EEC 17, 8th June 2005

In my last email I said I was going to Ikea the next day, Wednesday, to buy a bed settee. Well, I didn't go. I forget why now. Maybe I slept on the sun lounger in the garden. Or could that have been Thursday? Anyway, Thursday turned out to be a nice flyable day, and partly because Mila didn't want to drive my van, and partly because Markus is a gentleman, it was decided that Mila would fly and Markus would follow.

It was a super flight. Here are some photos. The first shows my house in the white circle and my take off site the red ellipse.

This is me and Mila.

The next pictures were taken by Mila.

Ah. That one is out of sequence. One day we had snails, illustrated. Another day was oysters, yet another day moules marinieres, mussels in white wine if you don't know, and yet another day, roast lamb with garlic, picture below. All this cooking by me!

Now you know why Mila is smiling. All this delicious food, a super balloon flight, and she even has Markus as husband! But here are some more photos from the flight. Can you see the mountains in the background?

It's beautiful, rolling, green valleys. This next photo is looking back to our take off, and my house.

Up and down in the little valleys around here.

Maybe, as you see the photos, you will get some idea why I think here is the most beautiful place to fly balloons that I have ever found. And not only is it beautiful, but usually there are gentle winds also..............

Eventually we landed on a piece of unused ground in a valley, Markus was there to watch the landing, and we walked the balloon next to the road. There's some recipients of my mails who don't know about balloons. Not many I'll grant you but there are some. So I'll explain. In light winds, if you are in a spot that is not easily car accessible, you can keep the balloon inflated and carry it to the road. Awkward to do, but a whole lot easier than carrying all the stuff packed up. Strange isn't it, that flying lighter than air, all the equipment is so darned heavy.

I think all flights should end on a happy note.

Here's to your happiness too............Happy landings to all!

Eventually, on Friday, Markus and I bought a bed settee. I also bought a new mirror for the bathroom, and bed covers for my bed.

Then I went and signed for the house. Because of the boundary changes everyone was there. Patrick, selling the house, his father and mother who are my neighbours, the other neighbour Louis Pertolas, and the estate agent who arranged the selling of the house. The neighbour Louis Pertolas did not want to pay his share of the boundary changes even though he was the main cause, having built a wall over some of my property. Not much to be sure, about 2 m2, 20 sq. ft, but he did it. Me, I did not expect to have to pay extra to get the boundary put where I always thought it would be but I fell in line. Just like I didn't expect to have to pay 700 Euros to have a water meter installed, no one bothered to mention that the water for the house was metered with the farm water. Nor that the gas supply for the water heater was piped from the farm supply. I can manage that last one. I'll use an old balloon tank for the supply, I can refill that at bulk propane rates, that's one third the price if I had to buy in the small commercial bottles.

So after all that I was very pleased on my return to the house to find that in my absence Markus had assembled the bed settee and the under settee storage box. I was not so pleased the next day to find the bed covers I had bought for my bed were totally the wrong size, far too large, I immediately consigned them to the under settee storage box so that my next visitors can sort it out. Wouldn't have cared so much if I'd bought cheap ones but I'd bought quite good quality.

Saturday I went to Auch to refill 5 fuel tanks from the balloon from Claude's bulk storage tank. Had a nice glass of wine at the airport restaurant with Claude and his driver. How much for the propane I asked Claude? Don't know he says. I'm going to charge you what I pay for it, but I don't remember how much I paid last time. I'll have to look at the invoice.

Sunday morning Mila and Markus left, en route for Paris. It will take them almost 3 weeks. When they were planning the route I discovered that they followed the river valleys, as far as possible, then they didn't have too many ups and downs. Important when your bike weighs 63 Kg as Markus's does, with luggage. Mila gets off lightly with 50 Kg. (50 Kg = 110 lbs.). They also have a web site just try to spell that in a hurry. Don't expect to read anything about their stay here though, not right now, while they were staying with me they were writing about where they went in January in South America!

Monday I went back to Auch, Claude said there was a propane shop, I needed bits to connect my balloon tank to the water heater. It was shut. So I went and had another drink with Claude in the airport restaurant. Then I did some shopping and went back to the propane shop. It was a propane depot. Not a shop. We used to have a shop he says, in the next town, about 20 miles away. But it's closed down now. Does it matter where it was, if it's shut now?

There was a 2 ft diameter hole in the bedroom ceiling, resulting I think from an old water leak, which had been incredibly badly repaired. Unbelievably badly repaired. I did some work on it. Now it looks like new, just needs painting. I started measuring out where I wanted to put the foundations for the garage.

Because I now receive a UK pension, under a reciprocity agreement I am now entitled to French health care social insurance. I sent off the papers 18th January and have rung them a few times since to ask what is happening. They asked for my birth certificate. I sent them a certified French translation of my birth certificate. No they want my original birth certificate. I sent that. I asked, last week, when would they send my birth certificate back? Oh no we need to keep it, says the government employee. But it's my birth certificate I said, I need it! Oh you can get a copy she says. I said, do you think you could make a copy, then send my original back? It's the only one I have. I'll have to ask she says, I'll ring you back. I'll give her her due. She did ring back. And she did say, we can send you back your birth certificate.

But what a crazy system, where fairly low level government employees - they call them functionaires here, presumably because all they do is function - where functionaires can decide they need to keep your birth certificate, or, no we don't need to keep it. By all sense of logic and reason France would not work. But it does.

I had thought I would go to Brico Depot in Tarbes for house stuff, on Thursday. In the end I went Friday. Thursday evening I planned to fly. Couldn't find any one to come with me. Andre and his wife (my neighbours) claimed they were scared, but Andre said he would retrieve me. In his van though, not mine, mine is right hand drive and here they drive on the right. I asked the chairman of the flying club, but he is a farmer, he had to put his cows to bed. If I'd asked an hour earlier he would have sorted them out with a very early night so that he could go ballooning. The husband of Andre's employee wanted to go but at 100 Kg he is too heavy for this balloon in these temperatures. So I asked the 14 year old son of another neighbour. That was fine, OK with his Mum too. Then the wind didn't drop enough so I scrubbed it all............

I think everywhere has Depots. Household stuff at very low prices. I had a huge shopping list. 2 rolls of fibreglass insulation, for above the bathroom. A door for my bedroom. There used to be one there at one time, but it's gone now. An outside tap, for the garden. I have the fittings and the copper tube, but need the tap. A light to go over the new, but not yet fitted bathroom mirror. New toilet seat, the fittings of the old one have rusted away, the seat is just loose on the pan. You could be sitting there and slide right off! There is a shower mixer here, but no wall fitting, so I need a wall fitting. All the lights in the house consist of a couple of wires coming out of the ceiling and ending with a temporary bulb holder. No light fittings. Anyway, I bought a hanging light for above the front door outside, to replace the bare lamp. The other light fittings need a bit more thought. I need a 20 metre tape measure for when I build the garage. Also a large tarpaulin, 6m x 10 m. I need a garden house, for when I have the outside tap. I also bought samples of a few items that I will need for the garage to see what they are like. With my microwave, deep fat fryer, kettle, and kitchen roll holder all sitting on my work surface I've got no room to work. So I bought brackets to hang the microwave on the wall. I couldn't find the right connections for my propane tank so I'll have to buy them in the UK, that's no problem.

Saturday I did the outside light, put some more tiles in the bathroom so I can mount the new mirror a little higher, and fixed the toilet seat. I found out why the hinges had rusted away. There is a permanent leak behind the toilet, must have been there for years and years, because now I examine, there is a crack in the base of the toilet pan. I sealed the leak but not the crack so I suppose the water will still keep seeping out until maybe one day the whole thing will explode.

Sunday I finished the tiling and went around filling in cracks with plaster. What I've done looks OK but I've a lot more to do.

On Sunday I also broke a piece off my front top bridge (on my teeth) so Monday I was round at the dentists, to make an appointment for the afternoon. I bought wine in the market. It's delicious. A lovely soft and mellow flavour. Sold in bulk, it's less than 1 Euro per litre, it's easy to transfer into bottles. I fitted the bathroom light and the new shower bar.

Tuesday was another visit to the dentist. I'm going to need a new bridge, almost 1,500 Euros, only about 200 paid by the health insurance because it's considered cosmetic. I fitted the new bathroom mirror, strange, just in time to examine clearly the damage to my bridge.

Wednesday I started on the bedroom door. I measured it up, cut a bit off the bottom, pushed it in place, and it worked perfectly. Surprising really, the old door frame is way off square and the width is all wrong. Now all I have to do is make a permanent installation. I worked on it Thursday and got close to finishing Friday. Unfortunately the door frame has warped a bit and the door catches, I'll need to get my belt sander out again. But I filled in a huge amount of open space using wall plaster.

I got a letter from the planning people. They want a map to show where my house is in relation the village, they want a better site plan, showing garage situation, and they want a photo with a sketch superimposed showing what the garage will look like when it's finished. I picked up an accurate site plan from the lawyer, lucky we have just had this boundary problem so I have a very detailed map available. I took a photo and used Paint to add a garage to the photo.

Saturday and the door works. Except for the handles. When I was at the Depot I saw some handles I liked, they were next to the checkout, special purchase. All fine so far. Except when I was at the checkout I forgot to pick up the handles. Duh! I have some modern ones in stock which are totally wrong for this house, I really think I need to look around properly and replace all the door furniture. The stuff which is fitted most everywhere now screams out, loudly, that it is cheap and rubbishy. Cheap I can live with, rubbishy, no.

Sunday I drilled 10 holes for the microwave brackets. Nearly wiped me out that did, the kitchen tiles seem to be high quality, they don't like having holes drilled in them, I had to really lean on the drill to make any progress.

It looked to be flyable so I phoned Jean-Marc, he's the estate agent I bought the house through, he's been very helpful and I know he likes flying, so we arranged he would come and fly tonight and Veronique would drive my van to retrieve. I called round to see Fabian, chairman of the local flying club, we have tentatively arranged he'll come ballooning Wednesday if the weather holds. So evening came and we flew. Messy inflation, I checked the wind direction and laid out accordingly. But then the balloon wanted pull 90 degrees to the wind direction so I had to turn everything around. When we took off we went in the original direction of the wind. Strange that, it happened before here, must be some phenomenon connected with the adjacent barn.

It was a nice flight. Dumb thing to say that, difficult to have a flight that is not nice. We moved at about 10 kph, pretty countryside of course but I forgot my camera, again, then we landed on a road. Well, I must be honest. We landed just before the road, dragged over the road and stopped on the side of a ditch just after the road. I screwed it! I passed the handling line to Veronique and with the help of the local farmer she pulled us back to the road (the ditch had water in it) and we let the balloon down. The farmer said you didn't need to have bothered, you could have landed in the wheat field after the road, no problem. What super farmers! The wheat is only a few weeks away from being harvested, we would have flattened several square metres that's for sure.

Monday I didn't do much. Bought wine at the market. It's a super smooth wine, 92 centimes a litre, and I also made photocopies for the planners, because they want everything in quadruplicate.

I haven't mentioned before, but I seem have found another Little Cat. She's wild, and thin, and timid as timid could be. One day, after Mila and Markus had left, I had moules mariniere, and because I had a lot of the soup left, and because there was a lot of chopped onion in it, which might clog the sink, I threw it on the garden. I saw this little skinny black cat sniffing away amongst the remnants. I went near the window and she ran away. I knew she'd be back so I put a saucer of milk near the remnants, and hid in the house. When I went near the window, she ran. I put more milk, and some bread. That disappeared, quick as a flash. Then she went. I gave her more milk, and more bread, then when I was in town bought cat food and cat biscuits and worm tablets. Later, each time I went to replenish the biscuits she went away, at high speed. She was so hungry she was even eating the worm tablets, on their own!

Eventually, after a few days, she would let me watch, from the closed kitchen door, provided I did not move. Eventually, I was able to sit outside and watch. Then, later, she would let me stroke her until, wow!, success, she purred! Now she will come into the house and eat inside. Huge amounts of food for such a small, and thin, cat. I am pretty sure she has kittens, she is just operating as a milk making machine. Now she visits 3 times a day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Usually doesn't stay long, and then heads off into a wild patch of field, across a ditch where I can't follow.

Best regards

David Barker
Mirande, France

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