Thursday, 29 November 2012

76) Blog moves to ""

Sadly, we have to move our blog.  When I tried to upload a new image a message came up saying I had used up all my allocated free space.  Google want a monthly payment if I am to continue adding new photographs.  I might have been willing to pay a small annual fee, but I do not want to commit to a charge deducted each month.

The blog will continue, however , on "Wordpress" and can be found at

Sunday, 14 October 2012

75) State vandalism of epic proportions

Beeching is famous for his wrecking of the railways in Britain in the 1960's but, in France, the nineteenth century witnessed what must rank as one of the worst excesses of cultural vandalism ever seen in the Western world.  On this occasion it was the expansion of the railways that caused the problem.

Established in the middle of the 7th century, the Abbey of Saint-Pierre at Moissac flourished in the 11th and 12th centuries due to its affiliation to the enormously wealthy and powerful Abbey of Cluny.  This was the Golden Age of not only Gothic architecture but, also of sculpture.

The church's South West portal still retains, more or less intact, some superb sculpture from this period.

The tympanum particularly seems to have survived well, presumably because it was out of reach of those who smashed up or stole so much of France's church sculpture after the revolution.

The sculptures on either side too, have come through  the post revolution rampage reasonably well.

...... and this one of the prophet, Jeremiah, reminds me a bit of those at Chartres, though it's less sophisticated.

Perhaps what are even more remarkable are the poly-chrome wooden sculptures inside the church.  These have had to survive woodworm, deathwatch beetle, rot, fire, as well as vandalism and theft (wooden sculptures are much easier to steal, as witnessed by all the medieval wood sculpture you find in museums, such as the Burrell, all over the western world).  This group depicting the flight from Egypt is from the 15th century.

This polychrome crucifixion, however, dates from the same period as the stone sculpture on the church's exterior; 1130 - 1140.  Astounding.

Generally, though, Moissac seems most well known for its cloister.

Once upon a time this must have been wonderful.  Sadly every single sculpture on the capitals has been disfigured.  You can still see the quality of the carving in the decorative patterns but all of the faces have lost their features.

The local population may well have had years of pent up anger against the Church of Rome, but what a pity they took it out on the sculpture.

However.......... a monumental act of vandalism occurred in the mid nineteenth century when a railway track was laid slap through the middle of this historic world heritage monument (I can almost imagine the Gallic shrug as the nameless official responsible responds with the universal answer to everything - tant pis?)

The plan outside helpfully shows the path of the railway through the original group of buildings (the grey line on the left of the picture).

The white arrow in the picture above shows the wall at the edge of the cloister, and the cedar tree in the centre of the cloister can be seen in the upper right hand side.

I simply could not believe it.  Not only were several historic buildings brutally torn down, but all the qualities of peace and tranquility intrinsic to a cloister have been destroyed forever, as the roaring, thunderous vibrations reverberate through the very heart of this once so special place.

                             .....though hopefully, perhaps for some, it still is..........

Saturday, 13 October 2012

74) ...and other animals

Once again we have been visited by some weird and wonderful creatures.  Like this scary looking cricket (?) ................... whooa.

Crickets are supposed to look like this; green and delicate and Jiminy-like.

Talking of green, our little tree frog has turned up on the terrace a couple of times recently.....

....and a couple of copulating dragon flies dropped in on  us (rather inappropriately) while we were having lunch.

And our mild mannered lizard.......................

...................actually turns out to be a bit of a psycho.

But what on earth was this monster?  I found it (very disconcertingly) at eye level in one of the fruit trees.  It appeared to be sort of mummified, like something out of Pompeii.  Have there been any volcanic eruptions around here recently?

I thought I ought to check out the attics.  This is the tower above what used to be our bedroom.  Quite impressive, but absolutely zero insulation which probably accounts for why it was so ****ing cold last winter.

But in the other attic, above the soon-to-be-third-shower-room, there was the most enormous hornet's nest........ gulp.  Luckily it now appears to be very defunct, but even the thought is enough to cause palpitations and nightmares.

A rather more gentle creature was this adventurous butterfly that decided my lunch was actually some sort of delicious flower.  But I didn't really mind.  They don't buzzzzzz around annoyingly and, what's more important, they don't sting .

Our little red squirrel has been in evidence recently, looking for walnuts in our (this year) barren walnut tree.  I am rather worried that he may not have enough stocks to last him through the winter.  I did consider buying him (or her - hard to tell) some walnuts in the market, but they are horribly expensive.  This photo is actually someone else's as I haven't yet managed to get close enough for long enough.

Although we didn't have any walnuts or cherries this year, we did have grapes.  And we were looking forward to finding out whether they were eaters or wine grapes (though I don't really know how you tell). Then, one day, I noticed the whole lot had gone.  Stolen.  But by who(m) or what?  I suspect the "murder" of crows that hangs around in our field up to no good.

We do not have a single grape left, and yet those in the vineyards appear to be totally unaffected.  Why is this?  Why isn't the French wine making countryside swarming with overly fed crows and, come to that, WASPS?  Surely this is one of life's great mysteries.  Why don't these acres and acres (hectares and hectares) attract every bug in Christendom? And what is even more strange/annoying, why do they just pick on my particular grapes? Merde!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

73) Bathroom number two

The family bathroom is what has been taking most of my time over the summer, and we had a deadline.  Granny and her 83 year old friend were coming to stay for a week and we felt that just one bathroom downstairs (however smart and luxurious) really wouldn't do - particularly with our still-somewhat-iffy-staircase.  Before the visit of our two octogenarians, though, I did tighten up all the screws on the stair treads (so they wobble a bit less), and I put up a more substantial stair rail, which is also continuous (unlike its predecessor which had a small gap in the middle, due to EVERYTHING in France being sold in 2.4 m lengths).

As usual, lots of (unnecessarily) large holes were knocked in the walls and the floors to take the (unnecessarily complicated) pipe work.  This picture shows the third shower room, which we will tackle after the heating upstairs has been completed (we have promised ourselves that we will not have a fourth winter when we are constantly chilled to the bone).  This is where all the pipes join up and descend through a (soon-to-be) cupboard in our dressing room, before passing through the basement and outside to our newly constructed fosse septique.

First the insulation was put on the walls.  Then the insulation was partially removed again so the plumber could run his pipes (there was somewhat of a discussion among the plumbers as to whether the pipes should go inside or outside the insulation).

Once all the insulation was in place, the battens (liteaux) were fixed, ready to take the plasterboard (placoplaitre).  Also the false floor was put in.  This was necessary in order to give sufficient fall to the out flow from the bath, bidet and shower.  Instead we could have had an outlet running  through our bedroom, but this would have meant an awkward boxing in of a corner and the possibility (likelihood) of (gurgling) noises.

With the basic structure of the walls in place, the plumbers put in the pipes and fixings for the showers, taps and so on.  And I made a box to for an alcove by the bath where you can put your glass of wine.

I am now becoming a bit of a dab hand at jointing plasterboard, but I must say, boxing in the beams was a bit of a challenge (note also the alcove in the shower, just in case you fancied a glass of wine in there too - we are in France after all).

Despite my detailed instructions and drawings on the wall, the plumber managed to not line up the shower tap with the hose outlet (albeit only slightly).  He also managed to put the tap unit in crooked (to the vertical), and the top tap was pointing to one side.  All of this would have built in problems for later on as well as making everything look askew.  I rang the boss and told him I was not impressed.

He then sent another plumber ("one of our best guys") to bash another hole in the wall so that it could be re-done correctly.  I slightly wondered why we had not had "one of their best guy"s all along.  And when I discovered that our normal plumber had also put the wrong tap on the bidet (the French ought to know about bidets for God's sake), I said to the boss man that, form now on, I only wanted the "one of our best guys".  By this time even he was, I think, beginning to realise rather too much was going wrong so he sent me a rather contrite email saying that in order to have a more "serene" ending to the chantier, he would use Jean Paul in future on our job.  Presumably the use of the word serene was something to do with a translation oddity, but I appreciated the sentiment.

Putting tiles up on the sloping ceiling required a certain amount of ingenuity (and caused a certain amount of amusement amongst the artisans).  They had, however, said it would not be possible, so I was determined to prove them wrong.

The tiles we have chosen for all three bathrooms seem to have been made from reconstituted diamonds, or possibly something even harder.  They are incredibly difficult to cut, and this is especially so when cutting holes in the middle of them for taps and so on.

Still, we managed it, and bit by bit things started to take shape.......................

I have become a great fan of "No More Nails", which in French is "Ni Clous".  Sticking the boarding on, again though, did involve a certain amount of creative thinking and ingenuity.

Now it's just about finished ......

and it' sooooooo nice to have a little luxury.......................

One unexpected problem was the incredibly BLACK grout.  It is matt black and absorbs 99.99% of all light falling on it.  As a consequence, it it very difficult to use as you simply can't see it.  Also, it is rather like the tiles being the only known substance on earth that is harder than diamonds, the grout is completely impervious to any known cleaning product.  The top picture is before cleaning.............................

.....................the bottom picture is after washing with soap, washing up liquid, shampoo, bubble bath......... perhaps I'll have to buy some gloves and wear them all the time, just like the Queen.

Monday, 24 September 2012

72) Summer's almost over, back to work

Actually I have been working pretty hard over the summer but, with all our visitors, there have been rather a lot of play days too.  As well as the young (see previous post), we've also had the older generation in an attempt not to appear too ageist (one 83 year old French friend who came round for a swim dived straight in the pool and did two lengths under water - I find that quite a challenge at 25 years younger).  The pool has, though, been a godsend during our (official) canicule even if some only want to dangle their feet whilst admiring our palm trees (see left of picture).

Pools aren't just about lazing around though, they do require a certain amount of work (albeit quite enjoyable).

Inevitably the heatwave did take its toll.  Various trees and hedge plants I had planted earlier this year just gave up the ghost (I never thought I would actually be planting Lelandii but, with such a mature existing hedge, it really is the only sensible way to extend it in our lifetime).

Our lawn went brown and our horse chestnut decided it was Autumn about the sixth of August (actually it is - work it out - mid summer's day 21 June, four equal seasons of three months, first day of Autumn about the 6th of August).

The terrace (which faces south) was just too hot at lunch time, but we found a partially shaded spot for the gazebo which worked well and (at the time of writing) it hasn't yet blown away.

In the summer the markets become more crowded, but they are still one of the great delights of being here.  And now we can even engage in a bit of light hearted banter with some of the stall holders whom we are getting to know quite well. 

Sooooo many cheeses, hand baked bread, patiseries, fresh vegetables ripened in the sun (rather than in nitrogen) and fruit with flavour, especially our local melons.  An easy way to have a simple but delicious lunch on the terrace with a demi Querbi and three cheeses including some Brillat-Savarin - what living in France is all about.