Saturday 26 January 2008

Still No Water!

As much as I love the laid back pace of France I still find it hard to accept the length of time it takes to get anything done. My pump wasn’t repaired yet and needed stripping down further so it will be next week before that is ready. I decided to buy the replacement pump anyway; since I’m dependent on it, having a spare if the other is fixed is no bad thing. I then purchased new connectors as the old ones were still attached to the old pump, and set off home.

OK, I did call in at the supermarket to pick up some goats milk for me but then came on home with the plan of feeding the alpacas and then installing the new pump. It was while I was pulling out the hay for the alpacas that I realised that the guy in the shop and I, while remembering all the mechanical bits needed for the pump had both forgotten the electric cable to power it.

It was now just coming up to 4 pm. I jumped back into the car and headed to the electrical shop in the next town, 4 kilometres away. No he didn’t have 3-phase cable and the only other shop in the town likely to have it closed for the weekend at lunchtime. So it was back down to Villeneuve to the supermarket hardware store, the only place likely to have the cable that would still be open. They sold me something that they say is right but I am having doubts. The cable I took off was 3-core and each core was solid copper. The cable I’ve been sold is 4 core and the cores are stranded copper. I don’t know much about 3-phase and have never had to work with it since a theory lesson in university around 30 years ago. I was hoping for identical cable since I photographed the connections before dismantling them. It would have been a doddle to put it back if the cable was the same.

By the time I got back from this second trip to Villeneuve the sun was setting and I decided that I didn’t really fancy wiring it back up in the dark so I’ll wait until tomorrow. The paraffin fire will just have to suffice for another night.

Today turned into a beautiful day, at one point the external thermometer registered 23 C. I did a double take at that reading but the sensor is out of the wind and in front of a south facing wall. The sun had just swung round and was striking it directly. I decided to make a start on marking out the planting sites for the woodland. Picture is kit to be carried up to the planting site, yellow markers for the end of the rows, tape measure because my stride is only 70 cm and it’s easier than guessing the 2 metres spacing and bamboo cane markers for the planting positions. In the background are some of the trees waiting to go in. These are the trees with the truffle fungus.

This red outline is roughly the area to be planted. I’m aiming to plant about 190 trees this year and then the same for each of the next 7 to 8 years. It depends on two things really, when I can start coppicing and when I run out of space/cash. I’m still trying to source the ordinary trees. I keep being told that I should be able to get them locally but no one knows where. The Yellow Pages is useless. It does have lots of nurseries listed but that all they are listed as, nurseries, it fails to mention anything about what type of plants they hold and France is full of specialists. It seems advertising is done on word of mouth. If I don’t find someone next week I’ll have to order off the Internet but that incurs a 10% cost of order delivery charge. So a local supplier would be preferable.

While up at this far edge of my property I realised that the view back gave a reasonable overview of the rest of the place. The area outlined in blue is a marsh, mainly due to there being a breach in the bottom wall of the pond there. I want to close the breach but don’t want to loose the habitat completely. The field outlined in red is the one planted with winter wheat. Because of the field in the foreground being a small hill, only about half the field is visible in this picture. The area outlined in white is the field sown with grass that will be the paddocks for the alpacas.

Between the horizontal white line and the far side of the house there is another small field that is to be the vegetable growing area. This side of the house is the area for herbs, medicinal plants and fruit, including the newly planted orchard. There is also another long thin field continuing to the left of the blue one that is completely hidden by the hill. That field has a very bad drainage problem and the current plan is to use it for hay.

Friday 25 January 2008

A Bit of Me Time

Not much done here at the house today other than the basic animal husbandry. With my kitchen unit due to be in the store in a couple of weeks I though it was about time to find the other bits and pieces I will need such as tiles, sink, taps etc.

French shops are different. Not just the fact that they close for two hours over lunch and sometimes one day a week in addition to Sundays, but they are usually franchises too. This leads to price differences between what you first think are branches of the same shop but also means that you never know whether they will carry the item you want.

They also may offer an item but not carry it in stock. This is usually the case with things such as tiles. When I find the tiles I want, it’s almost certain that I won’t be able to pick them up then but will have to wait at least a week or two for them to be ordered. It’s one of those ‘slower pace of life’ things that you have to get used to living out here.

So this morning Ann and I went off to Agen to visit a couple of stores in the ‘big town’. First stop was Castorama who have a large store on the outskirts of Agen. After an hour wandering round I did purchase some stuff but not much of what was on my list, which was rather disappointing even though it is sale time here in France. The government controls the sales here and say when the sale season starts and when it ends.

Then off to another shop, Lapeyre, where again there was nothing I wanted but they do have some very useful catalogues. I can now sit at home and find the name in French of the bits I want to buy, a very useful thing to do although over the last year my mime, acting and sketching abilities have been advanced and honed.

On the way home we stopped for lunch at one of the roadside cafes. The meal was one of the simple set menus, 11€50, and was delicious as they usually are. I had leek and Camembert flan as starter, a piece of grilled fish (no idea what type) with vegetable to follow and finished off with isles flotant (floating islands). All in all a very nice ‘me day’.

I’m really hoping the water will be back on stream (no pun intended) tomorrow. I have a large pile of washing up to do as I’ve been eking out the water I have so I don’t have to trouble my neighbour too often. It only rained a little, 2mm, one night since the pump broke. Mind you that 2mm over the front half of the roof filled a small dustbin that’s kept the alpacas in water. The efficiency of the roof collection was really highlighted by me leaving two large boxes out to collect water. The rain barely covered the bottom of them.

Once I have water I can switch on the heating again as I can re-fill the radiators. The habitable rooms and the radiators are currently all on the ground floor but when the heating was plumbed in the pipe work was run round just below the ceiling (and they are almost 3 meters high). This results in any air in the system collecting in the pipes and you can’t bleed it out using the radiators. Without the pressurised water going into the system and eventually displacing the air it reached the point where I could hear just small amounts of water falling down the pipes into the radiators so I though it prudent to shut the system down to protect the boiler.

That was fine while the night temperature was staying about 6 to 8 C. We’re promised a frost tonight and possibly into next week so my bedroom is currently about 11 C, which is beginning to border on cold. Still the weather is better than this time last year when it was –6 to –10 C and snowing. I didn’t have any heating then either!

Thursday 24 January 2008

Patches’s Patience Produces Results

As I mentioned in a post a while back, Patches sits and watches the mole hills, ever hoping that she will catch whatever is in there. Well today it looks as though she struck lucky as I found her sitting very proudly beside a dead mole. Whether she did actually catch it or it died for some other reason I will never know but much as I wish the moles no harm, I do hope it is the one that has been marching across my front lawn. Looking at the number of molehills I think I’ve got an army of them out there.

The bulk of today was spent on two things. Firstly being a Thursday I spent the morning back in the prunery sorting the wood with Ann. We’ve now finished extracting, de-branching and chopping to length the wood that is large enough to use. To finish off we are putting all the branches into the middle of the rows so they can be mulched. Under the trees there is the remains of a straw mulch. When we clear out the branches we have to try and remove every bit of wood. This is to stop the ripe fruit from falling onto anything hard and bruising or splitting. It’s surprisingly time consuming work but one of those jobs that once you get into the swing of doing you can drift off into your own thoughts or just listen to the sounds of the birds , or rather this being rural France, the sounds of the cockerels in all the surrounding farms.

The afternoon was set aside to sort out the water pump. The first port of call was the large Terres du Sud (agricultural merchants) a few kilometres up the road. No they didn’t have a replacement pump of the same type. They did have something that would do the job but the connections would need bodging. They did however look at the pump and pronounce the motor as dead. Next stop was the independent hardware shop in Villeneuve where I got the new non-return valve. Bingo. Not only do they have an identical pump (which they are reserving for me) but they will look at the old pump and see if it can be repaired. So I’ll return on Saturday and find out the verdict. I did think seriously about buying the new one anyway, especially as it’s half the price I was expecting, (at 200€), but if this one can be fixed and I now know where to get a replacement, I will leave it this month as I have rather a lot of other expenditure due out. So I’m hoping it’s only another couple of days without water.

And aren’t friends wonderful. Ann offered to wash my work clothes as I’m down to the last set and invited me over tonight for a meal and use of her bath. So I’m a very clean and happy girl tonight. Not having the water really makes me realise what a precious commodity it is.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Bits and Pieces

It’s been one of those ‘little bit of this and a little bit of that’ days. It usually is as since my breakdown I’ve found it really hard to concentrate on any one thing for a long time. I also have a bit of a problem with my back and I find by changing what I do frequently it copes much better. So today, apart from looking after the animals, I did a bit of work on each of the following.

This is one of the beams above the new window that’s been fitted. You can just make out the original dimensions of the beam on the right, the missing bits on it were what descended as dust when the cement skim fell off. A bit of extreme sanding is called for and I was pointed in the direction of this. I didn’t know you could get sanding discs for angle grinders and oh boy is this efficient. This time I’ve hung a polythene sheet round the area to try and contain the dust and it has largely worked. So much so that after about 10 minutes of sanding the air in the enclosed area is so thick with dust that it’s getting into my eyes even though I’m wearing goggles.

So a change or air was called for and I started shifting more of the alpaca manure and layering it with the old straw I have. The two original heaps I built had compressed to about half size so I built them up again and added a third stack on the end. The dung pile is the one in the foreground and the two small heaps are in front of the two straw bales. You can see in the background the remaining bales I would like to use before I cut the wheat in May/June.

After a dozen or so wheelbarrow loads of alpaca manure it was back to the sanding. I’m now at the point where I’ve more or less done the left hand side. To get to the right hand side is proving a bit more difficult as the angle grinder is very definitely right handed and has a long handle sticking out the left hand side. I see some contortionism coming up.

Once the dust level became too great again I though I’d move a couple more loads of gravel before my back gave out. Thankfully I don’t have to do the whole drive just from the dark shadow up to the house. That small area from the shadow to the spade has already yielded 8 barrow loads and I’ve a long way to go until I reach the back of the house. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it yet but I’m sure it will be useful somewhere even if it’s only to put back on any areas that melt in the summer. And talking of summer, Snowy took the opportunity of today’s sunshine to bask on the remains of a hay bale beside me while I worked.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Some Things Are Not Meant To Be

Noisette finally had her cria this morning, a white female. I missed this one too; she had it in the 20 minutes it took me to feed the cats and the chickens. I’d checked her when I’d read the rain gauge and she was with the others, milling around one of the dung heaps. When I checked again she was by the hayrack with the others but it was immediately obvious that all was not well.

The alpacas were humming to each other and I could see a light patch on the straw where she was standing. The cria had been stillborn. It took me a while to get over the shock and after checking Noisette was alright, I left them for about half an hour while I went over to see Ann and tell here I wouldn’t be helping with the wood today. It was her turn to be without electricity and as she only has a digital telephone her ‘phone was not working.

Having come back, I fed the alpacas their food granules and removed the cria. It was obvious that the cria was a bit on the small side. The placenta/afterbirth was about a quarter the size of those that the other two alpacas delivered. I also noticed a small growth/sac of liquid at the base of the spine just above the tail.

I’ve kept an eye on Noisette all day and she seems fine. That’s one thing about the half to three quarters of an hour it takes to muck out the field each day, you get time to watch the animals and they get used to you being there and watching. I now have to consider whether I breed from her again.

The reason she was due to give birth at this time of year rather than back in the summer along with the others was that she miscarried another female cria at 8 months, back in the UK with the breeder I bought her from. She has had one successful birth, Chestnut who’s a lovely male alpaca, but is this second problem something to do with her, or is it linked to the worm problem or even the worm treatment they had. Not answers I’m going to get from the vets over here, as they have no knowledge of alpacas but something I have to decide for myself.

I’m not planning on mating the alpacas again before July, since that should result in births around June 2009. My plans may be thrown out by Chestnut who has to remain in with the females at the moment as he has no companion and I can’t move him away on his own. That will have to wait until I can separate Ashan from his mum around March or April.

A couple of weather pictures to finish with, the first was taken about midday. We were scheduled to have rain this afternoon but it skirted past.

Then this evening as I locked up the chickens I turned round to this lovely post sunset sky.

Monday 21 January 2008

Water Update

The new valve is in and… no difference. So now I’m beginning to worry that it is the pump it’s self and that could be costly. The valve I replaced did need changing so I’m not bothered about having to have done that. I’d just like to get through a month without a catastrophe on my hands.

Apart from the pump I’ve done very little today. It took the whole morning to get the two parts I needed. When I got back, the house was still in the grips of a power cut due to EDF doing maintenance on the cables round here. Once the power was back on, I fitted the valve and then spent time testing it, removing the pump, re-fitting the pump and ‘chatting’ by Internet to Steve in the UK as to what might be the problem with the pump.

I think I’ll have to take the pump out and be brave and strip it down. The main thing holding me back, apart from not knowing what I’m doing, is that the pump is wired into a socket and I’ve yet to find the fuse on that circuit.

Sunday 20 January 2008

Bottom of the Fridge Soup, Top of the Fridge Flan

Despite having no water and in an effort to convince myself that I will be able to fix it tomorrow I decided it was time to do some cooking. Well the washing up can just join the pile waiting to be done when the well is back on stream.

A rummage in the fridge and I quickly came to the conclusion I had lots of bits that really needed using up. Waste not want not as my mother used to say – what ever it really means, to me it says use everything to it’s full potential. The best way I’ve found to use up the slightly soft vegetables that always end up lurking in the cold drawer is soup. Different every time as it depends on what I find. Usually with a base of gently sweated onions, today it is a mixture of carrot and potato. I’ve also been following one of the suggestions on to use up the stuff that’s been lurking in my store cupboards. So as I didn’t have any homemade stock to hand, in went two cup-a-soups that I know I’ll never have on their own; minestrone and spicy tomato. Absolutely wonderful with a slice of home baked bread.

Having dealt with the bottom of the fridge I turned my attention to the top. Having been ill for the two weeks after Christmas there were quite a few bits lurking there. I will hasten to add that my fridge temperature is just above freezing. Too cold I know, but every time I set the fridge to a warmer setting, we have a power blip and it returns to it’s default setting which is 1-2 degrees. Along with some ready rolled pastry for the mince pies I didn’t make, there were a couple of scallop things I’d bought last week – very nouvelle cuisine looking. I love seafood but these concoctions were very definitely not to my taste. There was also a pot of dill mayonnaise and a small piece of smoked salmon that had dried out a bit where the covering had rolled back. One quick reincarnation later and I have seafood quiche.

Although I’d set aside today as a day off the weather was just too good to spend all the day inside so after clearing out the alpacas I forked the last of the bale of straw around the trees. I need another bale though to be able to finish the job and that will have to wait until I’ve finished the drainage ditch and unhitched the plough as the spike to move the straw roll fits onto the back of the tractor since I have no front lift arm.

It was nearly television time by then, I’d promised myself to watch a bit of the rugby and read the woodland book and then watch a programme on the otters of west Scotland (a BBC film as it turned out). I’m still not very good at picking out and remembering the names of all the creatures but I can usually get the gist of this type of programme. I find that I’m gradually understanding more and more of the programmes I watch and some of it without consciously translating, all of which is good practice and progress.

But before I came in I managed to remove two more full wheelbarrow loads of gravel from the driveway. Even clearing the small area I have from just in front of the front gate has dramatically reduced the amount of gravel being brought indoors and subsequently scratching the tiles. If my back holds out I might try for three loads tomorrow.