Sunday, April 30, 2006

Overworked - underpaid

Day 1 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 4:00 am till midday
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Marseilles 50 Rouge - 4400
Dry Tiles unstacked: Aretier Brun Rustic

Three of my four days rest were spent roofing. And the night before this shift we were invited round to a neighbours for aperatifs. Well you can't say no!
So I was late to bed and too many Pastis. Up at 3:00 am, off to work and sods law day 1 is big Marseilles Cinquantes. And the previous team were using the same meuleuse as us so my first job was to change the filiere and dig out clay. It's a hard 1/2 hour start to the shift.

At the end of the shift I was buggered. I cam home, had lunch and went straight to bed. slept for a few hours and then happily Fi let me laze around until bed time. In bed at 8:00 pm.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Spring has sprung III


The yellow primiveres are still flowering and now we also have bluebells. The trees are nearly in full leaf and everywhere is green and flowering and gorgeous.

Busman's Holiday

So I work in a tile factory hoiking tiles around all day and all night. And on my days off what am I doing? Helping some friends relay a roof and hoiking tiles about!

That's not me on the roof, I'm behind the camera.
It's killer work. Spending all day on a slope, my thighs are killing me and I've got blisters on my feet. Luckily these guys (who are pro roofers, they pulled me in to labour) have got a tile hoist. So instead of lumping the tiles up and down on a ladder they get winched up and down. Yesterday we took the tiles off 1 third of the roof, and got it insulated and felted. Today we put the tiles back on. Tomorrow we'll take the tiles of the next third. A nice sunny day and I was in a vest. Had to put my shirt back on after a few hours before I became a Rosbif.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Un Sang Impur

I went to give blood the other day at the nearest big town.

I filled in the forms, ticked the boxes, read the disclaimers. I have given blood most of my adult life, in Zimbabwe and the UK, and the questionnaires are always similar, what medications are you on, any recent anaesthetic, any recent tattoos peircings etc. So the French form was par for the course.
I then go behind the little screen to see the doctor and have the old finger prick thing. he reads the form, sees my UK passport, and sheepishly starts telling me why they can't take my blood.
"We are not racist" he says. "That's OK", I say, "disease takes no note of race".

It seems that if you spent more than 3 months in the UK between 1980 and 1996, they reckon there is a chance you might be infected with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD).
I asked how long I would have to wait before being cleared to give blood, and he said never. "You will never be allowed to give blood". I then had to do the walk of shame out of the centre, everyone probably thinking I had AIDS or Hepatitus or a recent Prince Albert

I understand the issue. It is nothing to do with BSE in cattle (it is unproven that vCJD is caused by eating meat from BSE contaminated cattle) but rather that people RECEIVING blood in Britain between these dates could have been infected through blood transfusion.

The irony is that many countries refuce blood from French citizens for the same reasons!

Anybody know where the title of this post comes from?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Straw Man

Day 6 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 8:00 pm till 4:00 am
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Ventilation 33 Paille 4500
Dry Tiles unstacked: Ventilation 33 Xahara, Littoral & Rouge

Well, making the tiles was easy enough, the Mulder was behaving, and even stacking wasn't too bad, even tho the chain did get full. The problem was the paille (straw) glaze.

This glaze gets spread over the clay slugs, on their way to the press. A little pump feeds the glaze from its tank, through a little pipe wich drips onto the clay slugs, just before the cutter. A shaped sponge then spreads the glaze evenly over the slug.

Or it should. But, the glaze tank has a motor to keep stirring the glaze, otherwise it seperates out into water and solids. The pipe that feeds the glaze to the clay has a habit of wrapping itself around the motor. So we turn it off. Then as the glaze seperates the thick sludge blocks the pipe. And when the pipe gets rinsed and stuck back together straw glaze flies everywhere, and I get covered.

On top of that, the tiles we were unstacking were being painted in Xahara and Littoral patterns which requires straw glaze (again) to be sprayed onto the tiles through oscillating spray guns. The big pump thta supplies the guns went on the fritz and while reparing it I got sprayed.

So by the end of the night I had a lovely dappling/freckling of straw. To the amusement of all, sauf moi.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nice & Easy

Day 5 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 8:00 pm till 4:00 am
Press - DTP
Tiles made: Double Tuile GR13 Rouge
Dry Tiles unstacked: Ventilation 033 Rouge

I wish all shifts could be like this. The DTP is a lovely press when everything goes right. All I had to do was monitor the press, fix the odd jam, help change the upper mould every 2 hours. Nounours was busy setting up the Bongioanni press so I hardly saw him.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Dimanche - tranquille mais chaud!

Day 4 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift midday till 8:00 pm
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Ventilation 033 Xahara 4600
Dry Tiles unstacked: Ventilation 033 Rouge

It's nice to take it easy on Sundays, and today that's what we did. The ventilation tiles are easy to make, so the press was no problem, and they are fairly light to stack too.
Then at aboout 3:00 pm, they had a problem at the kiln so the chain of balancelles got filled up. We stopped the press at about 3:20 and took an early break. A break of 45 minutes! Unheard of! Then on restart they continued to have problems clearing the chain and we finally stopped at 7:30. So 4600 wasn't a bad total considering.

on the other hand it was hot. Hot! and it's only April. Last year on hot days I ran with sweat. Today I just got hot. Coming out of winter my body has to re-learn how to sweat.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Cracked the five thou

Day 3 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift midday till 8:00 pm
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Ventilation 33 Rouge 5050
Dry Tiles unstacked: About Rive 33 Gauche Rouge, About Rive 33 Gauche Brun Rustique, Ventilation 33 BV, Rive Standard Xahara

Good, we cracked the 5000 in spit of having 4 changes of product and 2 changes of colour on the unstacking. And a change of the rubber sheets on the press. Altho Pascal Quantard's team befor eus made 5400. How the hell do they manage 5400? Mind you the moulds were in a nasty sate when we took over. I guess they don't stop to clean the moulds or anything, just keep the press turning. Its one thing to make a shit load of tiles but it doesn't help if half of them end up in the bin because the quality is shite.

My car is misbehaving and I'll have to try and get it sorted before tomorrow's shift. If its not ready I'll take the motorbike. the weather is fantastic so no bad thing if it comes to that.

Friday, April 21, 2006

It must be old age

Day 2 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 4:00 am till midday
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Ventilation 33 Rouge - 4945
Dry Tiles unstacked: Demi Ronde 50 Rouge

Another good total. 50 tiles short of 5000 that's a target that would have been hit for the sake of 5 minutes. And we had a lot of stoppages because of the big cinquantes giving trouble on the descendeur and jamming on the conveyor belts.

Those cinquantes are heavy and they get stacked 3 at a time on the balancelles. After yesterday's shift making them and a pile of gardening and grass mowing yesterday afternoon, I started getting a nasty headache in the afternoon. Add in a trip to the tip to unload the garden waste, and then some digging to get out some small tree stumps. I came over all dizzy and strange in the garden. It must be old age, I can't hack it no more. Doze in front of the telly and then early bed.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Do the maths

Day 1 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 4:00 am till midday
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Demi-Ronde 50 Rouge - 4900
Dry Tiles unstacked: Fronton No.3 BV

These Demi-Ronde cinquante are the biggest and heaviest tiles we make on the Mulder. They weigh 6.5 kilos each. We made 4900 between us so I hefted 6.5 x 2450 = 15925 kilos of clay. In pounds that's 31850lbs. Mind you it was spread out over 4 hours but all the same ....

More mathematics - the Frontons we were unstacking had been put in the wrong sechoire and many had cracked, so they had to be binned. We binned about 800 of them. At the speed of the STP press they were made on that's about 2.5 hours of machine time wasted. 3 people on the team, so that's 7.5 man hours down the drain. Frontons retail at about 15 Euros a piece, so that's 12000 Euros (14795 in USD or 8306in gbp) not available for sale.

Last of all why do americans abbreviate mathematics to "math"? "Do the math" really annoys me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Executions, Torture, Recriminations (IV)

OK so I found the grave, and it is marked as Faurisson said, the only difference is that in the intervening 20 years, someone has placed a ceramic rose with the word "Regrets". So the grave is not totally neglected. It certainly seems in decent condition considering the man has no family and was a considered a spy.

I find it frustrating that the only references I can find on Heymès and his torture and death are those by Faurisson or people directly quoting him. My next places to search would be the Resistance Museum at Chasseneiul and Church records. He held an official position as priest to several communes, so the church must have records of when he was appointed, where he came from and his death

Monday, April 17, 2006

Executions, Torture, Recriminations (III)


A while ago when I was searching the internet for information on the village I found this:
In the schoolyard of the Cherves school there is a playground. On the playground's exterior wall, along the road which leads from Cherves to Chasseneuil, there can still be clearly seen, more than forty years after the events, bullet marks: it was here that the three German soldiers were executed. Upon being informed of this execution, André Chabanne flew into a rage. He remembered, he said, that, taken prisoner by the Germans in 1940, he had escaped and been recaptured; his life was spared.

Nevertheless, ten years after the execution of the three Germans, André Chabanne had left their cadavers to lie in a nearby pond, "chez Veyret." Neither the owners of the pond, nor the mayor of Cherves, nor the gendarmes dared intervene in order that they be given a burial.

I went straight away to the school and sure enough, as you can see in the photo - bullet holes. I asked some of the old boys at the bar and they just kind of shrugged and said yep, it happened.
The url for the quote is and whil this part of the history seems to be true, bear in mind that the Institute of Historical review is a revisionist history organisation and are holocaust deniers. A search on the author Robert Faurisson shows that he is a controversial French revisionist, removed from his University chair in 1991.
In the same document he tells of the local priest Father Albert Heymès who was from Lorraine and was tortured and killed at the same time. Although I'v found supporting evidence of the priest's death I have yet to find the priest's grave in the cemetry (only 400 metres from our house) wherin Faurisson claims His body was buried in the cemetery of Cherves-Chatelars. His name is graven in the stone: "Father Albert Heymés [sic] / 1901-1944." The bishopric of Metz did not desire exhumation and transfer of the body to Lorraine. The grave is totally neglected.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Day 6

Day 5 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 8:00 pm till 4:00 am
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Ventilation 33 BV 4800
Dry Tiles unstacked: Ventilation 33 Xahara, Faiteaux Xahara

The last day of the cycle, and my working blues are always filthy. I brought home my spare security shoes which were gathering dust at the foot of the locker. I must make a shelf for the bottom of the locker to get more storage space.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Day 5

Day 5 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 8:00 pm till 4:00 am
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Ventilation 33 Xahara 4500
Dry Tiles unstacked: Faiteaux Xahara, Demi-Ronde 33 Noir

Man I was tired. Up at 7:00 am to get the kids to school (last day before hols) Shopping with Fi till midday. Lawn mowed and cuttings taken to the tip and then start an 8 hour shift.

The grappins had a bust sensor so the mechanics had to pirate one from the other line. (What they'll do when that line is action, I don't know, probably pirate it back again). There were 3 guys on leave and because we were unstacking the faiteaux, we needed an extra guy to turn them. So the boss had to get out of his office and work on the line. Cool

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My English is very good

Day 4 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift midday till 8:00 pm
Press - PZ45
Tiles made: Faiteaux Xahara - 5300
Dry Tiles unstacked: Faiteaux Littoral, Demi-Ronde 33 Noire

There was a new interimaire helping us today turning the Faiteaux over as they were unstacked. Poor young chap was there for about 5 hours turning tiles. he asked me how long I had been there as an interimaire.
"Depuis janvier"
"Ah bien"
His little face fell.

This morning I was at the mairie, asking Yvette for help on tax forms. There was an English chap there and his teenage daughter. seems they've been in France for a year, and her 1 year at school here has improved her French so that she has to tag along with Dad to translate for him. Anyway, they are still having some difficulties and I help out a bit. As they are leaving he asks if I am English. The Zimbabwean accent always throws people. So instead of saying yes, like an idiot I explain that I was born and raised in Zimbabwe and only spent 13 years in England.
"Ah well, yoyr English is excellent" he says. I was too slow-witted to tell him English is my mother-tongue and then, the moment had passed and it would have been too embarrasing.
Next English folks come into the mairie, and Yvette introduces me and the young lady and her parents all say they know me. I make my standard apology about how crap I am with names and faces, and then it becomes clear that they are in the mairie to organise a wedding. The young lady is Alison (Admittedly i've only met her twice) but I know her husband well from the cafe. We've already received an invite to the wedding. What it amounts to is admitting that I don't recognise the bride of a wedding I'm going to. More embarrasment.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Day 3 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift midday till 8:00 pm
Press - PZ45
Tiles made: Faiteaux Littoral - 4800
Dry Tiles unstacked: Demi-Ronde 33 BV

I should be less backwards in coming forwards. Ever since November, when we make Faiteaux, the machine has a habit of cutting out the conveyor, but still pushing out clay. When it happens the operator has to open one of the gates to force an emergency stop (because by the time he's walked around to the control panel, a shit-load of clay will have been pushed out)

This was the first time I had made Faiteaux with Equipe A. I've made them often with Equipe B. Faiteaux After this fault had occurred about 10 times, Nounours has had enough and he calls the mechanic & electrician. When they arrive I point out that the 3-way switch we use when making Faiteaux isn't working, and we are cheating by having the switch on DTP setting and by blocking one of the sensors we get a fake Faiteaux mode, and perhaps the problems are linked.

After an hour of farting about it gets fixed. Later at the cass-croute I overhear Nounours talking to someone else. He says the electrician opening the console to look at the 3-way switch when the fault occurred. And then each time he tapped the 3-way switch, the fault occurred, so evidently a faulty switch. That was a bit of luck says Nounours, otherwise they'd still be looking for the problem.

No! not a bit of luck. It was me! me! But coz I'm an arse I didn't say anything

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Accident Fallout

Day 2 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 4:00 am till midday
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Demi Ronde 33 Noir - 3100
Dry Tiles unstacked: Demi Ronde 33 BV

My cold is getting better. The press buggered us about for the first half of the shift, tiles kept sticking in the ebarbeur (trimmer). I pointed out to Nounours that they wern't cutting well at the back, but he just tried more elaborate tricks to push off the offcuts that were clogging the ebarbeur.
Anyway, he buggered off at 8:00 am for a training cours and Julien (ju-ju) took over. I told him what I thought, he looked at the ebarbeur, ajusted it and hey presto! she ran as sweet as a nut.

And unstacking the BV demi-rondes we had made yesterday, because the magic adjusting plate was in place on the filiere we didn't have to wipe every one with a sponge. Bonus.

We finished at 11:00, in time to clean up and go to an 11:30 safety meeting following the bloody hand accident. Philippe will be off work for over a month. The bosses say we've been masking mechanical faults by "getting by" and bad habits. What we must do is stop the press and get the mechanics to fix things, even if everything stops for hours.

The message of the day "No matter what happens, it is not worth the risk. Never intervene on a running machine"

Monday, April 10, 2006

Bloody Accident

Day 1 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 4:00 am till midday
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Demi Ronde 33 BV - 4900
Dry Tiles unstacked: ventilation 33 Littoral

No, not me, some other sod nearly lost his hand last week.

There is no factory post for Thursday April 6th coz I was too unwell to go in.

So yesterday at 11:00 am they are running the Bongioanni press which is next to ours and shares the same chassis/chain circuit.
The guy running the press sees that there is no claie under the press (2 steel tubular rails, welded together holding 8 little wooden pallettes). So he calls a colleague over to help him, and WITHOUT STOPPING THE PRESS, they lift an empty claie over and plonk it on top of the chain that pulls the claies under the press. So far, so stupid. But at just the wrong moment, the chain advances 1 step, pulls this claie forward, trapping the guy's (ungloved) hand between the metal tube end of the claie and a metal walkway. The chain continues to advance, with each turn of the press, and tears open his palm and the big thumb muscle.
Much blood, much pain, ambulance takes him away for surgery, 21 stitches and a long time of work. The idiot was lucky not to lose his hand.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Executions, Torture, Recriminations (II)


As the war dragged on, Germany found itself short of labour and started drafting in French workers. Up till now, most people in rural France had been getting on with their lives, but suddenly they were being packed in trains and sent to Germany.

People who refused to go had to hide out to avoid arrest and were called "réfractaires". André Chabanne, a former teacher, took refuge in the woods near Fougères, a collection of farm houses near Cherves-Chatelars. Together with Guy Pascaud and Hélène Nebout (also teachers) he formed a resistance movement which was baptised Bir-Hacheim on 5th February 1944.

So why does a French resistance group have a crazy Arab name?
In June 1942 the Forces Françaises Libres under the command of General Koenig were encircled by Rommel and the Afrika Korps. They held out for 16 days, allowing Allied foces to regroup and prepare for El Alamein.
Although they were outnumbered, they broke out on the night of June 10 leaving just over 1000 dead and inflicting a toll of 3300 on the Afrika Korps.

Here's the sexy bit: Koenig's mistress and driver was a saucy young woman called Susan Travers. The British daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, she had been driving ambulances in the war and found herself at Bir-Hacheim. She refused to evacuate with the other women and ended up driving Koenig's car during the night time retreat. the car was hit by eleven bullets and had no brakes by the end of the night.
What's very cool is that she is the only woman to ever have been inducted into the French Foreign Legion. She wrote her biography at the age of 91 after waiting for all the other principals to die before writing it.

In my next post - photos of the bullet holes where the maquis executed 3 German prisoners outside the school at Cherves

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Executions, Torture, Recriminations


We live in a little village called Cherves Chatelars. It has a cafe, a bakery and a hairdressing salon. There is a Salle de Fetes, a church, a school, a Marie, a square for playing boules. It is in the Charente Limousine, middle of nowhere, on one side of a green valley. It is pastoral and quiet.

But during the Second World War France was divided into 2 parts: German-occupied France and Vichy France. The occupied portion was the North half of the country and the Atlantic coast. The frontier split the Charente in half and Cherves found itself in Vichy France only 12 kilometres (8 miles) from the border.

It was an ideal base for resistance fighters (maquis) to strike tagets on the German side and then retire and hide in the woods and farms. In the summer of 1943 Andre Chabanne formed the Maquis "Bir Hacheim".

Resistance was a bloody nasty business with people being denounced to the Germans, tortured, executed or deported.

After the Normandy landings, with the Germans in retreat across France the reprisals began. People were accused of collaboration and punished. This was a vicious few months which France would rather forget.

There is some evidence that up to 50 people were executed by the maquis Bir Hacheim between July and August 1944 and over the next few days I'll post some of this history, with links and photos

Bear in mind that in war, the first casualty is Truth. Revisionist historians are keen to dig up this sort of thing because by showing that Allied countries executed people they can add weight to their denial of the Holocaust. Personally I don't see how showing that the French behaved poorly in the war puts the Nazis in a good light.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sick. I'm Sick

Day 5 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 8:00 pm till 4:00 am
Press - Mulder
Tiles made: Demi Ronde 33 BV - 4700
Dry Tiles unstacked: Demi Ronde 33 Noir, Faiteaux Littoral

The cough and runny nose, sore head etc getting worse. Working on the Mulder press there isn't even a spare hand to wipe my nose.
At midnight I felt really shit and said to Nounours that I was going to tell the boss I'm going home, if that was OK with him.
He says no, it's not OK because we're about to start unstacking the Faiteaux tiles which require an extra person to turn the bastard things over. So if I go home they're a man down.
OK, I say, "ce n'est pas mortel, je m'accroche"
I get home 4:15am, lie in the bath for 15 mins and then to bed and a bad sleep of coughing and dreams about unstoppable conveyor belts of tiles.

Today I feel like death and phoned in to tell them I won't be coming in tonight.
That makes for 5 days repos. Yippee!

Tomorrow's post and for next few days - Cherves Chatelars (our village) nasty history of Resistance and Reprisals at the end of the war. Murder, Torture, Executions.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Trompez-vous pas les robinets!


While posting a comment on Tina Cakesniffer's blog I was led to the markings on french taps.

French for cold is froid and so the cold taps have an F on them. No big deal.
French for hot is chaud and so the hot taps have a C on them.

A C like for Cold.

This causes no end of confusion for the English in France. Luckily, no chance of scalding in England because Mary Creagh (NuLabour) MP for Wakefield is calling for a bill for thermostatic valves to be fitted to baths to regulate water temperature. It will apply to all new and refurbished homes. The valves would set bath tap water temperature to a maximum of 48C - many boilers currently store hot water at 60C to kill bacteria. A similar law comes into force in Scotland in May and legislation has already been passed in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. (includes picture of bath taps - value added)

Spring has sprung II

In England (and other countries) you get a zillion daffodils popping up in Spring.
Here we get primivères (also called coucou) Their yellow is not as acid as daffodils, and they stay in the ditches and verges for quite a long time. I love the way the seasons change with all the flowers and leaves and stuff.
While I was out shooting the flowers I came across these young chaps:
Hamburgers on the hoof.

Crazy French Grammar


When we were younger, in Zimbabwe and later in England, our friend Barry Dock started a running grammar joke. It involved creating verbs out of nouns, in the American manner of "burglarize" instead of the simple "rob".

Instead of putting your trousers on you would "entrouserlate" your legs.
Instead of cutting the bread you would "enknifulate" it.

Hours of endless fun.

In France they do it for real. Instead of asking "Do you still have a cold?" they ask "Are you still encolded?" Est-ce que t'es toujours enrhumé?

Monday, April 03, 2006


Day 4 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift midday till 8:00 pm
Press - DTP
Tiles made: Rive Chartreuse Gauche BV - 3800
Dry Tiles unstacked: Rive Chartreuse Droite & Gauche BV

Another crap day. I'm still coughing and snotting like a good 'un. I clear my nose on classic french style - block one nostril and blow hard. If done correctly the snot splats on the ground. If not it splats on your hand, chin, sleeve, shirt etc.

The press gave endless hassle. She'd run sweet for an hour until the upper mould wore out a bit and then start to stick, and spew offcuts everywhere. Then we'd change the mould and it would run OK for an hour, followed by a hlf hour of hassle before changing the mould again.

A mould should last an hour and a half to 2 hours.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

a curse?

Day 3 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift midday till 8:00 pm
Tiles made: Rive Chartreuse Gauche BV - 2700
Dry Tiles unstacked: Douille Chartreuse Xahara, Rive Chartreuse Droite BV

The man-flu is actually quite a shitty cold with cough. I was this far from calling in sick. I figured I could always come home if I felt really shite.

First, the tapis bascule wouldn't bascule (the tilting conveyor belt wouldn't tilt). That took an hour and a half to fix. Then, the press hadn't been very well set up and the pressure and trimmer had to be adjusted a few times. The upper moulds would stick as they became worn, and the placqeur threw a bolt.

Sometimes it seems like the team is cursed. The annoying thing is that the team after us always makes the same tiles so they arrive and get going on a well set-up press and produce good numbers.

at least tomorrow we're doing the same thing so we should be more productive.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

3 hours lost

Day 2 of the 6 day shift cycle. Shift 4:00 am till midday
Tiles made: Demi Ronde 33 BV - 2700
Dry Tiles unstacked: Demi Ronde 33 BV

2700 even worse than yesterday. Well, the balancelle chaine was full and didn't get clear until after 6:00. And then the mechanos pulled the press apart to replace a large spring. So 3 hours lost.

Just as well because I have a sore throat & a little bit of a cold.

Or man flu as it is known.

A nice sunny day today so the lawn had to be mowed.