Thursday, December 26, 2013

Trials bikes

So..., there I was with a mint, UK registered Montesa 4RT trials bike that couldn't be re-registered in France due to a lack of one of these confounded 'Certificat de Conformité' papers. Therefore had little option other than to return the bike to the UK and put it up for sale with the much appreciated assistance of sis and bro-in-law. Bike sold after just one week. So what bike to buy as a replacemenet? Well, as is often the case, the bike just popped up on eBay - a mint, 1963, renovated, 250 DOT trials with a 37a Villiers engine. Bought it and had it 'white-vanned' out to France. Excellent nick - er, apart from the engine being down on power and reluctant to 'rev out'. Bike now back in the UK undergoing surgery at Stevens Motorcycles in Kent. At about this time I had my first gout attack (only it wasn't gout - see 'Stent' posting). This made me think I might never ride in trials again. So I thought about selling the DOT. But that seemed bonkers as I'd only just bought it. Then I thought maybe I have just one more crack at riding in a pre-'65 or twinshock trial. Maybe next year's Phil Mellers trial in Hampshire. Or maybe next year's Dick Little trial. Or maybe next year's Greybeards. The DOT would be an ideal steed for all those trials. Or maybe a twinshock would be better. So I had a quick search for twinshocks. Spotted a gem. A Don Godden-framed 320 Majesty. Bought it. White-vanned it out here. Now parked up in the garage. So I now own two absolutely brilliant trials bikes, both of which could be seen as investments. Or maybe I'll sell the DOT and keep the Majesty. Or if this blasted foot condition results in no more trials rides, maybe I'll sell 'em both. Nah, perish the thought.

P.S. - Heart problem. Maybe my trials-riding days are over. Both bikes now sold. This is the first time in half a century that I've been without a trials 'iron'. Feels a bit odd.

The first snows of winter

Date for the diary: 18th November - that's when this year's snow arrived. Came about a month later than last year so maybe we're in for a teeny bit shorter winter. Surprisingly, it came without warning. The previous evening had been sunny so I was looking forward to getting out to take some snaps of the autumnal colours. However, the snow put a stop to that. Shame really, 'cos the trees had turned into striking colours of reds, browns and yellows. Now, a couple of weeks later, the trees are almost bare, their colourful leaves lying on the ground battered by snow and blown by winds.

Couple of nights after that first flurry, the real snow hit. About ten inches. Had to shovel a path to the woodshed to get much needed logs. Then dig out the car to get provisions from downtown. As with all snows, one never knows when it will end, or for how long you'll be snowed in. So, when the winter snows arrive, it makes sense to get down the supermarché and get stocked up. Trouble is, everyone thinks the same so get there late and the shelves start looking a bit bare. Nipped down there in the afternoon and was quite surprised to see that it hadn't snowed nearly as much down in the lowlands. Just a couple of inches. Keep forgetting how high we are - about 600 metres, which is about the same as the high bits of the Derbyshire Peaks district.

Woke up earlyish on the day the snow arrived. Noticed a couple of visitors in the garden scavenging for fallen apples under the snow. Normally deer keep well clear of the village. But these two seemed perfectly at ease pottering around les jardins. Wonderful to watch. Then they were gone. 


First noticed it about a month ago. A bit of a pain and numbness in the three larger toes of my left foot. Did a bit of online research and decided it must be gout. Visited the doctor. Twice. He said it could be gout, but then mentioned a calcium malaise that had similar symptoms. Eventually prescribed some pain killers and some other pills to combat gout. Few days later the pain was even worse, the foot had swollen, a couple of toes had blackened and felt really cold, as if the blood wasn't circulating to those extremities. Visited the doc again. He immediately rushed me off to a hospital in Limoges. Specialised in circulatory problems. Couple of days later I was under the surgeon's knife. Apparently the main artery in my left thigh had become partially blocked by a chloresterol build-up. This blockage reduced the blood pressure to the foot area, thus stopping blood reaching some toes. The solution was to insert a 'stent' into the blocked artery, thereby increasing blood flow to the foot and toes. Hopefully the increased blood pressure would blast its way back into the dead toes. Or maybe not. If not, they'd have to be amputated. After ten days in hospital they sent me home. Have to return on 31 Dec for a final check up.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Woolly week in Felletin

Felletin's wool festival is an annual event. Actually it's not so much a festival, more a three day gathering of woolly garment knitters and loomers (is there such a thing as a loomer?) peddling their wares down in the local basketball and tennis halls. Not sure if this wool festival is unique to Felletin or whether it's a national thing, but I do know that Felletin and nearby Aubusson are historically famous for producing tapestries, which, of course, are sort of knitted items. Maybe that's why Felletin has a woolly festival. Not sure though.

Georgie dragged me down there last Wednesday afternoon. Or was it Thursday? Drove past a town statue that was decorated with balls of wool, and some roadside bollards that were decked out with woolly covers. Then on past the old church which had rainbow coloured strips of material covering its perimeter fence. Parked up and legged it down to the sports halls. Ambled inside to find people setting up their stalls. We'd arrived early. The show didn't start until tomorrow. Went back to the old church and noticed there was a woolly show inside. Paid a few euros and entered. Never been in there before so was quite surprised to discover the interior wasn't a church but an impressive exhibition hall. I presume it had been converted some time ago due, perhaps, to a falling congregation (there's another church in town that's popular with the masses). Had a quick look round then scarpered for a sunny coffee at the café, leaving Georgie to continue studying the exhibits on show. She eventually joined me at an outside table and we giggled at the various women around who were avidly knitting. Knitting fever hits Felletin.

Went down to the sports halls again the following morning. The place was buzzing. At the canopied entrance to the tennis hall, four alpacas were looking a bit bored in their straw-lined pen. Fascinating animals, famous for their soft fur which makes really warm wool. I once read that llamas (similar to alpacas - dunno the difference though) are prone to spitting at anyone they don't like the look of, so I kept a respectful distance. As they didn't appear to be letting rip with the jolly old phlegm, I slowly edged a bit closer and eventually plucked up courage to stroke one (brave lad). I suddenly twigged how the term 'spitting distance' probably originated.

Inside the hall there were loads of people ogling the woolly goodies on show. Slowly shuffling from one stand to another, I couldn't really take it all in. There were knitted sweaters, cardies, hats, gloves, socks, shawls, jackets, scarves..., all sorts. Baby stuff, kids' stuff and grown ups' stuff. Spoilt for choice. Woolly overload. Then went into the other hall across the way. More woolly stuff. More milling crowds. Did a quick lap and spotted the canteen. Teas and coffees were being served. Plus fruit juices and biccies and cakes. Grabbed a coffee and went outside for a quick smoke away from the bedlam.

While quietly leaning on a fence post at the edge of the football pitch beneath the bright red berries of a rowan tree, I was suddenly aware of someone at my side. Our local mayor, the farmer. He stopped for a quick chat. Said it was a good show, but he thought the stuff was a bit expensive. I told him I hadn't noticed the prices, but said I'd check when I went back in to look for Georgie. Eventually spotted her checking out a bluey greeny jackety thingy. Told me it was about £300. Apparently she'd been nattering to a few stallholders and was now pretty genned-up on woolly stuff. She's like that. I, on the other hand, am reluctant to natter with woolly people for fear of ending up with a hideously patterned sweater and a depleted bank balance.

With the church bells clanging twelve, everyone stopped for lunch. Some people went back to their cars and drove home while others queued up for grub at the sports hall canteen. Everything stops for lunch in France. Had a final stroke of an alpaca and headed for home.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Birthday trip

So..., longtemps no bloggeau. Come to think of it, it's over a month. No reason. Well, apart from laziness. And the fact that I started bloggeauing mainly to keep Georgie informed of goings on, but now she's out here it seems a bit silly 'cos she obviously knows what's going on. And, of course, I can't really imagine why anyone would be interested in reading about what a retired layabout gets up to out here in the backwoods of central France. Er, apart from my bro-in-law and sister who, I think, check in from time to time just to see that I/we are okay. Anyways..., Georgie has told me off for not bloggeauing and she's suggested I should do a write-up about her birthday trip a couple of weeks ago. Bit embarrassing really 'cos her special day was slightly ruined due to 1) a lack of planning, 2) a bit of a late start, 3) a bit of a row about me not making enough effort on her special day, 4) a bit of a row about map-reading, and 5) a bit of a rush due to our late start. Add to that the fact that I drove for about six hours, covered about 180 miles zig-zagging along 'B' roads and crawling up and down the snaking lanes of the Auvergne's mountain region, plus the fact that Jock was with us and had to be given a quick walk every so often to stop him from dying of boredom in the back of the car, and you probably get the picture. If we do the trip again next year, which I'd like to do, we'll hopefully be better prepared and thus make it a far more enjoyable experience. Which isn't to say we didn't enjoy it, it's just that it could have been better. But there again, let's face it, birthdays are stressful. If they're anything less than perfect, it's a disaster. And now Georgie's asked me to bloggeau about it, maybe as penance for ruining her special day. Not that I ruined it on purpose. Perish the thought. It's just that I had one of those days where I couldn't do anything right. Apparently. Ah well, c'est la vie.

Anyway, her birthday started well. Well, I thought it did. I'd spent a lot of time working out what present to give her. Bought her a little something and wrapped it up with a leftover bit of last year's Christmas wrapping paper. Made a bit of a balls up with the Sellotape stuff, as usual, but I thought it looked pretty good despite the odd tear. When she opened it I detected a fleeting look of disappointment. Not a lot, just a hint, but enough to make me realise that my brownie points weren't exactly maximum. Still, the thought was there. After all, she'd mentioned some time ago that she needed some elastic to replace the saggy elastic 'belt' in her winter long-johns, and now she had some. Two in fact, in different widths 'cos I didn't know which width was required. Hang the expense. Generous to a fault.

Present-giving ceremony over, we then had a conflab about what to do and where to go. Being a Libran, Georgie finds it a bit tricky to make decisions. I gathered there were three options: to visit some chateau with a fancy garden which she'd read about, or visit some pretty villages near Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne which she'd read about, or visit the Auvergne and see the magnificent scenery which she'd read about in one of my earlier postings when I'd ridden through the hills on my return journey home when collecting my superb Honda CB1300S (now sold). Eventually we decided on the Auvergne, knocked up some sarnies and a Thermos, and departed at around mid-day (if we do the trip next year, we'll leave at around nineish).

After about an hour and a half's driving, I pulled into a lay-by to give Jock a quick walk and to have a quick fag and maybe a sarnie and coffee. Big mistake. The lay-by wasn't exactly what Georgie had in mind for a lunch stop so she stayed in the car feeling a bit grumpy. Sensing she wasn't a happy bunny, I slung a confused Jock back in the car and hit the road again. At that lay-by the bluebird of happiness must have fluttered from the car to be replaced by the chicken of depression. Things weren't going well. About half an hour later, in the foothills of the mountains, I stopped again for a quick break. And once again, Georgie stayed in the car with the chicken of depression perched firmly on her head. Things were going from bad to worse. Indeed Georgie even said that she wanted to go home and go to bed. However, the sun was shining, it was a glorious day, the mountains were ahead of us and things could only get better. So, onwards.

A bit further on, above the treeline, I stopped again to admire the splendid view, have a swig of coffee, give Jock another pit stop and have a quick fag. Georgie obviously thought that this was more like what she had in mind for a lunch break scenario so she got out of the car and joined me and Jock for a lunchtime snack as we took in the view. Things were improving. The chicken of depression took a back seat as we drove onwards towards our goal of Puy Mary, one of the highest mountains of the Auvergne. We stopped again a few miles further on to take in an even better view. It was all very quiet, except for the sound of the engine fan whirring away. Clearly the climb was proving to be quite a challenge for our poor little dogwagon. About a mile further on we arrived at a car park area just below a big hill where people were waving, so we parked up. Georgie nipped off up the road, apparently intending to have a bit of a walk and take some snaps. By the time I'd put Jock on his lead and locked the car she was on her way back again, saying there was a café just up the road. I asked if she fancied stopping off there for a quick coffee, but she said "no". So we hit the road again.

Now, if I'd had time to do a bit of internet searching before we left home, I'd have realised that the big hill where those people were waving was actually Puy Mary. As it was, I thought Puy Mary was a bit further on up the road. After all, there was no big sign saying 'This is Puy Mary, park your car, let the engine cool down, visit the café and admire the splendid views'. So we carried on up the road. Trouble was, after we passed the café, we started going downhill. At that point it sort of dawned on me that we'd been at Puy Mary without realising it. Ho-hum. Anyways, I've now done a bit of research and discovered that Puy Mary is apparently 1783 metres high, while Ben Nevis (Britain's highest mountain) is a mere pimple in comparison at just 1344 metres. And because I didn't realise the big hill was Puy Mary, I didn't take any photos of it. However, I've nicked one from the internet and another from a few decades back showing some old bangers that somehow managed the climb without exploding. But I did manage to take a snap of the road leading up to the mountain and a couple of the view when we descended.

Going down the other side and heading back north, we passed through some very pretty valleys with cattle fields on either side. Georgie kept remarking that she could hear bells, but I couldn't, probably due to my infernal tinnitus. Eventually figured out that the cattle round these parts wear cowbells, unlike the cattle in our Creuse region. The scenery was fab and I half expected Julie Andrews to appear over a hillside warbling 'The hills are alive... etc.'. Luckily, she didn't. Stopped at a bridge crossing in the 'Gorges of the Dordogne' and took some snaps. Apparently the river provides electricity power. Impressive stuff, but a bit spooky.

Arrived back home at about 7.30. Maybe next year we'll plan things a bit better. Rather fancy legging it up that Puy Mary mountain and gawping at the view. Must be pretty spectacular.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

A year ago

It's a year ago today, almost to the hour, that Sprocket died down at the vet's. I still haven't quite got over the shock and despair at his passing and I suppose I never will. I think of the little scoundrel most days, especially when out on dogwalks with wee Jocky, and the way his life was cut short by that terrible cancer. Didn't realise he was seriously ill, even on his last dogwalk. Re-enacted that walk yesterday evening with Jock and thought of Sprocky trotting across the field in the lowering sun on his way back to the car. He must have been in pain but he didn't show it. Then I turned to the hill where his ashes are scattered, hoping for a sign that he was with us in spirit. Maybe a gust of wind or a circling hawk. But there was nothing. Just the sunlit brow of a grassy hill against a clear, blue, evening sky. Just as it was a year ago.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

The end of summer

Great weather recently. Bright sunshine, clear blue skies and temperatures up in the high thirties. Unfortunately Georgie spent most of this week chained to her laptop doing freelance work. However, I did manage to drag her out for an evening swim on Wednesday up at Lake Marie where it felt like we had the place to ourselves. The good thing about going up there in the evening is that most of the visitors (not that there are that many - Lake Marie is a well-kept secret with those that know its location) have already packed up and hit the homeward trail. Also, I much prefer the evening light with the low sun sparkling on calm waters and sending shafts of sunlight through lakeside trees. On a sunny evening like last Wednesday, the place is truly magical.

Georgie continued working on the Thursday and consequently missed another fine day. The temperature hit 38°, making it the hottest day of the year. After four or five days of gorgeous sunshine, I felt it couldn't last so I checked the weather forecast. Sure enough, Friday was predicted to be cloudy with a bit of rain and falling temperatures. I tried to convince Georgie to come for a final evening swim at Lake Marie before the clouds rolled in, but she said she had to finish her work, so I went up there on my own.

Thursday evening's visit was a bit later than usual so the sun was really low. By the time I'd finished a quick swim, taken a few snaps and returned to the car, the sun was falling below the western horizon and I remember thinking, well, there it goes, that's the end of summer. Been a good 'un.