vendredi 21 avril 2006

A day out

Last day before the drive home and the weather looked set fair. An early start and I set out to climb part of the skyline from my house (see photo in the earlier post).

The stiff height gain and poor snow hampered my ambitious plan. I managed 5 peaks in wintry conditions under foot until it was time to start back. A long sitting glissade (bumslide) allowed me to lose height rapidly before much wading through knee deep and sometimes waist deep snow allowed me to reach GR10 and an easier walk back to the car. An avalanche in the forest a few metres ahead of me added to the excitment. It took the form af a 2 minute bombardment of ice balls the size of tennis balls in the forest - quite bizarre.

lundi 17 avril 2006


Yesterday was hot and sunny and at lunchtime I went for l’apero with my neighbours Phillip and Celine. I busked jazz and blues on the guitar whilst Phillip drummed on his African bongos! They drank whiskey and orange(!), I preferred Pastis as we thumbed through their winter holiday photos of Madagaskar.

Today it rained for most of the day. First thing I set to work repairing the scythe. After the heroics of a couple of days ago the blade was toothless and cracked – my own fault for making the blade too keen. Lots of filing and honing and it was good as new, only this time a bit more robust – more axe less scalpel.

Next I finished off what I could of the plumbing. With so many sizes of pipe here in France I missed a few connections so frustratingly can’t finish the installation. Still the cylinder is now installed (required dismantling of the bedroom cupboards to get it into place) and the back boiler and pump are water tested. Connecting the domestic hot water to allow electric immersion in summer and Rayburn in winter is going to be a challenge unless I use the same cylinder for both – possible but the pressure in the shower might be reduced if I do…a test will be required.

When the rain stopped (5.00) I tried out the scythe, clearing a considerable area without any blade damage. I found a 30 foot oak tree under the brambles. I kid you not! I kinda guessed there was something under the 30 foot mound of briar by all the mistletoe. Two piles of cut undergrowth the size of a house each now need to be burned. As the ground is wet I think it’ll be safe.

As the clouds lifted to their natural level of about 2500 ft amazing cloud formations reminiscent of an early Spielberg film occurred overhead. A well earned beer at dusk listening to the woodpeckers, cuckoos and owls ended a pleasingly productive day.

vendredi 14 avril 2006

Land Clearance

A good night's sleep and the day dawns bright and sunny (slight frost last night). I sharpen the scythe and recommence the ongoing saga of clearing the first of my fields. It's got 60 years of tangled brambles and saplings on it. Some of the brambles have achieved tree status and the whole mat of undergrowth is about 4 feet thick. I attack with scythe and bill hook. It feels as futile as trying to cut your way through miles of razor wire with a bread knife. Arrogantly I wear shorts - my legs now look like 'death by a thousand cuts'. Progress is slow - about 10 -20 sqm a day - but I've done maybe a third of the field now over the past few visits so I'm getting there.

Of course there are easier ways - I could buy a brush cutter but I don't fancy the noise (though I'm beginning to think who cares?) then there's 'Slash and Burn' but I'm surrounded by 1000 sq miles of tinder dry forest - do I want to be idiot who lit a fire and burned down the South of France? Once its cleared, I can fence it and gets some pigs to finish off the job of stopping the regrowth, fertilising and digging. Oh well another few weeks of scything and it'll all be over.

Tomorrow some time in the mountains weather permitting.

Rayburn unloading

I arrive at 3.00 and get to work straight away dismantling the efel cooker, like the rayburn it doesn't really break down and weighs an absolute tonne but using the scaffold pole rollers and some planks, plus my felling lever (a sort of giant crowbar to help fell trees) I manage to get it out the door. I back the trailer down the steep bank to the door (thank heavens for 4 wheel drive). It looks a difficult job getting the rayburn out of the trailer. I elect to 'phone a friend'. I call John and Sandrine but they have visitors so promise to pop over tomorrow. Philip and Celine are away. Hmmm... I 'ask the audience' what should I do? Oh well lets give it go!

Wow the wonder of mechanics - levers, rollers, mechanical advantage, gravity - I manage to unload and install single handed. Not only that, but the whole process is achieved so effortlessly and with such style - I was reminded of one of those elephants in a circus which does amazing feats of balance. The 380 kgs of cast iron gliding effortlessly from it lofty perch in the trailer, through the front door and into the kitchen! Currently its sitting straight on the floor but I think it needs a couple of paving slabs under, it as it feels a little low. The mark around it on the floor is where the efel used to sit - need to clean and revarnish.

Ariege bound

Wednesday, the trailer is loaded with aga and I'm fretting 'cos the new combination water cylinder I've ordered and the boot door handle for the car (which broke so now I can't get in the back) haven't arrived. After lunch the cylinder arrives but will it fit in the car? I dismantle the back of the car to get the boot door open. I've already taken the front seat out to allow the cylinder to 'ride shotgun' the full length of the car (like some huge missile - only lime coloured -I didn't choose the colour of the insulation foam) but try as I might the cylinder is always 2" too long. Oh well - I tie the door up and resign myself to the 1000 mile driver with the boot open - I hope it doesn't rain!

As usual I do the drive in a single push 18 hours door to door including 1 hour nap and some shopping in St Girons. The Suzuki pulls the trailer well and even gets up to 70 mph down some hills. Driving with the door open makes it chilly at night, a little noisy, but far worse is the squeaking of the cylinder insulation as it rubs on the rear door which drives me to dispair - worse still I leave all my tape cassettes in the glove box which is wedged shut against the cylinder, so I have to do the drive listening to 'Coldplay' over and over again as it's the only tape in the car stereo.

Weather is beautiful - time to unpack.

dimanche 2 avril 2006

Easter climbs

After overdosing on 'TV mountain' I need to get back on snow, ice and rock. As is usual in these circumstances (with me anyway) the axes and crampons came out the cupboard to be sharpened, a few guide books were leafed through and telephone calls made to find an accomplice. My Easter trip to Quelebu is not far away and it's usually a good time of year to climb couloir routes...maybe Couloir Faustin (AD, Mont Valier) or Couloir Tartereau (AD, Pic du Mauberme) or the Central Couloir de Pic Crabere or maybe something steeper - I spotted a great looking couloir/chimney on the Estagnous side of Petite Valier which I don't think has been climbed.

And the Aga Saga (OK Rayburn saga)...all works completed - looks like new, I'm just waiting on a couple of small spare parts to arrive and it's ready to wrap for transportation.