EEC 7, 24th March 2005

I left my Forest Memorial camp ground, took a short drive,

and a little walk in the village of Olargues

The path goes up the covered stairs.

It was so warm I changed into summer kit (shorts, tee shirt, no socks) because it was so warm. It was even warm enough to have a plastic cup shower. You probably all know what a plastic cup shower is but just in case I'll mention, you boil up a saucepan of water, tip it into a large plastic bowl, add cold water to taste, strip off, stand in the bowl, and, pausing at intervals to soap and shampoo, you pour water over yourself using a plastic cup. Helps to have warm weather and a quiet place.

I have to be careful though. Imagining what people might think if they saw me doing this almost makes me lose my rather precarious balance in the bowl.

I had trouble restocking with water. A couple of garages I tried did not have water, and I couldn't find any cemeteries. Cemeteries are good. They have taps so that people can get water for the flowers for their dear departed. Hey, I'm not knocking dear departed, I have lost a couple of my close family in the last few years, (my mother, and my eldest son) and it hurts badly, I know. But I reckon if anyone is willing to supply water for flowers for those that have gone, they will be happy to give a litre or 2 to those living still........

I finally got water from a rest area. Then I couldn't find anywhere to stop for the night (the rest area was too close to a busy main road to make for quiet sleeping) until I took a side road then found a tiny road which went to an isolated cemetery car park. Presuming there would not be a lot of people wanting to get into the cemetery during the night I decided to stop. There was a super view showing the lights of Mazomat. In the late evening I was joined by a couple of cars, the occupants did not seem to make visits to the cemetery, or look at the view, then, after a while, they left. Can't imagine why they came in the first place.........

I wasted time in Mazomat driving round to try (unsuccessfully) to find an Internet connection, then carried on through some more lovely scenery to chez Michel and Maite Lafourcade a few kilometres south east of Toulouse. He's got a UK registered Cloudhopper (that's a one man balloon that you fly without basket, just sitting on a seat, with the fuel tank on your back.) Anyway, this year it sailed through it's annual inspection. Last year there were a few problems which have now been fixed. With approaching 200 hours flying his Cloudhopper Michel must be one of the most experienced pilots in the world flying this type of craft. He has also a bigger balloon (French registered, I can't make the annual inspection on that one) which he flies rather more frequently. Arnaud Deramecourt called by during the inspection and we later called round at his house for drinks. Arnaud is the godfather of French homebuilders, he's built at least 3 balloons of his own, plus a gas balloon, holds French records in his homebuilts, is instructor and examiner, and still manages to be younger than most of us.

Sunday was pleasantly wasted with visitors, Maite's parents, and some ballooning friends delivering their son for a "stage" (it's a sort of work experience) with Michel next week. Michel makes balloons. Big balloons. I mean really BIG balloons. The Cloudhopper he flies is 600 cubic metres. He is building balloons 11 MILLION cubic metres. They fly around the world. For the last 10 years he has been working on developing a construction line for the manufacture of balloons that can fly for over 3 months.

On Monday Michel took me on a tour. His company, Zodiac, the company he works for, is better known for the manufacture of inflatable boats. They make 200 inflatable boats a day. I walked around with my mouth jammed open. There were all these different machines, with one or more operators, producing bits and pieces, or running part of the production line, of these boats. Television screens showing the measures of the model that was going through just now. People working side by side making joints between 2 sections of material, all sorts of jobs, even one lady working a machine just to produce the Zodiac trade mark ready to be attached to the boats. There were boats being blown up, bits were attached on, or assemblies were made, they were deflated, and moved to the next process. Everybody was working at high speed. There must have been over 100 people on the assembly lines. It was amazing to watch.

Michel's section was rather amazing too. The cutting table for the big balloons is 250 metres long. You almost need binoculars to see the people at the other end. These are the balloons made from fabric so light that if you drop it in the air, it just stays there, without falling. The operators of the cutting and sealing machine sit on trolleys that move up and down the balloon.

Just mentioning cutting, the cutting of the material for the boats was totally automatic, there was this big roll of fabric moving over a table and a cutting machine running back and forth, all on it's own, just someone at the end taking off the cut pieces.

Michel's special section in the balloon area is a clean environment. Head covers and shoe covers needed. The material for these long endurance balloons is cut to an accuracy of less than 1 mm in 25 metres. The new machine to cut the gores of these long duration balloons is about to come on line. It's huge, 10 metres long, rollers all over the place to maintain a constant strain on the cutting fabric, all absolutely incomprehensible to a non expert such as myself.

Tuesday I left the Lafourcade household and headed off to see some houses but I didn't get far. I stopped at camping car shop, then another the same. I looked at refrigerators but they were expensive. Running from several 100's of Euros up to almost 1000 Euros. Except the second shop had a gadget to connect 2 batteries together. With the right connections it would allow current, for the auxiliary units to be drawn from both batteries until the main battery reached a safe level then it would draw current only from the 2nd battery. Now with wild camping, like I do, you can be isolated, and it's important to be able to start in the morning, and to have enough power left in the main battery, this unit would allow that. I bought it, it cost 65, Jeff Drilling paid $250 for a similar thing. Of course, I still have to fit mine.

So the next stop was the Carrefour Hypermarket at Toulouse. I bought a 2nd battery for the van. I also bought an electric cooler box which cost only 40, way less than the camping car shop refrigerators.

Then I bought a new radio. The old one had lost it's VHF channels, it all just stopped with a bang. The new radio plays MP3's so I didn't need to have bought that portable MP3 player with a kit to play through my radio.

I drove past an IKEA store so had to have a look around. I need some sort of unit to act as a base for a fitted hand basin. IKEA by the way is based in Sweden, has not many stores, but they are all huge, crammed full of well designed furnishing products and accessories, at very low prices. Barbara's kitchen was built from IKEA units, so was mine at my house in Villiers le Morhier. I bought a cushion for my chair, a little less than 2.

It's about time to stop eating for a week with all this expenditure on equipment......

Best regards

David Barker

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