Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve hype

I have always found New Year's Eve disappointing and I have never really understood what all the fuss is about (and even less, auld lang syne - just look at the words here ). There you are getting all hyped up about the chimes at midnight, the witching hour arrives, and then nothing. You give your loved one a lingering kiss then, nothing. No flash of light, no present under the tree, just nothing. At worst you get to sing an incomprehensible song and at best you get the tantalising opportunity to go and give someone that you fancy a bit of a snog. But that's it. So bah humbug to the lot of you.


I have always liked the hustle and bustle of street markets, particularly those in Italy, where stall holders shout, in incomprehensible Italian, about the quality and price of their produce. This morning we went off to Sommieres, mainly to get ingredients for this evening's dinner with the Lloyds, and to visit Intermarché, our local supermarket of choice. Well, there he is, the equivalent of an Italian stall holder, using the loudspeaker system to sell various bits of merchandise and, in true stall holder fashion, his words were totally incomprehensible and distorted by the address system. At one point he even started to sing.
As a practice run for a special dinner party that we will be hosting in January, Jan decided to cook a banquet but more of all that tomorrow.


If you ever get evacuated from an airport, don't panic. This could be the reason:§ion=Europe&story=55

Friday, December 30, 2005

Smoky again

We're enjoying lie ins at the moment, so it's off to Nîmes at the crack of 11.00. We need some bits but particularly dog food for our little angels. Hmmmm. We return to find that said angels have had a riot and partially destroyed their bedding. This is getting silly. We replace their mats on average every three months but despite a good telling off from me, Max, in particular, doesn't seem to learn.


There I was congratulating myself that we had fixed the smoking chimney when it started again with a bit of a vengeance. It wouldn't aspirate for about 2 hours, filled the house with acrid smoke, and then it corrected itself just as quickly. Weird. The atmospheric conditions, as far as I can see, haven't changed noticeably all day.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Wot you smilin at?

It was so cold last night that the pool partially froze over. Unlike all the sensible people, we don't cover our pool, and keep it running a minimal amount of time in case of ice, and in case some idiot likes to bathe in freezing cold water. Don't scoff, they're out there you know! Talking about idiots, this morning I spread a hair gel, that sets rock hard, onto my face, instead of an aftershave balm. I wonder if that's where the expression 'a fixed grin' comes from? (Yet another senior moment - Ed.)


William called round at 13.30 to cancel this afternoons hit. It was something to do with having to wait in so that he could have his fosse septique emptied. The excuses that people come up with to avoid being beaten again. Not to worry, I'll beat him tomorrow. Whilst it was sunny, it was bitterly cold so we both slobbed out in front of the fire and watched a film.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Surf and ski

Ahhhhh, the peace. We didn't have to get up to feed the masses, so a well earned lie in it was. It was fun having everyone around but it also feels great to have the house back to normal.


Our neighbours the Lloyds arrived on the 26th and have gone skiing. We fully intended to go with them but Minnie is a little too young to leave in kennels just yet, so we'll consider it again in February. We're so lucky to have the beach 50 minutes to the south and skiing an hour and a half to the north. Let's hope we make it.


Jan felt sorry for me, or perhaps just guilty, but either way she knocked up a delicious hot, chicken and ham pie for dinner. If anyone is short of food, we have a few tons to give away! You'll do me a favour.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wot, we have no bananas?

I forgot to mention that yesterday I restored national pride by beating William 6-2. He failed to understand why he lost, "Ce n'est pas possible," he muttered as he shook his head after each losing point. Ah well, no banana today then!


Everybody leaves today (he said with a sigh of relief), with 10 people leaving first thing by car, and the others needing lifts to their respective airports later this morning. Guess who's got the Marseille run again? Then, when I got back and because I'm a very kind person, I drove to Montpellier as well. Some couples are higher maintenance than others. But what really gets my goat is those people that can drive but don't and expect to be run around. We even have a car that they can borrow but do they offer to go to the shops? What do you think? Ok, rant over, altogether a successful family gathering. But I can wait until the next one.


Jan uttered the ominous words, "We have so much food left over." What was it I said about buying smaller turkeys? Now starts a few weeks of eating leftovers and tonight was cold turkey (again) and salad. I've not had a hot meal for 2 days, he said bitterly, but tomorrow I can feel a curry coming on.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Quote of the day

The general lunch conversation centered on how frightened or uncomfortable one felt being in certain capital cities. Jan piped in with, "I feel far more uncomfortable in London than I used to feel before." When pressed as to why, she said, "Marks and Spencer don't seem to stock my size anymore." Bless.


One of our Christmas turkeys was frozen and brought with care, and much trepidation, all the way from England to France, inside an insulated box strapped to the top of a camper van. The constant worry was that it would defrost and be unusable. Well, have no fear, the journey down was very cold, with freezing overnight temperatures, and the turkey arrived in one, wholesome, frozen piece. So far, so good. Now it was Jan's turn. Said turkey, so lovingly cared for over a cold three day journey, was handed over to Jan for the next stage of the process. Jan poured even more tender loving care, stuffing it and basting it, and then promptly forgetting about it, until it burnt to a dark brown crisp. With the exception of my beloved, we all thought that this was hilarious, but unfortunately Jan's now convinced that she's losing it. I don't suppose it helped that I took her out for a drink in Quissac whilst it was in the oven. Anyway, the moral of the story: buy a cooked chicken from the market stall in Sommieres. Works every time! (So what's wrong with a French turkey? - Ed.) What's wrong with a French turkey I hear you say? Well according to Jan, they're generally too small, with the largest seeming to weigh in at about 4 kilos. I'm sure we ate far less than this on Christmas day, but what do I know?


Today is not a holiday in France, so we took one of the guests for an ultrasound scan to check on the progress of her baby (don't ask why). Everything was fine but it took up the best part of the morning. We returned via our neighbour's house to put some radiators on, in anticipation of their arrival this afternoon. It transpires that they still only have a small electricity supply (about 30 amps), from the days when they had builders, so the main fuse kept blowing when we turned everything on. By a combination of leaving some rads on and some rads off we managed to get some heat into the house, but why is everything so not straightforward? Later in the afternoon I went and lit a fire, nothing to blow there then? Except of course lots of smoke!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

My sentiments exactly

If there's one thing that winds me up, it's political correctness, but for those of you who disagree with my sentiments, here's a holiday greeting for you.

Best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral, winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most joyous traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice , but with respect for the religious persuasion of others who choose to practice their own religion as well as those who choose not to practice a religion at all; plus... A fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions have helped make our society great, without regard to the race, creed color, religious, or sexual preferences of the wishes. Disclaimer: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and no responsibility for any unintended emotional stress these greetings may bring to those not caught up in the holiday spirit.
For all you normal folks out there,

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Live for the day

Remember all those women who waved away the desert trolley on the Titanic. Believe me, I'm not going to make the same mistake. It's Christmas, I like food and I'm really going to eat, starting err, tomorrow. I really don't like the word dieting. To me it means doing without lots of self indulgent things in order to lose weight. What I'm trying to do is change the way I eat. Eat and drink less of useless calories balanced with more of the better. The purveyors of fad diets promise a lot but give little, except perhaps a false hope and an increase in weight after the so called diet has finished. All you have to remember is that the bloke who invented the Atkins Diet died early from a heart attack. Well bretheren, here endeth the lesson, 'cos I've got to go and weigh myself because I think I've put weight on again.


Guess where I went this morning? To the supermarket again. The sixth straight day in a row. What is it with all this eating? A bit more forward planning wouldn't be a bad idea. Whose idea was this anyway?


This afternoon Jan became visibly distressed because she has lots to do to prepare for Christmas lunch and she can't get anything done. There are about 8 people in the kitchen bombarding her with questions and demanding ingredients that they have omitted to purchase and not letting her get on with her own jobs. It's at times like this that I'd start shouting at people but Jan is far too nice. It's 16.40 and I'm here tapping away when they shout (a great deal of simple conversation is shouted for some reason) that they need me to remove a tick from Minnie. There are 4 people hovering around, all examining said tick, and one unsuccessfully using a proprietary tick remover. I get a torch because it is obviously impossible to see what they are doing and I return as they get more excited because the tick won't come out. Shining the torch at the spot quite clearly shows a speck of mud that has attached to her coat and I remove it quickly with my fingers. The moral of the story: when you identify a problem, shed a little light on it (in more ways than one), don't believe everything that you are told, and don't always assume the worst. Works every time.


Dinner tonight was cooked by Ben and Paula (from Barcelona, and who also prepared lunch), and Luke and Lydia. Lunch consisted of the choicest Spanish hams and sausage. Dinner was roast pork tenderloin with prunes and dauphinoise potatoes followed by strawberry shortcake. B&P also brought a selection of Spanish Turron to nibble. Yum.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A French Christmas market?

It's off to the bakers at 09.00 for 20 croissants, 4 pain au chocolat and 6 loaves of bread. Talk about the feeding of the five thousand. After breakfast and because it's a bright sunny day again, a hardy bunch take the dogs and themselves for a walk up the hill opposite the house, whilst I have to make yet another trip to the supermarket. Great!


Dinner preceded a 3 car convoy into Nîmes for the Christmas market. The abundance of space in the car park was a indicator of what was to come. The market was due to shut at 21.30 and, after a particularly early dinner, we arrived with an hour to spare. The whole thing was shut up. It probably had something to do with the unseasonally cold temperatures, but hey, it's supposed to be cold at Christmas. Anyway, it was good to have a stroll and get some air and Nîmes was looking particularly festive with attractive Christmas lights. Next year I'll make sure to go in a little earlier (as in fact I'd suggested to everyone) because potentially there was lots to do and see. Bum.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

And there's still nearly a week to go

It's amazing how, with a houseful of guests, you find so little time to do the things that you need to do to just to keep things running smoothly. I had three simple jobs to do today and had only just completed the third by 13.00. Hey ho.


It's 18.05 and I've come to the computer for a little peace and quiet. As I sit here trying to do anything but go back into where everybody has gathered, I contemplate the pending arrival of four more adults and a dog. So far Max and Minnie have spent an inordinate amount of time outside, in order to stop them getting under people's feet and scrounging scraps. Max has now learnt how to open the kitchen bin with his nose and Min continues to break plant pots and scatter compost all over the kitchen terrace. Combine the compost with a little water from their bowl and it makes a lovely black mud. Jan spends a lot of her time cleaning up their mess, as if she hasn't got enough to do. Whose idea was this get-together? And if you think that I'm starting to feel sorry for myself, you'd be bloody right!


OK, it's now 20.15 and we're now the full complement of 14 adults, four children and 3 dogs. In order to sit everyone down at one table, we put 2 large tables side by side, and it's still a squash. Tim and Sue cook sausages in red wine with mushrooms and shallots, followed by bread and butter pudding. Really tasty. From now on, each family or couple will take it in turns to cook the evening meal, until Christmas Day, when Jan will take over again. It will be fun to see what everyone prepares. There's quite a bit of secrecy about the meals, with some people trying to outdo each other and some people only just making up their minds. Good fun. To round the evening off, we have a 'domestic', with one husband having to spend the night on the sofa. It's no wonder there a so many marital problems at Christmas but at least Jan and I are still talking.................. at the moment!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Nearly there

The second wave arrived today. 4 from Marseille and 2 from Montpellier. Guess who got the Marseille run? It's only a cool 3 hour return trip, and there I was complaining about going to Nîmes. That now takes the gathering up to 10 adults and 4 children. The children are, for me, the best bit. Their ages range from 2 to 12 and they're great fun. Tomorrow the final 4 adults arrive. 2 with another dog, having driven at a leisurely pace from the UK, and 2 from Barcelona.


Jan cooked Jamie Oliver's 5 hours slow cooked lamb, which went down a treat, followed by apple crumble. The spot was well and truly hit!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Family bliss?

The pharmacy called this morning to say that the wheelchair, that I had ordered, had arrived, so into Quissac I went to get it. Later this afternoon the first wave of visitors arrived, comprising three adults and three children. All from Jan's side of the family. One of the adults is 88 years old and has made the journey, by plane, from St Albans in the UK. It was a long day for them all because they flew from Luton into Toulon which is about 2.5 hours away. This is the start of a very 'family' Christmas and already it feels good. The children, ranging from 5 to 12 years old, are delightful, Max and Minnie are well behaved and even I haven't fallen over or fallen out with anybody, yet, but for me there's still plenty of time. The week is yet young.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Big bananas

I went down to the Marie last Friday to ask Michelle, William's lovely assistant, where I could hire a wheelchair. (Oooo, very enigmatic - Ed.) During the conversation, she mentioned that she is well aware of my tennis tussles with William because when he wins he goes into the office with a big 'banane' (meaning the big smile on his face). Last Wednesday he came in with no banane, all miserable. Well, we played again this morning even though it was minus 2C. In the end, he went away with a medium size banana, because he beat me 6-3. He made me work hard for every point and even at that temperature I worked up a sweat. The nutritionist, who I have postponed until January, would have been proud of me. OK, I know, I should have gone, but I have lost half a kilo, and I have a few things to sort out, so I could use the time more profitably.


I noticed on the English news this morning that some supermarkets are about to open for 24 hours in the run up to Christmas. Nothing new in that you would say, but compare this to our local town, Quissac. I popped in this afternoon to get some bits, and the place was deserted. A ghost town. It's Monday and most if not all shops shut Monday, so shut they will. It could be Christmas, or the end of the world, but it is also Monday, so shops and banks will shut. I could argue that this shows a sensible balance between work and play, but I could also argue that it's symptomatic of a general malaise. I have a feeling that France is getting left behind. I realise that we live in the sticks and I can only talk about what I see around me, but I can't help but feel that French leadership is way too arrogant and that too many people are prepared to take the easy way. Can't anybody see that pouring billions of euros into French agriculture, year after year, is unsustainable in the long term and that something has to change. It's not as if food is cheap here. New Zealand lamb is half the price of French lamb and it's been shipped half way round the world! The French wine trade has certainly been left behind, but that's nothing compared to what will happen if they really decide to start making wine in China. The Chinese are already here in Languedoc, learning and making wine at their own domain. I think that it was Napoleon who said that China was a sleeping lion and that when it woke up and roared you'd better listen. China has woken, mes braves, but you ain't listening.


I'm out in the garden getting the wood in, when Alain and Nicholas (another Beauceron owner) run to the fence shouting at me saying that the chimney is on fire. Intrigued, because I know that I haven't lit a fire, I took a look and at first glance it looked as if they were right. Until you realised that it was the dying rays of the sun reflecting off the chrome cowl as it spun round. Having once had a chimney fire when I lived in Wokingham, I understand the damage that they can do, which reminds me to make a diary note to get the chimney swept next spring.


Talking of the news, this morning they interviewed Woody Allen who gave us the quote of the day. "The only thing that stands between me and greatness - is me." How true.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I want what she's got

There I am lying in bed wondering about the derivative of the word 'whippersnapper'. Now most people have better things to do with their time, in bed, on a Sunday morning, than think of such things. Such is my life now! Anyway, according to the Oxford English dictionary the word is probably 17th century and comes from 'whip snapper' - expressing noise and unimportance. So there you go.


It's interesting to note the change in Max's behaviour since Min arrived. The first obvious difference is that he now bolts his food just in case Minnie gets anywhere near. He has always grazed rather than scoffed but he now wants to finish his food quickly because she sits in the wings waiting to dive into his bowl. Another change is how he handles treats. We buy leather 'bones' for them to chew and out of deference to his size, we give Max a large bone and Minnie a small one. Because Min gets something different, Max shows no interest in his large bone and is only happy when he gets a small one like Min. I suppose that's interesting if you're a dog watcher, but boring if not!


Despite my poor behaviour over the last few weeks, I'm surprised when I weigh myself this morning to find that I've lost another half kilo. I'm scheduled to see Dr K, the nutritionist, tomorrow and had been thinking about cancelling the appointment on the basis that if I weigh more now, and I will certainly weigh more after Christmas, then one bollocking is better than two. I'll see what I weigh in the morning and then make a decision.


Guests start descending on us, on Tuesday, and they will all have arrived by Thursday, so it's more tidying up, tarting up the house and chopping wood. Jan makes two pasta dishes for dinner, one, a strange shaped pasta that we bought when we last visited Rapallo, with a pesto sauce, and the other, at my request, is a simple olive oil and chilli flavoured one. It's Sunday night and there's nothing on television so Jan decides to make a panforte, a delicious Italian delicacy made with honey, nuts and candied fruit. We're not talking low cal here!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Smack the penguin

Unusually, Max whined to be let out at 05.00 this morning. Something spooked him and he wanted to go look see. I waited for about 20 minutes but realised that he would not come back into the house until he was exhausted. At that time of the morning, it was going to take him longer to get exhausted than me. Later, during the morning I noticed that his collar was missing. Now it was my turn to be spooked because it's not something that comes off that easily. My first suspicion was that someone had tried to grab him and that he had wriggled free, so I started to look outside for evidence of an intruder. Nothing. I then considered that he had somehow got his neck caught in or under a fence, but I still couldn't find anything. So then Jan, Hawkeye, went out and eventually found his collar in a remote part of the garden, under a fence, where he had obviously tried to get at something and had pulled it off when retreating. Problem solved.


Manny, our English speaking plumber, called round this morning to fix a leaking tap and adjust the flame on the new stove. We also discussed a revised heating system for the main room using a pompe a chaleur, so he took away some plans so that he could calculate the cost of installation.


Philipe delivered some more wood this afternoon so I reckon that we will be as warm as toast for the next few months. The rest of the day was spent getting the Christmas decorations out of the garage loft and starting to put them up in the house. I have to say that I like nice decorations at Christmas and Jan's are very good. Another reason why I'm a lucky man.


If you've got nothing better to do, then why not have a go at the pointless Annual Smack the Penguin Game ? To start the action, click on the Yeti and then click on him again when you want him to swing.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Doubting Thomas

First thing this morning, as suggested by Wanadoo, I fitted the new filters to the phone sockets and guess what, we have an internet connection again? I have to say that I didn't think that that would resolve the problem, but it did. Oh ye of little faith.

I've finally got to grips with my wood ordering. Whilst for the last three years I have been asking for so many tons of wood, it has actually been delivered in stères, which is 1 cubic metre. Last month I ordered 6 stères and we appear to be going through it at a fair old lick. Given that the fire will probably be running 24 hours a day over Christmas, because of the young children, I'm erring on the side of caution and have ordered another 4. Now that's cosy.

William and Christine came for dinner tonight. I requested, and Jan produced, a Thai meal, prawns in a Thai sauce and a Thai green chicken curry. To finish we had a very Thai pudding of cooked, cardamom flavoured figs and vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Quote of the day

Out with Minnie first thing to the vet for her second vaccination. She is now able to mix freely with other dogs. This afternoon we took her for her first walk into the country with Max.


Before we went for the walk, William came round for a set of tennis and I’m pleased to say that I beat him 6-4. The weather was tough to deal with because the wind was blowing quite strongly and the sun was in a difficult position. I was serving for the set at 5-2 and he dug his heels in and pulled two games back. Who says the French give in easily? He makes me work for every point. My nutritionist should be pleased, I see her next Monday!
The quote of the day came from yours truly when I said, “We get closer to next week all the time.” When I managed to stop Jan laughing at me, we started the sensible conversation that I had originally intended.

Out to Weldoms to buy a few things, like a new log basket to replace the one that the dogs have chewed, and phone line filters that Wanadoo say might help me get my internet connection back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Max and Minnie show

I overheard this conversation this morning.

Max. Hey Min, have you seen the new bed we've got?

Min. Nahh, beds are boring.

Max. Yeah, but look at the size, we can both get in comfortably.

Min. Ok, lets try it.

Max. You lay there like that and I'll put my arm around you. Isn't that more comfortable? At least I'll get a good night's sleep now.

Min. Mnnn, that's nice. I see what you mean. It's real cosy.

Max. Min??

Min. Yeah.

Max. Just exactly how old did you say you are?


The morning is spent preparing for the arrival of a new fridge and cooker. Moving the old to make way for the new, always involves more than you bargain for. Moving the old fridge into a room in the garage meant cleaning and reorganising that room and then realising that the fridge wouldn’t quite go where we wanted it, so we have to change things round again. Great fun – not. Jan also takes the opportunity to clean the old fridge which means we have to find room for all the frozen stuff elsewhere. Am I boring you yet? Anyway, Jan and I have to lift and move quite a large fridge from the house to the garage (yes boys, she's really strong). We will keep all the summer drinks cold out there and use the two house fridges mainly for food. Do you get the impression that maybe we eat too much? The real reason however, is that when we have guests, (for example we have an extra 16 at Christmas) there never seems to be enough room to store food. Problem solved. You want food? We got food!


Our internet connection went down late yesterday and yet again I feel lost. It’s only when it’s down that I realise how much I have come to depend on it for mail, news and other contact with the world. Sad or what?


All the white/brown goods arrived as agreed this afternoon and Jan cooked her first meal on the new cooker. We placed the old stove on the kitchen terrace with a view to using it outside. This will be very useful at Christmas, when Jan is juggling with places to cook things. With ten gas rings and two huge ovens she can now cook for an army, or me. Someone mentioned that I'm obsessed with food, rather like an elderly person who's always wondering what the next meal will be. How observant!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A dog's conscience

So the conversation goes like this:

Max. Hey Min, I don't think that you're supposed to do that.

Min. Look, I'm the new kid on the block and I can get away with murder right now.

Max. But Min, I used to be told off for doing that.

Min. Butt out, dog breath, this is fun.

Max. Ok, ok, there's no need to be abusive.

Min. Look, you knock that big pot over, and inside all that muck, which by the way tastes nice, you have these things that I saw HER planting the other day.

Max. Oh Min, I'm sure that we shouldn't be doing this. But you're right these things do taste nice. This takes me back to my childhood.

Min. For goodness sake, just stop reminiscing and knock another one over for me.

Max. Oh Min, SHE'll be here soon.

Min. Are you a rottweiler or a chihuahua? Get on with it.


Min. It was him, I'm too small to knock the pots over, err, except the plastic ones, they're a bit easier.

Max. I told her not to do it, honest.


Alex. Look at the mess they're making on the floor, keep them outside.

Jan. Don't tell me what to do. Have you seen the mess outside?

Alex. Look at the carpet. I've just cleaned up in here.

Jan. WELL CLEAN IT AGAIN, I've got to clean up outside.

Max. Come on Min, let's get out of here. This sounds like it could be a big one.

Min. Can't HIM and HER exercise any self control? Let's go and fight in the study.

Yet another wonderful start to the day with the nuclear family!


Alain, the artist, came around tonight at 19.15 to say that he was going to Spain tomorrow and did we want anything like cigarettes or cigars. He explained that his brand of cigarettes were 1.50€ in Spain and 4.50€ in France. The return journey, which he was going to do with his friend costs about 50€, and his share of 25€ was recouped with the purchase of just one carton. Alain likes a drink (and fags – Ed.) so we opened a bottle of Le Lys 2004 from Buzet which we bought when we visited Harold & Elizabeth near Agen. Nice.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Times they are a chagin'

How times have changed. This story from yesterday, made me smile. I wonder what John Wayne would have made of it? Having said that, he was born Marion Morrison!


It's cold today, only 4C at lunchtime but notwithstanding that William and I have a good set of tennis this morning. Embarrassment prevents me from saying that I lost again 6-4, but I will do better tomorrow, honest.


The dogs continue to settle nicely together and it is now difficult to keep Min out of Max's bed. I think that this affects his rest, because he definitely seems a little more tired each morning. She is growing at a rate of knots and takes up quite a lot of space now, so that it is difficult for him to stretch out. We may just get a bigger bed and then at least they will both have a large bed each later. Yesterday, someone asked about the difference in their ears. You can see that Max's ears are pointed and erect and Min's floppy. The natural state is floppy and Max had his ears cut, as was normal practice in Beauceron circles, before we had the chance to say anything. Having said that, we now both like his ears as they are, it makes him look more sinister, impressionnant as the French would say, or, as I prefer to think, more regal. Shortly after Max was born, the law changed, forbidding the showing of dogs with cut ears. Typically, the law was fudged, not forbidding the practice but forbidding the 'showing' of dogs that have been mutilated. Hmnnn.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Still no smoke but lots of fire

Having now got more air into the fireplace and raised the basket a few inches, the chimney seems to be behaving itself, and for the last week or so we have had no smoke in the house. Whilst we have been here before, I'm not totally convinced that we have resolved the problems, but I sure live in hope. We have also just received the estimate from the 'fireplace expert'. The estimate (actually two estimates) range from 5000 euros to 6000 euros depending on what we have done. As they want 2000 euros as a deposit and can't do the work until next July, the conclusion has to be that we wait a little longer, and establish whether we have already done sufficient to solve the majority of the issues.


When he was little, we took Max with us everywhere, on the basis that we should continue our lives with as little interruption as possible. So the quandary this morning was, do we take Minnie with us to the tasting or leave her for the first time for a couple of hours with Max? In the end we decided to leave her. There were at least 150 people, some English speaking, to celebrate the opening of a new salon for meetings, marriages etc. and a viewing of paintings. We tasted about 9 wines and were not too fussed about any of the reds, but liked a gris and a viognier from 2004. The canapés were outstanding, very interesting flavours and textures and in themselves worth the visit. Yummy. Leaving Minnie worked well, there were no puddles and nothing chewed, so that was worth doing. If she had been on her own I'm sure things would have been different. We are very lucky with both of them.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Nip and tuck

After letting the dogs out at 07.00, I fancied a lie in, so we all (the nuclear family that is) went back to bed. Min got into bed with Max, which looks cute, and they lay there in the sun, which is streaming through the glass doors. Jan points out that the nuclear family consists of 2.4 kids and very unkindly suggests that I've got more than enough bulk (and are childish enough - Ed.) to make up the extra 0.4. See what I've got to put up with? We have breakfast at about 10.00, which is very civilised, or not, depending on your point of view.


It's fascinating watching the dogs play. However, it's frightening to watch Max 'mouth' Minnie's head and neck. He is a very powerful dog and one slip from him would snap her spine. At one point he was lying on his back so that she could jump on him and, when she obliged by sinking her teeth in his neck, he sent her flying through the air with one flick of his head. She, on the other hand, seems oblivious to the dangers and has learnt that if she can stand underneath him she can not only avoid having her neck grabbed but that she can also nip his nuts. A dirty fighter and true female if I ever saw one.


Jan, sitting next to me at her computer, yelps with delight as she has found some rosehip concoction at Neal's Yard. She has previously used and enjoyed their rose facial oil. The new product, she told me, will help reduce wrinkles and scars and is suitable for vegans. "But, my sweet," I replied, "You have no scars and you're not a vegan." She missed the joke completely but showed me the continuing remains of July's leg problems. "Anyway," she said, "it's only 14 pounds a bottle." Given the price of alternative remedies today, the price suggests to me that it is either not very good, or doesn't have much rosehip in it. But hey, what do I know?


Alain, our village artist and friend, called round at 20.00 to invite us to an exhibition of his work at Domaine du Grand Chemin in nearby Savignargues tomorrow. This place makes really nice wine and it will be a good excuse for a tasting. Anyway, Alain likes a drink, so despite having decided that tonight was alcohol free, we open a bottle of organic rosé from Domaine Costeplane. We haven't drunk rosé since October when the weather started to get cooler so it was nice to savour our favourite rosé again, even if it feels a little strange drinking it in front of the fire.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Nuclear powered

Up at 05.30 to let Minnie out (she had another dry night, bless) and then off to the Cinique Valdegour in Nîmes for 07.25. I have to say, that from my limited experience, hospitals in France are first class and this one is no exception. Altogether, I'm there for about two and half hours whilst they inject me with nuclear fuel, take pictures of my ticker in repose, then onto a static exercise bike for more nuclear gunge, whilst wired up to an ECG machine. Later, they take more pictures to see what things are like after the exercise. All this, and lots of pretty nurses, for the princely sum of 79 euros.


We have a couple of major items to buy in Nîmes (a third fridge and a new cooker - who says we're obsessed with food?), as well as taking Jill and Harry to the airport, so Minnie goes for her first outing into town. She's a little too young to leave, even with Max, so she has to bite the bullet (or rather we do) and come with us. Early signs are that she doesn't like the car, so that now makes two of them. Bum.


Penny reminds me that Miss Languedoc is the new Miss France. Very attractive, I'd have voted for her! Well, there you go, you can't say that you aren't kept fully informed. Up to the minute news is just one click away, stay tuned. Thanks, Penny.


I've had a headache most of the day which came from too much nuclear fallout. I was warned that it was a possibility by Doctor Radioactive this morning. Because I was feeling sorry for myself, I requested, and got, a Thai style vegetable curry, followed by figs, from the garden, cooked with cardamom. You see how well I live!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Fiat lux

As promised, the electrician turned up again this morning so we now have power and light in the garage for the first time in two years or so. Things are looking up. Jean Francis, friend, and man with JCB also turned up with some 3 metre wide geotextile that I need to lay on the drive. It will help keep down weeds, I think! It's a good feeling when lots of little bits all come together and can be ticked off your mental 'to do' list.


Jan comments that having Max and Minnie play fighting takes her back to the teenage days of her two youngest sons. They loved to scrap, made a lot of noise and paid no attention to having their fight broken up. The joys of parenthood revisited.


I spend some time before dinner preparing for my scintigraphie myocardique d'effort et de repos tomorrow. I have to be there at 07.25 and will spend about 3 hours in the clinic. I'd much rather be in bed! More about all that tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Oh go on, let me nibble your ear

You're going to have to put up with a few doggy pictures for a while yet, so indulge me if you will. This one shows Max being particularly patient with the young upstart who dared to venture into his bed. Their days alternate at the moment between frantic bouts of hyper activity and sleep. Max plays rough but is basically quite gentle with her, although yesterday he did sit on her until I jumped in to rescue one squashed puppy. She, on the other hand, seems to have no respect for his size and nips and jumps on him at every opportunity. It's actually quite tiring to have them around.


Jan and Jill went to Nîmes for a little Christmas shopping today and I had to baby-sit the dogs. Jan brought me a treat of scallops for dinner. She cooked them with bacon, roast tomatoes and smashed spicy beans. Yum. Thank you darling.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I've been really pissed off with myself recently because when I reformatted my C drive, I had forgotten to back up my email address list. Heaven knows why, but something in the back of my mind told me to check to see if I'd exported the addresses to my Gmail account. Yup, I had, so now I'm a happy bunny again. (It doesn't take much, does it? - Ed.)


Max and Min continue to play nicely together, if you can call having your head in another dog's mouth, nice. After several minutes of being tormented by Max, Min will turn, lunge and snap at him. Even though she is only ten weeks old, a pushover she is not. It's early days, but they appear to be settling down well and Jan and I look at them with undisguised parental pride. (You big girl's blouse - Ed.)


Monsieur Dupont (now there's a real French name) arrived, mid afternoon, to give us advice on our fireplace. He's a fireplace expert and I've decided that his is the last bit of advice that I will seek. He confirms what we already know, that the fireplace is basically to big, in relation to the chimney for it to aspirate properly. He has solutions, which we discuss, and he will prepare a devis, however he can't complete the work until June or July next year, so a smokey winter it will be. Having said that, after an hour, the fire worked perfectly last night. Bloody thing!

Monday, December 05, 2005

The doggy tales, start here. Sorry!

I'm too old to be a father again! We are both awake at 05.00, because when I got up for a middle of the night walk, I disturbed the little one, who was sleeping peacefully. No amount of effort could get her to settle, so I took her outside for a wee. That was the first mistake of the day, because then she was really awake and that made the chance of more sleep very remote. She prowled and howled and actually wet her bed, Minnie that is, not Jan, so she was even less inclined to get back to sleep.
Later, during the morning, I went to fetch Max from kennels and then spent the rest of the time baby sitting them both, whilst Jan went to her art class. As it happens, after initial nervousness on Minnie's part, both Max and her get on well, so that I can chop some wood and complete other mundane tasks whilst they play happily in the warm sunshine. It's a little worrying watching Max clamp his jaws around her head, and you keep your fingers crossed that he's not his usual clumsy self. If I take Minnie back in bits, I don't think that I'd get a refund. So far, so good.


Well, Lordy, Lordy, who should show up this morning but the electrician. The same electrician who promised last April, to start some work here last June. When we first moved in, we listened to all the stories about the manana attitude of artisans, but at that time our experience wasn't too bad. Having now been here for over 3 years, I have to say that the stories are true. There are too few skilled tradesmen, and too much demand for their services. Anyway, today must be my lucky day, and you know what you get when it's your lucky day! (Dream on - Ed.)


Tonight Jill and Harry came for dinner (yes, I know we have just seen them in the UK, but they're out for a flying visit to put their house to bed until January) and Jan cooked some interesting dishes. To start we had spiced pears with a cheese and sweet walnut dressing, a sort of Chicken Maryland (stuffed with banana) with sweetcorn and beans, and to finish, pancakes with a Grand Marnier sauce. I very much liked the starter and pudding, but the main course needs some work. The chicken was good, but the sweetcorn and beans needed spicing up. (You still ate it all! - Ed.)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Amina du Murier de Sordeille

We leave early for a not so quick, 6 hour return journey, to pick up Minnie. She's absolutely delightful. Tomorrow she meets Max on home territory for the first time. That should be fun!
Our first shock was the amount and speed at which she ate her food. The first sign that she may well be very different to Max, who tends to 'graze' rather than bolt his food. Having said that, we have already decided that we are not going to always compare them. They will obviously both be different so there is little point. Well, maybe.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

An awful lot of mince pies!

Because we intended to bring back some Christmas stuff, we had set off with two large, hard-shell Samsonite cases. We naively thought that going, we'd be well within the 15 Kg. limit set by Ryanair. Mine was a little under and Jan's was well over. So much for our planning. The biggest problem with our old Samsonites is the weight of the cases themselves. A 15 Kg. weight allowance isn't much use when the cases themselves weigh about 8 Kg. each. Anticipating too much return weight we bought a new carry-on bag which we can fill with an extra 10 Kg. In the event, we were just over all the weight allowances when we checked in, ie. 12 Kg. more came back then we went out with. Now that's a lot of mince pies! Why so many boxes of mince pies? Well, as Jan pointed out, with 18 people at Christmas, 1 mince pie each means three boxes. Hmnnnn.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

All about watches

I never adjust my watch when in the UK, despite Jan's protestations. "For crying out loud, surely you can deduct an hour from the time?" I would say. Well, most of the time I can, but in the wee small hours it can be a problem. Like this morning. I wake, check the time and decide that it's ok to get up and make a bit of noise. I am reading a good book, 'Merde Actually' by Stephen Clarke, recommended, which I've nearly finished, so finish it I do. After all it's nearly morning, until I'm reminded by the love of my life that it's 05.30 and too bloody early to have the light on. Whoops, sorry my sweet, I really can't argue with a woman who had decided to set her watch to the correct time!


Talking about watches, I use a Breitling, sometimes called a chronometer, approved as a very accurate timepiece by those people that you can trust, the Swiss, and, if you believe all the blurb, guaranteed to make you look sexier and fly planes as well. I bought this monster many years ago, when I had more money than sense, thinking that I was entering time piece heaven. My previous watch was a battery powered, fancy Seiko which was second perfect and was probably used for space exploration. What I had failed to grasp was that my new purchase was barely accurate enough to boil an egg. Having said that, I do like my eggs well done. It gained/lost about 5 minutes a week and, as I was used to something that I could time an olympic race with, I was not happy. When I took the watch to Harrods, thinking that this is where I'd get it put right, I was told that it was 'accurate enough' and certainly fell within the bounds of normal! So it's with this background that I got used to the time being 'almost correct' and decided not to adjust my watch for a mere hours difference. Funny how these things work out.


I noted two funny things today, both in a shopping mall in Welwyn Garden City. The first in the men's toilet, where pain relief tablets where being sold alongside condoms. What an excellent piece of marketing. You can buy both a condom and something to clear a headache, at the same time, so that when you get home, and your loved one pleads the usual incapacity, you can give her some medication, to solve the problem, whilst you slip the condom onto the beast. No excuses now, my dear! The second was in a jewellers, where Jan had taken watches to have new batteries fitted. The assistant is clearly having a problem with the second watch and spends a long time examining it with an eyeglass. Eventually, he lifts his head and says, "I think this is a wind up, I can't find the battery" Jan, a little shame faced, but quick as a flash said, "You're right, it is a wind up, sorry."

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hinxworth - Windsor - St Albans

We are staying in Hinxworth, a picture postcard village about 45 miles north of London. Later in the morning we left for Windsor. The motorway traffic is heavy, and requires a lot more concentration than I am used to. Not only because I am driving someone else's car but also the sheer volume makes it somewhat daunting. Windsor is where we used to live prior to moving to France. It's where we have agreed to meet Rob, my good friend and ex-tennis coaching partner, but also where we have to visit Mailboxes Etc where Jan holds a mailbox. This place is very useful for us, mainly because when we buy stuff on the internet, not all companies will deliver to France, so Jan has her order sent to Mailboxes, who will hold or forward them to our order. Robert, the proprietor, is also a personal friend, so we also like to meet up with him and chew the fat.


We had arranged to meet Rob and Lorraine at Carluccio's, a great Italian restaurant in Windsor railway station. The place is packed out and no wonder. It is difficult to find good quality Italian food in England and this man has now expanded outside of London. I ate pasta al vongole, pasta with clams, one of my favourites and rarely seen on a menu. Downstairs they have a great deli, full of lots of authentic Italian delicasies. Not cheap, but good.


After a couple of hours in Mailboxes, where presents are sorted and dispatched to the four corners, we head back to St Albans to meet up with Claire, whose birthday it is, for yet another Italian meal. Nowhere near as good as Carluccio's, but just as expensive. Hmnnn.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More home to Hinxworth

By design, we arrived early at the airport so that we could get rid of the bags and then try the airport restaurant. Someone had said that it wasn't too bad. They were right. There were several menus and a la carte and frankly it was no worse than our local relais. It will never be a first choice but it opens up the options at other times.


It was so cold when we landed at Luton that we both resorted to hats to stay warm. We're not used to this! Harry arrived to take us to his house where we were going to stay for the next few days. Thanks Harry!


By way of a forthcoming birthday party for Bar, Jan and Jill's friend from way back, Jill prepared dinner. We started with a crab and asparagus mousse, the most delicious beef wellington, pink and cooked to perfection, followed by chocolate roulade and/or pears cooked in wine. Thanks Jill.

Home to Hinxworth

This morning we left, on the morning flight, for the UK via Nîmes. As usual, I may or may not have internet access easily available. If not, I'll be back on Saturday. A bientot.

Monday, November 28, 2005

So that's where it goes

Having weighed myself both before and after last week's trip, I find that my weight has increased by over half a kilo (that's 1.3 pounds in old money). Whilst I knew that I wasn't being good, how come it goes on so quickly? It now means that I have an extra half kilo to lose, as well as my one kilo target for my visit to the lovely Dr K in December. If she only knew how much I cared and how much I tried, I'm sure that she'd reward me! Or do you think that's just my fantasy? Answers on a postcard to .........


I like to read blogs and lots of others do as well, but the whole business of both reading and writing them is interesting. I find the writing quite therapeutic, a sort of conversation with mates, so Kevin's recent comment to me on the subject rang a bell. He wrote:

"Are blogs the lost art of letter-writing returning in a new format... except today we write to the world rather than to an individual...
............ I enjoyed my mini client rant yesterday... that was blogging therapeutic!"

My sentiments exactly.


I miss having Max around. Because we go away again tomorrow, it wasn't worth taking him out of kennels, but as I wandered around the house this afternoon, I was continually on the lookout to tell him off or at least tell him to stop doing something or stop irritating me. Jan had better watch out!


The rest of the day was spent with routine winter maintenance, like wrapping palm trees against the winter frosts (who says we're not caring, bio-friendly people?), getting ready for a few days in the UK and clearing the decks because we will have to deal with a new pooch as soon as we get back.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Agen to home

Last night, even though we had an enormous lunch, Elizabeth prepared a scrummy cottage pie. It's funny how you anticipate not feeling hungry and then you stuff your face when offered an old favourite. Harold brought out two bottles of delicious Bourgeuil and we finished with a raspberry charlotte and a local pudding wine. All top class and guaranteed to blow my diet out of the water. Never mind.


We were really sorry to leave Elizabeth and Harold this morning, because it was a fun packed and interesting few days but we have things to do before we leave for England on Tuesday. The journey home was uneventful and we returned to find that Manny had been working to pipe some air into the fireplace. Maybe, just maybe, we are getting close to sorting the fireplace out.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Fancy a duck, mister?

They're big on duck around here, so mid-morning we headed off for La Ferme de Ramon at Aiguillet, about 15 minutes away. They were having an open day, and lots of other local producers would be selling their wares. You name it and if it's duck related you can buy it, well, that and oysters, cakes, cheese and wine. It's an Aladin's cave of goodies, with lots of ideas for Christmas, but there's no concern about keeping stuff fresh because it's very cold both inside and outside of the various marquees.
Luckily, Harold has reserved places for lunch, so we sat down in a large very old barn, with a hundred or so others, at huge trestle tables. The atmosphere is very jolly, the French being quite amused at being joined for this very French affair by some English. We start with an assiette degustation which is washed down with a sweet Domaine Amblard 2000 and then the best duck's breast I have ever had, it being very large, very pink and very tender. With this, we drank a Merlot, a 1998 Chateau de Salles. Cheese, pudding and coffee followed. All this food for the princely sum of 16 euros each. Excellent value.


Talking about ducks reminds me of the time, in my previous life, when our CEO was in town. Ross (I've changed his name to protect the innocent) stated that he wanted duck for dinner the following evening. What Ross wanted, Ross got, so being the youngest (but far and away the best looking) I was sent out to organise said meal. We were at the Inn on the Park, on Park Lane, London, and someone mentioned that the Shepherd's Tavern nearby served good duck, as long as you booked it in advance. Bearing in mind that it was now midnight, I had to get this pub to open up for me so that I can make a booking and ensure that they have lots of duck in for the following evening. Naturally the pub was shut but I could see people inside, and I tried to attract their attention by shouting through the letter box. Being a little worse for wear, I'd forgotten that I was in Shepherds Market, where, at that time of night and for the right money, you could buy a lot more goodies than just duck. Anyway, there I am on my hands and knees, shouting through this letter box that I wanted a duck. Inside, they appeared to get very agitated and shouted that they were going to call the police. As the mist lifted and I started to sober up a little, I reconsidered my position and got the hell out of there, deciding that I wasn't going to spend a night in the slammer for Ross' bloody duck. By the way, the next day, even though I'd managed to make the booking first thing in the morning, he'd changed his mind and we went out for seafood.

Friday, November 25, 2005

New wines to taste

After a lazy, rainy morning we head off to the cave cooperative at Buzet. This is new wine territory for me and this place has a huge selection to try from. One guide calls Buzet the poor man's claret which is a little unfair and we enjoyed it nonetheless. (Now there's a surprise - Ed.) Typically wines from this area consist of a Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon mix but I found the wines that I tried a little tannic for my taste. However, after tasting a wide range from 2 euros to 15 euros, Jan and I agreed that we liked something at the princely sum of 3.90 euros a bottle. I'm beginning to think that we only like cheap wine! (You and a few other winos - Ed.)


Dinner tonight was at a restaurant called Le Pique Assiette in Bazens, a couple of kilometers away. We mostly had the 25 euros menu, which was excellent value. I started with a velouté of cepes, a tender and tasty fillet of biche (a female deer, Harold joked), and an apple soufflé. Excellent food for the price with a couple of bottles of inexpensive Bergerac. A good find.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Home to Agen

After a hectic few hours dealing with the plumber, who is going to work on the fireplace and chimney whilst we are away, dropping Max at his pension and some last minute bits from Quissac, we hit the road. We take the A9 towards Spain and just after Narbonne turn right onto the A61 towards Toulouse. After Toulouse we are in virgin territory. Neither of us has been to this part of France before. The journey from Toulouse to Agen is very attractive as we follow the Garonne on its journey to the sea. Contrary to what we are used to, the trees are mostly broad leaf and so the journey is very colourful with all the autumnal colour.


Harold and Elizabeth are delightful and we miss them. They were the couple that we were closest to in our home village and we have always enjoyed their company. Their new house is in Porte St Marie, right on the Garonne, and they have a spectacular view of the river from their terrace.


H&E both like to cook, so dinner consisted of deep fried camembert with an apricot and tomato chutney, duck teriyaki and the best bread and butter pudding that I have ever tasted. Jan took all three recipes. All this washed down with a selection of local wines.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What's wrong with lesbians?

I have eventually persuaded Jan to have her hair cut short. She once wore it short and I recently saw a photo that reminded me how nice she looked. After we came out of the hairdresser today, she moaned and said that she looked like a lesbian (I apologise to lesbians everywhere for this politically insensitive statement). Three of us tell her it makes her look younger and shows off her pretty face. You be the judge. I'm going to run a poll. If you post no comment then you like it, otherwise post a comment and say you don't like it, or write to her personally at I'm sure she will be pleased to hear from you.


We have a couple of trips coming up, putting time pressure on us in the run up to Christmas, so this afternoon we went to Nîmes and made a few small purchases that get us a bit ahead of the game. Tomorrow we leave for Agen, about 4 hours west, to stay for a few days with Harold and Elizabeth, and to take some of their possessions that they were unable to fit into the car when they moved from the village a few months ago. Shortly after we get back from Agen, we will spend a couple of days in the UK buying goodies for Christmas. Yum.


Dinner tonight was grilled Dorade with fruit for pudding. See, we haven't given up yet.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Who needs the medal?

At about 7.00 this morning Jan asked me, "Well, do I get a medal?" I have to say, that nowadays I rarely get asked for anything first thing in the morning, and I never get asked for medals. Slowly the fog lifted and Jan had reminded me that today is the anniversary of our first meeting. We have now been together for 9 years, well, most of the time. Me, after a long marriage and Jan, after a long widowhood. We have little else to celebrate as a couple, well, nothing that Jan would care for me to write about, so we celebrate our first meeting. Ahhhhhhhh.


By the miracles of science, we receive all the English channels here in the South of France, but the picture in the bedroom is poor (we do like our breakfast news first thing with a cup of tea) so today we bite the bullet and add additional dishes and boxes so that we get a full range in the main room and also all the Free to Air channels in the bedroom. This has the obvious advantage of improved picture quality, but it also means that we can watch English TV after we go to bed and let any night owls watch their own stuff in the main room.


As a celebration meal, Jan prepares smoked salmon, duck with pancakes and hoi sin sauce and a little Grand Marnier icecream. We wash this down with half a bottle of very expensive table wine from Leyris Maziere, in the village. And, before you say it, I've got another 4 weeks to lose some more weight.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Will try harder, again

It was freezing cold this morning and, mostly to keep warm, I ran a bit more than usual, and so I beat William 6-4. I was quite pleased and felt that I moved well, because maybe I’d lost a little weight. We’ll see this afternoon. The rest of the morning revolved around bits of admin and trying to establish an internet connection which we lost suddenly yesterday. This involved a difficult (too much technical jargon in French) conversation with Wanadoo who offered little practical help and an hour or two of trying various modems, all to no avail. Bum.


When Jan returned from art, we left to go and see the lovely Dr K, my nutritionist. I wasn’t too sure how pleased she would be because I had only lost one kilo in 5 weeks. And that, after practically no booze in all that time. What’s a man got to do to lose weight around here? Anyway, she was quite chirpy (but still didn’t offer me a reward for my good deeds) and encouraged me to keep losing. She will be happy if at any visit I’ve lost a little, so harder I will try.


We returned home via a two trolley visit to Ikea. It beats me how we do it. We knew exactly what we wanted, four things, and then filled two trolleys. They must love us! We later arrived at home to find that we have an internet connection so I shot off a couple of overdue emails, which was just as well, because we lost connection again shortly after. I get the impression that the nice lady at Wanadoo, this morning, was not quite telling the truth in saying that they had no problems.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

One good deed does not deserve another

I spent a large part of the morning helping Patti and Jaquo, our next door neighbours, install a printer on their new (our old) computer. The discussions got around to letter writing, so I showed them the basics but really they have to experiment and buy some literature to help them on their way. Otherwise I could spend the rest of my life there!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Weird happenings

Jill and Harry arrived first thing because we were all going to Sommieres to meet Bob, Lynne and Arri the pooch, for lunch. We ate in l'Evasion, the Italian restaurant in the market square and by common consent the meal was rated as good. Afterwards, as we walked back to the cars it was spooky to see the market place so quiet and devoid of all signs of the market. It had been so busy when we went into the restaurant. Weird, a bit like a Stephen King film.

Late afternoon, Olivier, Max's trainer, called round to drop off a t-shirt that we had ordered (and forgotten about) with Max's picture emblazoned on the front. Talking about Max, he continues to let himself out of the house by opening closed doors. I still find this weird.

Given that we had quite a large lunch and that I'm back to the nutritionist on Monday, Jan prepared a ham sandwich and fruit for dinner. We probably qualify for the fast track to sainthood. If only I believed!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Spring cleaning

It was very cold last night, just like the rest of northern Europe, but it still comes as a shock. The days, however, are bright, sunny and very warm in the sunshine, but in the shade or when night falls you've got to get out your thermals. I spent most of last night reinstalling software, after a kind soul reformatted the C drive. What a pain that is, but now my machine is lightning fast. I'll think long and hard about reinstalling some of the software that I've gathered over the years. Sort of like a spring clean, but in winter!

Patrick, a macon (builder) recommended by neighbours, arrived to inspect our fireplace and chimney. He gave us two bits of information that we will attempt to put in place. The most important being that we should introduce air from behind the fireplace into the hearth. Now that I know what to do, it's just a matter of finding someone to do it. Patrick has enough work to take him through to 2007, so he's out of the running.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A sore head

To go from zero booze, to 'quite a lot', caused me to have a headache all this morning and I have to say that I didn't like it. Both Jan and I have been feeling good after having reduced our alcohol intake and, dare I say, we haven't missed it. It's a little like when we stopped smoking, it has been relatively easy and painless. I never thought that I'd say that, so there you go. There's nothing worse than a reformed smoker and a reformed drinker, so I promise not to bang on about the benefits ...........much!


Someone has mentioned to me that, as you scroll down one of these pages, sometimes only half the posting is visible, particularly if viewed with Internet Explorer (I use Firefox which doesn't create the same problem). The solution is to press and hold 'Ctrl' at the bottom left of your keyboard whilst at the same time changing the print size by using the scroll button on your mouse. I hope this helps.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Proud parents

We took several photos yesterday and, as proud parents, we can't help but show you a nice shot of Minnie sitting in the sun (click on the photo to enlarge it). Look at the size of her feet!


I feel a big rant coming on! And so I find it difficult not to comment on the recent unrest in France. I have never been impressed by Chirac and unfortunately I also take objection to his unelected sidekick de Villepin. I get very twitchy when they talk about 'the French Social Model', whatever the hell that is. Well, whatever it is boys, it doesn't work and, in my humble opinion it doesn't stand a cat in hell's chance of ever working. This article, that quotes the Interior Minister Sarkosy, seems to ring true and despite his political stance, I'm beginning to think that France needs a 'mover and shaker' on a grand scale to sort the country out. I apologise to those that are uncomfortable with a right wing politician, but I genuinely believe that France has some huge problems to solve and it will not solve them without some big changes. Going back to the present problems for a minute, Jan and I have just read a funny book, that we both recommend, called 'A Year in the Merde' by Stephen Clarke. This book was published in 2004 so was probably written 2002/2003. If you look at page 167, you can see that the present problems were very much in evidence then, and identified by a comedic writer with no particular axe to grind. If he can describe the problem in 2003, then what were Chirac and Co doing to prevent it escalating? The answer, mes amis, is nothing! Think back to this article that I mentioned on 10th November and the inference is clear. They have had all the information for a long time but have done nothing. They talk about a 'good day' when only 240 cars were torched and the chief of police stated that on a 'normal day' before the riots, 100 per day were burnt. The problems here have been simmering for years! What's going on?


The news from the architect son of William, about the chimney, is not good. He believes that the opening between the fireplace and the chimney stack is way too small. It has been constricted by a trap door which can be used to shut off the chimney. The chimney thereafter gets bigger but to 'unblock' it means demolishing the chimney stack. He made some suggestions to try first, like improving the airflow to the fireplace, which we will now proceed with.


Jill and Harry came for dinner last night and Jan prepared baby squid in a sweet chilli sauce, duck with plums and star anise, (really nice and now a favourite) and an individual banofee pie. What was even more interesting, was that we completed a blind tasting of three different wines. The background being, that with so many people at Christmas, we had to decide what would we serve as our 'everyday' red. Jan and I put our heads together and came up with a choice of three. In no particular order, an oak aged Merlot from Hospitalier, a Merlot from the cave cooperative at Carnas, and an oak aged Grand Reserve from our local cave at Crespian. For a bit of fun, I opened the bottles, took off the neck decoration and wrapped silver foil around the label. We started the meal with a local bubbly and then, at the appropriate time, we all tasted the red. We genuinely had no idea which wine was which, and after a lot of slurping and drinking, we all agreed that no.2 was our wine of choice. No.2, it turned out, was the cheapest, medal winning Merlot from Carnas. It costs about 3.90 euros a bottle as opposed to the others at around 5 euros.
OK, so I had a drink tonight, but as I'm sure you will agree, it was very important research!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Cherchez la femme

This morning we set off for Pelussin to choose a puppy. We decided to take Max with us so that he could meet his mum, his new girlfriend and to meet Guy and Corinne Bonnefoy his breeders.
When Max has his ears back, it's a sure sign that he knows something is up. However, his biggest clue is to see Jan dressed and with a bit of lippy before midday. (It's not Jan we're talking about, is it? - Ed.)
Max hates the car, so Jan and I have to go through the usual rigmarole of lifting this quivering 40 kilos dog into the back of the car. He makes it as awkward as possible to lift him in. Fearless he is not.
We arrive at 14.15 and Max joins us in the compound to meet all the pups. There are 10 of them, all looking very cute and we have a choice of two females. Having separated the females, that we can choose from, we take them and Max into a yard to see what happens. One pup (we call her no.6, because that is the last number of her identifying tattoo) takes an instant shine to Max, jumps on him and starts to play. She also runs to Jan and sits on her knee and shortly after, she does the same to me. The choice is made.
We then asked to see if Silk (Max's mother) and he could meet up. Max is very nervous at first. Either he is frightened after being away so long or she has bollocked him for not writing. We shall never know, but eventually they settle down and the three of them get on well.
After a good walk in the woods surrounding his original home, Max is bundled back into the car and we make the return journey through this beautiful area, resplendent in its autumnal colours.
The next visit will be in early December to pick up Minnie and bring her home.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Out with the old and in with the new

As Jan went off to her art class, I pondered which of the many outstanding jobs I would tackle this morning. One job, which I knew I would enjoy, was to tidy up an old computer which was sitting doing nothing in the study, and see if we could give it a deserving home. The spec is fairly old, being a Win 98 machine, but it hasn't much memory and so it isn't suited to XP or anything too fancy. It will be fine for a beginner, someone who wants to learn how to type letters or do a bit of surfing and I have someone in mind.


Knowing that I'm an Ikea fan, Will sent me this article. Like it or loathe it, you can't help but be impressed with what the man has acheived. We were in fact thinking of going today because we have a houseful of guests (16) for a week over Christmas and we'll need lots of toys and stuff, especially for the four children (never mind me) to amuse themselves with. I'll enjoy buying all that!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

On top of the world

Yesterday was a good day. A day when the world was turned upside down. Upside down, because for a nice change, we beat three, very strong, Southern Hemisphere nations. We (that's the royal we) beat both Australia at rugby union, New Zealand at rugby league and Argentina at football. If you like to bet, then it would have been a brave man that would have bet against any of those teams, because they are all powerful and very talented sporting nations. But yesterday we did the business and restored a bit of pride in our national sporting spirit. Today I feel very happy and, even though it's miserable outside, all is right with the world.


I'm probably going to suffer for this observation, but Jan decided to 'organise' her wardrobe today. I offered to get involved, as I usually do, so that a certain level of objectivity could enter the reorganisation process. My offer was quickly and soundly rejected. Despite the fact that there were clothes, that first saw the light of day in the early 80's, and had never been worn since, they were rearranged into summer and winter piles to be reintroduced into her wardrobe. Hmmm.
In a recent satisfaction survey, involving 76,000 car owners in the UK, 10 out of the worst 17 cars were French. Which, as one wag suggested, probably explains why they are torching so many cars in France at the moment. At the last count they had destroyed about 8400 cars, so there's still a way to go!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Do all Beaucerons behave like this?

Max displays some strange, human like behaviour at times, like 'sitting' with his backside on the settee. He appears to be imitating us doing the same. Reminding him that he is a dog and not allowed on the settee usually produces another response. He then climbs onto your lap. Now if he was small you could cope with this quite easily, but Max, as you can see, is big and, if you didn't know him better, a little intimidating. Anyway, I find it all very amusing, that is, until his persistence starts to become a nuisance, at which point we have words, and then I give in.


The predicted storm didn't materialise but it did rain a little so the day was spent indoors, because it was generally too wet and miserable outside. England play Australia at rugby and Argentina in a (so called) football friendly later this afternoon, so everything is geared to an afternoon in front of the television.


Fitting the cowl on the chimney doesn't appear to have improved the smoke in the house problem, so William suggests that his son, an architect, calls next week. Manny, the plumber, is also surprised, so he gives us the name of an 'expert' who should be able to advise further. It's getting difficult to see what else we can do and I'm getting closer to installing a wood burning stove. What holds me back is the notion that if the chimney won't 'draw' for an open fire, why should it 'draw' for a stove? We shall see. As a bit of a longstop, if I haven't posted anything for a week, would some kind soul alert the police because I will probably be dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. Thanks.
(I'd suggest two weeks, just to make sure - Ed.)


Jill and Harry, who arrived the other day, have guests, and we were invited for dinner at Le Fourneau. Excellent.

Friday, November 11, 2005

At the eleventh hour

Today is Armistice Day and a national holiday in France. Jan and I, representing the English inhabitants, joined about 27 others from the village and, after a short parade (amble) from the Marie to the war memorial, William (right), resplendent in his mayoral sash, said a few words. After two minutes silence, during which a boy on an extremely loud motorbike rode past, he read out a letter from a French Government Minister. I can't say that I understood much of the message but I heard mention of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité and obviously respect for those that gave their lives in both World Wars. The deputy mayor then read out a letter from the head of the French war veteran's association and I understood even less. Later, when we looked at the war memorial, and the roll of honour for the first war, there were 17 names inscribed, which was a rather large number for a village that, at that time, can't have exceeded much more than 100 souls.


I received an email last night from Meteo Consult, the company I use for weather forecasts. They said that this weekend, starting Saturday, there would be heavy rain and storms. Wasn't that kind of them?
Tonight, I barbecued sardines and pork chops for dinner. When I thought of doing this in the middle of the afternoon it was sunny and warm, and seemed like a good idea. By the time I got round to doing it at 19.00 it was dark and very cold. Hey ho, they still tasted good.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Not much left to burn

Yesterday was a bit of a non day. It poured with rain, but we can't complain because generally it has been too dry for the last few years. Apart from taking the car into Nîmes for a service, not much else happened. Assuming that you count Tony Blair being defeated in a fairly serious Commons vote as not much happening (I think he lost the argument at the point that he said that he was following the advice of the security services). And also assuming that you consider the riots in France as not much happening. Anyway, the riots appear to be slowing down. I suspect because there aren't too many cars left to torch and because the government has dusted off a 50 year old law allowing mayors to impose curfews. The curfew prevents anyone under 16 years old being on the streets unaccompanied by an adult between the hours of 22.00 and 6.00. You can imagine the conversation going like this. "Papa, there's not much on television tonight, so do you fancy coming with me for a quick beer before the bar closes and then I could torch a couple of cars on the way?"

On a more serious note, I found this article interesting.