Categories
Uncategorized

Glerups. More than just great slippers

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They were a gift. What’s not to like, natural rubber soft soles, strangely rounded in form and a pure wool upper. Nice choice of colours. It took a while to get used to the rounded soles but make no mistake, these are comfy slippers.

They fit very well and are clearly well made with quality materials and as a consequence they are not cheap. But you generally get what you pay for.

After just three months use I noticed that one of the soles was wearing strangely inside under the ball of my foot. Strange because the other slipper was just fine, its shape had moulded to my foot with a noticeable ridge under my toes but no visible wear that I could see.

So I wrote to Glerups and explained my problem. I received a very prompt and kind reply. Glerups were very sorry I had a problem. What size was I? They would send a new pair in the post today!

Now this is what I call customer service. A company clearly proud of their product and a company who remembers who pays the bills, namely the customer. Problems occur. Things go wrong. We make mistakes. We are only human. It is how these problems are dealt with that matters. Glerups did not try and blame sweaty feet or rough skin (neither of which I have by the way), they simply did the right thing and sent out a new pair. The upshot of this is that here I am writing this blog post to share this positive experience.

So thank you Glerups for your supremely comfy shoes and most of all for your excellent customer service. If only other companies were half as good.

Categories
reviews

The toaster that doesn’t toast. The Dualit Lite

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Yet another really disappointing product. It wasn’t cheap either. For what it cost it really isn’t up to much. Personally I’m not really bothered about how it looks but I do believe that at the very least, a toaster should toast! Even on the highest setting it just can’t brown my bread enough. Of course the solution is simple. Put the setting on 4 and do it twice but do you think that is normal for a toaster that costs 100€ and is made by a company with a good reputation?

Well I don’t think it’s normal. Especially when you consider the cheap Tefal two slice toaster I had before managed this just fine. Shouldn’t it be up to the person toasting how they want their bread toasted? You should be able to burn it if that is what you want and I believe the toaster should have the range to do this. Otherwise what is the point of the adjuster knob? Or do they assume everyone eats sliced white bread?

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This is a slice of homemade wholemeal bread which has been warmed up on the highest setting. As you can see it barely browns it. perhaps you like your bread like this but I prefer mine toasted more. It seems ridiculous to me that such an expensive toaster from a company with such a reputation should be unable to toast a piece of bread to a person’s preference.

It’s always worth a look at a company’s website You can learn a lot. Here’s a classic bit of spin from Dualit’s site: No gimmicks. No compromise. Just great customer service. It must be Dualit. Yep, they really said that. Yet when I wrote to say that I could not toast my bread I received a very dismissive and confusing reply basically saying if I didn’t like it I should send it back!

Here’s another flowery example from their ethos page: New products are designed and engineered against stringent quality criteria, occasionally re-engineered and often enhanced, then tested to destruction, before they earn a Dualit badge. And they can only keep that badge if all elements of the manufacturing process pass Dualit’s stringent quality control process.

You know, no matter how I try I cannot actually find one mention about how well these toasters actually toast bread! They blather on about quality, how incredible their customer service is (their number one priority! lol) but no one mentions how the machines actually work. It’s all empty words about engineering, quality, tested to destruction etc.

Let me tell you the story of another product that cost about the same which had a problem. A pair of Glerups wool shoes. I had worn them just for a few months before a strange hole appeared in the sole making them unwearable. I wrote asking what they thought about it. I received a super fast reply from a very polite person promising to sort me out. They kindly said they would immediately send me another pair. They did not question me. They did not assume I was an idiot unlike some companies I could mention. They did not patronise me. Here is a company who really has got their customer service as a number one priority but they don’t sing about it. They quietly do the right thing and that is to keep a customer happy.

Funny how some businesses forget that it is the customers who pay their bills. I do not know why they treat them with such contempt sometimes. But you can learn a lot from the way you are treated by a company. Clearly Glerups care about their customers and Dualit don’t. Since Customer service is most people’s first experience of a company it makes sense to make it excellent rather than just claim it is. In my experience the customer service side of a company reflects that company’s true ethics, not the ones they claim but the ones we experience.

When someone asks what I think of my shiny new toaster I shall say; ‘Not much’. It doesn’t brown bread to my satisfaction and for a toaster which only has one job to do that’s pretty lame. But I could forgive this if only I had not received such a pitifully sad reply from their customer service dept. It just demonstrates that at the core Dualit are all about shiny things that sell for a profit. keep telling everyone how great their reputation is and they’ll believe it. I did and I really should know better.

Update: Two months later.

Today the mechanism in one side seized and has rendered half the toaster useless. Two short months. This is frankly pitiful. Pitiful at any price but this is supposed to be a superior product which was not cheap. Now I have to waste my time and money to return it for a refund.

Without a doubt the most disappointing product I have bought in a very long time. It should simply be illegal to sell such a bad product which cannot even last a few months. Pitiful is the word. I cannot think of a better one to describe this product and my experience of it.

Categories
Food

The 5 minute loaf (no need to knead)

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Making bread is extremely satisfying and there is nothing quite like warm fresh bread with butter and Marmite. It never gets old. Also there’s much less packaging and no plastic either. Further more you save time and don’t have to pollute the environment driving to the supermarket. It’s a win win situation.

Now that we are in the grip of a nasty virus and confined to barracks for the foreseeable future it makes sense to bake your own bread and then you do not need to go out which is helpful to slow the spread of the virus. Even though I do not feel that I fully understand why I can bake such nice loaves the time has come to share what I have learned so that you too can start baking your own bread the easy way without kneading.

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I’m no scientist but I have approached this bread making lark as methodically as I can. It’s been nearly three years since I started making a few loaves a week and I try to change only one thing at a time and be consistent in all regards when making the bread. It’s the only way that you can learn the effects of the many variables. It might only be flour, water and yeast with a bit of salt but it’s amazing how one small change can affect a loaf.

This method uses a baking tin. I haven’t yet got around to trying it without but I like the uniform shape which fits nicely in our toaster.

You’ll need a big bowl, some flour, powdered baker’s yeast, salt and a nice wooden spoon for mixing.

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Pre warm a mug with the hottest water that comes out your tap and put about 10 mm of water in it.

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Add a level tea spoon of sugar to the water. Do not stir with a metal spoon, just swirl the sugar around in the mug.

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Add a teaspoon or packet of dried yeast.

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Swirl, don’t stir. Leave to one side.

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Put your flour in the bowl and add two teaspoons of salt.

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Wait until the yeast has doubled in size in the mug.

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Run the hot tap until it is as hot as it will go and fill up the mug with the yeast in it. Throw that on the flour and repeat with hot water until you have a nice smooth mix runny enough that the dough is easy to mix.

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Pour in to the bread tin.

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Press the dough smooth with a wetted wooden spoon.

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Add seeds if you want.

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Let it rise.

When the loaf has risen about 50 – 75% of its original size put it into an oven on the middle shelf at 200 degrees for about 35 minutes.

That’s it. No kneading, nothing.

Sounds too simple doesn’t it? What I described above takes less than five minutes to achieve and what’s more you don’t even get your hands dirty which not only makes it easier but quicker and cleaner.

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To help you understand the process, let me elaborate on the details. Having made over 300 loaves I tend to do more or less the same thing every time and have slowly evolved this technique.

The use of very hot water is surely controversial but what can I tell you, it works for me. I find that the yeast in the mug rises better and faster if you do not stir the mixture with a metal spoon. Simply swirl the mix around. The level tea spoon of sugar is added to the water to give the yeast something to get started on.

This loaf was made using 700 grams of flour to fit nicely in a bread tin about 28 cms long, 12 cms wide and 8 cms deep. It is 400 gms of rye, 200 gms of wholemeal and 100 gms of plain white flour. I usually add some seeds, in this loaf, I only added some sesame seeds but I often use poppy, sunflower and lin as well. But be aware that putting seeds in the mix will stop the loaf rising so well.

Rye flour tends to make quite a heavy and dense loaf that does not rise much. I love the taste of a rye loaf but I like a light fluffy loaf too so it will always be a compromise between taste and fluffyness. Flour comes in different grades but I’m not going to get into any of that. Flour is flour. Some will make fluffier loaves than others. Again, experiment to find out what you like.

The mix I make is fairly runny. If it is too stiff it is harder to mix in the bowl. The mix can be quite loose and you’ll still get a nice loaf. It is also easier to pour into the bread tin. I scape the bowl out with a silicone spatula which gets almost all of the mix from the bowl which reduces waste and also makes washing up easier. A quick word on that. Wash the bowl and implements as soon as you can, it’s very easy to do at this stage and very hard to do when the flour has dried!

Once the dough is in the bread tin, take a wet wooden spoon and press it down so it is even in the tin. Don’t worry about getting the top of the loaf too wet. I find that the wetter the surface, the better the loaf rises. At this stage I usually add some more seeds to the top and press them in with the spatula. If you don’t do this, the seeds will fall off when you cut the bread.

Using the spatula I cut the dough in half along the length of the loaf. This way, when the loaf rises in the oven it cracks open in the middle and makes for a more aesthetic loaf but you can just leave it and the loaf will split where it wants.

Rising. It seems to me that the trick to baking a good loaf without kneading is to get the timing just right. The dough will rise all by itself in a warm kitchen. It should take about an hour but this can vary depending on the temperature. The most important thing to understand is that the bread does some rising before it goes in the oven but does much more when it goes in but it will take about an hour to rise enough to be ready for baking.

If you don’t let the loaf rise enough before you put it in the oven it will make for a denser and smaller loaf. If you wait too long the loaf will rise in the oven but then sag. It’s hard to say just how long you’ll need, this really comes with experience but it’s fair to say that so long as the dough has increased in size about 50 – 75% that’s about right.

Some say you should cover a loaf as it is rising to keep the top moist but every time I tried it, the cloth drooped down and stuck to the rising dough making a right mess. So I don’t bother any more. It seems to make very little difference.

Some also say you need a hot oven for bread. This is not my experience. I have messed about with various temperatures but the most consistent loaf has always come from a pre heated 200 degree oven. I always place the loaf as centrally in the oven as I can. I have made very successful loaves in the most primitive of ovens and the most sophisticated and I can tell you that any hot box will bake bread.

Once the dough has risen enough put the tin in the oven for about 35 minutes but again it might take longer depending on your oven. You can always take it out sooner and have a look at it. A well cooked loaf will be well browned and fall out of the baking tin. If it is stuck it needs more time in the oven.

Put it on a drying rack or even standing up on edge to cool. If you leave it on a smooth surface the crust will go soggy. Resist the temptation to eat it straight away and wait a while before cutting or you risk tearing the loaf.

And that is all there is to it. It takes way less than 5 minutes to mix and prepare a loaf like this. You do have to wait about an hour before you can bake it and another half an hour or so after that in the oven but there’s very little work. I am sure I can bake a loaf quicker than it takes most people to drive to the supermarket, park, shop, drive home, park etc and it costs less when you bake your own bread.

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Instead of cutting a slice off one end of the loaf, instead, cut the loaf in half. Then cut slices from each half so that when the halves are placed together they fit well and thus keep the loaf fresh. It took me months to retrain my brain to do this!

As you can see from the finished loaf, it rose well and the inside is nicely aerated especially for what is a rye heavy loaf. The crust isn’t too thick and is nice and crusty. the bread tin is so clean it just needs a wipe before the next use.

A friend who makes bread with live yeast told me that although my loaves were good they would not last a week and would soon go stale. I assured him they never last a week as they are usually demolished in a day or two so it’s not an issue!

No doubt there is a reason why bakers for centuries have kneaded their dough but I prefer my method. It’s fast and clean and tastes delicious. So I am sorry if I offend any traditional bakers with my ‘cheating’ loaf but it works. With bread making this easy what is your excuse for not trying?

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Categories
Habitation

Designing the woodenwidget Plurt

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The Plurt lightweight yurt with the Hoopy.

One day I will try to write a book about design. I find the subject so fascinating and although I never formally studied it I have a good eye and apparently quite an imagination. Plus I love to problem solve, to find solutions to insolvable issues. I believe there is always a way to get something to work. Sometimes the solution is a bit complicated. Other times it is simplicity personified.

There are two ways to design something, either start with a blank sheet or use what is to hand or easily available. The first option will bring the fantastic vision of the designer to reality but it will take a very long time and be very costly. The latter option is more practical and sensible but may end up compromised aesthetically. As someone who designs creations that must be practical and easy to make I cannot take the first option, instead I need to find simple and inexpensive solutions which do not spoil the overall look of the finished product.

Sometimes however common materials come together and get repurposed so well that one can only admire the simplicity of it all. That was my goal with the Plurt. But also I wanted to add another dimension to the design brief which was minimal waste. This means using a material in its entirety or thinking carefully about what to do with any waste left over.

It just makes sense to me to use materials as they come and not have to work on them. It speeds the process and reduces waste to zero. I would make the Plurt using thin ply around a wooden frame with bonded XPS to act as insulation and to add strength to the panel. From working out how much a piece of ply could be bent I reasoned I’d need 6 wall panels which would create a 5 metre diameter circle 1.2m high. The ply would not even need to be cut down.

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The six curved wall panels and door frame.

Of course creating curved shapes is much harder than making straight ones but as a boatbuilder with many decades of experience making things that aren’t flat is as easy as kiss my hand (as Jack Aubrey would say) to me. A jig would be required but as there are 6 panels to make it would be time well spent making one. It would allow the making of 6 identical panels which would ensure a good fit and if they were all the same then they could be interchanged allowing for different configurations with windows and such.

The only downside to a jig is what do you do with it after the panels are made? In the case of the Plurt the wall panel jig is modified and becomes the jig for the roof panels. Once all the panels are made the jig itself becomes a table or a bed for your Plurt and the curved cut out pieces are turned into a free standing shelf unit. No waste.

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The shelves made from the jig. Strong and stable.

Each wall panel has locating pegs which not only hold the panels in the right place ensuring a good fit and seal but they also help to distribute some of the load from the roof. Once the panels are put together clamps pull them tightly together. The clamps act in much the same way as the wire that encircles a traditional yurt but as the entire roof of the Plurt only weighs 150 kilos, the forces on the walls is considerably less.

Designing the roof panels was much more challenging. They are flat but trapezoid in shape and have slightly angled sides so that they sit against each other well. They all fit in to a standard 700c bicycle wheel at the top. Traditional yurts have a large and heavy wooden crown and all of the many roof poles are fitted in to it. It’s one of the reasons why putting up a traditional yurt is not a one man job. I wanted to find a better way.

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See how the tenon sits beautifully in the wheel rim and cannot lift out.

A 700c wheel is about as big a bicycle wheel as you can get and it is a very common size. In designing I find there is a lot of luck. For example when I was doing my experiments to see what I could do with the roof I needed to get the tenon in the end of the roof panel to sit inside the bicycle wheel rim. I had imagined needing to cut a special shaped tenon but as it happens a simple rectangular shape sits beautifully inside the rim when the roof is at its final 26 degree angle. Nice when that happens.

Apart from getting the size and shape of the roof panels right there were many other issues, for example, how would I fill in the inevitable gap between the roof and wall panels created when you place a flat object on a curved one? How would I waterproof the 15 joins? That’s 40 metres of potential leaks! I did some quick experiments and discovered that a simple guttering made from garden hose worked just fine and even held itself in with friction alone. I was very happy to solve this one so easily.

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A worm’s eye view of the roof.

There are many reasons to use garden hose as guttering. It fits in with the low cost and easy to find ethos for a start but it even works on an aesthetic level too as the gutters mimic the poles that you would find on a traditional yurt and helps to break up the large wooden surface. Bottom line? It looks good. It looks right. Other advantages to this system apart from the low cost are that these same gutters can be used to carry cables to the roof should you want a fan or lighting up there. But best of all it allows for a nice margin of error. If the roof panels are not 100% and there are some gaps between them, it really doesn’t matter because the hose just expands slightly to take up the slack.

Calculating the size and shape of the roof panels was not easy but harder than that was trying to minimise waste. For a long time I juggled with different sized panels, more or less panels and different roof angles until I finally found the compromise that would allow a good roof angle but just as importantly the right size that would allow the off cuts from one side of the panel to be used on the inside. A traditional yurt typically has a roof angle of 30 degrees so I was not unhappy about getting to 26 degrees.

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The 15 roof panels leaning against the walls.

Initially I imagined the roof panels would also have some kind of locating device to ensure that they couldn’t move or slip plus they would help to spread the forces but due to the way the panels are fitted when the roof goes up, it just wouldn’t work, so that idea had to be abandoned. It seemed to me that once the whole thing was assembled and sitting right, the tops of the panels would all lock in to the bicycle wheel at the top and the supporting knees would lock in the lower end and once the clamps were added to the lower end it would have sufficient stiffness.

The next issue was how to assemble the roof on top of the wall panels. Traditional yurts often have a central scaffolding which is later removed so I decided to mount the wheel on a post in turn clamped to a simple step ladder. Obviously the wheel has to be mounted centrally to ensure the roof has equal overhangs. There is always a little margin for error of course but not much. Part of the compromise of the minimal waste design meant that there would not be much overhang so it had to be placed pretty accurately. the solution to this was to use a plum bob hanging from the post and pointing at the very centre of the yurt base.

Once the wheel was centred and at the correct height another advantage to this system came to light. Originally I assumed that the panels would be pushed in to the wheel from the outside and as they are triangular the gap would close as they went home but an unseen advantage of the tenon at the end of the roof panels is that they can be dropped in and rest on the inner rim of the bicycle wheel before being pushed home. This means the panel is supported while you adjust the last few millimetres.

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Note the roof panel centrally placed over the door with added rain diverter.

Bear in mind that it’s one thing to make a structure like this but it is quite another to find so simple a way that it can be documented and explained for the builder. Seems that luck was on my side once again. The first roof panel is fitted centrally above the door frame. This was not my decision but arrived at because if there was a join at the door there would be a gutter dripping water on you as you went in when it was raining.

To keep the weight even on the bicycle wheel, the roof panels are assembled one at a time and the next panel is fitted opposite the last one and so on until all the panels are fitted. The roof panel that fits opposite the first one just happened to line up with the end of one of the wall panels so it is an easy thing to describe. The roof panels go in until there are two spaces left. One of the gaps will be too big for a panel and the other too small. A roof panel is fitted to the larger gap and then the rest of the panels are just shuffled across a few millimetres until the last gap is just big enough for the last panel to be dropped in.

At this point the panels are clamped together. There is one clamp at every join nicely hidden at the lower end. Now the roof is pretty solid and yet still not actually fixed to the walls and this is where the knees come in. They have slots in them so they can be adjusted. Once the roof is up, the knees are loosened and a shim is placed behind them so that the next  time the Plurt is disassembled all you have to do is remove the shim, the panel will drop down slightly opening the gap and the tenon will still be resting on the bicycle wheel rim. Now it can be pushed up and lifted out. As the roof panels are only 10 kilos each it’s not a hard thing to do.

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The adjustable plexi dome fitted through the hub of the 700c bike wheel.

The next job is to fit the dome but how can you do this when the bicycle wheel is on a step ladder and has a bolt fitted through it? You can’t. first the scaffolding needs to come down. Once the roof is free standing the mounting bolt fitted to the wheel can be removed making space for the dome which is fitted using a threaded lead bar. But how do you get on the roof to drop it in? You can shimmy up the roof and place it in that way as the roof can easily take the weight but there is a better way.

Simply remove one panel. The roof stays up just fine even with the odd panel removed. Then get the ladder and pass the dome through the big gap and drop in into the hub of the wheel. Now the panel can be refitted and reclamped.

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Fitting the guttering in to the grooves in the roof panels.

Now the Plurt is erected but not fully assembled. The internal guttering needs to be fitted. It’s an easy task but does take a little while as there are 15 x 2.5 metre length gutters to fit.

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Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. Foam pipe insulation fits perfectly.

The gap between the roof and wall panels was still unsolved at this point. Sometimes when you do not have a solution it’s best to stop thinking about it and often this way a solution will appear and that is exactly what happened. Turns out the perfect material for the job was some foam pipe insulation. It’s a neutral grey colour and can be forced in to the gap making a very respectable seal. It’s perfect and fits the easy build ethos. It’s cheap and readily available and comes in one metre lengths which, believe it or not, is exactly the distance between the roof panel knees so they didn’t even need cutting down to fit. Sometime the design gods are on your side. A perfect solution for what had appeared a really difficult problem to solve. it’s often this way with design. Often what you think will be the hardest problems to solve turn out to be the easiest and vice versa.

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In the Plurt you can fit opening windows anywhere.

Now that the Plurt is fully assembled and weather tight it’s time to fit the windows. This is just much easier to do when the walls are in place and firmly held. Unlike a trad yurt which has an interior lattice the Plurt can have opening windows anywhere in any panel. This is important because a yurt needs good ventilation. As the wall panels are identical you can move the window lay out around if you fancy a change. Not something you can do on most yurts.

The Plurt has many advantages over a traditional yurt and perhaps the biggest is that it does not have a fabric skin. No doubt it’s a good watertight system but it doesn’t allow easily for openings and will eventually rot away in the sun. The Plurt is simply painted plywood so when the paint is getting a bit tired, all it needs is another coat and it’s good for the next few years. replacing a fabric covering for a 5 metre dia yurt is a costly undertaking to have to make every ten years whereas a tin of paint doesn’t cost much in comparison.

The advantages keep coming. If you wanted to make a traditional yurt yourself you’d probably come unstuck at the fabric stage. Unless you have a large clean space and an industrial sewing machine you simply won’t be able to make the covering and having done some heavy duty canvas sewing I can tell you that sliding around a 20 sq metre piece of cloth is very hard, even the professionals struggle. This simple fact alone means that a diy yurt is out of the question for even the most resourceful of people. And consider how hard it is to fit such a cover to a framework standing 3 metres high. Doing away with the fabric is the first step in being able to offer a diy yurt.

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The very cosy and bright Plurt interior.

Another advantage to having no fabric is that it’s easier to have windows that open. Not only that they can be made of glass which is much nicer to look out of than the transparent plastic fitted to most yurts. You can even fit salvaged windows in the Plurt.

None of the panels are long nor heavy so it makes the Plurt much easier to assemble, even alone and it makes it easier to transport and store. Less materials means less cost. The Plurt typically costs about half that of a similarly sized traditional yurt.

Despite the Plurt’s light construction it does not feel flimsy at all. It does not move when the wind blows and the insulation dampens the noise of the rain although you always know it’s raining when you’re in a Plurt.

As I said at the beginning of this post, design is a fascinating subject and it’s amazing how by choosing certain important criteria before you start can have such an effect on a design. There really is very little waste when you build a Plurt and that is a good thing. We all need to be more conscious of how we use the planet’s valuable resources and reducing waste and building in wood is a good place to start.

How many other small dwellings can be built so cheaply and be taken apart in minutes? And on top of all that there’s the element of being in a circle, the calm that it brings compared to straight lines and right angles. All in all I am very pleased with how the Plurt has turned out. It’s a lovely space to spend time in. It could be used to live in, or as an office, a kid’s playroom, a yoga space or even rented out to earn a living from it. Having created the design and spent months perfecting the plans it’s now up to others to decide how they will use their Plurt.

Why Plurt you ask? It’s PLywood yURT but later I discovered that it also stands for P.L.U.R.T. Peace, love, unity, respect and trust. Nice. Plurt it is.

Categories
Uncategorized

Draper F Clamp review

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At the end of the day, no matter how bad a clamp is, so long as it can tighten on your work it will do. Maybe there is a lot of play in the thread, maybe the jaws mash up the wood but that is solved with a piece of scrap under it before tightening. But a clamp which will not clamp is as useless as a chocolate fireguard.

In my collection I have over 50 various F clamps, some I have had for decades. they all work. I should say, they all clamp. Some have the round plate missing from the end of the thread, some have terrible play. Some are cheap Chinese and very flimsy but they all tighten.

I needed ten more F clamps for a current job so while I was ordering from a company called FFX in the UK I decided to buy a few more. They did not have a huge range of clamps but I didn’t need anything fancy, just a small clamp which clamped. They offered F clamps from Draper, a well known British company known for making good tools. Or at least that has always been my experience. And so I ordered ten.

The first thing to tell is that half of the clamps would not tighten! Badly machined in the slot which slides up the shaft which is so thin it doesn’t offer much of a surface for the jaw to grip on. In the end I had to file out the slot to try and get them working properly but even that did not help much.

These clamps are cheap and have plastic handles which might be robust but when you consider the damage plastic is doing to the eco system wouldn’t a wood handle be better? The joke is that you can’t put enough pressure on the clamps anyway so why it needs such a strong handle I do not know.

Once I started looking I realised that this product is just awful. there is NOT ONE THING good about them unless you like the blue colour. Where do I start?

Clamping. As previously stated they don’t. And even when you think they do, they don’t. Clamp up your work and leave it. In the morning all the Draper clamps are loose. they can only maintain the lightest of pressures. This is actually worse than a clamp which doesn’t work because it lulls you in to a false sense of security and the very real possibility of a future glue failure. Fail no: 1.

Sanding: Normally when I am sanding a piece of wood I clamp it to the work top to hold it. The Draper clamps are useless at this because the vibration of the sander is enough to loosen the clamps. Pathetic: Fail no:2

For a while I was almost impressed with the plastic tabs fitted to protect your work from damage but like the rest of the clamp I was soon to be disappointed. The round piece which goes on the end of the threaded part looked well located. These always have a habit of falling off. I have never known any clamp manage to hold on to these. Of course after a couple of tightens with the clamp, the plastic stretched and the protectors fell off.  Fail no: 3

Plastic protectors falling off is so normal that I cannot confess disappointment but what did upset me was the state of the metal under the plastic. The round part at the end of the threaded part is made from a thin piece of pressed steel without a flat base!!! This is the most basic thing to get right with a clamp. If the jaws are not flat and full they will more easily mark the work piece. Think of a stiletto heel on a wooden deck. Fail no: 4

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Nasty. Once the plastic protector goes, and it will you’re left with a material damaging piece. Even with the cap on it still marks the wood.

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Two similar clamps. Draper on the left. Both tightened as well as I could to the same pressure. The clamp with a solid base has hardly marked the surface at all while the Draper one has left a huge dent.

Missing in the design is a decent sized tab at the top of the jaw, something to stop another clamp sliding down if you are using them clamp on clamp. These clamps were clearly not designed by anyone who has ever worked with wood. They probably copied some poorly tested existing design. Fail no: 5

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The Draper clamp has a small tab but it’s way too small to be effective when clamping clamp on clamp. The Axminster clamp on the left has a good sized tab.

The threaded part is very short. This would be fine if the jaws didn’t need so many turns to get them to tighten and what doesn’t help this is that the shaft of the clamp is too flimsy, no wonder the sliding jaw can’t get a grip on it, it has no surface area and on the clamps which do work, they bend alarmingly which is no problem in itself but with the bend comes a change in angle and now the clamp is no longer exerting a purely downward force but is effectively trying to slide the piece, just what you don’t want from a clamp. Unlike a more robust clamp, these simply stay bent. fail no: 6

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A shocking amount of bend. Note how the pressure is no longer downwards. Plus the clamp stays bent so now it always pushes the work down at an angle.

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The Axminster F clamp under the same pressure. It does bend slightly but unlike the Draper one, it springs back straight afterwards.

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Here you can how the shaft is now bent and note also the short amount of thread compared to the Axminster version. The wood handle is more comfortable and most importantly, not made of plastic.

I might have forgiven the plastic handle if these clamps had actually clamped but as the rest of the clamp is so bad I cannot forgive it. If we are to use plastic in this world we must make sure it is not for single use or dubious products. fail no:7

How many fails is that? Far too many if you ask me for such a simple object. I wrote to Draper and they did admit they found the same non clamping issue on some of their other clamps and offered me some replacements but whether these will be any better is yet to be seen. No doubt Bert Draper (the founder) is turning in his grave as Draper celebrate their 100 years in business. Perhaps back then they had higher quality standards than they do today but if they carry on selling clamps as bad as this I very much doubt they will see another 100 years. If this is the best Draper can do when it comes to clamps what can I expect from their other products?

I did not even know it was possible to design and make an F clamp so badly but you live an learn. I think the most telling fact really is that even the nastiest clamps in my collection do that one thing which is truly needed from a clamp. they clamp. Everything else can be dealt  with but a clamp that won’t clamp is nothing more than a strangely shaped paperweight and an annoyance every time you see them because you know they don’t work.

Perhaps these companies do not understand the grief that selling a bad product causes the client. Apart from the fact that the clamps don’t work and there are not enough to do the job you bought them for, it is all a waste of my time and a waste of theirs. More needless transportation of goods being sent and returned. The company reputation takes a beating and here is one customer who is unlikely to buy another Draper product again.

It is possible to make a good clamp. I have several and the latest ones from Axminster (ones I had to buy because the Draper ones didn’t work) are a very good example of a well engineered clamp that works well with progressive tightening, smooth action and most importantly of all good clamping force that does not drop off spoiling your work.

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Really not very much to commend these clamps from Draper. They are without a doubt the worst clamps I have ever used in over 30 years and as a boatbuilder you can be sure I have used a hell of a lot of clamps in that time! If Draper would like to know what constitutes a good clamp they need look no further than the Axminster one.

There’s just no excuse for allowing such a poor product to be sold.

Categories
Cars

A rather special Fiat 850 sport coupé for sale

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‘Primo’ is a 1968 example of the Fiat 850 sport coupé. It is a second series model which in my opinion is the best looking of all the three series. He was originally painted in a very dull and dark green colour but is now resplendent in a period white colour which contrasts beautifully with the black leather and teak wood trimmed interior.

Primo is no garage queen, he is a well sorted and very reliable daily driver. He is fitted with the 70 hp Abarth engine from the Autobianchi A110. This gives him enough pep to keep up easily with traffic and because he only weighs 700 kilos he can often surprise much more powerful cars.

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Primo’s interior is a thing of beauty, made to a very high standard. In place of the standard plastic covered seats, all Primo’s seats and door trim is real leather. Even the dash is leather covered. To set off this lovely leather is the varnished teak wood on the dash and on the tops of the doors. The leather trimmed carpets are made of wool. Soundproofing and sound deadening material has been fitted in many areas to reduce the noise and it helps to make primo quite a civilised car for his size and age.

Primo was bought as a project by me over six years ago and in that time a colossal amount of work has been done. He could never be considered an original car as too much has been done to him for that but he maintains the soul of his originality and in fact the only modifications done are ones that could be reversed easily enough one day should anyone ever want to. I was after a fun and cool car with a bit of class. To me that was more important than originality.

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The motor was rebuilt by the previous owner who must have done a good job as Primo starts quickly and runs exceedingly smoothly. Since then the oil seals at both ends of the motor have been changed and the clutch, cable and thrust bearing. All gearbox seals and mounting rubbers have been replaced.

A new carb was fitted and the car runs very smoothly because of it and ticks over perfectly. No flat spots. The exhaust is a chrome 4 in to 2 pipe which isn’t the quietest exhaust in the world but sounds great to everyone who hears it.

The conversion from the 850 engine to the A112 is not an easy one to do properly as they spin in different directions for a start. But the hardest part is the cooling system. primo has a modified 850 pump that has been cut and welded and reinforced. The pump has new seals too. What this does is give a car which never overheats even on the warmest days. For many years Primo was in the south of France and he never overheated once even in the heat of the day in a traffic jam. Very impressive. However it didn’t hurt to fit an automatic electric fan too just in case although it has never heated up enough to ever come on.

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The exterior of the car talks for itself. All the stainless trim is in fantastic condition considering the car is over half a century old! The bumpers are straight but have small marks and scratches on them. This is called Patina and in no way spoils the car. It is a car to be used after all.

The interior was stunningly made by a professional upholsterer to the greatest level of detail. Black leather is sewn with polyester thread for longevity. The wood parts on the dash board and the door trims are made of solid teak by a professional boat builder and are deeply coated with marine yacht varnish. Compared to the nasty black plastic original trims they transform the interior.

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The door cards are also leather trimmed and made on marine plywood panels and not the cardboard Fiat used. Although they are lacking the two chrome trim pieces of the original card they mimic the scale and shape of them by using a leather piping. This would be too much black if not for the lovely piece of teak capping it. There is a full length map pocket sewn in on both doors.

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The dash on the 850 is often its weak point as they are made of card and over many years they warp and distort. The original mahogany wood trim pieces are also very hard to reproduce or restore so are often not done at all. Primo has solid teak pieces on the dash. It’s a superior wood to mahogany and will fade much less with time.

The window channels and winders in the doors are all new and work perfectly. Thanks to new door seals, the sound deadening in the doors and no play in the door hinges the doors shut with a very solid sound. It’s quite unexpected in a Fiat. The glass on Primo is all original and not surprisingly has some chips and scratches from five decades of use. The Chrome door mirrors are new and work well. The headlining and sun shades are new.

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Primo must have been well cared for and kept in a dry place when not being used because apart from a few small welding patches on the floor the car is in incredible condition for a 50 year old Fiat. Since I have had the car I have sprayed waxoyl into all the holes I could find in the hope that it will slow the aging process a bit.

That covers all the visual stuff but there is very much going on that you can’t easily see. Let’s start at the front. The headlights have 60w halogen bulbs fitted as do the two spot lights. Main beam is really quite impressive now. In order to put such bright bulbs in an 850, first the electrics need to be improved. For some ludicrous reason Fiat put the power supply for the lights through the ignition switch. So now there is a direct fused feed from the battery to relays so that the system is not overloaded. Primo is fitted with an alternator and can easily keep up with the demand of the lights etc.

Much of the electrics have been improved and made safer. Even all the dash lights work! Where possible bulbs have been replaced with leds.

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The front end has been lowered to create a better stance. This is an involved job requiring a good many new parts including Abarth front spring, lowering beam and staggered upper control arm mounts. All rubbers and seals have been replaced. All track rod ends and ball joints also replaced. Steering box adjusted and filled with fresh oil. New front shock absorbers fitted.

New front discs and pads. New wheel bearings. The steel brake lines were replaced by the previous owner. In place of the original rubber brake hoses Primo now sports braided ones which improve brake pedal feel.

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Primo’s wheels are something special. Extremely rare and great looking. In my opinion the best wheels I have seen on any 850 sport. Spokes would be nice but these Azor wheels are far more practical. All four are true and very light.

The rear suspension has new adjustable Spax shock absorbers, new seals and rubbers and new wheel bearings, brake drums and shoes. New driveshafts and flexible couplings too. Not much that hasn’t been changed!

The gear lever has been modified and now has a much shorter throw which is very much better than standard.

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In the engine bay, the correct panels under the engine are fitted. These are often missing but are important if you don’t want your 850 to overheat. New spark leads and coil have been fitted. The original distributor was sent off to Holland to have a 123 conversion. This is a very clever electronic ignition system which has transformed the way that Primo drives. Much of his smoothness and reliability comes from this superb mod. It wasn’t cheap at over 600€ but it was well worth it. A standard distributor is supplied with the car just in case it should pack up. Not that there is any reason for it to do so. It has been fitted to the car for a number of years now and has behaved perfectly.

A reconditioned speedo was fitted soon after I bought the car and it reads over 11000 kms. The original speedo has 83000 kms which is probably right although this still equates to an average of just 2000kms a year!

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Primo is a lovely car to drive on small back roads. He’s no fun on a motorway but he can do it just fine. In the time I have had Primo I have done about 12,000 kms which is not so much in 5 years but he has never abandoned me at the side of the road and has brought me much joy and pleasure. In fact he brings pleasure to everyone who sees him, especially kids and old people who always say they used to own one.

Primo is strange to drive if you’re used to a modern car. The steering is heavy at low speeds and the brakes need some foot pressure to stop the car. It makes more noise than a modern car but much less than most old classic cars. But once on the move the steering becomes a pleasure, especially through a series of sweeping bends. The brakes work exceedingly well, pulling primo up straight and in a very short distance. The clutch is light and the gearbox a joy with its tighter and shorter throw.

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There are many Fiat 850 sport coupés for sale but few are as lovely nor as reliable and as well sorted as Primo, down to the fine details. With most of him replaced over the years there’s no reason why a new owner couldn’t have years of trouble free motoring with Primo.

It was never my intention to sell Primo. He was a long term project. A car to improve and make lovely. But as you no doubt know things change and now sadly I have to pass him on to a new owner. A new family means we can’t all fit in him and so there’s no point keeping Primo if I can’t use it. He should be out on the road

He’s not standard, he’s better than that. With his 70hp Abarth engine, classic leather and wood interior and fabulous wheels and perfected stance he just looks the business. The 850 sport coupé is in my mind one of the prettiest cars ever made. It’s also very clever for so small a car. Four seats and luggage space up front to boot. Fully independent suspension and disc brakes makes Primo about the oldest classic you can own without it feeling like an ancient car.

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I am not saying primo is perfect. Is that even possible for any 50 year old car? But he’s really very nice. He has a few issues but I prefer to think of them as character traits. The syncromesh on second is weak, a common problem with Italian cars but a change at the right revs and a gentle hand on the lever and it doesn’t crunch. The windscreen has a few tiny stone chips and the drivers side window is scratched from being wound up and down many times. None of these faults spoil him and parts can still be found if the new owner wanted a really perfect car.

With the car comes the original tool kit and jack, an Abarth rocker cover, old carb and many other pieces. Primo also comes with a custom made heavy duty car cover.

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The 850 sport coupé is an appreciating classic. I have seen some selling for much more than I am asking for Primo. The price I am asking reflects the sheer amount of work and money that has gone in to him over the years.  As you can see from the pictures Primo is a really special little machine which looks standard but isn’t.

Asking 15,000€

Email info@foldina.com for more information or pictures

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Uncategorized

Yonex Astrox 2 Badminton racket review

ASTROX 2

Without a doubt the nicest racket I have ever played with. It’s light and yet powerful with good accuracy and control. As a racket to play with I have no complaints at all. I really like it.

However it comes with a serious design flaw which almost defies belief. Yonex who have been making quality rackets for years have zero excuse for such a ridiculous oversight. I cannot imagine what they were thinking. In the quest for extra performance in an ever more competitive market they have addopted new technology in spades. On the shaft it proudly proclaims: Nanomesh Neo whatever that means. Full graphite racket and a rotational generator system. Plus it says Isometric.

No doubt all this high tech makes for a better racket but if basic design principals are ignored what does it all mean if the racket is rendered unusable because of a design flaw in the racket?

Frankly I find it inexcusable and utterly pathetic. So what is this flaw you ask. It’s simple. at the top half of the racket there is a small channel moulded into the racket’s frame and this is there to allow the strings to sit in it and so be protected from chafe should the racket touch the court, a fairly common happening even if you are very careful.

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Not easy to photograph but the white string at about 2 oclock is easy to see. What is harder to see are the blue strings which despite being less than 0.7 mm thin still protrudes. Standard thickness strings would be proud all along the top of the racket. The depth of the channel simply isn’t deep enough to offer the strings any protection at all.

On the Astox 2 this channel is very shallow and as a consequence the strings protrude beyond it and are instantly vulnerable to being damaged. How did a company like Yonex make such a ridiculous mistake? Only Yonex can answer that one but after just ten hours of extremely careful playing the strings broke. They broke because once, just once I touched the court with the racket head. I only touched it lightly but it was enough to lightly scratch a proud string and that weakness led to the string breaking a little while later.

When I got the racket I noticed this straight away and knew that it was going to be an issue so I placed a thin strip of insulation tape along the strings in the vague hope of protecting them from accidental damage. Of course even this tiny strip of tape affected the head weight so I was not happy doing this especially on a brand new racket.

Further more I chose some hybrid strings which are not even 0.7 mm thick so would protrude even less than ‘normal’ strings. The channel is clearly no where near deep enough to allow the strings any kind of protection. To put this problem in to context, I also have an old Babolat which is probably about ten years old and the strings are old but still not broken. the head is scratched and abused and yet the channel is deep enough to protect the strings from the inevitable wear and tear that a racket experiences. Draw your own conclusions. 10 years with one racket. ten hours with another.

To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement. One thing is for sure, my next racket will be chosen on more practical principals and it won’t be made by Yonex! It beggars belief how such an established manufacturer can allow such an oversight.

Categories
Uncategorized

We don’t know what we don’t know

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George Santayana said it best. If you do not learn from the past you are condemned to relive it.

In the old days engineers learned by trial and error. When Kingdom Brunell designed something it would be based on past experience with a healthy safety margin added on just to be sure.

Today we are much more aware of the qualities of many materials and their interaction with one another. Over the years there have been many famous examples. One was the yacht of King George? which was made from aluminium over steel frames using monel rivets. Thanks to the electrical interaction of these dissimilar metals in salt water the boat was beyond repair and was broken up just months after its launch.

Another classic example was that of the DeHavilland Comet, the world’s first commercial jet airliner. It was a lovely looking aircraft but they had a tendancy to fall out of the sky for no apparent reason. Eventually the problem was discovered. The window apertures had been cut out with square edges. Over time the movement of the fuselage caused cracks to appear in the corners. These went un noticed until at high speed the crack became big enough to allow the air to get under it and then it would rip the outer skin from the plane.

The remedy was simple. Don’t cut square corners in openings. As soon as the corner was slightly rounded, the stress areas went away and there were no more problems.

One might think that today, mistakes like this that have happened before and been well documented wouldn’t happen again. That stories like the ones above would be taught in the very first year at engineering college. However it would appear not. Although we have gleaned an astonishing amount of information about materials designers are still making the same basic mistakes.

Don’t believe me? Have a look at your laptop computer screen, if it’s not a Mac and made of plastic chances are it has square cut corners. Take a real close look. Do any of those corners have slight cracks? Isn’t that amazing. On my Asus laptop I have cracked corners. On my partners Lenovo, cracked corners and even on my old Kindle. Yep, you guessed it, cracked corners.

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It astonishes me that this important and basic knowledge has been forgotten. What are they teaching designers in schools these days?

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Uncategorized

Things to do in Limousin ‘Heart Break Town’

Looking for something interesting to do with all the family in the Limousin? How about some Western Theatre French style?

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Take a ride around Heart Break Town on a horse drawn carriage.

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The carriage is made from an old car!

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Go back in time at Heart Break Town. A different pace of life

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Get made up as an Indian

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Nicolas show you how to make a bow and arrow using just basic tools

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It’s all done by eye!

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‘Magic Cloud’ will entertain you in an Indian style

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Step inside a genuine Tipi

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Story telling and magic show inside a Tipi

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Beautiful horses everywhere

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The make up stand in the Indian Village

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One of the horses gets a manicure (hooficure?)

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Plenty of horses in Heart Break Town

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The actors arrive…

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Indians attack

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Great riding skills

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Much galloping

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The riders…

If you would like to learn more or visit check out their Facebook page. They are in Fontcaval, 23190 Lupersat

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Uncategorized

Traditionally baked French organic bread

For me there’s nothing quite like picking ripe fruit from a tree with your own hands and eating it on the spot. For some reason it always tastes better than the fruit you buy in a market or other shop. The same is true for fresh baked bread. There’s nothing quite like it. What could be better? Well I’ll tell you, organic fresh baked bread that has been baked in a real traditional bread oven. Add fresh laid eggs and salted butter and you have one awesome lunch. Simple but delicious. In fact delicious doesn’t quite do it, there must be a better word to describe such a wonderful indulgence.

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Even before the loaves are cooked you just know they are going to be GOOD.

It might be an indulgence for me but it’s work for Virginie and Yannick. On a bright sunny and very warn July day in La Creuse in the centre of France it’s no joke to be loading a brick lined traditional bread oven with dried twigs and branches until the whole oven is evenly heated to over 400 degrees Celcius! Virginie’s day began at 05-00 and the bread finally came out of the oven some 6 hours later.

Once the oven is up to temperature, the ashes are removed and the stones are cleaned down. The bread, made from organic flour from just a few kilometres down the road is placed inside in neat rows and the metal door is sealed to keep the heat in. What do you think they use to seal the door with? Yep, you guessed it, some bread dough rolled up! Very clever. This is such a natural product that there is no waste, even the dough used to seal the door gets eaten by their aged dog Banjo. He loves it and it might just be the secret to his long life.

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It’s a labour of love. Maybe that’s the secret to why this bread just tastes better than any other that you can buy anywhere.

After just 35 minutes the door comes off and the bread is removed. The smell of fresh baked bread makes you hungry. Even though I had vowed not to eat another thing after my meal the previous night (when I was invited to share a beef bourguignon but that’s another story) I could not resist Virginie and Yannick’s offer of eggs and bread for lunch. I was not disappointed. Amazing how such a simple fare can taste so damn good when the ingredients are of such high quality and so fresh.

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Loaves going in to the oven. The door is sealed with dough and 35 minutes later the most delicious bread comes out.

Virginie works with a type of co-op where artisans sell their wares at local markets. Of course this bread is not cheap how could it be? But I think it compares very well with the best bread you can buy anywhere else especially when you consider that it doesn’t go stale or mouldy for ages. Naturally I had to buy a loaf and although it’s huge I dare say it won’t last very long. It’s just not possible to have just one piece. It’s deadly. So good.

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After 35 minutes these beautifully browned loaves are ready for eating. It might be an old and primitive way to bake bread but the end result justifies the effort. No question.

A 50 km round trip for a loaf of bread might seem extreme but it’s worth the effort and anyway Virginie and Yannick are lovely people so any excuse to go and say hello is welcome! My only fear is that by the end of a summer here in this beautiful neck of the woods I am going to be 20% heavier than I was in the springtime. Oh well, it will have been worth it!

If you happen to be in La Creuse and want some awesome organic bread baked the traditional way you can find them hard at work on the weekends in a little town called Sannat not far from Evaux les Bains. Worth the trip! ninyan@hotmail.fr