Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Food of Love

William and I have our regular hit this morning which, as it turned out, was the best one we have ever had. The games are now getting very competitive and much more fun. It's a great start to the day.


It's that time of the month again, when I collate the weather stats. I bet you're trembling with excitement! The average midday temperature for August was (wait for it) 29.2 C. To be expected, the second half was slightly cooler than the first half by a couple of degrees. We had 26 days of sunshine and everyday was hot. So there!


I've just finished reading The Food of Love by Anthoney Capella. Food and sex all in one jolly romp. A good read - recommended.


Barbecued Dorade again tonight followed by apricot crumble. OK, so only half of it helped the diet! Must try harder.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Weight transfer mystery

Off to see the optician this morning. Because I have diabetes, regular eye checks are important. Dr C is very thorough and puts me through the ropes. Part of the test involves dilating my pupils which makes driving in strong sunlight intolerable. The lovely Jan had agreed to accompany me and drove us back home. Yet another favour I owe her!


In tennis terms, weight transfer generally refers to shifting one's weight from the back foot to the front foot. What I'm talking about is something much more mysterious. Like how come my watch, which I wear on my left wrist, is getting looser but my pants are getting tighter? How is the fat from my left wrist transferring to my stomach? One of life's little mysteries.


Floyd leaves this afternoon, so guess what, I get another trip to the airport at Montpellier. Yippee! However, the upside is that on the way back I pass Domaine des Hospitaliers and buy a couple of boxes of their delicious oak aged merlot. Very reasonable at 5 euros a bottle. Next I pop into Domaine Costeplane because we have run out of rosé. Vincent is, as ever, very hospitable and lets me try his chardonnay which has been in the cuve for just 9 days. It was very sweet, almost like a cloudy pressed apple drink, and I would have been happy to drink it like that. Françoise, meanwhile, is preparing sanglier, wild boar, and very smelly it all was. The smell in the kitchen was almost overpowering. She described the taste as more like beef than pork, and a very strong beef taste at that. What was even more interesting was that Vincent had opened bottles of his 1993 and 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon which he was going to put into the pot with the sanglier. When I looked surprised, he said that the sanglier would need a good wine to bring out the flavour. One of the benefits of making your own wine, I suppose.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Too much driving

Take a look at this. It made me laugh out loud and would be very funny if it wasn't meant to be taken seriously.


William couldn't make it this morning so I practised with the group for about half an hour which was more than enough for me. Two of our guests, Jane and Paul, like it here so much that they are going to stay a couple of more nights. I suspect that this had nothing to do with Jan's cooking and everything to do with my scintillating company. What do you think?


The rest of the day was spent ferrying people around, finishing with yet another (the sixth consecutive) trip to the airport. Folks, I'm tired and I ain't doing nuttin until tomorrow at the earliest. Except for having a nice dinner and a couple of glasses of wine. Or more.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Tennis and a lot of bull

An early start to Quissac for croissants and various breads and also to get details of an abrivado that will entertain our guests this afternoon. We need to find one that starts at around 18.30 to fit in with the days tennis and eventually I find a poster for one in Asperes which is not too far away.


Ronan, Francoise and the boys leave today and then we have a very quick turnaround because Robert and the children come in on the same flight. Can I just say that I'm as confused as you! Anyway it all went smoothly with everyone arriving as planned.


abrivado in Asperes was good fun. When we arrived we saw the tail end of an encierro. Now I'm not too sure about the encierro, inasmuch as it involves letting bulls run free in an enclosed area, whilst young and old men alike goad the bull into attacking them and then get out of the way at the last minute. Stupid. The abrivado on the other hand, involves Camargue cowboys shepherding bulls around a predetermined route which is more a matter of skill and less a bun fight with the animals. Anyway, all our guests enjoyed the spectacle and we came home to a delicious dinner featuring a new lamb recipe (Spiced Rubbed Leg of Lamb with Apricot Chutney and Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach Salad).

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Now what am I going to do?

Kevin, Debbie and the children left this morning by car, aiming for an overnight stop in Rheims. Rheims is a town with a lot of history, and a beautiful cathedral, where the kings of France were crowned in ye olden times. Verily, it's well worth a visit. The Taylors are a really nice family and we are very sorry to see them go. What is even more upsetting is that I have lost a drinking partner. Kevin keeps me informed of their progress and they make very good time. We both anticipated heavy traffic because of the 'great return' this weekend but it turned out to be plain sailing. So there you go!


As one family leaves then two more arrive for a few days of tennis. Dave and Liz fly in from Luton whilst Paul and Jane drive down. The major downside to all this is that it's raining today so there is little opportunity to get on court but at least it's good for the vines.


It's Jane's birthday today so we all eat at Le Fourneau. The meal is, as usual, excellent and is rated by many as better than the restaurant in our village that closed down a few months ago. On balance I probably agree, but the food at the previous restaurant was slightly more imaginative and unusual. Without question, the ambiance is more congenial and spacious at Le Fourneau, so on balance I would say that I probably prefer it. Anyway, it's all a bit academic because one is open and one isn't! Bum.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Ouch, that hurts

Full of good intentions, because we are both overweight, Floyd and I agreed to have 'a hit' this morning. 'A hit' means hitting a lot of tennis balls in various patterns, backwards and forwards, hopefully without too much interruption, but the important thing is that it is good exercise and good fun. It's the only way that I enjoy exercising. That was this morning. This afternoon I start to have difficulty walking because I've pulled something at the top back of my leg and it hurts. This manifests itself first whilst we are waiting for Alison, Floyd's partner, at Montpellier airport.


The roads are busy this weekend, it being the start of the return home from holiday for many French families and other nationalities who will be looking to get their children back for the start of the new school term. Rather than fight the motorway traffic, we pop into Montpellier for steak and frites at L'Entrecote, just off the Place de la Comedie. The beauty of the steak is that it is a very thin cut, always cooked to perfection and covered in the most delicious sauce. The recipe for the sauce is a secret, but Jan reckons it's a combination of butter, anchovies, parsley and maybe basil. It makes my mouth water just to think about it. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Hurricane Floyd

We have lunch on the terrace with Ronan, Francoises and their two boys. We started at 1.00 pm and finish at 4.30 pm, now that's what I call a lunch.


Floyd arrived tonight in advance of his tennis group who arrive on Saturday. Floyd is a tennis coach and friend who, apart from being a nice man, played Davis Cup for his country a few years back. He is an ardent Arsenal fan so he will get on well with Kevin. After picking him up in Montpellier, we stop off at L'Evasion in Sommieres for dinner with Kevin and his family. Floyd and Kevin (but mostly Floyd) talk non stop on matters football for about an hour and a half, boring the pants off some of our party. In the end I had to tell Floyd to shut up. Nicely of course. On the way back to the cars we pass a square that has been set up with a stage at one end and fifty tables, all en plein air, with about 200 people enjoying dinner and a show. It was quite spectacular with a very professional stage set up and professional entertainers to boot, and typical of how the French enjoy themselves at this time of the year.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Now that's what I call service

Kevin has still not emerged by 9.40am this morning, by which time I have played tennis for over an hour, sorted out the world's problems over a coffee with William and finished yesterday's blog.


Jan finally gets her wish and we buy a new barbecue with a lid. Not a major event in the scheme of things, but we have now become a two barbecue household. However, what was quite interesting was that there was no instruction book with the barbecue (that's another story). It's a Weber, but because my experience of dealing with French companies is not too good, even with the offshoot companies of other nations, I decided to call the States and sort it out with them. I talked to a chap called Fred Nelson who could not have been more helpful and within 5 minutes he had emailed an instruction book and a set of recipe cards. Now that's what I call service. No nation does it better.


In the evening we were invited to dinner by a an acquaintance in a neighbouring village. It turns out he is quite a famous potter, particularly in the UK. In the next village, Vic le Fesque, don't you just love that name, is another very well known artist. It seems we may have stumbled into an artistic stronghold by accident.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

And then I waited

We made an early start this morning to go into Sommieres for my 3 monthly blood check and the girls, Jan, Gill, Katie and Tom (hard-luck Tom) went shopping. Now I know a bit about women and shopping because of an experience that I had when I was 18. It went like this.
Mother: "Alex can you pop me into Harrogate to pick something up?"
Me: "Yes, no problem."
We park on a yellow line up a sidestreet that I reckon will be OK with me in the car.
Me: "How long will you be?"
Mother: "20 minutes."
Me: "OK, but no longer because I'm on a yellow line."
Mother: "Don't worry, I only have to go to one shop.
So I sit and wait. 30 minutes pass, no mother. 1 hour passes, no mother. This is ridiculous, 90 minutes pass and no mother. I could go on but you'd only get as bored, as I did. Some of the things that went through my head were: Has she forgotten where I'm parked? Is she ill? Has she gone home? Is she waiting for me somewhere else? Should I go home and see if she's there?
Three hours later she turns up and guess what, it's my fault for getting angry. Does she apologise, does she see my point of view? What do you think? So when I say I've a bit of experience of these things, I hope you understand.

OK, back to this morning's shopping. We all get out of the car at 9.30 am, I establish that they have to look in two shops, so we set up a place to meet and I go in for a blood test (with no appointment). The girls and Tom (hard-luck Tom) take the 3 minute walk into town. I finish my tests, drive the car into town and park on a yellow line. I have breakfast, keeping a lookout for the police. 30 Minutes - nothing. I see a space and park the car. It must have been a reflex reaction because I paid for a 3 hour ticket. Another half hour passes so I walk into Sommieres and look in EVERY shop in the middle of town. Nothing. So I go back to the arranged meeting place and wait. At 11.00 am they all show up. Apologise, what do you think? Jan then pops off to pick something else up and is another 23 minutes. In the time it has taken these women to look in two shops, I have had a blood test, eaten breakfast, looked in every shop in Sommieres, read a newspaper from beginning to end and got thoroughly pissed off.


Jan and I take Max for a walk into the fire swept hillside. It was very spooky and it was a little difficult to explain why, until Jan mentioned that all we could hear was the wind. Normally we would hear birdsong and the ubiquitous cigales chirping away. Very eerie.


Kevin fancies a beer and so do I. We sit down at about 8.00 pm and start working our way through some lovely Fullers that he brought to France and some Leffe wheat beer bought here. At midnight, I give in and go to bed, because I have tennis at 8.00 am. Kevin says that he will get up to watch the tennis. Do you think he will get up? We shall see.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Wind, skiing and goats

It was just a bit too windy for tennis this morning so I called it off. It's hard enough trying to play with no wind but when it's gusting strongly there's no fun at all.


Raymond, our friendly insurance agent called first thing to check that were all right and to see if we had any problems as a result of the fire on Friday. Wasn't that nice?


Glyn pops round and we start to discuss skiing opportunities this winter. We looked at the internet site for Prat Peyrot, which is about an hour and a half away and where you can ski, from mid December to mid March. The conversation moves onto trying to decipher the French meaning of some of the words on the site. When I asked what I thought was a simple question, to be told: "that means downhill skiing." I looked perplexed. When I asked what is meant by downhill skiing, someone, not a million miles from my heart, continued to repeat, several times: "downhill skiing." Now I have to say that nothing irritates me more, when I express ignorance of something, than someone who continues to repeat the same phrase as if by repeating the phrase I would somehow be beaten into submission and hence see the light. It's at this point that I retaliated and made the somewhat obvious statement that pretty much all skiing is downhill, and that the last time I looked, uphill skiing went the way of the dinosaurs, it just never caught on. It's usually at this point that I am accused of being rude and a smart arse to boot. OK, so call me rude, but when I don't understand something, please take a little time to explain things a little more clearly, and don't just keep repeating the same word or phrase. If I didn't understand it the first time then there is little chance that I will understand it the twentieth. OK?


And now, as if I haven't seen it all, a goat appears at the bottom gate. It has followed our new visitors. Max is understandably very excited, never having seen a goat before, and is jumping up and down and barking on one side of the fence, whilst the goat stands totally unperturbed on the other. They are nose to nose through the fence, smelling each other and seemingly both enjoying the experience. I have no idea where this goat came from but it looks cute and Becky (15) immediately decides that she wants one. Ronan offers to take the goat back and, grabbing hold of one of its horns, leads it back whence it came. This has been a very eventful few days in more ways than one.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

It's Chardonnay time, but what about the watermelons

The vendage was due to start at 3.00 am this morning at Domain Costeplane. Vincent mentioned this as Kevin, Rose, Jan and I went for a quick tasting yesterday. He said that he had been due to start gathering the Chardonnay on Saturday, but he had worked until late damping down the fire on Friday night. When pressed about such an early start he said that he needed to work when the temperature was below 20 C or fermentation would begin, hence the early morning. He would stop before the daytime temperature reached 20 C. I hope it tastes as good as this year's unoaked chardonnay.


Our watermelons are relatively small but something inside me says that they are ripe. How to find out? A google search gives us some pointers. Anyway, I bring one in and Jan cuts it open and - it's absolutely delicious; he said, taking a bow. Jan's comment was: "That's one of the best we've had this year, it's so juicy." I'm modestly blushing as I write this because, as you know, I'm not one to sing my own praises - much.

This afternoon we threw a barbecue so that Kevin could meet up with his longtime friends Chris Ward and Bob Walder (above, left to right, Chris, Kevin and Bob). Chris brings Delphine, and Bob and Lynne bring Harry. It's nice to have everyone together and even Max will be delighted. Jan slaved over a cold stove all day and produced her famous salads (and spare ribs). I slaved over a hot barbecue for 15 minutes and produced, lamb steaks and sausages all cooked to perfection.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Where have you been all night?

The picture left gives you some idea of the damage. Part of the village is visible at the bottom right of the hill. The central part of the hill was burnt out and you may be able to see green vegetation on either side (click on the picture for a better view). A fire track is visible up the left hand ridge of the hill and near the bottom of the track you might be able to see a fire truck coming down. We could see fire tenders coming gingerly down the hills, all morning, their night's work done. Many firemen slept the night on the hills which are criss-crossed by many tracks, known as DFCI's, and they were built specifically so that fire tenders could get into the hills for such emergencies. They are also great for walks, but some of them are very steep, hence the vehicles descending very slowly. We slept soundly knowing that the pompiers were there, looking after us all night. We were told that a small fire started again at 2.30 am, but was quickly jumped on. Thank you, chaps. The helicopter continued to circle this morning and in the background you could see the charred, devastated hillsides. We toured the village, by car, to see that the fire had literally stopped at the boundary fence of all the houses to the west of the village. They must have been very scared. After a walk round the village, we realised that the field next door to us was also scorched and we were no more than 1 metre from the flames. What we hadn't appreciated was the random nature of the outbreak of fires. They happened in all kinds of small areas obviously started by sparks from the main fire being fanned by the wind. All this happened whilst we were safely in Montmirat. That was close! This is Alex Hampshire reporting from the middle of the blazing inferno, back to you in the studio!


Tonight, for a change, we went out for dinner. Jill and Harry have lots of visitors, and invite us because they are gluttons for punishment. Each course was cooked by a different side of their family and jolly good it was too.

Friday, August 19, 2005

And back to our red hot bed

Ok, so it's about 4.30pm, I'm sitting sorting out some of these postings when Jan rushes in and says "quick come outside, we have a very big forest fire near the village." Boy, was she right, it was so near, you could hear the crackling of the flames and the wind was blowing straight towards us. Conceivably, our escape route by car could have been blocked by the fire if we didn't move quickly, so I evacuated the house and moved further down into the village to check things out from a position of relative safety. Not so, the fire really caught hold and started to encircle the village, the air became thick with choking smoke, so we beat a hasty retreat to the next village, Montmirat, where there is a bar/relais and from where we could see all the activity. We counted in total 30 fire engines which came from all directions and we later learnt that there were 150 firemen. They were obviously well drilled because within 30 minutes they had a command centre set up in a field nearby and a helicopter circled continuously feeding information back to the ground. Most impressive was the 9 Canadair fire fighting water planes (above - there are only 10 in France) that 'bombed' the area around the village, two Trackers and a Dash 8 that dropped chemical fire retardants. They wouldn't let us back into the village until late so we had dinner in the relais and waited whilst things calmed down a little. As we drove back to the village later that night, we could see the blue flashing lights of the fire tenders all over the hills around us. Scary, but also very exciting. Welcome home!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

And yet more food

Breakfast is very expensive at 18 euros per person but we have to try it, seeing that we were too late yesterday. I anticipated fresh baked this and that and a cooked breakfast to order. It was frankly disappointing, not even fresh squeezed orange, and no better than any other hotel breakfast. Hmmm.


It was cloudy so we set off for a little sight seeing. First stop was Bandol, the town that gives its name to the wine in this area. It’s a pretty little seaside town with palm trees, beaches and lots of people. Far too many for my taste. On to St Cyr-sur-mer, the 'mer' having retreated a few kilometres away, some time ago, and then up into the mountains and round by the Paul Ricard circuit, where they hold the French Grand Prix from time to time. The pretty little medieval hillside town of le Castellet was next, spoilt only by hoards of visitors who amazingly looked just like us. So it was back to the hotel, to write up these notes and chill by the now sunny pool. Unfortunately, the view around the pool was spoilt by a woman who insisted on sun bathing topless and, as time wore on, she was joined by a few more. Now tell me, how a man is supposed to concentrate on his book when he’s surrounded by so many pneumatic women? For a moment I couldn’t tell whether I was in the south of France or silicone valley.


We ate in Le Petit Jardin again tonight because we realised that none of the other restaurants in town were going to come up to scratch. This was Jan’s choice and how right she was. The main restaurant in the hotel was our first choice but they hadn’t changed the menu and another mortgage wasn’t an option. Would we come back to this town? Yes definitely. Would we recommend this hotel and restaurant? Yes definitely, but bring quite a bit of cash. The food isn't cheap but it is superb.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Stunning views

The view from our room is stunning (below left), and makes up for any small deficiencies. We spent the morning down by the pool before we explored the town for a bite to eat. Lunch can best be described as poor when compared to last night’s extravaganza. It’s easy to get spoilt around here!


I’m writing all this stuff on my old Dell laptop and will post to Blogger when I get back, having failed to get a wifi connection in our room. I went down to the lobby and the best reading I could get was 41%, which they expect me to pay for, so no thank you. Come to our house and you get high-speed wireless internet access for free!


We left the hotel at about 7.00 pm, to sit on the main drag and soak up some of the atmosphere, whilst sinking ‘one or two’ prior to dinner. Whilst I am taking a picture of Jan, I noticed the French equivalent of a Working Men’s club (above right) behind her, that (if you look very closely) was formed in 1884 and demands proof of membership before you are allowed entry. Up the workers!! What really sparked my imagination was the waitress for our aperos, who brought Jan’s demi-peche and my vodka tonic. She plonked Jan’s drink on the table and also my vodka, but proceeded to hold the tonic bottle between her legs whilst she took the cap off. Very exciting, if you are into that sort of thing!


We ate in the Le Petit Jardin, the hotels ‘other’ restaurant under a full moon. We enjoyed the meal, but frankly it wasn’t quite as good as the previous night. Ooh, you little gourmet you! I can think of one couple, not a million miles from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, who would love this place. After dinner we moved back onto the ‘main drag’, which was eerily quiet, for a couple of pre-bed drinks. The atmosphere was warm, tranquil and quiet and very calming before we hit the sack. This is a very nice town.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Home to Aix-en-Provence

I'’m glad we visited Aix; it's a very attractive town. Lots of people had told us that it was an interesting place to visit and they were right. Whilst there's a lot to see and do, we only intended to stay a short time, so apart from looking at the myriad of small shops (it'’s a bit of a shoppers'’ paradise) we only visited the cathedral. The town has a very, very nice feel and I suspect that we will visit again for a longer look (or shop).


The drive from Aix towards our final destination, La Cadiere d'’Azur, was extremely pretty, especially as we hit the coast at Baie de la Ciotat.


La Cadiere, with little narrow streets, perched on a hilltop with stunning views, was beautiful as well, and I couldn'’t help but feel that Jan had done it again. The hotel, Hostellerie de Bérard, is interesting because it is full of old-world charm and is actually spread over five separate buildings in the town. If I have a criticism, our bedroom could have been a bit bigger, as could the bed, but hey, we were on a cheap deal, so no complaining Hampshire. But in reality, this hotel is merely an excuse for the restaurant. What a find! I know I use a lot of superlatives, but here I had one of the best meals of my life. The menus started at 28 euros right up to 106 euros. We settled for the 45 euros menu and what an excellent choice it was. I can'’t start to describe the food because it was so interesting and elaborate but suffice to say that we both cleared our plates of each of the four courses, helped down with a bottle or two of excellent local wine and topped off with a couple of glasses of sweet red, as recommended by Madame. Absolutely superb.

Funny people

One of the sites that I regularly visit is this one . I look at it because it is a valuable source of information about living in France, but more amusingly, because you see some very strange postings by some very strange people. Like the woman who is thinking about breast implants (mind you it is the CdA so it could be a man) or the woman who has purchased a small vineyard, and has found that some of the grapes are now ready. She has so little knowledge about what she has purchased or what she is doing that she has had to ask for help on a public notice board. I find it really amusing that quite a serious medical question or a complicated viticulture question are discussed in such an inappropriate place. But it does make for entertaining reading.


Talking about amusing reading here's Jan's latest joke:

An attractive woman walked into a bar and asked for a double entendre.
So the barman gave her one.


After dropping Max at his pension we head for our first stop Aix-en-Provence. I'm not too sure of computer availability so I may or may not be off line for a couple days. A bientôt.

Monday, August 15, 2005

"Do as I say, not as I do!" - Jacques Chirac

Today is a public holiday. It's the Day of Assumption. According to Roman Catholic theology and the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, the body and soul of Mary, the mother of Jesus, venerated by these denominations as the Blessed Virgin Mary or Theotokos, respectively, was taken into Heaven after the end of her earthly life. (OK, thanks for the links, you've made your point - Ed.) You can therefore understand that Muslims (or any other religion come to that) might be a little confused by a state law that forbids any display of religious belief in school children, like wearing a head scarf, giving as it's reason that it is a 'secular state', whilst at the same time celebrating nationally a very Christian event. An event that was probably conceived by some Catholic religious fanatic, some time in the middle ages! Ah well, at least we get a holiday out of it all.


This reminds me of my time at school, at a Catholic college run by Jesuit priests. As young men, with enquiring minds, we were always searching for the truth. I remember during one physics lesson, discussing the speed of light or some such, being taught by the same priest who taught us theology. One boy put up his hand to ask a question.

"Yes Fozard, what do you want?" enquired the priest.
"Please sir, can you tell me at what speed Our Lady ascended into heaven?"

If I remember correctly even the priest burst out laughing.


We've got figs! Just next to the pool is the most enormous fig tree, that Jan and I spent a week trying to rescue when we first got here. It was covered in brambles, and a weed which Jan called 'old man's beard'. We both love figs and this year's fruit is now ready. A week ago the fruit blooked very green and very hard but it has ripened quickly. By the end of August or thereabouts we will be heartily sick of them and Jan will then make the most delicious fig jam. Great on its own, or superb with foie gras.


It's the last night of the fête in Quissac tonight and the bull running takes place at about 9.00 pm so Katie and family (and their visitors) invite us to go. Add to that, the fact that Kevin fancies eating out and I've been thinking of visiting a certain pizza restaurant, that comes recommended, so we book a table for 13. I'd need to go back but the general opinion was that it was mediocre.


Jan has done it again. We both fancy a break, so tomorrow we are going for three days to the Hostellerie Berard. Using her uncanny skills at finding low cost, high quality accommodation on the internet, she came up with various options, but what swung this place for me, was the two hour drive to an area that comes highly recommended and one that we don't know. Additionally the hotel has a high quality restaurant and a pool. Yum. More on all this later.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

A right little cooker

You may by now have realised that Jan loves to cook and she is always on the lookout for new ideas and recipes. She recently found this site and, as we are afficionados of fresh ricotta, she tried to make her own from one of their recipes. The ricotta we get in Italy is to die for, quite unlike anything you would normally taste and we have both become addicted to the real thing. It was a very good first effort, but she admitted that a little more attention to the temperature would probably have helped. Additionally, because we have a surfeit of both cherry tomatoes and melons, she made a Cherry Tomato and Cinnamon Jam and a Lime and Ginger Melon Jam. They were both delicious. See what I've got to put up with?


Out with Max for a walk this afternoon, we noticed that some trees were already starting to change colour. As it is only mid August, we put it down to the general lack of rain combined with intense heat.


Kevin, who is a very senior figure in the public relations industry, knows how to put a positive spin on most things. We are all sitting on the terrace taking in the cool evening air when he reminded me of the ancient saying, that you should never criticise a man until you have walked a thousand miles in his shoes. "Isn't that a great saying", he said, "walk in the right direction, and you are a thousand miles away from the idiot that is irritating you AND you've got his shoes".

Saturday, August 13, 2005

It's a birthday Jim, but not as we know it

Max has another birthday, and typically for any birthday child, he is difficult to control. This is not a birthday in the strict sense, but more a coming of age in that he is starting to discover females. Last week at training, he became obsessed with two female dogs and this week he was very interested in another, even though the owner said that she was not en chaleur. The walking to heel training is very difficult in that if he is anywhere near a female, he pulls off in that direction. (A bit like his master really - Ed.)


Kevin and family arrived today, which is lucky because tonight is 'La Traditionelle Saucisse', one of the very entertaining evenings of the annual summer festivities. We, eleven of us in total, all wandered down to the foyer at 8 o'clock, and joined the 150 or so other villagers, armed with sufficient glasses, plates, cutlery and nibbles. By nibbles I mean slices of pizza, sausage rolls and crisps because everyone starts to drink at 8 and, because they are usually so disorganised, no food arrives until at least 10. In the meantime, the drinkers amongst us have had sufficient wine to last several meals, so something to soak up the poison is a very good idea. Anyway, it all went to plan with predictable results. We drank rosé like it was going out of fashion, and at 10.15 somebody threw some bread, a small bowl of very tasty couscous and a jug of red wine on the table and a little later someone came round with a couple of thin sausages. That was all the food I saw but Jan said that there was also a bit of cheese and some melon. Hardly a 12 euros meal, but what the hell, it was great fun. Later still, someone opened a five litre plastic bidon containing home made cartagene. Cartagene is a combination of approximately a quarter of a litre of alcohol (which can be home made) mixed with a litre of grape juice. Recipes are guarded jealously and it is not unusual for several people to offer their produce, each trying to outdo the other. That was the end of me. I'm ashamed to admit that when I stood to leave, my legs gave way and they needed a block and tackle to get me up again.

Friday, August 12, 2005

A belated birthday present

I give Tom a belated birthday present by way of a tennis lesson. His mum mentioned that he would like this more than anything, so who am I to stand in his way? I enjoyed giving the lesson, which is always a good start. I enjoy teaching people who listen and try. What I dislike, more than anything, is someone who's there because mum or dad said that they had to have lessons and the pupil has only a passing interest in what's going on. It's a form of childminding, for which I would charge a much, much higher rate. Anyway, Tom does really well. With a few small changes he has a forehand, we switch him to a two handed backhand and give him a rudimentary serve. All in the space of an hour and twenty minutes. Well done Tom.


Jan and I had a full day together on our own, which was nice. We find so much to do and so much to talk about. We frolicked together, hand in hand, in the meadows, as the butterflies dance merrily in front of us. We whistled and sang our merry tunes, admired the flowers and picked little posies. Oh, how we laughed! (If you believe this, you'll believe anything - Ed.)
OK, so back to reality, we go shopping to buy some supplies and more importantly, some goodies, because today I feel like stuffing my face. So for dinner we had griddled scallops with a warm tomato, garlic and basil salsa, followed by barbecued Dorade. All washed down with a Les Pouges white from Gilles Leyris in the village,
all my favourite stuff. Face stuffed, I went to bed a tired but happy boy.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Spammers again

Unfortunately I have just started to receive spam by people using 'comments'. At first sight, these look like genuine comments but when you look at them closely, they are invites to visit other sites, with all the potential trouble that that entails. I was aware that this might be a possibility but had turned comments on hoping that it would not arise. If it becomes a problem, then I will turn comments off. So in true business speak - thank you for your understanding.


A couple of strange electrical gremlins have occurred in the last 24 hours. First, the television, or one of the boxes attached to it, caused the main 'fuse to blow' for part of the house. This caused both computers and other stuff to shut down in another part of the house. And secondly the main fridge, or the socket that it is plugged into caused another 'fuse to blow' shutting down other stuff. Both incidents happened at different times and I don't think were connected. Somewhere, in the not too pleasant recesses of my mind, I seem to remember that we had a similar occurrence at about this time last year. Strange.


Evidently I slept through the mother and father of all storms last night. I keep telling Jan that if she went to bed with anything like my clear conscience, she'd sleep soundly as well. Does she listen? I think not!


We went with the Lloyds to the night market in Nimes tonight. The atmosphere was terrific with a flamenco troupe playing just behind the Maison Carré, a string quartet playing near our restaurant and a myriad of other bands and stalls being invaded by hundreds of people. Tom (14) and I shared a second pizza whilst all the others chickened out. Jan and Katie (11) spent a fruitfull hour buying a lot of presents, whilst Gill (the mum) bought a ski hat. Very useful in the middle of summer! Far be it for me to pass any comment, but you will notice that women make up the majority of the aforementioned shoppers. The men, me, Tom and Terry (grandpa), bought nothing at all, but hung around enraptured waiting for the shoppers to not make up their minds! Great!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Why are women so smart?

I'm sitting at the computer wondering outloud what I'm going to write about today, when Katie (aged 11) happens to mention that because it is only 10.42 am, that I hadn't actually done too much yet. This is the second time in the last seven days that I've received a smart ass comment from a female. Why are women so smart or is it just the female knack of stating the bloody obvious?
(Maybe it's just your knack of saying stupid things - Ed.)


Another senior moment! I'm expecting a parcel from UPS today but forget to switch on my mobile. Needless to say he calls, leaves a message asking for directions to the house, and by the time I get the message, he is miles away so we have to rearrange. Some delivery companies are spot on and find us without help, others are useless and make little or no effort, presumably because they have tight schedules. I understand that it must be difficult in a rural environment to make precise deliveries but in this day and age with GPS navigation it should be a cinch. UPS are certainly big enough to have this sorted out by now. Anyway he calls later and I get my parcel.


The parcel is from, it contains the answer to something that has been bugging me for some time. For whatever reason my wireless home network provides poor coverage in certain parts of the house. have come up with the answer. This product (Wall-Plugged Wireless Range Extender WGXB102) simply uses the wiring in your house to extend the wireless signal. It works a dream, so now I'm a happy bunny and can tick one more little irritation off my list.
(I bet Jan's got a big irritation that she'd like to tick off her list - Ed.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A calming influence

Max behaved very oddly last night. After leaving him to go to sleep, as normal, we could hear him scrabbling to get out of the study. Left to his own devices he was either going to break the door and shutter, or burrow his way out. He was very, very agitated. I told him off. Five minutes later he was at it again. This time, I was less polite, more spitting blood, because I wanted to go to sleep. The third time, Jan took over, did the mumsy bit and stayed with him for about 30 to 40 minutes, whilst he calmed down. Strangely, he lay under her chair, in an agitated state, rather than trying to get out of the house. His behaviour was very different from normal and it almost seemed as though he was spooked from within the house rather than trying to get at something outside. We shall never know. Needless to say Jan was the star because she enabled me to get to sleep and soothed Max's troubled brow. She's my hero.


After an early morning tennis lesson (with Franck), I leave for Montpellier for a check up with the lovely Dr K, my nutritionist. This woman does nothing for my blood pressure. Again, she is dressed provocatively with a plunging neckline and to add a touch more frisson she is also wearing what looks like a school master's gown. I believe that she is going to 'tell me off' because I know that I have not been very good and the teacher's gown adds to that feeling. In fact, she gets my trousers off, and measures me, only to find that I have lost another kilo and one centimetre off my waist. This means that I have now lost 4 kilos (8.8 pounds) since 15th June . Whilst she appears to be moderately pleased, I'm delirious, how can I continue to behave like a slob and still lose weight? Her praise is worth its weight in gold and I shall try harder for the next appointment.


By way of a really nice treat, Bob and Lynne invite us for lunch at Apicius in St Mathieu de Treviers. This is an excellent restaurant and could well be my favourite. The food is excellent, very inventive and with a good range of reasonable local wines. It's a husband and wife effort, she being front of house and he in the kitchen. Next January, a close friend, and 7 others from the UK, are going to fly out specifically for lunch with us, and then fly back the next day, I'm seriously thinking of taking them there. Unbeknown to us, Bob took the pictures above in the restaurant. Whilst Jan looks gorgeous, don't you think I'm looking slimmer?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Only if you deserve it!

More tennis lessons this week, starting at 9.00 am today. I'm doing too much, so my fees will have to go up. In the UK, I charged £30 per hour ('cos I'm bloody good - don't you know?) and here I am charging 30 euros per hour. Excellent value for money, but it will have to increase. Thinks - picks sum out of air - my new rate is 40 euros ph. Still cheap, but I also give lots of love and affection to those that deserve it! So if you're young, beautiful and deserve it, you've come to the right place!
(You male chauvinist boar - Ed.)


Anyone reading the above could be forgiven for thinking that I'm a male chauvinist boar. Well, let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. I adore people, especially women and I forgive all their imperfections with great magnanimity.


Otherwise a quiet day with another lesson at 7.00 pm.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Getting the bug again?

I spent the major part of my early life in consumer finance working for an American bank. After quite a significant midlife crisis, I spent the next few years as a professional tennis coach, which is what I was doing immediately before we moved to France. By the time we moved to France I'd had enough of coaching and even playing tennis, so contrary to my normal behaviour, I gave an early morning tennis lesson this morning. In fact I'm starting to enjoy tennis again.


I nip to Quissac to buy bread for a barbecue at lunch time. The bread from the shop on the corner next to the traffic lights is always very interesting, and today I bought two pain a la figues and one paillasse aux cereales. The bread with figs is scrumptious with cheese, and the other is wonderful anytime. I particularly like this shop because they are always experimenting with new recipes. It beats Tesco every time and, more to the point, every bread shop around here!


OK, fifteen for lunch, so Jan makes a range of salads, and I cook chicken, porc brochettes with peppers and apricots, sausages and lamb steaks on the barbecue. A tour de force, all succulent juicy meat, timed to perfection and not a salmonella in sight. Needless to say the meat is a wow and Jan gets a silver medal for her salads. Methinks that I must start to put more efforts into salads, and help Jan!
(Listen smart arse, you need to worship at her altar - Ed.)

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Paintings, training and other nonsense

Following an invitation from one of the artists, we took Gill and the children to an exhibition by several local artists in nearby Sérignac. Unfortunately there was very little that caught the eye by way of painting, but the village is very picturesque (excuse the pun), the buffet was interesting and the wine from Mas de Plan was excellent. (It's plain to see where your interests lie! - Ed.) The rest of the evening turned into a blur of aperos back at our house, and then an excellent impromptu barbecue back at the Lloyd's. Getting up this morning was difficult, and not made any easier because I had gone to sleep leaving my lenses in (oops, another senior moment) and for the first hour or two all I could see was a haze, as my eyes adjusted to the lack of overnight oxygen.


We took Max to training for the first time in weeks and it was genuinely good to see so many good looking bitches. Owners aside, all the dogs were interesting as well. Max was, unusually, a little difficult to control until we realised that some of the female dogs were
en chaleur and he was very interested in smelling their bits. At least we now know that Max is straight, unlike Harry who is happy to hump anything.


Having just upgraded to the latest version of Zone Alarm Pro (my computer firewall) I have started to get some very irritating but humorous messages. Like this one:

Zone Alarm Security Alert
Dangerous Behaviour
Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary is trying to
monitor your mouse movements and key strokes.

Some of the more recent protection software is getting cumbersome, too clever by half and, I suspect, using a lot of resources and hence slowing systems down. Hey ho.

Friday, August 05, 2005

What's happening out there?

There I am sitting at the keyboard at 7.00 am, surrounded by yelping, fighting dogs and thinking out loud that there's nothing to write, when Jan, walking through the study behind me, bleary eyed, happens to mention that at that hour of the morning very little has yet happened. I'm dumb and she's clever, but together we are a powerful force! We all have choices in life, I could have chosen a woman who could strip and clean an AK47 or milk a sheep but no, I chose Jan, who has a degree in stating the bleeding obvious, who can cook up a storm and who will pander to some, but not all, of my filthy habits. Aren't I lucky?
(How do you know she can't strip an AK47? - Ed.)


The dogs' sleeping arrangements are interesting. The first night, Harry discarded his luxurious, triple layered bed in favour of Max's filthy, crumpled and ripped, ex-Ikea rug. Max, obviously feeling displaced, slept on the tiles in a corner. The second night however, Harry continues to use Max's bed and then Max moves onto Harry's luxury mat and so they stay for the third night as well. Max, coming from puritan stock and not being used to such luxury, attempts at various times to rip Harry, and Harry's bed, to pieces. We, wanting to give dog and possessions back to Bob and Lynne in one piece, jump on Max and tell him off. He looked puzzled!


We took both dogs in the car for a quick trip to Quissac, mainly to show Max that other dogs can do it without kicking up a fuss, but also as a break from routine (for me that is). I use this outing as an opportunity for a little walking to heel training. Harry is fine and walks in a straight line, Max sort of 'tacks', constantly crisscrossing from left to right as if fixated by some old sailing lesson. Strange.


It's hand back time, because Bob and Lynne arrive for Harry. Max looks on wistfully as Harry disappears up the drive. His best friend has disappeared suddenly out of his life. No more bitten cheeks, no more rushing his food, no more having to share his toys, just a big empty void. (For goodness sake, just give it a rest - Ed.)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sleeping beauties

I shot this during a quiet moment! The two warriors, having a brief rest before the next round.
They spent another quiet, peaceful night together so we got a good nights sleep and it was a pleasure to set off for another early morning walk with them both. They walk and play together so nicely that Jan, who was unsure at first, is now convinced that she would like another one (dog, not baby!)
(Can't you give the doggy stuff a bit of a rest now - Ed.)


For the second day running, the Mistral is blowing. If it had been winter, it would be on with the thermals, but as the temperature rarely drops below 30 C at the moment, I find it a welcome relief. Others may disagree, especially if they have just arrived on holiday and are expecting something else, but hey, this is the south of France, and at times the Mistral will blow. The Mistral phenomenon is quite interesting. It's a wind that blows north to south down the Rhone valley, through Avignon and down to Marseille. It's quite a pernicious wind that seems to get right under your skin and puts you on edge, especially in winter. A teacher we know, Marie, who teaches in Avignon, has told us that her pupils are usually more unruly when the Mistral blows. At least that's the kids' excuse, and they're sticking to it!


We set off with the Lloyds for dinner at the relais, that we then found was shut (remember what I said on Monday 1st?). It opens most lunch times but only opens Friday and Saturday evenings. Bum. So we drove onto another one nearby that offered a wider choice of prices and menus, but more importantly, was open! All these places are little goldmines but they only play at running businesses.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

For goodness sake, give it a break

Day two of our dog fest and we take them for an early morning walk (left) to start the 'tiring out process'. This tactic worked a dream yesterday as they fought and scrapped with each other from 10.00 am until 10.00 pm. They then both slept well, in the same room, and didn't wake until about 8.00 am. Later this morning, the conversation from Jan goes, "Max, for goodness sake, leave Harry alone, can't you see he's tired. Stop eating Harry's leg." And so it goes on until they both retire to their respective corners for a refreshing 10 minute zizz. Rest over, they start again, each trying to bite or chew any part of the other dog that they can get hold of. Despite his size, Max's behaviour is gentle and still quite puppy like, he rolls onto his back to get closer to Harry, whereupon Harry will fearlessly jump on him and sink his teeth into Max's throat. It's fun to see them having such a good time, but very tiring to watch.
Will wonders never cease? They both sleep for a couple of hours at lunch time, with Harry a definite snorer. At about 2.00 pm, Round 29 begins. It is obviously a fight to the end!


In order to improve my wireless home network reception, at the far end of the house, I phone Maplin in the UK who advise me to buy an extension antenna which will be delivered in 2 to 3 days. I have already been advised separately that this might improve the coverage, so we shall see.


I don't make mistakes; I have 'senior moments'. So a senior moment it was when I drove to Quissac for some bits, only to have to go all the way back because I had forgotten my wallet. Parking the car in Quissac was quite a problem, because of the huge 'boules tournament' that was taking place in the middle of town. Boy, some of these guys are good, so we stopped for a moment and admired their skill.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

This should be fun (or not)

Arri arrives today. Arri, aka Harry Winston, is a five months old black Labrador belonging to Bob and Lynne. They want a short break, so Arri comes to stay. He is called Arri because in France the first letter of a dog's name is determined by the year in which he is born. This year is letter A (so it's Arri rather than Harry). As an aside, our Max is officially known as V'Max because he was born in 2004 which was a V year (they don't bother with the letters between V and A). In fact his full name is V'Max du Murier de Sordeille. When the breeder asked us what we were going to call him we said Max, he looked a little puzzled (we obviously didn't realise) and he said OK, he can be registered as V'Max. He paused for a second and then his face lit up as he said, 'What a great name!' We then looked even more puzzled until he explained that Yamaha build a motorbike called the V-Max, which is somewhat legendary. He was obviously a fan, and the name suggests high power and good looks, the height of cool. But I digress. Max and Harry get on really well and can play for hours, until they drop, so hopefully they will both have a great time for the next few days. I'm not so sure about us.


If the first half hour is anything to go by, we are going to be exhausted just watching the dogs play. Nothing changes as time goes by, so we decide to take the dogs for a walk to tire them out, and we call round to see if Tom and Katie want to go as well. They do, so we all walk up to the fossil field nearby. The dogs play non-stop whilst we check out the fossils (mostly ammonites), and they only stop to lie in the shade. As usual, we find lots of fossils and spend a very pleasant 'discovery' hour trying to guess the nature of the creatures that we have found. Gill, (Tom and Katie's mum) kindly offers lunch on the way back so we return home replete and a little 'tired and emotional'. The dogs continue to play (for a total of 12 hours) and finally collapse at about 10.00 pm totally exhausted. So are we!

Monday, August 01, 2005

The art of kissing

Isn't kissing a strange activity? Why do we do it and why is it pleasurable? Just some of the many thoughts that passed through my mind as I lay in my pit this morning. So having a somewhat enquiring mind, I Googled "kissing" and found a lot of funny stuff like:

What to do if you bang teeth (Tell your partner you're so very keen to kiss him or her that you're getting dizzy just standing so close. Dizzy with excitement! They'll believe you. Then get back to kissing . . .and get dizzy for real).

Silence - every now and again say something (even if it's blub, sloop, slurp)

What to avoid - bad breath (gross) - boring kissing (open your mouth for God's sake) - too much tongue (leave the tonsils alone) and rigor mortis (personally, I always get rigor mortis, but not the kind they're talking about!)

There are kissing books, kissing DVDs, kissing road shows, kissing clubs, French kissing, kissing with braces (well how else do you keep your trousers up?), the list goes on. Why wasn't I told all about this sooner?


I've been here three years and I've only just realised that banks around here shut on Monday. I know that all shops shut on Sunday and that a lot of shops shut on Monday, however this not totally consistent, because in nearby Quissac some shops are actually open on Sunday. A lot of restaurants also shut on Monday and at various other times during the week, so you always have to check. I know one restaurant that is open on Monday but closes at the weekend. Coming from a 7 day a week opening culture, I still find the inconsistency hard to adapt to.