Friday, 17 February 2017

PART DEUX - En Francais 'Dipping a toe into the Canal Du Midi - and nearly putting my back out! '

PART DEUX - En Francais

'Dipping a toe into the Canal Du Midi - and nearly putting my back out! '

(Does include some cycling related content (eventually), but I won't be offended if you just wish to skip to Day Nine)

Clairac : Day Two  - Friday 3rd Feb - 19:38

' So why didn't you just use the jack from the hire car then? ',  said an exasperated Vicki.

' Dunno really, probably because I'm a bit of a t@ss@r?  '

John Deere tribulations!
I had been explaining - indeed bragging - about the Egyptianesque system of levers, involving a plank and rocks,  that I had used to lift the front of the John Deere so that I could remove the front wheel.  I had been mowing in the wet and the tractor had slid slidewards dislodging the tyre from its rim. The problem with the lever system was letting go of the plank - which I resolved,  eventually - by replacing my body weight with another large rock. At the time I thought this was quite cunning and resourceful (not now, obviously).
Having removed the wheel I borrowed another one from the trailer, which even though they are different sizes, allowed  me to limp back to the safety of the garage. I broke my track pump in an attempt to reinflate the tyre, (having got it back on the rim) , and so had no choice but to take the wheel down to see 'Happy' - this is the unkind nickname I have given to the guy who works in Gamm Vert.
These stores are ubiquitous in this region , but they are very Chameleon-like ; in large, well-to-do areas they are quite posh garden centres, but they have a smaller version know as Gamm Vert 'Village' - or, as I like to call them Gamm Vert 'Sheep Shagger', and our one fits into the latter category.  It is only a few hundred metres away and I am a regular visitor. They sell mostly things that would be essential items for farming folk: castration clippers and arm grease. Anyway,   Happy was obliging and pumped my tyre up for me without any pretence of small-talk - not easy for me at the best of times,  in any case . He looks like the kind of person who should have a permanent drip on the end of his nose and it always amazes me that he doesn't.

I rushed home with my wheel, eager to get it installed and return  to the task in hand.  I made quick work of mowing the rest of the garden and was just steering my beloved toy back into the  garage when fate dealt me another cruel blow : on the final approach to the garage  the rear tyre punctured!

'Oh, @@@@ mine, I don't believe this!',  I protested.

In my opinion there is nothing more pleasing to the eye than the fat, fully pumped,  bulbous rear tyre of  a John Deere - It just oozes sexiness. Of course the flip side of this is that nothing looked more  pathetic than the  flaccid lump of rubber now spread over my garage floor. I quickly 'stepped up to plate' and went back out into the garden to retrieve my 'tackle'.  However,  It is one thing jacking up the front, but a different matter trying to jack up the rear!.  I did 'give it a go' ; just long enough to bu@@er up my back!.

I quasimodoed my way into the house and resolved to leave it 'till the morning, having decided that I would seek advice from a superior being.

Tonniens: Day Three  - 10:31

It will come as no surprise,  to those who don't already know,  that the French word for tyre is pneu. - This caused me some apprehension as I walked into the pneu repair shop with my John Deere wheel and flaccid pneu under the crook of my  arm.  I offered it up to the French man behind the counter who immediately grasped my requirement.

Whilst it was being repaired I seized the moment:

'Comment s'appelle -  'per new' or, omitting the 'p'  I exhaled air from my nostrils,  or, juste 'ffffffnew?'

' It eez pneu!',  he replied.

Somehow he managed to seamlessly  combine the sound  of the 'p' and the 'n'  into a different sound altogether. This just compounded the concerns I have had since being in France that I'll never really be able to speak French, correctly , even if I reached the age of 200.

In turn I had managed to give him a problem: he wasn't able to charge me for the work because a John Deere tyre doesn't fit into his automated system. He had asked me for registration number,  vin number etc, but once I explained that the wheel wasn't from a car but from a garden tractor he   looked crestfallen :

'Ah, it eez from  a  schon deere tracteur? '

' Oui '

At this point his colleague returned with the repaired tyre and he good naturedly shooed me away with his hand.  I dropped a 10  Euro note on the counter and left, a happy man.

 Clairac: Day One   - 14:24

Things didn't go smoothly, to say the least, upon my arrival at the house.

I turned the key and entered,.  I had expected  to feel a comforting warmth ; bearing in mind that we had left the heating on , but was,  instead,  met by an icy 'blast'.  It didn't take long, however, to ascertain the problem: the oil tank was empty!.

Having returned from my investigations in the garage  I was aware of a stench coming from the kitchen.

'Oh, sacre bleu! '

The fridge was warm and the contents of the freezer defrosted. I gauged from the hairiness of the contents that this had occurred some time ago, also there was a putrid seepage underneath the fridge.

I seized the freezer draw,  swept the contents into the bin and placed under the tap :

'Oh, double b@ll@cks! - no water!! '

This situation was now getting out of control and I needed guidance from a superior being.  I grabbed the phone :

' Oh, no! '

The broadband and phone were dead.

I now had a ' perfect storm' of sh@t.

I grabbed the mobile and phoned home.

'Try to stay calm, sweetie. Go and see Jean-Michelle, see if he can help'

Vicki did her best to reassure me, but I was beyond placation.

'Zere werz a man, from zer watter kermponee, 'e werz outside your 'ouse, assking me kwestions about zee 'ome owner.' Zay 'av it lergged to zee previerss owner - Phileepe Marbel.

When we took over the property we registered it with Veolia (who, bizarrely, take our rubbish away in England), but they insisted on taking a reading from us. Bearing in mind that we had no idea where the meter was, other than the information we were given from the Estate Agent that it was at the top of the garden, this was impossible.  I had undertaken a couple of expeditions last year, but couldn't penetrate the undergrowth at the top of the garden, and so had given up.  To be honest, I never did have much faith in Vicki's theory that we were getting free water via the farmer next door's supply. Our chickens had well and truly come home to roost.

'I zinc zat I can 'elp you, I zinc I no vere is zee watter meter'

I jumped into his van and we sped along the road up to the back of the garden.

' eet iz 'ere, I zinc.

I watched in trepidation as he trampled the undergrowth with his boot and searched with his torch.

' C'est bon! - I 'av found eet'

He lifted the lid and turned the lever; immediately the reassuring sound of water pressure could be heared.


We raced back to the house and turned on the kitchen tap.

Diddly squat,  jack sh@t, rien, not  a s@dding drop.

'I zinc zat, peraps, it weel tak time fer zee watter to kerm  zroo.

I wanted to believe him and tried to keep faith, but in my heart of hearts I knew I was in for  an extended dry period.

After about 10 minutes, J-M admitted defeat.

'O. K,  I weel telephone  zem zen.

After about an hour of hanging on in silence,  eventually,  he got a response from the emergency number who informed him that I should phone in the morning on a different number and stress the hardship of the situation,  and hopefully someone should call around to reconnect me - but he added a chilling postscript 'It may not be for a few days'.

I thanked J-M for all his efforts, informed Vicki of the situation and went to bed with a heavy heart.

The morning brought no respite as I lay in bed feeling like a  squatter in my own home and contemplating life in 'floater' city .

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.

'That'll be the oil', I thought, 'at least I'll be warm'

'I'll show you where the oil tank is ',  I said to the friendly delivery driver.

It was then that I spotted,  over his shoulder, the Veolia signage on his van!

'I am 'ere to turn on zee  watter'

'Oh, merci,  merci! '

My immediate reaction was to kiss him, but I managed to control my urge.

' Monsieur, you merst go to zee office wiv your bonk accunt details '


Clairac and local environment  : Days - Two - Ten

Having got the water back on everything else quickly fell into place ( it will even be a pleasure to reimburse Veolia with the 600 Euros we owe them, well  not quite.).  The fridge problem was resolved when I plugged it into a different socket and Orange delivered a new router

 As the house warmed up and the fridge cooled down my spirits soared.  The weather was improving and I even took coffee on the terrace on a few occasions.

Before leaving England I had developed problems with the muscles on the inside of my knees; which those in the know inform me is the IT band?  It hurts when I try to do anything other than flat, slow cycling and when coupled with my recent John Deere related lower back problems I hadn't really been in the mood for it.

I had taken a book on yoga with me and had been practicing daily. It felt quite good to focus on something other than cycling for a change and I felt the change might do me some good.  I have also been using weights,  and the foam roller recommended by Darren T's physio (Darren has been having similar problems and I am seeing Gavin when I get back home); although, I fail to see how anything that hurts so much can be doing me any good!

Day Nine - Time for some cycling.

Apart from a quick trip to Tonniens and back (14 miles) I hadn't been on my bike at all, but today the guilt was 'kicking in'.

I am planning to undertake a mini adventure in September with my friend John Davis. We are planning to travel the length of the Canal du Midi and back - 300 miles (although to stay sane it might be preferable to come back via a different route.)

Canal du Midi
Although generally known as the Canal du Midi it is in two parts: the first part is The Canal de Garrrone and the second part which connects Toulouse to the Mediterranean is the Canal du Midi proper. Collectively they are known as The Canal de Deux Mers.

It was started in 1667 and completed in 1686 - possibly the biggest feat of engineering in the 17th century. It was originally named Canal Royal en Languedoc and renamed by French Revolutionaries in 1789.
(thanks Wiki)

Today I thought I might undertake a recce,  although bearing in mind it's only a few miles away,  I'm surprised I haven't been there before (we did look at a house in Mas D'ajenais, when we were house hunting, which overlooked the canal with the Garonne beyond. Spectacular views and a magnificent 9 bedroom medieval house, but having fallen  in love with it originally, we suddenly thought : 'nah,  it's too big' )

I left home in the sunshine with spirits high, but after about a mile I thought: ' I can't hack this' -  everything hurt.  Being the trooper I am though,  I thought: ' I'll give it another 10 mins, see how it goes.

This was a good decision, because slowly I started to ' fire on all cylinders ' and was  even enjoying myself.

I passed through Aguillon and  St Ledger and at Damazan there is a sign for it.  I was feeling quite smug that I had found it - simple enough for most people  but quite an achievement for me.

What struck me was the simplistic, ordered  beauty of it : water  - path - trees.  This scene hasn't changed for 250 years ; the only change  being the lack of horses on the bank (and maybe the trees have been added along the bank for aesthetic purposes - athough they do look like quite ancient Plane trees)

When I uploaded a photo on Strava I got some favourable feedback, including a comment from Neil that it reminded him of the opening sequence from 'The World at War'.  I do know what he means, but can't say why because although I remember the program I don't remember the opening sequence. South of the Lot was Vichy territory (north of it was a Resistance stronghold) and I'm sure there was no shortage of jackboots marching along it (probably not being very P. C, still.. .)

I only went from Damazan to Mas D'ajenais, but it was a very enjoyable 'taster' and a quite Zen-like experience  .  I only encountered one young couple with a child and a dog, other than that I was totally alone. I'm sure in season it would be a lot busier, but equally, there would be a lot to see off the track as more things would be open.  Another thing that struck me was the quality of the path itself. A bit harsh and bumpy  where tree roots are trying to surface, but in splendid condition - one just knows that a similar path in 'blighty' would be pot-holed (I would be delighted to be contradicted if anyone has experience of cycling along our tow-paths .) It was, also, interesting to note that parts of the canal are almost dry with water being held within locks upstream - maybe there isn't enough water to fill the whole system?

I left the path at Mas D'ajenais and joined the Voie Vert back to just outside Tonniens.

I only did 35 miles, but was pleased that it seemed to improvee my back and my knees felt fine (although I didn't really put them under pressure.)

I am finishing this whilst strolling along the beach at Normans Bay with Poppy, and apart from my body falling apart, life is pretty damn good. See you soon on BBR?

Cheers Peter (Baron) Buss

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