Thursday, March 31, 2005

Bye bye and must try harder

The Lloyds leave early this morning and we miss them already. They are such a nice family to have as neighbours. They have two wonderful children, Tom and Katie who are always good company. Tom is 13 and is Katie 10. Just before she left, Katie told me off for poking fun at Jan in this blog. I consider myself well and truly admonished, and will try harder.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Wine tasting

For a while now, we have been searching for a good, reasonably priced, white wine. Given all my ailments, the doctor once told me (sorry I can't remember why) to lay off the red and drink only white. Fat chance, I thought, but I suppose I should make some effort. Every piece of information I've ever read about wine states that a couple of glasses a day of red wine are good for you. AH, THAT'S IT - it's 2 glasses not 2 bottles, now I understand!

Any way, in the furtherance of more market research, we nip over, with the LLoyds and their guests, to a very good winemaker in the village. We haven't been to see him for ages, don't ask me why, for not only is he a very good vigneron, he is also a very nice man. He shows us all around his cave which, as Jan says, makes shopping for wine far more interesting than going to Sainsburys, and then we sit in the sunshine under a Neflier tree (look it up yourself) sampling his whites, roses and reds. Seven bottles later we make the sober decision to buy several boxes and then make our very happy way back home.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

What a clever boy

I'm not too sure why, but some time ago we decided to determine Max's breed standard. We know we bought a pure bred Beauceron, in fact each of his grandparents are the highest possible standard, and as Jan has pleasure in pointing out, they have a far higher pedigree than me. By virtue of the fact that she talks more affectionately and more often to the dog than she does to me, I'd sort of figured that out already.

Anyway we decide to determine his Cotation which means that, on Easter Sunday, a day that in the good old days meant a lie in, and fun and games, we leave the house at 6.00 am and drive for 3 hours to a meeting of Club des Amis des Beauceron where he can be judged. This idiotic behaviour proves that we have now become "doggy", if not dodgy, people.

I'm not sure what the collective for a large group of Beaucerons is, but whatever it is, it was there. There you are sitting at home thinking that you have a unique and handsome specimen, only to find that there are lots of them around. Having said that, there are an awful lot of ugly ones as well. Pretty much like life really. In fact some of the owners would have great difficulty passing these tests, but that's another story.

He is tested on two counts, morphology and character. The judge for morphology (OK, I'll put you out of you misery, morphology is the form and structure of the dog) is none other than the President of the club. He passes with an excellent which we sort of guessed anyway.

Now if he is going to fail, it will be on character. He is still only 14 months old and still acts at times like a big daft dog. He is very effusive when he first meets people, and can be a bit of a handful at times. When you look at him you would think big, mature, scary dog but at 40 kilos he is nothing more than a big, heavy, very strong scatter brain who wants to sit on your lap or your head. Whichever is the most fun!

The test involves his general friendliness, his ability not to overeact when he hears a pistol shot (yes that's what they do) and how he reacts when attacked with a weapon. With regards the pistol shot, I suspect that we might be in trouble. I say this because one time when sitting in the car, in the footwell next to me, he jumped clean out and straight onto my lap, just because I opened his window for a bit of fresh air. Cool he is not!

Well blow me down, but he passes all this with flying colours. They had to redo the pistol shot bit because I jumped out of my skin and spooked the dog but notwithstanding that, he passed.

We now have a dog rated at Cotation 2, so if you want to buy a highly rated Beauceron, there is one I can recommend.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Rain at last

After spending most of yesterday setting up another automatic watering system, for a different part of the garden, it's ironic that it's been raining overnight and still raining when we get up. We have been going to training classes with Max for over 8 months now and this the first Saturday that we have missed because of the weather. Whilst it's not heavy rain it's persistent and will help a little.

We leave for Sommieres market, later that morning, for the usual goodies and for a bite to eat with Bob and Lynne. We also meet H & E at Bar Partropi and quickly down a bottle of Pic Poul before heading off to L'Evasion for pizzas. Bob and Lynne are, as ever, good company and then we head home to watch England beat Northern Ireland, 4-0, in a World Cup qualifier. All in all a good day!

Friday, March 25, 2005


Our next door but one English neighbours, the Lloyds, arrive en masse for a short vacation today.

We live in a village of about 300 people and when we first arrived we were worried whether we would be accepted in such a small village. As it transpired we were the fourth permanent English family and there were two other vacation homes. A crazy statistic for such a small village.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Understanding French

When Jan and I first arrived in France we could both converse in our school French, but little more. Notwithstanding this problem, we have survived and prospered and without doubt our French has improved. What is a little scary however, is that we sometimes nod and smile sweetly when in conversation with the locals, but don't always fully understand what they are saying. I regularly hope that I haven't agreed to anything like an unnecessary use of cash or a kind offer to go to bed with some toothless old hag (I suppose I will now get hate mail from the Society for the Protection of Toothless Old Hags, who are probably called, the Society for the Protection of Dentally Challenged Elderly but Beauteously Challenged Women).

Anyway in order to survive I have adopted certain rules:

Rule 1. When you talk about spending money, adopt a negative, lost soul, I'm a foreigner and don't understand anything stance, even if you fully understand everything.

Rule 2. In conversation with a male of the opposite sexual persuasion adopt a negative, but very butch stance and make sure that you fully understand everything.

Rule 3. If stopped by the police adopt a negative, lost soul, I'm a foreigner and don't understand anything stance, but then pay the fine because you could end up in jail and have to adopt Rule 2.

Rule 4. In conversation with a beautiful woman, say yes to everything and worry about the consequences later.

There are lots of other rules but that just about covers the most important ones.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Google - so powerful and so scary

In an inspired moment, I decided to try and find a friend who I hadn't seen for 20 years. I knew his name and was fairly certain that he lived in France and might be connected to the wine trade.

Step 1 Put his name into Google
Step 2 Read carefully the many references to him
Step 3 Write to any site that might be remotely connected asking for his email address
Step 4 Found and noted the town were he is based
Step 5 Used pages blancs (online phone directory) to search, using his name and town
Step 6 Spoke to his wife

Pretty scary really. It took me 40 minutes to find a long lost friend without any hard information other than his name. He has just emailed me.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Carte Vitale

I knew I'd be ill! Off to the doctor this morning to use my carte vitale. As ever, there is a tendency for doctors to err on the side of caution and dish out lots of medicine.

Because you pay before you leave the surgery, you feel better if you walk out with a prescription. At least you feel that you are getting some value for your money. However, being sensible for a minute, it's not efficient, because over prescribing puts a financial strain on the system.

Things need to change but as ever with these things, if you were designing a good health service, "you wouldn't want to start from here"!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Now's the time to get ill

It has finally arrived! My "Carte Vitale", which gives me automatic access to the French health system, arrived today. Feeling neglected, and none too well, I first applied for admission in June last year. Everything I have read, confirmed by The World Health Organisation, states that the French health system is the best in Europe and amongst the best in the world. It occurred to us, when we moved here, that this might be a very good place to be unwell. As a good example, just before we moved to France, Jan had started a six month wait to see to see a consultant in the UK, but when we got here, she saw one immediately, and her condition improved dramatically long before she would have seen the consultant in England.

The major problem, however, with the French Health System is that it is basically bankrupt, and provides a level of service that is unsustainable in the long term. Hence my desire to join, before somebody got the smart idea of stopping further admissions. Now watch me get ill!

Being half Italian, I tend to support Italy when it comes to ball sports. Rugby, because they always get their arses kicked, so I end up supporting the underdog, and football because they are the ones doing the kicking and I like being on the winning side. Watching rugby, this afternoon, it makes me laugh when they mention individuals in the Italian side. Take, for example, the very Italian sounding name, Kaine Robertson. Obviously the Italian coach, a New Zealander himself, has to scour the world for any rugby player with the remotest Italian connection. He has such a small pool to pick from in Italy, so that emigrants to the Southern Hemisphere are an obvious breeding ground. If he only got smart and started picking Italian Americans (the cosy nostrils), whether they could play rugby or not, who would then "put the word out" and win every game to the end of time! I must offer my services.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Picnic, seaside and a very happy dog

Max does not like the car and we have therefore avoided long journeys with him. It was time for him to bite the bullet, because in the not too distant future we are planning a long journey, so we decided to take him, and a picnic, to the beach which is about an hour away. L'Espiguette has to be one of the largest beaches you will ever see. It is right on the edge of the Camargue and is the start of hundreds of miles of sandy beaches which stretch all the way down to Spain. We correctly suspected that he would love the sand and wide open spaces, however he was not too sure of the sea. After I pushed Jan in, and he could see what fun it was to be covered with water, he ventured in. The sacrifices we make for this dog!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Ticket machines and dog food

A lot of the car park ticket machines around here give you the option of seeing the instructions for use in several languages. Now forgive me for being stupid but there are four simple actions involved in using a ticket machine:
1 Put your ticket in
2 Read a number
3 Put in enough money to reduce that number to nil
4 Take your ticket
In this idiot proof world that we live in, I could make a strong case that anyone who needs instructions in his native tongue to complete the above should go straight back to his mother's womb and most definitely should not be driving a car!

Talking of dog food (well I was thinking about it) Max contrived last night to eat a large portion of Jan's jeans, whilst she was wearing them and without her realising.

(Little Known Fact: the fabric that we know as denim was first made in Nimes and was known as "serge de Nimes". Levi Strauss shortened the name to denim.)

The restaurant in our village has been closed for a while because the chef has had health problems. The chef is a she, and is the wife of the couple who run the restaurant. Missing their company we invited them for dinner last night. Jan prepared an Italian meal which went down a storm. She is such a good cook, aren't I lucky?

Monday, March 14, 2005

Catching up but still no rain

It seems like the last few days have been nonstop action and today was spent mostly in the garden. It looks like the season has finally changed, the almond trees are in bloom, and Spring has arrived. However, we have not had 2 consecutive days of rain since last August (and the time before that was sometime in 2003), so I spend a lot of time getting the automatic watering system back into action after the winter layoff. If we don't get some rain soon, and that is starting to look increasingly unlikely, there could be problems during the summer months.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Wine tasting

We leave early today, with H & E to visit a wine fair near Montpellier. Next year I'm going to get into training for this one! There were 163 wine producers from all over Languedoc and there is some serious wine on offer. For various reasons, I am looking for a "nice" white wine. We have found it fairly difficult to find a white wine to our taste at less than 6 euros whilst there are umpteen reds that we like. Not all of the 163 make white wine, but an awful lot do, and having arrived at 11.00 am we only have two hours of sampling before lunch. We roll up our sleeves and start. Being more of a serious wine drinker than a serious wine taster, I'm more inclined to swallow than spit, so by producer number 103 (that is the upstairs hall), everything is starting to take on a very rosy glow. Bear in mind that by this time we have only tasted white wine and each producer has at least four or more reds to sample. We make it to number 163, just before lunch, and finally give in to tasting some red from a very good vigneron from our village. In the whole of Gard there are only two vignerons, under Vins du Pays, who merit inclusion in the 2005 Hachette guide to wine, and he is one of them. To our shame, and despite the fact that he lives about 150 metres from our house, we have never sampled his wine. Well now we have, and very good it is too.

Over lunch the sommelier leaves several bottles of wine on the table for each course. This was not a good idea, but we soldier on, and after lunch we are driven home. Not much was done for the rest of the day.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Markets and puppies

We take Bar and Geoff to Sommieres market on our way to the airport. What a great place this is. We meet lots of friends, Alain our resident village artist, Mike and Chris who live in the next village, Christine the wife of our mayor and Peter the source of all Languedocienne knowledge.

We buy lunch on the hoof from the Lebanese stall and then head off to the airport at Nîmes.

(Little Known Fact: The correct spelling of Nîmes has a circumflex over the "i". This signifies that in ye olden days, Nîmes was actually spelt Nismes. The circumflex replaces the "s" after the "i". The same applies to words like châteaux etc.) Just think how you will impress your friends with this knowledge!

On the way back from the airport Jan decides that she wants to take a look at a local dog show. I have money on us leaving with a new puppy. I'm wrong - but then I often am.

Out to dinner tonight with friends in the next village.

Friday, March 11, 2005

I see the light from a dizzying height

Well one things for certain, I will never get a private pilot's licence. As a birthday surprise, I'd arranged for Jan to take a flight, in a small plane, over our village, and today was the day. It had been postponed from Wednesday "because the plane needs some maintenance". Take just as long as you like, I thought!

Whilst she knew that we were going to do something, she had no idea what it was and because I know that she is not good with heights I decided to go as well. As we walked towards the plane, some French built thing, I mentioned casually "does this have an AVCO Lycoming engine?" Robin, our pilot, dived into his bag to get the manual. "Why yes", he said, suitably impressed, "that's remarkable knowledge". I nodded and just looked knowledgeable. The US still supports France in so many intangible ways!

We left Nimes heading north and soon we started to bank left (to port, for all you smart arses) "to avoid the army firing range". That's great I thought, not only is there nothing but fresh air keeping this plane up but we might also get shot out of the sky! The sweat poured down my back and I even started to fog up my side window. I checked with Jan to see that she was ok, and she was.

I didn't really need to worry about Jan because she sat there happily, enjoying the scenery and picking out the various landmarks. I, meanwhile, turned various shades of green. This was definitely a time for pressure on the Nei Kuan Points but needless to say I had forgotten to bring the equipment. The weather was perfect, a beautiful cloudless blue sky, with no wind, but despite the perfect conditions the plane still managed to twist, drop and buck. Every now and then Robin wrote something on his clipboard and as he did so the plane started to nose dive. "Can I write it for you?" I asked plaintively, as the sweat continued to pour down my back.

We flew over the village at an angle of 45 degrees, with me trying hard to lean the other way to correct the fault, and then over to Uzes before turning south, past the Pont du Gard. At this point Traffic Control told us about a plane in our vicinity. I spotted it way before Robin and I think the technical term is a "near miss". It appears that below 2000 feet you fly by sight and at 2000 feet you "chat" to ATC at the military airfield at Garons. ATC is manned by a woman (if that isn't an oxymoron) who speaks English with a lovely French accent. Very distracting.

As we approach the airfield, Robin circles "to check that there are no other aircraft on the runway". He spots one moving to take off to the south (everything else is taking off and landing to the north) and we hear monsieur French pilot mumble something, before he starts off down the runway. Robin circles again, checks everything is clear, and puts her down perfectly. "Thank you", Jan said, "Thank God", I said.

Tonight we go to see The Champions Senior Tennis Tour in Nimes. The main match featured Mats Wilander, world number one in 1988 , and Henri Leconte, world number 5 in 1986. Leconte was his usual clowning best and Wilander, despite his war chest of honours could not beat the Frenchman . Great tennis and the perfect end to the day.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Happy Birthday

Today is Jan's birthday and we have arranged with Bar and Geoff to take a walk, on a limestone plateau, high above Sauve, a lovely little medieval village about 15 minutes away. It turns out to be a fascinating area with a ruined castle and what the signs refer to as La mer des Rocher, the sea of rocks. After an indecently long hike, we retraced our steps and enjoyed a beer, sitting under a hot sun, in the village square.

After lunch, and not satisfied with the previous Herculean feat, the more insane ones of the party (that is everybody except me) then suggest a hike over nearby mountains not far from our home. I knew something was wrong when we passed sherpas limping down the hill in the opposite direction. You may gather from this that I am not a natural hiker (and you'd be dead right) but plod on I did, up vertical cliff faces, passing the sun bleached skulls of exhausted mountain goats, stopping from time to time to staunch the flow of blood from an altitude induced nose bleed and pausing only momentarily to look around for a taxi.

Dinner tonight night was at Mas de Roux in Bragassargues. A four course, 20 euros menu with a choice of 4 different meats cooked over an open fire, cheese and pudding. How do they do it? Very good value.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Visitors from the UK

Last night Harry arrived by car from the UK and today Bar and Geoff arrive by plane. This promises to be a busy week one way or another.

Another arrival was the new 19" screen that I first ordered nearly 2 months ago. I won't bother you with all the gory details, but suffice to say a certain online computer store has a great deal to learn when it comes to customer service. There are however 2 side benefits to the arrival of this screen:
1 I have to clear, clean and reorganise my desk and
2 I can see what I'm writing without having to use binoculars (it's an age thing!).

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Davis Cup

Great Britain beat Israel today and thereby qualify, to play in the qualifiers, to play with the big boys. So far so good. The next match is later this year and we could have to play away against Spain or the USA. That far not so good.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


A wise man once said to me, "If you haven't got anything to say, then don't say anything".
So I haven't!

I could talk about plumbing (the pool shower is running warm again, I have a new outside tap, all the pipework in the outside toilet is now hidden, I have lots of new stop cocks, the trench to another new outside tap is extended) but then we'd all get bored and I'd be saying something when I haven't got anything to say.
So I haven't.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Doctors and plumbers

Off to the doctor this morning to renew medication and discuss recent blood tests for my diabetes (Type 2 - controlled with drugs). Luckily he hadn't receive his copy of the results (and I forgot to tell him that I had received mine) therefore saving me a bollocking over the deterioration. At least it gives me another 3 months to get the sugar levels back in line.

It transpires that his son is our new plumber and the kind doctor refuses to charge me for the visit. What a nice man! I wonder if I can get the plumber to wave his charges because I use his dad as my doctor? Now that would be useful!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Catching up

Out of the several hundred junk emails waiting for me, I have some very nice surprises. Primarily from two ex colleagues (both very inspirational individuals) who live in the States. They both claim to read and enjoy this rubbish, which only confirms that we have now gone international.

The day was warm and sunny, the plumber continued to plumb, birds were in the trees and all was well with the world. Today was a good day.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Thoughts from the north of France

Last night we stayed in a Campanile just south of Rheims. In the good old days, when men were men, and I travelled on expenses, a Campanile would have been a bit too far down my sights. Now that I'm poor (but have a lot of love to give!) I've had to adjust my sights and recognise that chains like Campanile serve a useful function at modest cost.

I mention hotels because our favourite hotel is Les Champs des Oiseaux in Troyes about an hour away. If we had been able to arrive mid afternoon and leave at a leisurely pace the next morning, enjoy the beautiful rooms and wander through the town, then that's where we would have stayed. Arriving late and leaving early prompts us to bed down at the most convenient place, and a Campanile fits that bill.

If you ever get a choice, the A26 (between Calais and Troyes should only be travelled at night,
1) because it is flat, treeless and featureless and
2) because it will send you to sleep anyway.
In a nut shell it is flat and boring and now that I think of it , just like a girl I used to go out with!

We pick up Max, who goes crazy to see us, and arrive home to find the plumber hard at work fixing things. A welcome surprise. As ever, it is good to be home.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Going home via Boulogne

We leave Brighton on a cold, dull, drizzly morning and head for our first stop - Sainsburys. I think there is a medical term for compulsive shopping and will get back to you when I find out! We stock up with essential items like butternut squash, parsnips, chillies, pork pies and sausages. I've no idea how we have managed in France without these essentials - but I'll let you know when I've figured that one out as well.

(NOTE FROM JAN: Listen dog breath, when you're next stuffing your face with any of the aforementioned items, I'll make sure that you regret your sarcasm!)

Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted and as I've mentioned before, I'm not a good seafarer. In anticipation of things to come, I was prompted to purchase some wrist bands that help control transport induced nausea. They work by exerting pressure on an acupuncture point (the Nei Kuan Point) on the wrist. Now I'm not a big believer in mystical medicine and was not at all encouraged when we were told that it was going to be a rough crossing. Thank God I'll be exerting pressure on my Nei Kuan Point, I thought to myself.

Because it was so rough, I considered that standing outside would probably be a little dangerous, so inside it was for the first 40 minutes. Either the bands had slipped off my Nei Kuan Point or they're bloody useless, I'll never know, but outside I went. It was a case of either redecorating the cabin or taking my chances at being washed overboard. Being washed overboard had a distinct appeal. If the journey had lasted another 20 minutes we would have had the answer as to whether the bands worked or not, but as it happened we entered the calm waters of the harbour just as I stepped outside. Welcome to Boulogne.