Service will be temporarily suspended

As I mentioned in a previous post, we’re in the process of moving to France.

We accepted an offer on our house, and so far things have gone smoothly with contracts being exchanged, removal lorry booked, and so on and so forth.

There’s now just seven days to go until we move out. I’m really looking forward to riding the ST1100 the 400-odd miles to our new home. The only down side of the move is that there is no telephone (and thus no internet access) at the property, so I’m going to be offline for a while – at least until France Telecom can get around to running some copper wires from the nearest road.

My next post should be from our new maison!

Ride more? Or wash more?

A blog which I follow had a recent entry which posed a question. Ride more? Or wash more?

Well, the Mrs needed to renew her passport at the French Consulate in London, and had made an appointment for the Friday morning.

Now, how was she to get there? Of course the choices were: to take the train, car, or ask me to take her on the bike.

Train: the first problem lies in getting to the station. This would have involved a walk to the bus stop, a £2 bus journey, the inevitable delays on First Great Western, and an underground trip on the tube. Then the same process reversed to get home again.

Car: the problem here was not only the cost of petrol, but also having to pay the London congestion charge. Then finding a place to park, with its additional London-weighted charges.

Bike: Hmm. No congestion charge. Free parking (it’s not run by Westminster City Council but by Kensington and Chelsea). The odds are heavily favouring the bike at this stage.

The weather forecast was for rain and heavy snow. Pah. A mere trifle.

So we took the bike. I stuck rigidly to the speed limit – we left early so had plenty of time. My heated gloves and heated grips meant I didn’t feel the cold at all. We were chatting away through the Autocom with a cd playing in the background. Lovely.

As for the rain and heavy snow – well, we had a bit of sleet when we left home but other than that, it was just a bit of drizzle. The roads were clear; traffic was fairly light and I didn’t even need to filter.

We got there with plenty of time to spare, so we went to a small coffee shop near Kensington tube station where we each had a coffee. Then off she went to her appointment. I needed the lavatory so went across the road to the Natural History museum (that large dinosaur is still in the entrance hall in case you were wondering.)

Then I went back to check on the bike which was parked just around the corner on its own in a solo motorcycle parking bay (obviously everyone else had believed the forecast and had left their bikes at home). On the journey in I’d noticed that one of the auxiliary light bulbs had blown, so I dug a spare bulb out of the toolkit and changed it. I then wandered back to the entrance of the French Consulate and loafed about some more. By this time the rain had stopped, so I people-watched for a while.

Then the Mrs came out, having been in there for a total of about 40 minutes which wasn’t too bad. We had a fairly relaxed journey home.

Of course the bike is covered with greyish road salt and muck, so will need to be washed this weekend. But overall, taking the bike was the best choice. Oh – and total cost for the round trip (including coffees) was around £15. The bus/train/tube would have cost £40. For one person.

And the answer to the question? Ride more of course!

Santa baby

Santa baby, slip some bristles under the tree, for me
I’ve been an awful good boy
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Bristles? Yes, the sort that you find in an old-fashioned floor scrubbing brush. I’ll explain.

Being a tight-fisted git an economically thrifty individual, I like to give useful presents for Christmas. I think it also means a lot more if a gift has been hand-made rather than purchased, and as I’m a fairly practical sort of chap I can generally make just about anything without too much swearing.

Granted, some things I’ve made are rather over-engineered, but longevity in construction is a good thing, no? If something I’ve made lasts for 300 years I’ll be well pleased.

So, having given the matter some careful thought, I decided that as we would be moving to a very rural location in the not-too-distant future, an item which would make an ideal present for the Mrs would be a “welly washer”. You know, the type of thing that sits outside the kitchen door, and you simply wipe your mud-encrusted wellington-booted feet on it to remove all the mud. (Another advantage of this type of gift is that I’d be able to use it myself as well).

Yes, I could have bought one off Ebay. But, as I mentioned earlier, if I can save some money by making it myself – well why not? I have the plans drawn up in my head – all I need are four wooden scrubbing brushes. The old type with proper bristles, normally used for scrubbing floors.

Well, people obviously don’t scrub floors any more. For the past month, during our weekend grocery shopping trips I’ve been surreptitiously investigating the cleaning products aisles at various supermarkets – Sainsbury’s, Asda, and even the Co-Op. And guess what – not a scrubbing brush in sight anywhere. I’ve even checked out the little corner shop/post office without success. So today I took a walk to Morrisons. Forty minutes each way. The closest thing they had was a “vegetable brush” made of plastic, with short plastic bristles. And even those were far too small. Sigh.

Still, at least it wasn’t an entirely wasted trip. I bought a bag of sugar which was on special (I am currently in the process of making some sloe wine) and on the way back I managed to pick up lots of discarded cans.

I also found a discarded empty champagne bottle which will be pressed into service for next year’s cider brew. (Hah! Pressed into service – geddit?)

For lots of other money-saving tips why not buy my book? Go on, do! It’s available for the Kindle you know – and it’s really not that expensive!

Where was I? Oh yes. Bristles. Or the lack thereof. So, as far as the Christmas present idea goes, it’s on to Plan B I’m afraid. More details will follow after Christmas, as I’ve already wrapped it so can’t take a photo. Always have a Plan B, folks. Sometimes you need it. Oh – and for those of you who don’t think a “welly-washer” would be an appreciated gift for a woman, you haven’t met my wife. Walking in mud? Bring it on!

But I haven’t given up on the “welly-washer” idea yet. As for the scrubbing brush, it looks like I’ll have to make my own there as well.

Bristles? Where would I get some bristles? Hmm.

Coming soon: How to catch a wild boar and shave his whiskers.


Slow progress in the ST1100 household


It’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about recently, but I was rather hoping that this post would be a progress report, rather than a lack-of-progress report. As mentioned in a previous post (which I see is dated 23rd March), our plan is to move to a self-sufficient smallholding in France. So we put our house on the market at a fair price considering the current economic climate everywhere. And we had an offer which we accepted. Two days later the buyer changed their mind, saying they didn’t like the area.

Surely you decide on an area first before you make an offer?

Anyway, shortly afterwards we accepted another offer. This time things were progressing nicely, right up until it was time to exchange contracts some eight weeks later. We were then informed that the buyer wanted to change solicitors. Although this was slightly unusual, it’s not completely unheard-of, so – although slightly miffed – we agreed.

Time passed. Searches were done. The property was inspected by a surveyor who agreed it wasn’t about to fall down.

Eventually we (once again) reached the time for exchanging contracts, another six weeks having passed. We were then informed that the buyer wanted to change solicitors. Again. Oh no you don’t! (We said.) We told the estate agent to put the house back on the market immediately. Unfortunately they refused to listen, and it took a further ten days of them being unable to get any lucid response from the buyer before they finally agreed that yes, it looked like this particular buyer (a certain Mr Ahmed, in case you were wondering) was playing “funny buggers”. (Oh yes – and apparently the excuse he gave was that his financial advisor had told him to change solicitors. Twice.)

So we gave the estate agent their marching orders; and the day before their contract expired they produced another buyer with a somewhat reduced offer, which we accepted.

Time passed. Searches were done. The property was inspected by a surveyor who agreed it wasn’t about to fall down.

However, this time the buyer wasn’t happy with the survey report. Houses like ours which were built in the early 1950’s didn’t usually have a waterproof roofing membrane installed underneath the tiles. (The current trend of thinking is that this is not necessarily a bad thing; as the lack of a membrane allows for better ventilation.) The buyers brought their brother-in-law around to have a look. Apparently he’s a builder. So they said. Well, let’s just say if I wanted a garden shed built, I wouldn’t be hiring him to do it. (My father was a building surveyor, and my brother a civil engineer, so I’ve picked up a few pointers along the way!)

The outcome of this consultation was that the buyers said they were not happy about the “sagging roof”, and so decided not to proceed. (The “sagging roof” to which they were referring was actually the builders’ paper underneath the tiles, which functions as a dust sheet). The roof itself is fine, with the roof space perfectly dry.

Having left a negative Internet review for the non-peforming estate agent, we signed up with a different one (this time having done some internet research on said agent first), and have had some more viewings, although unhappily we’ve once again had to reduce the price. Who says we’re not in a recession?

Unfortunately around this time the father-in-law had a mild heart attack and ended up in hospital for a week, connected to the National Grid. He’s back at home now, glowing nicely, and we’ve just got back from visiting him (of course we took a lot of stuff in the car with us – there’s no point in doing the trip with an empty car, is there?)

The good news is that whilst we were away, another buyer made an offer which we’ve accepted. The only problem with this is – they need to sell their house first! So we haven’t really made any progress…

Er… which way?

How’s this for a helpful signpost? We came across this on a forest walk:

I suppose the only signpost of less use would be one consisting of a downward pointing arrow, bearing the inscription “You are Here.”

Time to go…

“The only thing constant in life is change” ~ Francois de la Rochefoucauld

(I had to look it up, I had no idea who was the author!)

Actually the fact that the author of this saying was French is particularly apt for this blog post. I may have mentioned in the past that my wife is French? Well, in a nutshell, it looks like we will be moving to France fairly soon. My father-in-law lives on his own on a farm (in France) in the middle of nowhere, and he’s getting on a bit in years.

That in itself is not a problem.

He still uses wood for fuel, and uses a chainsaw.

That is not the problem either.

He’s becoming a lot more unsteady on his legs these days. Therein lies the problem.

The other day he was cutting up a deadfall, when he fell over. Fortunately chainsaws are designed with safety in mind, so as he let go of it, the chain stopped. So there he was, lying on his back, with the chainsaw across his ankles (still running merrily and heating up his toes with the exhaust). At this point he found he couldn’t get up. After some considerable time he managed to roll over and crawl to a nearby tree where he could pull himself upright.

Now it’s high time he stopped doing that sort of thing; but the problem is there’s no-one else nearby to do it. So a change of career is imminent – hey, after all, as I have a degree in Forestry and also a chainsaw operator certificate, I may as well put these to some use!

I will of course be taking the bike with me – I will have to re-register it in France – and the French love bureaucracy.

But that also gives me an opportunity to start another website about the farm. Stay tuned!

How scepticism saved me money

I make my own bread. Why? I think it tastes better. I do cheat a bit – I have a bread maker. Anyway, I was in the local supermarket on Saturday, and one of the items on my shopping list was yeast.

The usual small 7g sachets were priced at £0.28 per pair. Now I usually buy the small packets of 6x7g sachets, but these weren’t in stock. Instead I saw that they now stocked small 125g tins of yeast. Costing £0.70. As is my custom when comparing items, I checked the price per kilogram.

The 7g sachets were priced at £20 per kg.

The tin?

£5.63 per kg.


So I read the small print on the tin. “Not recommended for use in Bread Makers.”

Hang on a minute. The sachet contains dried active yeast. The tin contains… er… dried active yeast. The only difference is that the sachets were called “Allinson Easy Bake Yeast” whereas the tin was simply “Allinson Dried Active Yeast”.

Further reading gave the instructions “Reactivate this yeast in water before you use it. It is only suitable for hand baking, so if you’re using a bread maker, try our Easy Bake Yeast instead”.

Now sourdough bread is still on my “things to make when I get around to it” list, so I did need to buy some yeast. I decided to buy the tin and give it a try.

The only concession I made was to sprinkle a teaspoon of the yeast onto the water in the breadmaker before adding the flour (normally I add the yeast last).

The result?

A perfect loaf.

So, a clever marketing ploy from Allinson’s there. They wanted me to buy the much more expensive sachets instead of the cheaper “bulk” stuff.

If I’d taken what they said on the label to be the gospel truth, the price per loaf would have been much higher.

Scepticism can be useful!

Money for old rope … er … cans!

I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post. But as an excuse I have been busy on other projects; as it’s now apple season I have constructed a cider press, and am currently manufacturing a scratter – once it’s operational, I’ll put up some photos!

As mentioned previously, on Sundays my wife and I go for a stroll in the countryside. Well, I say stroll, it’s more of a foraging trip actually. Mushrooms, elderberries, blackberries and so on. Unfortunately there’s always evidence that others have been there before us. I’m talking about litter.

So, I’m now making money out of items that other people throw away. Did you know scrap aluminium is now around £830 per ton? And the majority of cans are made from: aluminium. So now I always carry a couple of plastic bags in my pocket, and when I see a discarded can I flatten it and pop it in the bag. Once we get home, the bag is emptied into a cardboard box in the garage.

After two months’ collecting (which entailed very little effort), I had three full cardboard boxes, so took them along to a local metal recycling company where I was paid just over £10 for the scrap.

It’s not a fortune, but it doesn’t cost me anything to collect these discarded cans – and another advantage is that I’m helping to clean up the countryside!

I also sell stuff on Ebay fairly regularly, and whenever I walk to the post office down the road I never fail to pick up at least 4 discarded cans. It’s curious that this country doesn’t introduce a deposit system like they have in Finland. I just found an article about this here.

Actually on second thoughts please don’t introduce a deposit system. That would mean there wouldn’t be any cans for me to collect.

So, which company’s cans contribute the most to all this litter?

Coke? No.

Fosters? No.

Carlsberg Special Brew? No, but a close second.

The winner? Red Bull. It may give you wings, but the cans fall back down to earth.