to verify that my imported Honda motorcycle is in standard trim. The questions were mainly about part numbers. Sounds easy. However, trying to read a tiny number on, for example, an indicator lens is an almost impossible task even with the aid of specs and a torch.

Finished the book and Honda questionnaire on Friday. Posted the questionnaire on Saturday morning at Felletin then drove into Aubusson to drop off my garage rent cheque. Nice and sunny so I thought I'd visit the market (Saturday is market day in Aubusson). Bought a melon, some tangerines and a couple of punnets of strawberries from Isabelle's stall then retired for a coffee and a fag (had two of each) at my fave caff by the roundabout at the end of the main street. Good place to just sit (in the shade of a parasol) and watch the world go by. Sat there for about half an hour then headed back to the car which was parked up the hill near the old ruined castle.

By now it was about 12.30 and heading towards the hottest part of the day (hottest day of the year so far according to Christian - about 27 degrees apparently). Shoved the goodies in the car then decided to have a walk up to the old castle and check out the views. On one side, looking through trees with white-painted trunks (there must be a reason for this paint sploshing but I haven't a clue what it is) I could see people packing up their market stalls and heading off for lunch. On the other side, there was an almost sheer drop down to the river (ooh, vertigo). Yet, somehow, houses have been built into the hillside. And, even more surprisingly, some of these houses have little stepped gardens. Noticed one house had a mini garden in its guttering. Rather impressive (see photo).

Nipped home, had a spot of lunch (pate and gherkins on fresh bread) then realised it was Grand National day. Placed a couple of bets via the internet (didn't win) then watched the first two Aintree races. Was preparing to watch the main race but thought it would be a criminal waste of perfect motorcycling weather. So I switched the telly off, got kitted up, dragged the bike out of the shed and roared off towards Ussel - the Felletin to Ussel road is a biker's dream. Hit Ussel, turned around and headed home via the back lanes. Got lost but kept the late afternoon sun to my left so I knew I was heading vaguely north. Dropped into a forested valley and crossed a river bridge. Looked interesting so I doubled back for a closer look. There was a sign by the bridge which informed that this stretch of river is kayak territory. Massive boulders everywhere. All very pretty but no way would I paddle a canoe thing through those rocks. Suicidal.

Eventually picked up the main road and turned left. Took it easy through La Cortine (there always seem to be traffic cops there) but then gave it some serious welly on the sweeping downhill bends and fast curves towards Felletin. Had a funny feeling the weather was going to change tomorrow (Sunday) so this might be my last spin for quite some time (my three-month insurance expires soon and they won't renew it until the bike's officially registered in France - a process that could take months and months due to a combination of French bureaucracy and Honda's somewhat less than enthusiastic attitude towards imports). Arrived home, put the bike away (for maybe ages) and cut the lawn.

Sure enough, today (Sunday) dawned cloudy and chillyish. Really glad I grabbed that sunny biking opportunity when I did. Now, what's for tea? Hmm, strawberries and cream.

(Click pics to enlarge... and I've just discovered if you click again on the enlarged pic it comes up even bigger - I'm very slow about these things.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Peace and quiet

I shall now attempt the impossible - the uploading (or is it downloading?) of a short movie thingie...
(Press the little black triangle to start.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


A few flowery things in le jardin...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Down in the valley

For this evening's walk (Friday) we drove down the valley, parked up, then ambled along the forest path which runs parallel to the stream. Our side of the valley was in shade while t'other side had the sun. Looking out across the valley stream I suddenly noticed that the small pine forest that lined one side of the downhill path from the hamlet had been felled. Stripped tree-trunks glowed orange in the evening sun, littering the open hillside where there was once a dark green blanket of trees. Very soon they'll be stacked, loaded onto lorries, then driven off to one of the local woodyards where they'll await their final destination. Then the cycle begins again with the planting of saplings about a foot high, all set out in rows. The landscape round these parts is constantly changing. Used to bother me at first but now it doesn't. The forests are in safe and expert hands.

Crossed the stream at the little bridge (where Jock had a paddle and drink) then headed up the path for a closer look at the felled trees. Couldn't get far though due to trunks blocking our way. Wee Jockie was stumped (excuse pun) but Sprocket just jumped from log to log like a mountain goat. Never known a dog like him for agility. And all the while there was a wonderful aroma of freshly cut pine.

Curiosity satisfied, we then turned around and headed back. Then, as usual, just when we were approaching the end of the walk, Sprocket detoured left into the field where he chases rats in the banks of the stream. Forget the rodents, it's a really tranquil spot with a lovely view along the valley. At the edge of the stream the ground was smothered in blue flowers. Don't know what they are but they're definitely not bluebells (having said that, they're probably part of the same family - hah, what do I know!). Pottered around there for a few minutes, enjoying the peace and quiet of a warm, spring evening while Jockie had another well-earned drink from the stream (long walk, short legs - gets tiring for the old fella) with Sprocket nowhere to be seen. Minutes later he appeared out of nowhere and we headed back to the dogwagon and drove home. Then the dogs got stuck into a Friday night treat of chicken and rice while I had the same but done as a curry. Marvellous. (Click pics to enlarge.)