Saturday, November 29, 2014

mini digging

Tomorrow has come and gone for nearly a month ( I change the blog dates so that they are just about accurate to when things happen) and I have a quick chance, once again, to catch up on blogging.

Simon and I have just spent two days playing with a mini digger, day 1, heavy rain showers and blustery rain, proper November weather, but we got on with the task in hand anyway.  You really can’t sit around, especially when there is a machine on hire that is costing a small fortune every day.

Day 2, as if summer was back, well nearly, blue skies and warm sunshine, just the ticket to lay pipes and backfill as many of the trenches as possible whilst the machine was with us.

We got just about everything finished, save all the joints and construction of an inspection chamber for the isolation valves which will go near the water meter.  The system is devised so that the garden sections can be turned off during the winter to lessen the chance of frozen pipes, whilst the (future) house and chalet can be supplied or isolated as necessary.  

At the same time we installed a pipe to transfer saved rainwater from the chalet to the garden, saving countless trips with a watering can or strimmed surface pipes hidden in the undergrowth in later years.  

Whilst digging it seemed sensible to lay a conduit for a phone line, directly to the chalet with the possibility of branching off towards the house when needed.  

The place is a bit of a mess superficially, but it’ll soon grow back and hopefully it’s the final time that this area of the property will need to be disturbed in such a manner.  The big disruption and earthworks is yet to come.......... next year with any luck.

trenching to the garden for water and phone cables

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the mini digger makes quick work of it

refilled as far as we could go

water to the door.  Thankfully the trench is now filled in

 I continue a month later with this same post........

And then I was hit by a virulent head cold.  A week after all the digging, I attempted to continue with the water works, feeling somewhat groggy in the head.  The first task was to dig out space for an inspection chamber near the water meter.  Easy I thought, ten minutes with a spade and it’ll be done.  Two minutes later with water spraying everywhere, I manage to slice through the last remaining length of active pipe much closer to the meter than I had planned.  Thankfully the water was easy to turn off.

Minutes later, whilst attempting to continue with the same task, I break the concrete surround by hitting it with said same spade.  Bad head, slight mal co-ordination, it’s obviously not the ideal time to be attempting even vaguely technical work.  I have a cup of tea and write myself a large note that has stayed on the table for nearly three weeks.  DO NOT ATTEMPT TECHNICAL TASKS UNTIL YOU’R HEAD IS BACK TO NORMAL. YOU’LL ONLY BREAK THINGS OR MUCK IT UP.

I listened to my advice and am still in the throws of finishing the last of the technical part of this task now, in mid December.  It’s been interesting even with a clear head and fully functioning brain.  Missing parts, difficult, drippy joints that needed redoing several times, cold, uncooperative pipework, all add to the challenge.  A good job done, something that will (should) last the duration, without having to be revisited during later stages of the build.

about one year since I discovered my plot and nothing much has changed to the buildings

Friday, November 21, 2014

photographic evidence

wholesome lunchtime salad, followed by bread and cheese and a good cup of tea 
washing up facilities have improved

earthworks by the drive are now settling nicely

the mustard and broad beans that I sowed have germinated well and the roots will bind
the soil together nicely before the winter sets in

starting to leaf mulch the vegetable patch to keep it snug for the winter.  the worms will
work most of those leaves into the ground and it'll be easier to work next year.

progress with the extended vegetable area.  three beds now dug and mulched
paths covered with cardboard to keep the weeds down till I can sow clover next spring

the piles of reclaimed items continues to grow

Sunday, November 16, 2014

good to be back

Thursday and Friday back on the ranch, at last, feels like I’ve been gone ages.  Getting loads done with the cooler weather and a good soaking on Friday from incessant rain. Protected the wood pile with corrugated iron before it gets too wet. The third vegetable bed dug over and thoroughly weeded, only four barrow loads of nettle roots this time, all the paths cleaned and ‘carpeted’ with cardboard to make it easier to get around on the wet clay without gathering huge clumps on my boots the whole time, it went down a treat in the rain.  Ten more barrows of good humus mulch out of the ditch by the road, full of leafmould and worms, so good for the soil.   Sorted through a pallet load of corrugated concrete roofing panels a neighbour had dropped in for me to finish the cabin roof.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, each and every sheet holed, in a properly damaged sort of a way so not suitable.  They’ll be fine for a lean to or log store later on so have stacked them out of the way in a pig sty.  Moved all the first stacks of roof tiles as they’re exactly where we need to dig for the water pipes. Finalised my fruit tree order list and hedging plant order list. Made roasted pumpkin soup with my little gas cooker, first time for the oven, so pleased that it works fine.  It’s so cozy with the lights on in the evenings, being able to read, make notes and just get on with things, just need the quote back for proper solar electricity, then I can even charge my drill and computer in comfort.  

Think I’ll do more of the same tomorrow.  Whatever ‘the same’ happens to be.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

wood burning stove instillation

Next task, to install the wood burning stove.  I’ve had it for ages and not been particularly concerned, it being a Godin, one of the most popular makes in france, about getting fittings to install it in my home.  How wrong was I?  Very.  I spent most of Monday visiting a variety of fireplace and DIY stores on the way home, to no avail.  I spent the evening beginning to prepare for the instillation and the following day started in the local scrap metal dealers.  Metal plate was easy, bought by the kilo (50 centimes a kg) then back to the quest for chimney pipe.  The stove is old and the new regulations have increased pipe sizes dramatically, no one has the appropriate bits and I go from shop to shop, waiting an eternity each time, it’s the first really cold day of autumn (everyone and his dog wants a fire installed and now) just to be told the same story.  By chance an engineer in one shop decided to try and help those waiting, he told me to try the Godin showrooms out of town.

The Godin showroom, joy at last, the kind lady knew exactly what I wanted and corrected my measurements by a millimeter or two to be precise.  The catalogue showed they were still made and she would order them with some other parts later in the week.  Result, although patience will be needed as the delivery won’t arrive till later in the month.  Good job I’ve got my thermals and I can sleep easy knowing that the problem can be solved.  I shan’t make the hole in the wall just yet, but wait till I know all can be done at once.  By now it was five in the evening, just time to drive home, catch my breath and pop to the neighbours for dinner.

bricks to support the metal plate where the wood stove will stand with battens on the
wall for the rock wool insulation panel

metal plate in situ.  (it has two more bricks underneath now to take the
weight of the stove)

first panel of wall insulation in place.  It'll need a hole cutting through when I have exactly the
right dimensions for the chimney pipe.

second metal plate to deflect heat and protect the wood store from  too much radiant heat

stove in position.
Now all I need is the flue pipes and I can heat the chalet

Slightly groggy start to Wednesday but that soon went when I started digging.  Tidied the weeds from the paths between the new vegetable beds then headed into Lannemezan, market day, to pick up provisions, made the most of the trip by gathering most of what I need for the water pipe work.  It’s too risky leaving buying things till the last minute, plus it’s easier to mentally check that everything has been thought about once the bits begin to gather.  Lunch with Pierre in a busy little bar by the market, everybody crowded inside  protecting themselves from the wintery weather, noise and activity filling the tiny dining area.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

the calm of november

The calm of November is here.  Not that the first seven days have been calm at all, I’ve only been home for two and a half of them.  The weekend spent in the mountains, Friday night Halloween Party at Lou Rider with Pierre and a group of his french friends from St Lary.  It’s still strange to be at Lou Rider in the summer with it being warm outside, I always expect to be greeted with a blast of freezing air whenever the door is opened, not this time with the last dregs of summer warmth.  Saturday we hiked up a couple of red ski runs, high into the mountains, to have a look at the view and some new structures that have been built to help with crowd control on the winter pistes.  The weather remained impressively warm and my lungs reminded me that I need to do more hill walking to get back into some sort of cardiovascular shape.

Sunday continued in the mountains, I left Pierre, crossed a nearby pass into the next valley and met up with my good friend Simon.  We had intended to pass the afternoon together but one bottle of wine turned into two, the roast chicken on a string took it’s time and was just as delicious as the previous time - four or so years ago.  We chatted till well past dark, watched the stars and the moon from our grassy outpost high in the mountains before retiring to our respective vans for another night at altitude.  

That was the end of summer.  Next morning the temperature had fallen dramatically and the weather turned to grey and damp, the first morning without sunshine since early September, if I remember rightly.  Spoiled by the weather.  We have a plan to learn mini digger skills together, I have water pipe to bury before it gets too cold and Simon suggested he would help if I hired the machinery.  All booked and diarised for the 17th and 18th of November.  

Saturday, November 01, 2014

fergus and family come to stay

hiding in a hide L-R Me Don Ginny & Fergus

My godson comes to visit, it’s half term in the UK and Fergus and his parents, Ginny and Don are here for three very quick days.  Lodged in comfort in the B&B just down the road (in case the weather was cold and autumnal) they have come to lend a hand.  That hand has already been well used, with a whole suitcase of goodies that I have been ordering on line inthe UK to take advantage of free delivery.  It has been arriving at theirs for the last three or four weeks and transported as hold luggage for a fraction of the postage price.  Thank you SO VERY much.  

I am now fully kitted out with all the chainsaw security clothing, all I need now is a chain saw!!  have decent solar lighting that will do fine till the next stage of investment is arranged.  Various english food items including baked beans and christmas pudding - something that I have been raving since a conversation a few weeks ago,  I’ll keep it till nearer the time and enjoy the wait knowing that it’s there.

My guests loved the place, the whole area in fact and thoroughly enjoyed their short time with me.  We got plenty done in the garden, namely the second vegetable bed properly dug and composted, the lights up in the chalet and, importantly some decent time spend discovering my locality.  

I have the most amazing lake about ten minute drive away, a huge nature reserve that is frequented by tens of thousands of migrating birds each spring and autumn, we happened upon a guide whilst we were looking who explained a great deal of what happens and the kind of birds expected.  Next visit will be in the late afternoon as that is the period of activity, as all the birds return to roost.  Safety in numbers.

That same guide proposed an amazing restaurant, well, farm where one can dine.  You have to book, so we did so and enjoyed a fabulous meal one lunchtime, emerging into the sunshine mid afternoon, fit to bust, and in no fit state to participate in strenuous activities.  A leisurely afternoon was spent strolling around my closest market town, checking out the architecture and a fascinating junk shop ( to become a frequent haunt I am sure).  

I breakfasted leisurely at the B&B each morning, sneaking in an hour or two of tasks before hand, the neighbours invited us in for drinks one evening and with a trip to the market the time was gone, far too fast.  It was wonderful to have guests, especially now that I am better equipped and in the knowledge that there is shelter and comfort, to some small degree, should the weather turn.  Will be thoroughly ready by the time spring arrives.  Future bookings now being taken.

selfie - 'nuff said

fascinating corn on the cob.  shame it's animal grade and terrible to eat

enjoying the autumn sunshine

lake puydarrieux from one of the hides

looking towards the mountains from the dam