In the grip of winter

For the past few months we’ve been getting really quite smug about the bountiful warmth of the climate. Our wood pile was looking like it would serve us out not just for this winter but perhaps well into next.

But now reality has struck, with temperatures falling into low single figures at night and often not much higher ones in the daytime. Sunless days with a chill wind is no joy in the typical Riviera house, built for endless summers, with un-sealed windows and cold stone floors. The view above is of Monte Bignone in summer; today it’s invisible under a heavy cloud blanket. Up the track to the ridge we have views of Monte Torraggio, the peak that looms over Pigna. A few days ago it and all its neighbours were impressively white-capped:

The news from across the border is of heavy snowfalls in Provence, so there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing some of it too. Or maybe not; these things are as ever unpredictable.

As for the wood pile, it’s rapidly being desecrated, with a barrow-load each day going into the maw of “The Beast”, the dual-fuel boiler that runs our central heating, and into the cassette stove in the living room. The Beast also eats wood pellets, but the “bancale” of 65 bags delivered back in October is now half its original size. It’s a matter of estimating when winter will end, or more accurately when central heating will give way to open windows again. Do we buy more pellets (at winter prices) or maybe a lorry-load of split logs? Or will the other pile, that I cut during last year from our own olive trees, last out?

Logs are good if you have the space to store them.  If you grow them yourself they also need cutting, storing and splitting and the latter of these provides an opportunity to invest in some serious man-toys. There’s a huge choice of electric, petrol or manual hydraulic log splitters, but most are pretty expensive and I was concerned as much with where to keep the thing when it’s not in use. Then I discovered an ingenious Swedish device that uses impact rather than continuous pressure, takes up very little space and costs under half that of the cheapest hydraulic machine. I proudly present the following video.

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Pellets are also good but they have a downside. Being just compressed sawdust they are vulnerable to damp, which turns them back into dust that clogs the inside of the boiler. In theory they are safe inside their plastic bags, but when back in November we started to use the left-overs from last winter we discovered they’d been investigated by rats, who had nibbled the edges of the bags, allowing damp air to get in and ruin the contents.

The rats were obviously both gourmands and artists. Having sampled wood pellets they decamped to the roof space, where they discovered a rich treasure trove of those belongings that we all keep, afraid to take to the skip in case they might just be useful one day. Among these items are some lightweight wheeled suitcases containing old blankets, clothes and whatever. The rats ignored the contents but carefully nibbled the plastic wheels into artistic shapes, rendering them useless if they were ever needed for their original purpose. Does this prove a philosophical point about the distinction between art and utility, or am I just losing my marbles?

For their final course they returned to the garage and discovered on a shelf a 5-litre plastic can of engine oil. This proved to much to resist so they carefully chomped a corner, allowing the contents to leak out, down the wall, under the emergency fridge everyone keeps in a garage and across the concrete floor. It took me a while to figure out why the fridge should leak oil in such large quantities while continuing to function normally, but when I looked behind it the realisation dawned.

So now we have strategic placements of rat poison in places that cats are unlikely to visit. To early to tell if it worked.

Finally, I’ve been clearing out some junk from the afore-mentioned attic. There are two “rooms” up there and though one contains our own stuff the other, less accessible one is full of junk left by the original owner of the house some decades ago. I came across a box whose contents were wrapped in very old pages from the Nice Matin newspaper and which when unwrapped turned out to be half a dozen old Monaco numberplates. For those who don’t know, these bear the current year number and must be changed every January. Here’s the oldest:

This, and quite a lot of junk of a building construction nature, tends to confirm that the original owner of the house in the 1970s was a Monagasque who must previously have owned the land. The question is whether an antique Monaco numberplate has any value (of if I’m breaking some arcane local law by holding onto such a plate). I’ll keep it anyway for possible decorative purposes.

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