Marchés de Noël in Limoges

We collected eldest son Benj from Limoges today. He’s studying Applied Languages at University there. I can’t believe how quickly his first term has flown by. Nor can he! But he’s had a brilliant time and made the most of being in the city.

We walked into Limoges to visit a couple of Marchés de Noël (Christmas Markets) that are going on. However, Youngest Son was in a moany mood. He grumbled all the way during the walk along Avenue Albert Thomas and then, once we got to the city centre, he decided he was hungry and started moaning. So I didn’t get a chance to browse round the first one in the Place de la Motte.

There were lots of foodie stalls.

I only managed to shoot off a few photos as we hurried through in the direction of fast food restaurant Quick. Big sigh. I had hoped to avoid chips for lunch, but with his student card Benj can get two burgers for the price of one at this chain of establishments, so it makes for value for money. Sort of. I fondly thought Benj would get the two burgers and give one to his Dad to save a couple of quid today, but no, they were both for him! Chris had to get his own!

Refuelled with grease and caffeine, Rors became much more co-operative and so we went off to Marché numéro deux at the Place de la République. This is the largest pedestrian zone in Limoges. It was once the site of the Abbaye St Martial. There’s a depiction of its layout in the Place.

The Abbaye was abandoned in 1789 and demolished in 1792, obviously both events related to the Revolution. Shame. It must have been a remarkable building. Anyway, today there were rows of small wooden cabins selling the same kinds of things that we’d seen at Place de la Motte.

I felt sorry for the stall holders. They all looked frozen. So did we probably as it was very chilly, but we were on the move and would be back in the warm in another hour or so. These poor guys were out in the cold all day.

There was an ice rink. Sadly Chris and Benj aren’t into skating so I shall have a go with Caiti when we bring Benj back for the start of term. The Marchés de Noël carry on until 1st January.

Caiti had decided to stay at home today. Just as well she did since the sheep decided to take on the newly rebuilt Berlin Wall and got through one of the old doors we’re using into the llama field. Good old Caiti sorted the problem out so we weren’t having to chase sheep through the Creuse countryside on our return this evening.

There’s also a fountain in the Place de la République. Or rather it was a fountain. It’s been covered over with metal plates. Apparently Benj and his mates regularly dance on them on a Saturday night!

We walked back through a part of the city I hadn’t seen before. Benj knows his way around like the back of his hand now. We passed this wonky house …

this five-storey bar …

and a shop named after me!

We passed a number of tarteries (pie and tart shops). I got a photo of the last one. Limoges seems to have a thing for tartes.

Then back to the résidences. Outside the canteen at La Borie we noticed that all the picnic tables are chained together! Benj loves city life and was highlighting all its plus points. But this having to chain outdoor furniture together to stop it getting nicked is one of the minus points.

We got home before the forecast snow. Benj saw the eoliennes in the distance. We’ll take him for a closer look tomorrow. He met the new guinea pigs, reacquainted himself with the llamas, helped wrestle the sheep, who got through the Berlin Wall again tonight, and all in all, is very happy to be back home. For a week or so at least!



Tree-mendous Excitement – First Tempête of Winter

What a day! The promised tempête materialised in the early hours, waking us several times, and was still enthusiastically gusting and raining at 8 am, when it was time to take Rors off to catch the school bus. It definitely was neither cycling nor walking weather, so into the car we got. Chris said he’d come along too in case any branches had been blown down that would need dragging out of the way. I thought this was probably unduly pessimistic, but not for long. As we rounded the first bend in our driveway we came across a lot of branches – all attached to two trees which had been blown down, barricading our way. They had fallen onto the narrowest point between the two upper lakes, so we couldn’t drive round them. We got out to have a look. The extremely tall pine tree on the boundary between our land and Yann’s had been uprooted.

Chris and Rors inspect the roots of the pine tree

As it fell, it had taken down a fairly substantial beech tree with it, and also about a third of the big oak tree. There was an awful lot of cubic footage of timber blocking our path.

Chris reversed back to the house and we bustled in to text the news to Benj and Caits. Rors phoned school to say he wouldn’t be in this morning, and maybe not all day depending on how long it took us to clear the drive. We told Benj to start walking home from Limoges (we were meant to be collecting him on Sunday) and began to make arrangements to get Caits back from the lycée bus. Normally she comes home at lunchtime on Friday and I pick her up at 2. That wasn’t going to happen today!

Two massive trunks we've got to saw through! OK, Chris has to.

Once it got a bit lighter, we walked round the estate, clearing the grills for all three lakes as the water was nearly going over the top of them. We’ve been deleafing them every day recently, and just as well as there’s a heck of a lot of water coursing down the slipways at present. There were a few more small trees blown down by the big lake, and a number of branches, but nothing disastrous. We checked all the animals and filled the outdoor guinea pig cages with straw practically to the roof to keep them warm.

Pine trees are very shallow rooted

We were about to start chainsawing when the next big wave of tempest swept in so we retreated indoors and hunkered down till early afternoon. Ruadhri’s teacher optimistically rang at 11.30 to ask if he would in for school dinner! I explained that we hadn’t been able to clear our way out yet – there was a lot of tree to move. And then the Berlin Wall blew down – the temporary divider Chris and I rigged up the other week to keep the sheep out of the llama field while allowing them access to the stable. We put it back up in the driving rain, but ten minutes later another strong gust sent it barrelling down the field. I nipped out and lured the sheep into the turkey’s stable. I didn’t want to take the risk of them getting in with the llamas and then pushing through the non-sheep-proof fence at the back into Yann’s large fields. No way was I chasing sheep around in this ghastly weather. Every time we went out we got soaked to the skin within seconds. It was truly grim.

Then suddenly the sun came out, the wind died down and it was beautiful, so it was time to set to work.

It took a lot of effort but we got it clear in a couple of hours.

Nessie never helps much

So we can get out and about again now.

Finished - free again!

Our phone cable has come down up by the gate but is safely on the grass. And the interent is working fine, which is all that matters! I hope it won’t take Telecom five weeks to sort this out like it did the last problem we had with a leany pole.

So, that was our first storm of the season. Plenty more to come I dare say …


We’re just in from Ruadhri’s last Christmas specatcle (show). (He starts at collège (secondary school) next year so no more seasonal jollity.) This is the sixth one we’ve been to now. Today’s wasn’t too much of an ordeal, a mere two-and-a-half hours. The record stands at a little over four hours! The children gave it their all. It was studiously non-Christmassy apart from a rendition by all the kids of ‘Vive le vent’ which goes to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’. It’s just not the same though.

The smallest children did dances, the next youngest performed some songs, and Rors’ school did two plays – fairy tales! You know how I feel about fairy tales! First came Little Red Riding Hood, and then Cinderella. Rors was in the former. He was Little Red Riding Hood’s father, who was very grumpy.

That's Rors behind the green pole!

The kids hadn’t rehearsed with the microphone, so they carried on talking very loudly as they’d been doing in rehearsals. Now, amplified, it rattled the window panes and made babies cry. Literally, on both counts.

Rors played his part with great enthusiasm and we were very proud.

Rors is far right

Père Noël staggered in at the end with the pressies. I’ve mentioned before how rickety he appears compared to the Father Christmas of my youth. See? He has a walking stick.

A stick, a wicker basket and white gloves for Pere Noel

He gave Rors a super book about the poles and a nice big bag of sweets. My son was suitably impressed.

Sorry for quality, best my camera could do

We came out into lashing rain. The weather is building up into the first tempête (tempest) of the winter. We’re on amber alert with winds up to 110 kph forecast for overnight and tomorrow morning. We’ll have to see whether Rors can get to school tomorrow. Living in the depths of the countryside, between here and Nouzerines where he gets the bus, are narrow tree-lined lanes, and then between Nouzerines and St Marien, where his school is, are slightly wider tree-lined lanes. I’m not convinced all those trees will remain upright and I’m not prepared to take the chance of one of them falling on Youngest Son. We also have to collect Caiti from Le Poteau off the lycée bus. She usually comes home at lunchtimes on Friday, but we’ll have to see whether that’s advisable or not tomorrow. End of terms always seem to be chaotic due to the weather. Usually it’s the snow, but this year it’s the wind. We’ve battened the hatches, tied the llamas down and now all we can do is sit and wait and hope nothing too disastrous happens. We’ll probably lose power so if there’s no new posts from me for a day or two, that’s why!

If you’re in for the bad weather too, then I hope you stay safe. Hunker down like us.

Rors and the programme for the spectacle that he made

Moving To France – 10 Top Tips

I’m delighted to host another guest blog post today. Six years ago to  the day, 13th December 2005, I arrived in France to do some final checks on Les Fragnes before we went ahead and signed the Compromis de Vente. I was so stressed out at the time – planning to move abroad is never easy – I nearly didn’t board the plane. But luckily I did, and discovered that our lakes weren’t legal. You don’t want to touch an unregistered lake with a bargepole, so we were able to add a conditional clause to our sale agreement to say that unless our lakes were made kosher,  we’d pull out of the deal. The estate agent and vendor suddenlygot very busy sorting this out for us!

So it’s very appropriate on this auspicious anniversary that my guest post is about moving to France from the UK. It’s been written by Schepens Removals, who are one of the leading removals firms in the UK, and who specialise in removals to France.


1)      Sending Your Child To School – If you plan to enrol your child at a school in your commune, initial enquiries should be made at your mairie (town hall), where you will be advised on who to contact and how to complete the various formalities. Don’t forget to ask about school transport – ramassage scolaire – at the same time if you are going to need it. The mairie generally handles enrolments to primary school. For older children you will contact the relevant collège  or lycée directly. Children should be enrolled before June to start school in September. Home-schooling is legal, but you must speak to the mairie if you intend to take this route. France also has private schools and some international schools.

2)      Finding Work – If your life in France is dependent upon finding employment, the wisest approach is to land the job before making the move. France’s high unemployment inevitably means keen competition for jobs, so patience is a virtue and good language skills are desirable. Although you must be prepared to go to France if offered an entretien d’embauche (job interview), viewing vacancies and submitting applications can all be done online, either via the government job search site or through private agencies. You can also send speculative applications to potential employers. If you are planning to be self-employed, then do your homework thoroughly. Prepare business plans and budgets and make sure you understand how to register your business in France. You should talk to an accountant or the local tax office – hôtel des impôts or centre des impôts – when you arrive in France who will advise you on how to go about this. A few professions only need to inform the tax office only. All others need to be registered through either the Chambre de Commerce et de l’Industrie, the Chambre des Métiers, or the Chambre d’Agriculture.

3)      14th July – Without question, France’s biggest national extravaganza is what the British often call Bastille Day, but the French refer to as ‘le quatorze juillet’. Festivities start on the evening of 13th, with truly spectacular firework displays all over France and partying that is likely to continue all night and into the next day. The 14th is a national holiday, when even shops that opened on Christmas Day will almost certainly be closed. Many towns arrange fêtes, parades and all manner of street entertainments, sometimes a whole week of events. If you’re in France at this time, it’s well worth finding out what’s happening near you and going along. France’s 14th July celebrations are not to be missed.

4)      Eligibility for Healthcare – If you don’t intend to work or run a business in France, and are not a dependant of someone who is in the French system, you will probably need a form S1 to entitle you, initially at least, to state healthcare. You should apply for an S1 well in advance of leaving the UK. If you’re retired, contact the DWP Overseas Healthcare Team (0191 218 1999); if you’re going to continue working in the UK, contact HMRC.

5)      Healthcare – Carte Vitale – This card contains a microchip which confirms your identity and social security number. When you pay for consultations, treatment or prescriptions, you will be asked for your CV. Your reimbursements will then be refunded automatically into your bank account. If you don’t have a carte vitale, or the health provider doesn’t have a card reader, you’ll be given a document called a feuille de soins. This must be presented to your caisse d’assurance, along with proof of entitlement, to claim reimbursement. Top-up health insurance – la mutuelle – is generally recommended. Be aware that orthodontic dental treatment for children will only be partly funded by the sécu, social security, and only if it is started before the child’s 16th birthday.

6)      Household Bills – Keeping on top of household bills becomes second nature when you’ve lived in the same place for a long time. You know what bills to expect and when, and how to pay them. You know how to switch suppliers, cancel contracts, change insurers, and who to call for technical assistance or to query an invoice. These are things you’ll soon find out when you start living in France, but here are a few tips to get you off to a flying start.

7)      Bill Payment Options – Most utility companies offer alternative payment methods, schedules and tariffs. Paying by direct debit (prélèvement) is the norm in France, but there are other options. You may also have a choice between monthly or quarterly billing – trimestrelle. It’s worth spending a little time finding out what your options are, before agreeing to the method your supplier initially proposes.

Photo by Michael Drummond,

8)      Re-Registering Your Car – Essentially, this is a matter of assembling the required paperwork and paying the appropriate registration fee. On most cars the headlamps must be changed because headlights dipping to the right are not acceptable in France.

9)      Car Insurance – French car insurance covers the car, not the driver as in the UK, and normally includes breakdown cover; consequently, France has no RAC/AA equivalent. Continuous insurance is a legal requirement, even for cars kept off the road; before cancelling your policy, your insurers will require evidence that the car has been sold or scrapped, or that you have arranged insurance elsewhere. A valid insurance sticker must be displayed on the windscreen.

10)  Bank Accounts – Banking options include high street banks, the post office bank La Poste, internet banks, and Crédit Agricole’s English-speaking ‘Britline’ which offers services online, over the telephone and by post. To open a ‘résident’ account you must reside permanently in France, i.e. be a French taxpayer; otherwise, you should apply for a ‘non-résident’ account. In either case, be prepared to provide supporting documentation such as birth certificate, passport, proof of address, financial/fiscal statements and references, etc.‘Free banking’ is not a widely-known concept in France. The lowest-cost deals can often be found amongst online banks. Some French banks charge a monthly fee with additional charges for the issue and renewal of bank cards, internet banking, and other services. Others charge an annual fee. They normally offer a range of account packages, with tariffs to reflect the different levels of service.


Installing the Crèche at Nouzerines

For starters, here’s a picture of my in my moment of glory at the carol service!

Photo provided by Wendy Collier-Parker

Today we were at Nouzerines church. Every year, to coincide with the Marché de Noël in the village, there’s a small service aimed at the children to install the crèche. There’s a different theme every year. We’ve had tents and wool in the past. This year it was lanterns. Rors and I rustled up a few paper ones, simple but effective.

I had my camera with me for the first time in the church so I made the most of the opportunity to take some photos of this wonderful old building. Parts of it date from the 12th century. It began life as a priory founded by the Abbey of Déols and there’s a reference to it as “prior de Nozerinis 1201”. The Condé princes took it over from the abbey, and then in 1627 it passed to the Lords of Nouzerines, the de Bridiers, and from them to the de Ligondés. Then the King decided he should have a shot at ownership of it in the 18th century, but, because of the Revolution, not for long.

Up until this point it was called St Clérence, and this saint’s body is buried in the church. However the name changed to St Clair’s and that’s what it’s known as today. Just down the road is St Clair’s miraculous spring which apparently has the ability to cure eye diseases.

It’s a beautiful church. I’ve blogged about it before since we’re in the middle of much-needed renovations for it. The tower has been replaced but there’s lots more to do still. Here’s the old weather vane, lurking in a corner of the church.

And here’s the crucifix and a statue of St Anthony.

The crèche was beautiful. During the service we all put lighted candles in and around it – always slightly worrying – and the lanterns went in front of it. We had a guitarist this year and it made the ceremony even more enjoyable. It turns out this was the mysterious guitarist who appeared at our carol rehearsal the other week!

At the end the children gathered for a photo. That’s Rors in the yellow coat, looking pensive.

I spotted this plaque on the wall, referring to the benefactor who paid for the bells to be electrified in 1963.

The Beaufils family have a lot of connections with our home, Les Fragnes. They lived here for quite a long while. In St Anne’s church in Boussac, there’s a plaque commemorating the fallen from the Second World War. André Beaufils is listed. We had an André Beaufils here. I wonder if it’s the same man, and if Reine was his widow. Time I went back to the archives in Gueret. The electric carillon referred to in the plaque was removed during the renovations and replaced. Chris and I found the old one at the back of the church one day while waiting for Rors to come home on the school bus. Here it is. This must be what Mme Beaufils paid for. It lasted nearly 50 years.

Père Noël, this year accompanied by Mère Noël (something I shall never get the hang of – there wasn’t a Mrs Claus when I was a kid and it was better that way!), came down to the church for the candle lighting. This added another element of anxiety since he had a very large, nylony beard. He brought a big basket of sweets with him which were much appreciated! It was a very enjoyable occasion and I’m even starting to feel a little bit Christmassy at last.





Carols, Challenges and Thank Heavens for Chris

So, I did my French bible reading at the Carol Service last night. How did it go? “A Veritable Triumph” or “At Least People Knew It Was French” are the headings I would suggest for the French national journaux (newspapers) today!

I was really pleased with myself. Caiti had coached me well and my natural tendency to be a bit of a show-off meant I dealt with my nerves and gave it my best shot in front of a sizeable congregation. My groupies consisted only of Chris since coughing Caiti had stayed at home to babysit coughing Rors, but I could feel the support of everyone in the church, and in particular my fellow AIPB members, who’d organised the evening, willing me to get through without making any howlers. And I did.  But I’m glad it’s over, all the same!

It was a lovely occasion, as ever. This year we had a Scottish bagpiper who played a mixture of Scottish and Christmas tunes outside the Church before and after the service. If you’ve never heard ‘Jingle Bells’ on the bagpipes, well, you’ve never lived!

Doing the reading was a challenge I’d set myself. I have a bit of a challenge habit. Moving to France with three kids was my biggest one, closely followed by moving from the UK to Ireland with a baby, and setting up businesses in both countries and generally coping with daily life. There are times I wish I could be happy with taking the easy option and living a stress-free existence, but that’s not going to happen. Carol service over, my main challenge now is to cheer the heck up. I’m currently picking my way through the hormonal minefield that is the perimenopause, the one-to-five years  (God help us) that precede the Big M itself. It’s like puberty in reverse, only ten times worse. The worst side effects, for me at least, are wall to wall headaches, feeling miserable, insomnia and the amazing ability to burst into tears any time, any place. It happens completely out of the blue – during bike rides, waiting in supermarket queues, driving the car, doing the housework – oh hang on, that last incident is normal behaviour for me! It’s very disconcerting. And when my demons are really ganging up on me and I’m wondering what’s the point of getting up, or getting dressed, or caring tuppence about anything any more,

We're a good team

my white knight, the endlessly patient (and/or long suffering) Chris, comes charging in with a hug and a hanky. He reminds me that this a temporary thing and that I’m not actually cracking up, just doing the female version of getting older. Which is very comforting, I think!

And talking about Chris, it’s his birthday today. I won’t say which one, but he was fifty two last year. With Rors being sick, Benj off at Uni and Caiti under par too, there haven’t been a whole lot of birthday preparations going on, but that’s no bad thing. Like me, Chris prefers to keep these things as discreet as possible. However, we’ll have a Dagg family special tea of pizza, pringles and cake and ice-cream. Benj will get his belatedly when he comes home next week, whether he wants it or not. It’s a time-honoured tradition now. Like the Boussac carol service, which ties this post up very neatly!


Food Processing

It was time for a spot of food processing this morning i.e. time to get the chickens out of the field and into the freezer. The three very pretty, light brown labelles have been living on borrowed time for several  months since we kept giving them a reprieve. We can’t really do any poultry despatching when gite guests are around and our last guests only went a few weeks ago. A lot of people still don’t like to think that their meat comes from what was once a living thing, and which had to be rendered unliving somewhere along the line. It’s not particularly nice, but it has to be done and there’s no point being soppy about it. We don’t wake up in the morning thinking whoopee, today’s the day we do for our chickens. It’s a job that needs doing from time to time. We bought the chickens to eat and they really do taste extremely nice!

We only succeeded in dealing with two of them. Number three took off at a run when Chris came after her, and is probably still running! There’s a chance she may potter back tonight to the hen house from force of habit, but I’m not betting on it. She’s definitely smarter than your average chicken. And Chris has come to terms with being outwitted by her!

Roly the cat was very keen to help with the plucking when the time came.

That’s my job. I’m a left-handed plucker. I’m actually right-handed in everyday life but can be heavy-handed with that hand when pulling out feathers. The result is torn skin. Very unprofessional.

Anyway, one chicken is now in the freezer and the other is in the fridge for Friday night’s tea.

Friday is also carol service night. I’m doing one of the readings, and in  French! It seemed a good idea at the time when I volunteered but I’m starting to feel nervous now. Caiti has run through the pronunciation with me but there are a couple of words that keep tripping me up. Grrr. Fingers crossed I’ll get it right on the night. It’s the reading about the three kings (les roi mages) arriving in Jerusalem and asking Herod where the new king is. Hardly subtle were they!

'The Three Wise Men' by the brilliant Roger Fereday

Back to food, it’s fish feeding season. The carp in our three lakes need extra noms (you have to know what noms means! – if not, go and look up lolcats) over winter. For most of the year they get well fed by anglers, and that’s on top of the naturally occurring food for them in their environment. All our lakes are stream fed which means edible microscopic goodies are constantly being washed into them. But the carp need a top up at this time of year to keep them in good condition. Since the lakes freeze for at least several weeks each winter, we need to get plenty of food – but not too much – in for them before that happens. So every couple of days, Chris and I lob in a carefully measured amount of carp pellets into each lake to meet the demands of its population. It’s a surprisingly fun job. The pellets make a lovely ploppy sound as they hit the water and it’s refreshingly mindless to chuck them about. The four-legged animals enjoy the occasion too. There’s a line of one dog and several cats behind us every time we head off. They snaffle up all the pellets that get dropped or misthrown (mainly by me) or otherwise don’t make it into the lakes. Even the goats like the pellets, which have a very strong fishy smell, but then goats like anything!

Our carp get through a tonne of pellets each winter

DIY Around The Farm

The sudden arrival of winter, and Rors still being sick, has meant Chris and I can’t stray far at the moment so we decided today was the day to tackle some jobs around the farm. It was also the day Denis (the llama) decided to escape, but since he made straight for the girls’ field, as usual, he was very easy to catch. He’s now temporarily in the cooling off stable with Maisy the goat, who decided to go walkabout yesterday. Never a dull moment with livestock.

At least Bertie is well behaved!

Our main job today was to re-engineer the fencing so that the three sheep and Seamus, the alpaca who shares their field, could get into shelter. Up to now they’ve been fine hunkering down under the trees at the end of the field. But it’s getting colder by the day and so they needed to be able to get into one of the stables. To this we’ve had to create a corridor across the front of the llamas’ big field so that the sheep can get into one of the stables near the fron of the barn, and the llamas can get into the larger one at the back. This is only for the next few months, and we also need to be able to get through this fencing several times a day to check the camelids regularly. So we couldn’t do our usual post-bashing-in and nailing-on-wiring routine, which we’re really good at now.

The sheep exploring their new territory

It was time to go scavenging. We rifled through the woodshed and the stables and found some very useful huge bits of wood that we inherited with the farm. Whatever they actually were, they are perfect to keep sheep and llamas separated. (There’s no problem mixing the two species, it’s simply that we need to keep the sheep out of the main part of the llama field since it isn’t sheep-proof along the back fence.) We still have some of our large order of chestnut poteaux (posts) left, so we lugged a few of those into position. Chris dug out extra-long nails and after some enthusiastic hammering, we had a wooden Berlin Wall in place. There’s a wire section at the far end that I can easily unhook to get through, and it’s tractor-wide so we can bring either Rusty Deux or Sea Blue out from the hay barn when we need their services around the rest of the farm.

It won’t win prizes for looks, but it’s effective, and most importantly, has only cost a few euros for the posts and the nails since everything else is recycled. Sure I’d love swanky post and rail fencing and classy wooden gates for my fields, but we’d have to sell the house or the children to afford those so we make do and mend, and very successfully.

A final bit of DIY was needed. The llamas were now cut off from the stable with their bale of hay, which the sheep have delightedly requistioned, so we delivered another one into the top stable. Llamas are notoriously messy eaters. Let them loose on a hay bale and they’ll eat a few mouthfuls but spread the rest all over the ground. They’ll lay on that, then pee on it, and so it’s no longer edible. All very wasteful. Anyway, we’ve called their bluff. I’ve constructed another effective mangeoire out of pallets. The first model, top of the range, used bungees, but this one is using string. Works every bit as well!

The llamas approve!

Now our animals can stay well fed and warm in even the worst blizzard, which is probably more than could be said for us! Even with all Chris’s hard work on exterior plastering and constant upgrading of the insulation, there are draughts here and there in the house when the wind really gets going. And I must go and do a winter reserves shop to stock the cupboards up ready for the inevitable session, and usually several, of being snowed-in for days on end. We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security with the mild November and relatively kind winter so far. Time to act.

Turkey proof gate - patent pending


Winter and Wind Turbines – L’Hiver et les Eoliennes

As usual, Creuse has hurled itself full throttle into winter. Last Thursday it was mild and pleasant, but on Friday it was cold, wet, windy and grey. The cycling season has screeched to a halt and it’s time to hunker down, apart from a couple of bracing walks each day to keep middle age spread at bay just a little longer. We had the first winter storm last night. Rain leeched in around the window in our bedroom so, on top of Ruadhri’s incessant coughing – he’s poorly again poor mite – and the rattling tiles and windows, we had the drip, drip, drip of water into a bucket. Needless to say it was a night short on sleep. I was worrying about the polytunnel, unnecessarily it turns out as it’s standing tall and strong still this morning, whereas Chris’s thoughts tend towards our chimney stacks whenever there’s a high wind. They survived too.

Driving Caiti and neighbour Charles to the lycée bus this morning, we came across lots of bits of tree over the roads and in places you couldn’t see the tarmac since there was a nice thick coating of slippery leaves. But the rain had stopped and there were clear and starry skies, so it wasn’t all bad. And there’s far worse weather to come!

We’ve got a week of strong wind forecast which is bad timing since our local eoliennes are due to be erected this week. Number 7 is already up. On Thursday morning, there was one section of ‘stalk’ in place. By Friday night the whole eolienne was there, rotors and all. I got a photo yesterday.

It’s incredible. It totally changes the landscape, however in a modern, interesting way, and there are eight more to go up still. It’s going to be a very different Boussac.

In theory eolienne 6 will go up today. The crane is in place, poised for action.

There was a steady stream of cars stopping and people getting out to have a look at it when I went by to take my picture. This is quite possibly the most exciting structurally-related event (I was going to say ‘exciting erection’ but that would only make you snigger) to happen in Creuse since Boussac castle was built in the fifteenth century!

Up the road eoliennes 4 and 5 are ready to roll with all their parts in place. Poor old eolienne 3, our closest and always the bridesmaid, is lagging behind in that its rotors haven’t arrived yet, but numbers 1 and 2 have the enormously huge shafts ready and waiting. I hope to witness at least one of them being assembled and winched into place.

What will the full impact be when they’re all up? Well, visually it’s huge. And friends who live within potential earshot of eoliennes 1-7 (they’re all actually very close together) have said that if they can hear them, they’ll be able to claim to have double glazing installed in their house for free. I’m not sure what happens if you can still hear them after that, and obviously it’s just tant pis if they’re annoying when you’re out in your garden! It’s the sound aspect that worries most people about wind turbines. Time will tell what it’s really like.

According to Le Populaire, the nine eoliennes will be on stream by February. Together with six others in and around Chambonchard, they’ll supply half the electricity demanded by Creuse households, but not including heating (“hors chauffage”). This seems a slightly odd assessment. I guess it’s meant to sound more impressive than it actually is with the implication that half the departément will get some benefit from them. Elsewhere I’ve read that our nine will be supplying 23,000 households entirely.

Enough of eoliennes for the moment, fascinating as they are. On to Christmas. I’ve posted a seasonal poem here on my Books Are Cool site which I think you’ll enjoy.

And a strong recommendation from me in favour of doing Christmas shopping at one of the various Amazons and having it shipped by them to the recipient. Having paid €6,50 in postage for one smallish parcel last week, and nearly €5 for another, I’ve had enough of subsidising La Poste. Its charges seem to be going up more frequently and more steeply than ever before. So I’ve turned to Amazon and it’s brilliant. It’s a shame I stocked up on so much wrapping paper though!


Follicles, Fighting and Fables – Wool Course at Le Dorat

Friday, as well as being Eldest Son’s 20th birthday – wow! – was my wool course at Le Dorat. It was organised by Laines Locales Réseau Limousin, a group for wool crazy people like me. This particular training day was to do with determining wool quality. I thought I’d give it a go as it was very reasonably priced at €10, sounded interesting and there were no pressing reasons to keep me at home that day.

It was a ghastly drive there through the dark and heavy rain. Ever since the windscreen wipers packed up on me briefly on the autoroute to Limoges in September, I’m a bit of a nervous wreck when driving in the rain. However, they behaved today, but visibility was bad and the N145 is notorious for the vast quantities of lorries on it. It’s one of the relatively few west-east main roads across France and you can see ten lorries in a row, all from different countries. Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Czech, Romanian, Slovakian, German and Latvian seem to dominate. You really know you’re in continental Europe on that road. Because of all the heavy traffic, you’re permanently driving through clouds of spray.

Anyway, I made it to Le Dorat in one piece in about an hour and a half. I couldn’t find the venue to start with but happily spent ten minutes wandering around the centre of the town, watching as the market was setting up. Then I worked where to go and found the hall about quarter of an hour later. I wasn’t last, of course, this being France!

Maxime was presenting the course. He was a young guy and had spent several years working in Chile as a fleece quality assessor. He was here to tell us about the wool market in general and then to explain about a new method of assessing fleece quality called Soft Rolling Skin. This actually involves assessing the skin of an animal after shearing rather than examining the fleece itself. All rather intriguing.

We learned that wool accounts for just 3% of the world’s textile market. Cotton makes up 38%, other natural fibres (e.g. silk, alpaca, bamboo) 2% and synthetics the remaining 57%. Of the wool market, France contributes 1% which isn’t bad going really. Australia provides 27%, New Zealand 12% and Argentina 3%. The rest of the world supplies the remaining 57% with India, China and Turkey as the major contributors.

We looked at wool prices (currently falling) and saw that the wool for indoor textiles (e.g. carpets) is much steadier than that for clothing. Indoor textile wool is generally coarser with a larger micron count and comes from sheep such as White Suffolks and Karaculs.

Then things got slightly tricky. Actually, I got the hang of it but a lot of people didn’t and it got a bit boggy. We started investigating follicles. There are two types, primary and secondary. Basically, the more secondary follicles an animal has, the finer and denser the wool produced. A Merino sheep, for example, has 65 follicles per squared mm of skin and the wool is 20 microns in diameter, whereas a Lincoln with far fewer follicles has wool with a diameter of 36 microns.

Age, gender, nutrition and environment all affect wool quality. Generally, wool gets thinner during winter so I must be sure to feed our Suffolks and alpacas up during the cold weather! I don’t want any wimpy wool which will break when I’m spinning with it, should the day ever dawn when I get round to it.

Wool is classified by considering its fineness (using the naked eye and some kind of technical method such as laser scanning), its length, its strength, its colour, its softness, how much of the whole fleece is usable and a final factor is médulation, which I think is how hollow it is. Yellowness is quite a critical issue too. I confess I got a bit lost here as there were factors X, Y and Z, and I’m not entirely sure what they were, sorry, but you had to add them together and ideally get a negative number as the result.

It was lunchtime. I went to take some photos of the magnificent Collegiale that pretty much takes up all of Le Dorat. Scottish missionaries back in 950 AD gave Le Dorat the slightly unfortunate name of Scotorum and founded a Church there. This was destroyed by fire and in 1060 the amazing Collegiale was constructed in its place. There has been an awful lot of fighting in and around Le Dorat over the centuries, involving the Black Prince, John the Good, William the Hermit, Charles V, Huguenots and Catholics, Henry III and Charles IX and this only takes us to 1561. Claude de la Pouge (what a great name!) was active, and a relative, Catherine Pidoux, of the famous fablist Jean de la Fontaine made an appearance. (Ruadhri spent a year having to memorise zillions of Jean de la Fontaine’s cautionary tales which have titles like the Hare and the Tortoise (not very original!), the Cricket and the Ant, the Sun and the Frogs and the Aardvark and the Vaccuum Cleaner. OK, I made that last one up but the fables were all equally highly improbable, tediously dull and interminably long.) Sister Pidoux, way ahead of her time,  founded a free and public school for Le Dorat in 1656 which continued until the Revolution shut it down in 1792.

OK, enough of the history lesson. The Collegiale is well worth a visit as I hope the photos show.

During my walk I decided I’d had enough of follicles, fascinating as they are. I was incredibly tired as my insomnia is back and I’d hardly slept the night before. I also didn’t fancy staying until 6pm and then driving home in the dark again. So I called it a day. I don’t like wussing out of things but the course wasn’t proving to be as relevant as I’d hoped and frankly it was all rather slow going. The lecturer was very good and clear but a lot of folks just weren’t getting it and kept asking annoying questions. I’m not a patient person! So sadly I didn’t find out fully about the Soft Rolling Skin method, but I’ve got the basics.

I got home in the daylight, had a snooze and pottered round. I picked Rors up from school and then took Caiti to judo. We were delighted to see Boussac’s Christmas lights blazing out into the night. There are some interesting new ones. They are definitely Christmas moustaches, no two ways about it! And that gives my blog its Christmassy touch!

A final word about the birthday boy. In his 20 years, Benjamin Christopher Dagg has lived in seven different houses in three different countries. He’s mastered four languages (English, Gaelic, French and German) and is currently tackling a fifth (Mandarin). He’s been to two primary schools, two secondary schools, one lycée and is now at Uni. He’s done a lot of travelling and had plenty of fun on the way. He’s a great guy so let’s hope the next twenty years are just as eventful for him, and that somewhere or other they’ll include him taking his driving test. That’s a hint, Benj!