14 May 2024


Nick returned from a scheduled visit to our UK house a little while ago.  While he was there he did a lot of gardening, replaced and repainted some damaged fence panels and replumbed the downstairs toilet.  He was kept very busy and the weather was mostly very good.

While he was away the weather here in France was mostly miserable!

While he was away I tackled some of these little blighters.  We had noticed that one of the bushes in our hedge had developed loops of webbing full of clusters of small green caterpillars.  Within days there were virtually no leaves left on the bush and the critters were spreading to the next one along of the same variety of plant.  In a rare interval between rain showers I hacked away all the affected branches, which was not a pleasant job, but too late to save the bushes I fear.

Our journeys to and from Limoges airport used to always be entirely uneventful but lately there have been numerous incidents.  I wrote last year about the wild boar that wandered into the road in front of us, which was after the journey where the tree fell into the road and before the (suspected) ambush.  This year has been just as exciting.  So far we have had the incident with the three cows in the road as we rounded a bend hotly followed by the one with the farmer attempting to recover three huge round bales of hay that had clearly fallen off his trailer minutes before.  This trip, when I went to fetch Nick from the airport, there was a car in the ditch and people all over the road looking at it.  It was, amazingly, the right way up and facing in the right direction, which is not normally how it turns out.  It looked for all the world as if someone had parked it there - usually they end up in the ditch upside down and pointing the wrong way!

Then, when I got to the airport, there was a thunder storm of biblical proportions.  As I pulled into the car park the heavens opened and unleashed a huge amount of rain, hail, thunder and lightning.  There was an enormous thunderclap and flash right overhead and I stayed in the car for a while, hoping the storm would end.  It didn't.  Well, not for a long time anyway.  I finally decided to make a run for it, arriving in "arrivals" like a drowned rat.  I found Nick (Limoges airport is not really big enough to actually lose anyone) and we stayed in the café for a while until the rain eased off.  The lightning had taken out the traffic lights and presumably everything else in the village.  

As we drove through Le Blanc on the way home the river was just inches below the level of the road.

Since Nick's return we have been preoccupied with completing our very first French tax return.  I shall write more about it later but believe me, it's a mammoth task.  We had guidance from a lady who does this kind of work for numerous bemused expats faced with the mountain of forms and without her help we would have been completely lost.  Apparently the very first tax return has to be on paper but subsequent ones online.  Something to look forward to!  This exercise has so far cost us about 50€ in printer ink!!

Frustratingly, the day we spent filling in and signing over and over the vast pile of forms, the weather was very pleasant.  With our paperwork finished and lulled into a false sense of security, we headed for the picnic shelter and finally got round to putting up our new fairly lights.

It was nice to be able to sit out until after dusk, to watch the swallows performing their merry dance followed by the bat formation team.  But it was not to last and after a couple of days the miserable, damp and grey weather has returned once again.  We headed off to Loches n the rain this morning to hand in our tax return at the tax office only to be met with a long queue of people waiting to be seen.  We gave up and shoved the well stuffed envelope in the letter box instead, denied the satisfaction of handing the weighty fruits of our labour to an actual person.

Not to be defeated by the miserable weather, this afternoon we headed north away from the rain showers and went for a walk along the "voie verte".  This is a converted railway track that runs from Descartes to Tournon and is well used by cyclists and walkers.  We frequently do bits of it with Hugo as in wet weather at least we don't all come home covered in mud.  Today we did the bit just north of Abilly but wherever you start along the track there are interesting features.

We passed the site of the old chocolate factory in Abilly, which burned down in 1927.

I'm always amazed at how many decent looking properties seem to be unused all over the region.
This one may of course be a holiday home and buzzing with life later in the year.

Flowering plants were enjoying the strange spring weather, even if we weren't.

Every few hundred metres along the voie verte there are old railway buildings, stations or signal houses that have been converted into homes.

The horrid clusters of green caterpillars were also at work.

 And these things are cropping up in every village.

We dodged the rain and got back home just in time.

The weather has been decidedly iffy for us but clearly our garden is loving it.

You can't beat a bit of colour in the garden to brighten any dull and rainy day.

And to round the evening off, we spent some time watching a HUGE wild boar, all by itself, foraging in the field behind the house.  We have never seen one so close before and it's hard to grasp how enormous they are.  About the size of one of our sofas I reckon!

1 May 2024


Inevitably we turned to Google for the cause behind my mystery health condition and one idea was that it might be an allergy to fumes caused by a wood burning fire.  

This sounded plausible as we had been burning the fires every day for months, often both of them.  This is the first long winter we have spent here with only a short trip back to the UK at Christmas. We had the chimneys for both fires swept recently, the living room one last November and the kitchen one (finally) in February.

So you would think we should be safe, wouldn’t you?

We stopped burning wood in March, heating the house instead with the gas central heating and a motley collection of electric heaters.  Then the other weekend we were having people round to dinner on what had been a damp, grey, cool and miserable spring day so we lit the living room fire.  It was nice to see it going again.  

Everyone congregated in the kitchen as usual and I thought I could smell burning.  I checked the oven but although it was switched on it was empty.  I went to check the fire in the living room and although it looked normal the room was filled with acrid fumes and there was a strong smell of burning metal.

Nick and the other guests piled into the room to investigate.  I flung open the two outside doors to try to let out the smoke and fumes.  The exit pipe on this fire comes out of the back forms an L-shaped bend and then goes up the chimney.  The whole of the lower structure was glowing red hot.

Nick opened the fire door and emptied a fire extinguisher into it, then buckets of water which put the fire out but the pipes were still red hot.

At the bottom of the L-shaped bend there is a small sump which seemed to be the source of the heat.  Nick removed all the wood from the fire to a metal bucket and chucked water as best he could into the fire back.  It stopped glowing and with things a little calmer we were able to relax and have dinner.

Once the guests had gone home we checked the fire and although the stove itself was now cool the pipes at the back were still very not.  Not glowing any more but too hot to touch. Something was still burning in there that we daren't leave and go to bed.

Nick fetched a garden sprayer from the barn and sprayed water into the back of the fire until the pipe was cool enough to handle. You can imagine the mess.  He managed to pull the stove away from the back wall far enough to get at the pipe and wrestle it out of its fixing into the back of the stove.

The sump at the bottom of the pipe had a thick coating of solidified ash and soot and this is what had caught fire.  The really scary part is that the fire had gone from normal to deadly in minutes.  When I think of the number of times we have left the fire, sometimes both of them, burning nicely to keep the house warm while we went out, leaving the dog and cat at home, what might have happened.  The cat could escape through her cat flap but the dog would have been trapped inside.

It seems that this sump is something that should be removed and cleaned out regularly, which we didn’t know.  We don’t think the man did it when he swept the chimney in November either.  Just by having the chimney swept annually doesn’t mean you are completely safe.

We have bought new parts to replace the old pipes but for now both wood burners are "in retirement" while we think about what we should do next winter.  The gas radiator system is a hotch potch of old, inefficient radiators of various vintages that are not all in the best position and are difficult to balance.  This central heating by itself is not sufficient to heat the house during the coldest part of the winter and is expensive to run.  Another option would be to go electric but replacing the existing radiators with electric panel heaters would require rewiring the whole house as there are already too few electric sockets in places where we need them.

The final solution would be to spend the colder months in our UK house which is much smaller and easier to keep warm. We shall see.

As well as the usual tidying up in the kitchen after a dinner party, and the washing up, we spent the next day tackling a huge mess in the living room due to the use of the fire extinguisher and all the water.  This is something I hope never to have to do again.