It is a bit fraught here at La Godefrere as we are experiencing a visit from my dear mother in law. She is now well into her 80’s and can be a disruption to the normal routines here. Hence the blog is a day late as we had to drive down to Rennes airport yesterday to collect her and my brother in law, John.

Like most mother in laws she abhors a vacuum and so tends to fill any space by talking. The 90-minute drive back from the airport was therefore challenging as there was no escape! When we arrived back at La Godefrere it became clear that alcohol was the answer both to divert mother in law and to dull the senses. When mother in law asked me “How is your mother?” I reached for the bottle and weighed up how to answer this question, politely. In the end, I ummed a bit and replied straight faced “Still dead actually” and took a large gulp of wine. Only 6 days to go……

Earlier in the week we experienced what passes for normal here. We had our annual firewood encounter. We have a large wood burner which provides our main source of heating for the whole house. This requires us to ensure we have enough firewood so that we can get through the winter. Wood is also a bit cheaper if you order it well in advance.

Now, you would think that ordering wood would be a straight forward thing. Like ordering coal. So many sacks or so much weight. But no, that would be too easy and there is a whole special language you have to get to grips with. (with thanks to Wikipedia)

Firewood is usually sold by the cord or the stere. In the metric system, this is by the cubic metre or stere (1 m³ = ~0.276 cords). A cord is128 ft³ (3.62 m³), corresponding to a woodpile 8 ft wide × 4 ft high of 4 ft-long logs. A "thrown cord" is firewood that has not been stacked and is defined as 4 ft wide x 4 ft tall x 10 ft long. The additional volume is to make it equivalent to a standard stacked cord, where there is less void space. It is also common to see wood sold by the "face cord", which is usually not legally defined, and varies from one area to another. For example, a pile of wood 8 feet wide × 4 feet high of 16"-long logs will often be sold as a "face cord", though its volume is only one-third of a cord.. Hence, it is risky to buy wood sold in this manner, as the transaction is not based on a legally enforceable unit of measure.

The stere or stère is a unit of volume in the original metric system equal to one cubic metre. The name was coined from the Greek στερεός stereos, "solid", in 1793 France as a metric analogue to the cord. The store is typically used for measuring large quantities of firewood or other cut wood, while the cubic metre is used for uncut wood. 

In Dutch, there is also a kuub, short for kubieke metre which differs from a stere. Whereas a "kuub" is a solid cubic metre, as it was traditionally used for wood, a stère is a cubic metre pile of woodblocks. A stère is less than a kuub or full cubic metre of wood, because the spaces between the woodblocks are included in a stère, while they do not count towards a kuub. In Finnish, the same unit is known as motti (from Swedish mått, "measure").

Note that the stère as used in contexts outside the timber industry is not subject to the same ambiguity. In particular, stère and kilostère are sometimes used in hydrology, as the kilostere (1000 m3) is a slightly smaller metric antilog of an acre-foot (≈ 1233 m3), similar to the relationship of the tonne and (short) ton.

Other non-official terms for firewood volume include standing cord, kitchen cord, running cord, face cord, fencing cord, country cord, long cord, and rick, all subject to local variation. These are usually taken to mean a well-stacked pile of wood in which the logs are shorter or longer than in a legal cord, to accommodate various burners. For example, a face cord commonly consists of wood that is 16 inches (41 cm) long.[8] The volume of a face cord therefore is typically 1/3 of the volume of a full cord even though it is 8 feet (244 cm) long and 4 feet (122 cm) high. 

A cord is the amount of wood that, when "racked and well stowed" (arranged so pieces are aligned, parallel, touching and compact), occupies a volume of 128 cubic feet (3.62 m3). [1] This corresponds to a well-stacked woodpile 4 feet (122 cm) high, 8 feet (244 cm) long, and 4 feet (122 cm) deep; or any other arrangement of linear measurements that yields the same volume.

The name cord probably comes from the use of a cord or string to measure it.

The "corde" unit was used before metrication in several French-speaking countries (France, Belgium and Luxemburg), and its value varied, according to the regions, approximately between 3 and 4 steres.

So that is all clear! Fortunately, Mrs. Parish understands all this and deals with the wood company. All I know is that on Tuesday at 8am sharp the woodman arrives is his very large tipping lorry and deposits and great mountain of wood in our courtyard. Apparently 1 mountain of wood equals 3 cords or 9 steres!

1 mountain of wood = 3 cords or 9 steres!

The cats arrived, once the lorry departed and immediately took ownership by weeing on the logs and then taking up a position to guard the logs. Moggie decided to risk life and limb by climbing up to the top of the pile and then more dangerously by crawling under the tarpaulin we had put down to collect the dust and bits of wood. 

Wood guardians

Of course, the next step was then to barrow all the wood into nice stacks in the woodshed. This is real hard labour but we needed to get it done before the rain came. When we got down to the last few logs, I went to pick up a log and got a shock when underneath was a huge toad, who was clearly the true guardian of the wood. I then had to remove him using a shovel and stick. I wasn’t going to touch it. I have heard that all sorts of dreadful things happen if you touch a toad!

The true guardian of the wood

We are in the fly season and once again we seem to be beset by resurrection flies. These are devious little flies that make no noise but quietly land on bare arms or legs, or on your head. They are really annoying and swearing at them is ineffective. There always appear to be 6 of these flies in the house at any one time. When you kill them by use of the swatter more appear keeping the number at 6. There is no obvious way they can get in the house leading to the conclusion that they come back to life despite still seeing the floor covered with dead bodies. Mrs. Parish is adept at the swatter method and has found that targeting up to three flies at a time is the best method as you have to increase the speed of the wrist action to get to all three before they fly off. Unfortunately killing three only results in another three appearing.

So, a brief update for this week and once I get out of rehab, hopefully there will be a full report next Sunday when mother in law returns home. The wine cave will need restocking!

Bon courage