EEC 31 25th April 2006

I was planning to write this note when I had completely finished the garage - so that I could show you photos - and when I had finished painting - but I haven't completed this. Nearly but not yet. Photos to follow soon. I have totally finished Eleanor's bedroom but don't yet have photos. It looks good. I wrote this bit after most of the following so it's a bit mixed up (take that to mean, it's a mess) and not at the usual level of my normally sort of literate jottings.

I HAVE finished with the cement mixer for this year. That's the reason to send report now. I'd drag out the champagne but it's not really a celebration, more of a thank goodness that's finished. I've cleaned the mixer and washed it and it's ready to be dismantled and tucked away at the back of the garage. It was the rendering that finally got to me. Almost 2 weeks mixing up cement and sand and lime and spreading it over the walls. It seemed to take for ever. After the garage I did part of the house but I have now stopped for the year. There's more to be done, but that's for later. I've had enough! The lime made the mixture sticky, great for putting on the walls, but awful for cleaning out the cement mixer at the end of the day. For 6 months that cement mixer has been in front of the action. I don't too much mind the cement mixer, it was just too much time spent pretending to be a builder................

But back to my happenings, starting, really, quite a long time ago. First is my comedy of errors. I guess everyone has a story like this but here's mine.

Almost two years ago in Mexico (my doesn't time fly?) I had a problem with the hinges holding the lid on my laptop. After lots of asking I finally found someone who fixed it. I was so relieved I paid him twice as much as he asked.

Then just before Christmas last year a hinge seized up. Having watched the Mexican repairman last time I was able to take the hinge out. The screws had lost their threads and so had the base plate. I contacted Acer (it's an Acer laptop) and in mid January, 3 weeks later, they deigned to reply to my email, and gave me the phone number for Acer UK spares. I rang them and ordered hinge, hinge support, and screws. They couldn't send to me in France so I asked them to send to my sister. They sent them by carrier. Imaging, a hinge about the size of the top of a pen, they sent by truck.

Helen was out. The truck driver left a note to say he had called, but did not include a phone number. Helen had to email the company. Eventually she - and then I - got the items, in a box about the size of my laptop. The hinges were not hinges, they were hinge covers, and there were no screws.

OK they said, when I phoned. We'll send you hinges, and screws, they come in a fitting pack. Only 1.99. But I already paid I said. OK he said. But we have to send them by truck. No big deal now, Helen

had arranged that they would deliver to the village post office. She'll probably think about slaughtering me for including that picture, but it's the only one I've got. Helen is a breast cancer survivor, and hit the headlines in the local paper and got the person of the year award from her health club because she continued to run 5 miles every day while receiving chemotherapy. I don't have personal experience of chemotherapy but I'm told that it's pretty tough. Also, like me, she's been balloonist more than 30 years.

I divert. When the hinge arrived, there were no screws. I rang them. I don't have a parts breakdown for that model he says, I'll have to check. OK I say, can you send them by normal post? I'll try he says.

These screws are so tiny I can't see them unless I'm wearing my glasses, and he wanted to send them by truck! Of course when they arrived they were the wrong screws. I phoned, I can't find which ones you need he said, try your local computer repair shop.

Then I realised the bracket they had sent in January was also the wrong bit. Not only was it for the wrong side of the hinge it didn't fit my computer.

At the local computer repair shop they brought out a huge box of assorted screws. We found a couple of long screws that matched, they were long enough to go past the wrecked part of the thread on the bracket and they worked.

If only I'd done that in December! I didn't need any of the bits. None of them. You'd have been saved all this dissertation, but you'd have missed a photo of my sister Helen.

On the building fronts I started rendering the garage, similar to stucco but I with a cement and sand mix.

I did have some help.

Well - in between resting.....................

At night she sleeps on my bed. Always on my left side, away from the wall, and always tight up against my side. The other day she went to bed before I did, so there she was, right in the exact dead centre! In the mornings I sit on the bed to put on my socks. (I'm a bit wobbly first thing in the morning) So then cat walks back and forth under my legs, purring, tail held vertically, meaning I guess, hello, good morning, how are you. Half an hour before mealtimes she starts meowing by her dish. Here I am, don't forget me! I think she's saying If I'm late, and outside, she sits close by watching. If I happen to look her way she meows. This is a wild cat, who disappears at high speed when anyone else appears in the house.....

I've now finished rendering the garage, it took longer than I planned, like all the building work on the garage. I have more rendering to do round the house, and some repairs to the front. I'll start to paint in a day or two. I've also finished Eleanor's bedroom, all the plastering and painting, I'm starting to put in the furniture.

You may be interested to see how I live. This is my desk. Two computers because I have just had to reformat and reinstall Windows on my laptop and I am just setting it up with my files etc. It's night so the shutters are closed.

This is a photo taken just to the left of the above. Books to the left, trophies and souvenirs on the mantelpiece, disks and cassette tapes to the right. Oh, and a cat on the sofa. The thing with the round brown blob centre right is my portable propane heater. The round brown blob is where the plating has been affected by the heat, and hardly shows except in the photo.

Just after I wrote this Eleanor phoned to say she was coming to visit. That was well timed, so I rushed and finished putting the furniture in her bedroom. Some needed repair so it took longer than planned.

Eleanor and her friend Audrey travelled on the overnight train from Paris, leaving 11.30 pm arriving at Auch (30 mins from here) where I picked them up at 8.50 am.

The first night Eleanor and her friend borrowed my car and went to Toulouse for the evening,1 hours east of here. They got back at 6.30 am. Second evening was San Sebastian in Spain, almost 3 hours to the west. They got back at about midday next day having slept in the car. It was a nice day so we made a little flight. First with Audrey

I didn't get that photo quite right. Too much me, not enough Audrey. To get a photo like this you just hold the camera out at arms length, hope you've got it pointing the right direction, then click. It's not essential to wear reading glasses when you are flying a balloon!

Then we managed an intermediate to give Eleanor a chance to make a flight. This is a small half abandoned chateau.

I made a really gentle landing at the intermediate for the change of passengers then for the final landing at the last minute decided to land on a small track. Too late! We had to descend very fast, we got the track, but too hard, I didn't get it quite right and we bounced (duh!). My camera fell out of the basket. We made our second landing a few yards into the field, and later collected the camera.

I'm now starting to think more of my next trip. My balloon insurance here runs out early May, so I'll hope to make a few flights before then, then head off to pick up my RV from Tim Propes repair shop at Longview Texas. My general plan is to head up to Canada travelling via the Rockies then take a tour of British Columbia then return home some way from the US. Maybe I'll sell the RV after this trip. By then I'll have had 4 trips around the US - 3 with the RV - and one fantastic trip in Mexico. Looking back the Mexico trip seems somewhat surreal - 6 months travel, without speaking the language, superb places seen, super people met, with company of Little Cat, an incredible voyage that I remember often. The memories are probably more vivid than those of my North American trips - but somehow, for some reason, I don't want to go back, I don't want to continue with my old idea to continue down through central America to South America. I don't know why. Maybe I'm getting older, maybe the challenge is too great. I don't know. I do know the year after this I want to resume my European trip, either with my present van, reconverted to a camper van, or, better, with a purpose built RV/camper van if I can find one at the right price. We'll see.

I've got a super bunch of neighbours here. Andre and Odile, who make the fois gras (I bought my house from their son Patrick) who let me keep all my stuff in their barn. Michel (retired coach driver) and Edith who will keep an eye on the house and feed the cat while I am away. Henri (currently truck driver but he has PPL small planes) and (my memory has a temporary stop here!) his wife who is an English teacher, plus of course son Julian. Josette, mother of the mayor. Richard and Hazel, English people who are just moving in. With everyone, when we meet, we stop and smile and say bonjour and ca va? and shake hands. It's nice. Well, the ladies you kiss twice, on the cheek, instead of shaking hands. Well, that's nice too!

I've been busy in the evenings. That's apart from watching StarTrek and Stargate SG1 on TV. Some of my computer time has been taken
up reinstalling XP on my laptop and also I found a game I played in the early 80's (on my Spectrum computer- the Spectrum didn't reach the US) had been converted to the PC and I just had to run it again. Lords of Midnight. Do a google on it. It's a great game, one of the best, absolutely brilliant. Takes a few days, or weeks, to play it. Mike Singleton managed to write a game with 48,000 different views which ran on a computer with only 48Kb total memory. Nowadays you can write a letter to someone and it takes up that much file size. The Windows version is written by Chris Wild. Try it. You need the maps, separate downloads. Of course the Windows version is bigger than 48 Kb.

I just bought a new battery for my laptop. I looked first at the US where I bought my last battery. $90. Then I looked at the UK site I had bookmarked, 90 ($160) Then a French site 60 ($75). Can you believe the UK price?

I'm not happy with the driveway in front of the garage. I don't have a gutter, the rain has run off the roof and wrecked the rollered stones. So I've started work to install a gutter, and I'm having a tarmac surface laid on the stones.

Best regards

David Barker
Mirande, France

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