Thursday, 8 February 2018

No exit

I started this blog in 2009 with the intention of highlighting the differences in day-to-day life between France and England, with particular reference to their impact on running a large gîte.   Three factors make this increasingly difficult: I've been in France for more than ten years now so I'm not really in tune with today's zeitgiest in England;  I'm getting used to being here, so the differences are less noticeable; and lastly, much revolves around an annual cycle, so I am at risk of repeating myself.   Occasionally, however, little quirks make themselves obvious, and this is one such.


I was having a treatment at a physiotherapist the other day and at the end of the session I needed to use the toilet.  I asked if there was one I could use, and I was directed to what looked like a small cupboard with a "Sans Issue" (No exit) notice on the door.  Inside was a perfectly functional toilet and a handbasin.  Afterwards I enquired as to why it had been so labelled, and the answer was very French.

Since the establishment was open, in principle, to the public, a stringent set of standards apply concerning access for disabled people, including wheelchair users.  Toilets for wheelchair users must have room to turn a wheelchair around in, and be fitted with bars, usually fixed to the wall, to help people transfer themselves from the chair to the toilet and back.  The room in question was far too small to permit this, and enlarging it to the necessary dimensions would have taken up all the space in the small waiting room.

So the solution, in the case of this pre-existing arrangement is: if you have a toilet that doesn't meet the standards, you can't label it as a toilet, but you can still offer its facilities to able-bodied people who can make use of it.  However, for the benefit of those people who can't work out that the door  by which they entered the building is three feet away to their right, you have to make it clear that this door doesn't offer any kind of emergency exit route.


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Coup de froid II

Last night in Paris there was chaos on the roads, as the snow that had been forecast for at least a week took everyone by surprise.   It snowed here overnight too, about 10cm or so, but the air warmed up during the day, and much of it has melted.  I took a short walk to see what was to be seen, but I missed the best of the snow.


The Camelias are a bit early, but the Crocus are right on time.


If the crow had stayed in the right place he'd have made a dramatic shilhouette.  The Aurochs was more co-operative.


Even the buildings benefit from being a bit spruced up.


Ordinary plant life looks a bit more colourful, and trees look like snow fountains.




Monday, 5 February 2018

Coup de froid

We've had floods recently, in Paris and towns downstream.  The waters are receeding now, but we're expecting a week of cold weather, with snow and sleet moving across France.  Today there were a couple of flurries in Paris.   The Seine was flowing quickly but was nowhere near recent flood levels.


Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Useful gadgets

Do they sell these whatsits in England?  I've never seen them but then I haven't looked very hard.  They're electrical connectors, about the size of a finger tip.  The orange levers are spring-loaded and they clamp down on the wires that you insert.   They replace the older style block of connectors with screws that clamp the wires (chockablocks), at least for low-current applications.  (Big thick wires still need the big blocks).

The great advantage of these ones is that they're much less fiddly, so ideal for situations where you would need three hands if you were trying to screw down the old blocks.  I used a pair today when connecting up a hanging lamp.  Easy peasy.



(I now learn that these are available in England and are called Wago clips)

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Totting

I don't like perfectly useable things being thrown away when there might be someone who can make good use of them.  Where I used to live, I once found, in one of the communal dustbins, a heap of old clothes, jumpers, jackets and so on, in used but good condition, washed and pressed.  I fished them out and took them to a charity shop.

Out our local recycling centre, there was this hose reel with a bit of manky hose on it.  One of the guys there hooked it out for me.  There was a useful connector on the end of the hose (€5 new) as well.  I wish I had found this a few months ago, before I got myself a new reel to store the watering hoses over Winter.  Still, I'm sure I can find a good use for it.



Thursday, 25 January 2018

Country wine

I was chatting to a French friend the other day.  He expressed astonishment at the idea that wine could be made from anything other than grapes.   I have never seen any in France, but they can certainly be made. Wines made from other fruits and veg are available commercially in England; I saw some in a garden centre I was perusing.  I think they're generally called country wines.  But they were ten quid a bottle.  Ten quid buys a very drinkable bottle of grape wine, and I know where I'd rather spend the money.  But you can make your own country wines much cheaper.

When in the UK recently I bought some gear for making wine, as described here.   I had to buy it in the UK because you can't get demijohns like these in France:  I've never seen them, not even at jumble sales. 

The French word for demijohn is Dame-Jeanne.  The simlarity is clear.  The legend is that a queen Jeanne took refuge from a storm in a glass blower's workshop, and he demonstrated the technique, blowing an enormous glass jar that he named after her.  I had always wondered why they're called demijohns since I have never heard of a unit of quantity called a john.

I had intended to make damson wine when the glut arrives towards the end of Summer, but impatience has got the better of me.  Since I have a good crop of parsnips, I have, following instructions from the River Cottage Handbook on booze, started a batch of parsnip wine.  It is currently fizzing away nicely on a countertop in the kitchen.  I will let you know how it goes.

At ten quid a bottle, I will recoup my investment on the first batch, assuming it's drinkable.



Incidentally, I was checking out the recommended maximum unit count of alcohol one is supposed to consume per week.  As I understand things, moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits; these get overwhelmed by the negative effects of alcohol as the rate of consumption increases.  The 21 units per weeks was established at the point where the benefits and dangers cancel each other out, where life expectancy reverts back to the no-alcohol figure.

The trouble is, assigning hazards to health from alcohol involves a certain amount of estimation.  Whereas it is clear that in almost all cases, death from liver cirrhosis is due 100% to alcohol, how about a death arising from breast cancer, where alcohol increases the risk but isn't necessarily the cause?   Assigning a precise figure to the proportion of deaths where alcohol is a contributory factor is difficult and subject to error.  This gives the nannying temperance brigade some wriggle room.

Regardless of any recent changes to the recommended maximum weekly intake, I'm sticking to the figure of 21 units per week as a reasonable estimate of where the risks and benefits cancel out.  Not that that means I intend necessarily to limit myself to that figure, but I recognise the fact that more than that is likely to be detrimental as opposed to beneficial.

The good news is that there are 10.2 units of alcohol in a bottle of strong (13.5% ABV) red, which means that Anita and I can share 4 bottles per week and still be under 21 units each.  That's actually less than we usually drink.  We'll soon fix that.


Sunday, 21 January 2018

Spring is sprung

The mild Winter so far has confused some of the plants around here.  So far, we have only had a couple of mornings with frost on the ground, and I have only once needed to scrape the car windscreen.  Camelias are out in flower at the same time as Snowdrops, daffs are pushing through and I have already seen some out in flower in sheltered town centre locations.


The Hazelnuts have catkins on them.  I hope that a cold snap in late February isn't going to ruin everything, but I think it's fairly likely.


The river down the road has swollen, but hasn't burst its banks, at least not here.  Upstream it is encroaching somewhat onto the fields, but nothing serious yet.   The restrictions on water use, imposed during the Summer, have been lifted.
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