Friday, September 30, 2005

A bilingual, gourmet dog

Mr Scuderi arrived to fix the fridge this morning. The fridge is an American monster and it had developed a deep throbbing noise that could be heard all over the house. In fact, one visitor complained that it kept her awake. With a new fan fitted, it positively purrs. Ah, bliss.


The vendage has nearly finished and tradition has it that you can pick the grapes that are left after the harvest. Well, that will be my defence, m'lud. It's amazing how many grapes get left behind, and delicious they are too. I had either read or been told that you couldn't eat wine grapes. What a lot of rubbish! Obviously a rumour put about by some less than philanthropic domaine owner. They are delicious, sweet and juicy and Max eats them straight off the vine. A French dog, that speaks English and likes grapes. Mnnn. Just before bed, I noticed that he had been chewing something brown and disgusting looking in his bed. Not being too good at either brown or disgusting, I called Jan who, with equal trepidation, picks up said offending object. It turned out to be a small clay model that Jan had made earlier in the year and that she had discarded. Maybe he's not such a gourmet after all.


On cue, Floyd arrives with Liza. She loves dogs, so what with Alison, who also likes dogs, Max is in seventh heaven. Without question, the most dog friendly visitors this year.


Doreen and Peter leave today, with Doreen having given her statement to the gendarmes yesterday. As long as there is no arrest warrant out for Peter in the next couple of days, they will arrive home safe and sound and out of the clutches of les flics. They are a lovely couple and we wish them both bon voyage.


I take Alison, Liza, Neil and Toby into Nîmes for a look see and they give it the thumbs up. Jan and I both like Nîmes, marginally preferring it to Montpellier, so it's nice if others share that pleasure. Dinner tonight consisted of a hot seafood gratin (new), Jan's famous barbecued ribs (old but still delicious - a bit like Jan really) and a lemon pudding (soft and spongy on top but with a sharp tangy sauce underneath - a bit like Jan really).

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Number 1 at last!

Peter sends me this link
which shows that, if you type 'Languedoc' into Google's Blog Search, this journal come out at number one. Never having been number one in anything other than Jan's affections (that's not what I've heard - Ed.) I am extremely flattered that my continual outpouring of trivia has finally been recognised (yeah, recognised as rubbish - Ed.).


So last night Christine arrives for her tennis lesson with Floyd, and Michelle, who has been babysitting, brings Paloma. Michelle is the person who runs the Marie and she is the village heartthrob. At least for us men of a certain age. We sit Paloma in front of the television so that she is entertained during the lesson, and when the DVD finishes, she strikes up a conversation with Jan. Now, neither of us are completely fluent in French but we speak and understand enough to get by. Paloma however, treats us like a couple of dumbos because this 4 year old child slows her French down to a crawl and looks at us in undisguised contempt as we fail to understand even the simplest concepts. That hurts. As Jan points out from time to time, isn't it wonderful how these young children speak French so well?


After a lot of soul searching and emails that fly backwards and forwards, dido confirms that she is a female. Thank goodness for that! Cryptic or what!


Floyd arrives from Nîmes with Alison, Toby and Neil and when Liza arrives tomorrow they will make up the last of the tennis groups this year. Well, at least as far as we know.
Dinner comprised smoked salmon, chicken with a tarragon sauce and a strawberry soup with mint. And, as if I need to say it, all washed down with the usual wines. This is an eating and drinking group and my 2 euros white is received with acclaim.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Expensive paperweights

William and I had our regular game of tennis this morning. I only just managed to beat him (9-7 in a tie-break). It's amazing how much he has improved and how competitive he has become. Great fun.


In anticipation of a trip to the UK in October, I spent a long time this morning trying to get my Palm PDA to synchronise with my desktop. After finally establishing that the desktop software was the likely culprit, I uninstalled and reinstalled it and after a bit more fiddling got it all to work. It's amazing how much time can be spent (wasted) sorting out relatively minor problems of this nature, but, somehow, it needs to be done otherwise the PDA becomes an expensive paperweight and not a very good one at that.


With just the three of us, Jan serves up leftovers. In the scheme of things, leftovers are usually not that appetising but Jan's leftovers are scrummy, so Floyd and I slop and slurp our way to a heart attack with all the food that no one could finish. Thank you everybody. We had a little drink as well!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

To kick or not to kick

Alphonso and Bettie, play Floyd and I at tennis this morning and kick our asses. They play really well and don't let us even get started until it's too late. We took it far too casually. Well played, chaps. James joins a little later and, after lunch, they leave for home via Nîmes. I pop into Domaine Langlade on the way back for a couple of boxes of their delicious white, which everybody likes and which we go through very quickly.


We now have a couple of days with no guests (except Floyd) so I fit a couple of new USB 2.0 cards into my computer because I'm running out of USB slots. Despite one not fitting properly, they seem to work first time. Hmmm.


Jan prepares a scaled down meal tonight of spaghetti with a puttanesca sauce (my favourite) and fruit. I particularly like this sauce because it is rich and flavoursome but mostly made with vegetables. We need to get some order into our lives, stop eating three course meals twice a day and start eating less indulgently. My next trip to the nutritionist is in October and I couldn't stand another telling off. We shall see.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Shake your ass, Floyd

Floyd likes to talk, to stay up late, and to talk, and in case I haven't convinced you yet, he likes to talk. The other week I asked one of our guests, who had stayed up with him, what time he went to bed. "Oh about 3.00 am," he said. "I had to give Floyd a damn good listening to." So, when Bettie and Alphonso want to take a car to visit Arles with Floyd, we have to drag him out of bed as usual.


My Nikes have finally given up the ghost, so it's off to Decathlon in Nîmes for a new pair. I manage to pick up a pair of Nike Zoom Air, reduced from 110 euros to 79. Now watch me float around the court. (At 116 kilos, don't you mean waddle? - Ed.)


The intrepid travellers return from their day in Arles and the Pont du Gard. It's their last night so we finish off with a warm bacon and avocado salad, Coq au Vin and a lemon surprise pudding, all washed down with an award winning Viognier, Les Collines du Bourdic. Scrummy.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Oh no, not Trivial Pursuit

Cheiko and Amanda leave for the UK via the airport at Nîmes and James leaves for Sommieres to spend a couple of days with friends. It transpires that as a student, he spent 8 months in Sommieres teaching English. Another, small world story!


We have a lot of rain overnight, which carries on during the day, so there is much TV viewing and general relaxation. A good idea, in the scheme of things, because this group rarely gets to bed before 3.00 am. Last night someone had the bright idea to start playing Trivial Pursuit at 11.30 pm, women vs men. As this game lasts several hours, those that have to get up early the next morning were well advised not to start. Some just can't help themselves, so even though I'm smart and go to bed at a sensible time, I'm woken at 2.00 am when a certain quiz queen comes to bed. Said quiz queen continues to moan about being tired all the next day. Sympathetic I most definitely am not, which then gets stored into said quiz queen's memory for use and abuse at a later date. This is something that I call 'the 20 year rule'. I can't tell you the number of times in my life that this has been used on me. There I am having a friendly discussion, OK, an argument, with my other half, when she throws a snippet of ancient information (hence the 20 year rule) into the proceedings to justify the argument about my continuing bad behaviour. If only 'positive information' was stored and used in the same way. Wouldn't the world be a happier and less stressful place?

PS. The women thrashed the men, but only because I went to bed!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Wine tasting, eating and reading

The new group of tennis players are good fun, good company, and challenging to play against. They are Alphonso, Amanda, Bettie, Cheiko and James. After lunch, I took everyone, except James, to Nîmes for a look around. We came back via Domaine Costeplane to buy some rosé and Françoise kindly showed us around their cave and let us try the grape juice at various stages of fermentation. Very interesting!


The day finished with dinner at Le Fourneau de Clelia. It was a good fun evening and good to give Jan a night off.


I have just finished reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Jan and I have both read it and rated it highly. An excellent book and I recommend it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Allo, allo, allo.

Gill and Mike left this morning via Montpellier. We rush back to change their room so that Floyd can use it when he arrives this afternoon. Talk about musical beds! Then it was off to Nîmes to pick up the tennis group (Five people + Floyd) and bring them back to the ranch. As soon as I'd done that I had to take Peter to the Gendarmerie in Nîmes because the accident had become a police matter after Doreen had been injured and hospitalised. Are you keeping up with this? Anyway, I helped Peter make a statement, which gendarme Monsieur Lacoste typed, and I even had to append my signature to said document. Deep down I was nervous about what might happen, never having been involved with the police in France (England yes, but that's another story) and with no knowledge of the French judicial system. I did consider that he might have been arrested, but as it turned out he simply made a statement and when Doreen gives her statement next week, the dossier is sent to the public prosecutor for consideration, by which time he will be safely tucked up at home. So far, so good.


Before he left this morning Mike told me this true story. He's in hospital waiting to have a colonoscopy when the duty sister told him that they are running late and that the procedure would not take place as planned, but a little later. She asked him if there was anything else that he had scheduled that might need to be re-arranged. "No, nothing important, I was going to watch England play South Korea at football that's all. Nothing too important." "OK," she said, "If you would like to wait over there I'll call you when we're ready." The colonoscopy went ahead later in the day and later that evening he came round, but naturally felt uncomfortable. A little later still, the doctor who performed the procedure came to his bedside and said, "Well Mr Robbins, that all went well would you like to know the result?" Mike, who had been quietly worried about the possibility of bowel cancer said, "Yes please doctor, let me hear it." The doctor said, "Well the news isn't too good, they only managed a draw, it was England 1, South Korea 1."


As an aside, I realised today, when at the police station, that the Gendarmerie are part of the French Ministry of Defence. They are a quasi military force, details here, not unlike the Carabinieri in Italy. Not many people know that!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Whisky stopped play

William cries off the tennis this morning which doesn't upset me too much because I can still feel the effects of last night's whisky. Jane and Donald left mid-morning for their drive north, so we both tackle jobs to get things ready for a lot of visitors tomorrow. Floyd is coming out with a group of 5 tennis players the penultimate visit this year. Another house full this weekend and beyond.


Jean Pierre, the owner with his wife of the now closed village restaurant, popped round to ask if I could book him a special online TGV promotion ticket at 15 euros. This means that he can travel by train between Nîmes and Lille, in the far north of France, for less money than his cheapest bottle of wine. It's a very good deal and I need to keep a lookout for these promotions.


Jan cooked tenderloin of pork
(aren't all loins tender?) stuffed with prunes, for dinner. The meat was cooked perfectly, and whilst not being a big fan of a meat and fruit combination, it was absolutely delicious. Thank you darling. (You creep - Ed.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A free recipe for all you little gourmets

I can't believe I'm doing this. Me, a serious, internationally renowned writer, posting this stuff but, as a result of underwhelming public demand, I include the free recipe for last night's brioche pudding.

Spread slices of brioche loaf with butter and cut in half.
Butter a heatproof dish and fill with the slices of brioche, sprinkled with sultanas and chopped ready to eat apricots.
Beat two or three eggs with cream and enough milk to cover the slices and add one teaspoon of nutmeg. Pour over the brioche and leave for one hour.
Before baking, sprinkle with flaked almonds and a generous helping of demerara sugar. Grate some more nutmeg over the top.
Bake for 30 - 40 minutes in a medium hot oven.

When the pudding is cooked, insert a spoon and extract a sizeable chunk. Stuff your face. Think of me as your loved one faints in pure ecstasy.


Doreen is kept in hospital for one more night and Peter, who now has a shiny new car which he has promised to return in a maximum of one piece, can visit as he pleases. I'm not too sure who I feel more sorry for, Peter, Doreen or the car hire company.


Smoked salmon, coq au vin and plum crumble last night. A real 70's treat and a walk down memory food lane. This was all washed down with a white and a red from Domaine Langlade. Donald cracks open some whisky and we polish off half a bottle. Bum, I'm on court at 8.00 tomorrow.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Now that's what I call service

This morning I took Peter to Quissac to look at the remains of his car and remove all his possessions. In the meantime, phone calls shoot backwards and forwards to the UK to sort out the insurance and get him back on the road. Doreen is hospitalized for a couple of days in Nîmes, so a car is essential to visit her. In addition, Peter has not yet totalled a French car so he's dying to get his hands on one. Anyway, as we are driving along, his mobile starts to lose power. What can I do he says? Yours truly reaches into his glove box and pulls out the correct charger for his Nokia phone. Now that's what I call service!


This afternoon, we took Peter into Nîmes to visit Doreen who is now more comfortable and walking about. She has to have another x-ray tomorrow and will then be released back into the community, something that happened to Jan years ago but that's another story. In the meantime, Peter has arranged another hire car and other transport back to the UK via the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) and he is a much happier bunny. A taxi will pick him up tomorrow and take him to his car. When he gets to Boulogne, he gets on the ferry and then picks up another car in Dover, and then drives home. That's what he wants and that's what he got. Service or what?


As if you aren't confused enough, Jane and Donald arrive for a two night stay, so after I get back from Nimes with Peter, we dine on watercress soup, followed by veal escalops and without question the most outstanding brioche pudding made by Gill.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Ouch, watch those seatbelts

I had just returned from taking Floyd, James and Cymron to the airport, when we got a phone call from visitors Doreen and Peter. They had been involved in a car accident. Visiting the scene, it was obvious that their car was damaged beyond repair and Doreen needed hospital treatment. Peter was shaken (but not stirred) and we eventually reunited them both at Nîme's, brand new, complete with helicopter pad, Caremeau Hospital. The nursing staff were very thorough and identified 5 fractured ribs which were probably caused by the seat belt. They decided to keep her under observation for a couple of days. Given the state of the car, they were both very lucky.


A big thank you to both Doreen and Peter because without them I would have found little to write about today. (You're sick! - Ed.)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Just one of those days

This was my last opportunity for an early morning hit with Floyd and the boys (photo), because they leave early tomorrow. Floyd and I took James and Cymron on at doubles and I'm embarrassed to say that they kicked our butts 6-0. They made us look like the old men that we are. In no way disheartened, we all went to Sommieres (well it is Saturday after all) where we bought some goodies for lunch. Some of us went into Nimes again in the afternoon and got back just in time for a lovely dinner featuring Jan's famous barbecued ribs. One of those busy but very satisfying days. We all slept well.


New visitors Doreen and Peter arrived late afternoon, having driven down from the UK and having spent several days on the coast near Agde. After a brief conversation Jan realised that they are avid readers of this journal so they know us intimately, whilst we did not know them at all. Quite a weird feeling. Anyway, because they read this rubbish I can't say anything horrible about them, but if anyone wants the low-down please write separately to me.

Friday, September 16, 2005

And, it will do this as well!

I spent many a happy hour this morning fiddling with my new phone, identifying the 100 and 1 things that I would never ask it to do. Because I agreed to stay with SFR, my mobile provider, I was able to buy this pocket marvel for 49 euros. Again, thanks to modern technology, I was able to download an English version of the instruction book which totalled 149 pages. So now, if I want to watch football, surf the net or take photographs, I know how to do it. I think not!


We left for an early dinner in Nimes because it is the Feria de Vendages. There should be lots to see and do, and so it transpired. The atmosphere was excellent. We headed for our usual pizza restaurant (photo top left) and then wandered the streets soaking up all the sights and sounds. The most amazing event was a huge 'float' that circled the town, that had been made to look like a huge mystical white galleon, with pirates all in white, and surrounded by huge white grotesque 'creatures' on stilts. These creatures wandered amongst the crowds creating quite an eerie feel. My description does not do it justice, but believe me, it was quite spectacular, similar in some ways to the show at the start of the Olympics. We then walked over to the Arene where our (mine and Jan's) favourite brass band was playing. The conductor (photo bottom left), dressed in all red top hat and tails, dances and prances as he conducts the band. Great fun. It was a warm balmy evening so we finished it off with a Hagen Daz ice cream each. I had Lychee and Ginger with another ball of Mango and Cream. Delicious, and yes, I know, I shouldn't have had it.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

An obituary notice

I had my regular midweek hit with William this morning. I didn't have the chance for anything to eat before playing and the difference between that and having something to eat was quite noticeable, especially as the hour marches on.


Jan, Gill, Mike and I, popped into Nîmes this afternoon, me to buy a new phone and Jan to buy some bed covers. All the jobs were completed satisfactorily, with me getting a Sony Ericsson V800 and Jan getting some bed covers. I think that I came out best on that one.


A very poor, frail, old man walked into the local newspaper office to place a notice that his wife had recently died. After he had shuffled disconsolately into the office, he asked the clerk how much it would cost. The clerk recognised him as an ex-employee who had worked for the newspaper many years before. She told him that it would cost £1 per word in the obituary section. He slowly put his hand into his pocket and brought out £3. She was somewhat embarrassed to realise that he was only entitled to three words. He ambled slowly over to a desk and, getting hold of a stubby pencil, he pondered for some time before he wrote slowly and carefully on the order form. With his head hanging low he shuffled back to the clerk and handed her the folded note. The clerk immediately felt very, very sorry for the poor old man as she opened his notice and read what he had written. He had written "Deidre is dead." The clerk fought to hold back her tears, given that this was all the poor old man could afford to write about his wife after 60 years of marriage. Full of good resolve, she marched into the back office to talk to the editor of the newspaper. She pointed out that the man had recently lost his wife, after 60 years of marriage, he was an ex-employee of good standing and he had fallen on very hard times. She eventually persuaded the editor to increase his allowance to 2 words for a £1 and proudly went out to tell the old man of his good fortune.
The old man could barely contain his thanks, and shuffled back to the desk to rewrite his notice. As he pondered over the correct words to use, he sucked on his pencil and wiped away the odd tear. After 20 minutes he folded the paper and shuffled miserably back to the clerk. The clerk looked at him with love and great pity and took the crumpled piece of paper from his hand. She slowly unfolded the rewritten script and looked carefully at what he had written. He wrote: "Deidre is dead - car for sale."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Arsonists and nutritionists

Jan and I went our separate ways this morning, me to Nimes to meet Floyd and two young tennis professionals, and Jan to Montpellier to meet her cousin Gill and husband Mike. Another full house this weekend!


Today's joke:

Did you hear about the man who didn't know the difference between incest and arson?

He went and set fire to his sister.


Ok, it was nutritionist time this afternoon, so it's off to Montpellier to see the lovely Dr K. I was not looking forward to the visit, and as it turns out, quite rightly so. I have put back on 1.5 kilos. I had to listen to a telling off which lasted several minutes. It's probably just as well that I don't understand half of what she says. Anyway, I sat there looking glum and very contrite, nodding in what I thought were all the right places, and promised to be better. It's worse than being married! If I didn't fancy her so much, I'd stop going now!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On the blink

My mobile phone is starting to play up. Despite practising good battery management (letting it run down fully before recharging it) the battery now dies after one or two days. I asked about the cost of a replacement battery but found that it costs just about as much to completely replace the phone. Welcome to the modern world.


It feels strange (and even stranger to say it) but there is something missing with no cricket on television. I have never been a big cricket fan and tried to 'get into it' when I lived near Headingly, Leeds. Headingly is the home of Yorkshire cricket and in those days Yorkshire were a kick ass team. So there I am, sitting with a few mates trying to watch this sporting event which is taking place so far from the spectators that the players are nothing but dots on the horizon. We sit, and I strain to see anything, when I was momentarily distracted, and the only significant event to happen that day, happened as I turned away. Remember there were no large tv screens, no action replays, just a reliance on trying to fathom out what was happening on, what seemed like, the other side of the moon. I have never been to a cricket match since. The world has moved on a lot since then, but I'm afraid it lost me as a spectator. Until just recently that is. It's strange how these things work out.


Apart from looking forward to some Champions League football on television tonight, the day was mostly spent with household maintenance and shopping for our next visitors, who arrive tomorrow.

Monday, September 12, 2005

OK, so what are the Ashes?

Another hit this morning at 8.00 am, though I must say I struggled to get out of bed. It was much cooler during the night so it was on with an extra layer before venturing out this morning. The forecast is good for the rest of the week so hopefully it's not time for the thermals just yet. I spent a little time trying to explain to William (he's French) a little about cricket, but we both gave up when his eyes glazed over and we decided to concentrate on our tennis instead.


It's funny how email viruses appear periodically. I use Norton Antivirus and so far it has protected me well. Viruses have started to appear again and I'm now getting 3 or 4 per day. I suspect that someone I know has been infected, but how to tell?


It's the final day of the cricket (is that a sigh of relief I can hear?) and it continues to excite. England must hang on and get as many runs as possible because this Aussie side is no pushover and they must not be given an inch. It's nail biting to the end. If England win, it's a result that they haven't achieved for 18 years.


Stop Press: England have retained the Ashes. Good effort to the team. Both sides were good value for money and instead of doing jobs around the house I spent most of the day in front of the television. A good effort from them and a poor effort from me.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

It won't stand up in court

In the last few days Damien (one of the tennis group) has told some funny stories, like the time he called into work sick, and asked his boss's secretary to say that he wouldn't be in to work that day because he was suffering from priapism. A little perplexed, she repeated this message to his boss.


The boys (Damien, Floyd, John and Richard) leave today, but this time from Nîmes, the airport that they should have arrived at three days ago. They were an amiable, intelligent, fun loving group who play tennis to a high standard and it was a pleasure to hit with them. Thank you guys.


The cricket is proving to be exciting yet again. One minute Australia were building a solid score and were looking good for the chance of a win when, inexplicably, they collapse to an English onslaught and England are back in the driving seat. I'm not sure that you can call a draw 'in the driving seat', but it's exciting nonetheless.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tennis, cricket and more food

I joined the tennis workout this morning for a bit of exercise and felt much better at the end of it. I'll try and do the same tomorrow. With another visit to the nutritionist looming, I need to lose a few pounds and at least appear that I'm making an effort. Unfortunately I don't have the self control necessary when we have visitors. It's so much easier when there's just Jan and I. Hey ho.


There are still two days to go and Australia are piling up the runs, but they are still some way behind and I suspect it is all a little too slow. (If this totally incomprehensible, then please move onto the next paragraph) They need to have a good lead by mid afternoon on Sunday in order to allow enough time to bowl England out. This could be another close finish.


It's the boys' last night and we barbecue lamb, which has been marinating in oil, lemon juice, garlic and rosemary, for over 24 hours. We start with stuffed peppers and with the meat we have roasted vegetables and dauphinoise potatoes. Cheese and a home made lemon sorbet to finish. Yum.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Where the hell have you been for the last 24 hours?

The horrendous weather problems in Languedoc made headline news last night and Nîmes featured heavily, although Jan said that they didn't mention me. Strange!


First thing this morning, Floyd rang to confirm that they were all on the coach and on their way. The driver had kindly agreed to drop them at the peage at junction 27 on the A9, in order to avoid me having to drive into Nîmes and having to deal with any problems that might occur in that area. Nice one driver - thank you. All goes to plan for a change and, after a very nice lunch, the boys are on court at 15.00 doing what they should have been doing 24 hours earlier. The rest of the afternoon and evening was a blur of tennis, pool, gin and tonics and Jan's famous barbecued spare ribs. We all slept well.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Oh no, not more rain!

Ooh er missus, we have heavy rain again today. Jan, who is normally the voice of doom and gloom as soon as there is any change in the weather, is taking it all in her stride. Whereas I get pissed off because I have to keep going out to empty the pool, and get soaking wet in the process. On top of that, Floyd and some friends are supposed to arrive this afternoon for a few days tennis and I know that I'm going to get blamed for the weather.


I don't normally mix the words 'cricket' and 'interesting' in the same sentence unless I want to say something like: "I find cricket as interesting as knowing that orthotetrachidecahedrons describes the shape of a bubble in beer foam." However, England and Australia are playing cricket at the moment and the current match decides who wins the series (best of five). The matches so far have been exciting, (I realise that a non cricket fan will find this incomprehensible) with some nail biting finishes. England are currently in the lead at 2 matches to 1, for the first time in a thousand years or so, and about to win back the Ashes (don't ask) and knock the so called best side in the world (the Aussies) off their self satisfied pedestals (sorry, Phil). We shall see.


What an afternoon! I set off at 14.00 to pick up the boys from the airport and little did I know what was in store. It was pouring down as I approached Nîmes and the first sign of potential problems was flood water, a metre deep, on the outskirts. Added to this minor skirmish, a car had broken down in the deep water and had been abandoned. The rest of the journey was very, very wet, with poor visibility, but fairly uneventful. I got to the airport, and it was still pouring down, but I could see no plane. As I was running late, I reckoned that this was not a good sign. I subsequently learned that, having made two aborted attempts at landing at Nîmes, the plane had been diverted to Perpignan (Montpellier, which was closer, had been shut down due to the poor weather), where it managed to get down at the second attempt. Scary. OK, inconvenient but not the end of the world. The boys are then put on a bus and driven up the A9 motorway to safety. Not so. When they get to Beziers they find that the motorway is blocked by flood water and accidents. All this time, I sit at the airport because it is easier to wait there than negotiate my way home and back. To make matters worse the cellphone network starts to play up and it is impossible to get a line, so I have to resort to calling Jan at home, from a payphone, who relays messages to Floyd by landline, to find out what's happening. Eventually I realise that they will not make it to Nîmes so I start to wend my weary way back home. I should have guessed that there was fun ahead because the entrance to the motorway had been blocked off. Bum. I set off into Nîmes by the back roads only to find that road after road had been blocked and I was in the middle of a traffic gridlock. There was no way back and no way forward. I won't bore you with any more, but suffice to say that I eventually got home at 21.20, seven and half hours after first setting off. Jan, bless her, had made a nice curry and had a chilled bottle of wine waiting for her little intrepid traveller. I slept well last night.
(At least you don't live in New Orleans - Ed.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Where is Inondable?

Somebody once said to me: "Where is this place Inondable?" When I asked what they meant they mentioned that a lot of roads around here appear to lead to Inondable. It always makes me laugh when I think about it. (It doesn't take much to make you laugh - Ed.) The photo above is particularly appropriate.


When I checked the pool water chemistry this morning, the monitoring system warned me that the Ph level was particularly low at 6.5. The Ph level (the acidity/alkalinity balance) in the pool is maintained automatically at about 7.0. This is the correct setting for a 'salt system' pool, and because the pool is filled and replenished with very hard (alkaline) water, an acid is used to reduce the Ph to an acceptable level. The inescapable conclusion therefore was that all the rain that fell in the pool yesterday must have been quite acidic. Hmm. (Don't you know anything? The Ph of rain is about 5.5 - Ed.)


With more rain forecast for tomorrow, there's not much point in clearing up outside, so Jan and I have a lazy morning and spend the afternoon preparing for the next tennis group that arrives tomorrow. For a change, Floyd is coming out with three men and no women. At least it will keep Jan happy!


Talking about keeping Jan happy, she gets an hours free French conversation with Christine (she's French and speaks very good English) this afternoon and, in exchange, I give Christine a tennis lesson. Somebody has got the raw end of the deal here but I'll let you know when I've figured it out.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Now that's what I call rain

What a downpour last night! I can only imagine what monsoon rain is like but this must have been pretty close. The storm kept us both awake for large parts of the night. Even Max, who rarely shows that he is disturbed by thunder and lightening, started to make his discomfort felt. We had already battened down the hatches the day before, so we did not expect to find too many problems, but the first thing that I noticed was that the pool had filled right to the top. I conservatively estimate that the pool took on 4 cubic metres of water and was getting close to overflowing. My first job was to check to see if the land drainage that we put in at the beginning of the year was working, and it was. Water was flowing at full bore through all three 10 cm pipes and whilst there was some minor flooding at the top of the garden, where water was pouring down the embankment in small water falls, there was no dangerous flooding. Maybe I should have been a hydraulics engineer. (A trench digging labourer is nearer the mark – Ed.) The pool house had only 3 cms of water in it, so the drainage for that was working well too. So far, so good. The next job was to lower the water level in the pool because there was no sign of the rain abating, a job that I did twice during the morning. The duration and intensity of the rain reminded us of the rains in September 2002, just after we moved here, that caused huge flooding and loss of life.
The rain finally stopped at 2.00 pm and we went for a drive to survey the damage. As you can see above, the nearby Vidourle was very high. What you can't see is a bridge which is about 3 metres below the water level.


As if reading my mind about wanting a decent curry, we receive an offer from Ryanair for free seats (pay only the taxes) during the coming months. We had looked last night and decided the prices were just too high. Because of this offer, we changed our minds about driving to the UK at the beginning of December and book two flights from Nimes to Luton and back for 91 euros (approx £30 each), good eh? We'll travel light and load up with Christmas goodies, especially Tesco's deep filled mince pies. Good, heart stopping, fare.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Quick it's raining, into the pool

It rained this morning, great, and rain is forecast for the next four days. The upside is that it will make our visitors from Scotland feel at home. For me, the rain is a welcome relief and will provide some natural irrigation for the garden. The tennis court is the only green thing around here at the moment, everything else being some shade of brown, and that includes Jan and I. Despite the rain, which ceased temporarily, Robert and the children went into the pool, which was still warm at 28c, for one last dip.


After the trip to the airport, we popped into Truffaut for some food for Max, then onto the Asian supermarket for Jan to stock up with things oriental. It's more a warehouse than a shop, and the smell of spices hits you in the guts as soon as you walk in. It brings back memories of many a happy curry meal. So much so, that we looked at Ryanair to see if it was feasible to fly to the UK for a curry night!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

What a load of bull

Robert very kindly invites us for lunch at Mas de Roux which we take outside, on the terrace, with spectacular views of the hills and vines. The menu is, as ever, very good value with reasonably priced local wines. It is Sunday lunch and the place is packed. Even the children eat well which is a good sign. Recommended, if you are ever near Bragassargues.


The year end Festival of Manades took place this afternoon in Montagnac, a small village 10 minutes away. Several manades, got together for a very big abrivado. An abrivado is a tradition left over from pre-truck days when gardians (the French version of cowboys) would round up the bulls grazing the wetland plains of the Camargue. I can't think why the above picture (left) took my fancy but alongside 40 horsemen there are a fair number of ladies who match the men at displaying their horsemanship. Basically, bulls are released from a holding truck at one end of a huge meadow and the gardians show their skills by controlling the bulls at full speed across the meadow (above right), through a huge crowd of foolhardy bystanders (note the man in blue), through the narrow streets of the village and into a waiting truck at the other end. The fun comes when the bulls break free, charge the crowd, which scatter in all directions, and disappear into the vineyards. Charging the crowds is quite a regular occurrence and certainly gives you an adrenalin rush. We have seen quite a few of these now and the one at Montagnac is probably the best.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

You and whose army?

First stop today is Domaine Arnal for a couple of ten litre boxes of my delicious everyday drinking white, at 2 euros a litre. We also buy some boxed red to try later. The vendage is in full swing so we (Robert, Ella, Michael and myself) look into the cave and watch them pressing cinsault for their rosé. A very nice caviste is busy but takes the time to show us what he is doing. We find that if you show a genuine interest in their work then one and all are pleased to take the time to show you what they do.


Next stop Sommieres, where we buy a few bits and meet up with Peter Hornby. Peter runs this website and I am pleased to say that I am one of its regular visitors. He now has every excuse not to buy me a drink because the man that was running Bar Partropi has done a moonlight. So we now have a big hole in our lives until he can find a new tenant. How will we all survive?
On leaving the market we bump into William (my tennis partner) and Christine. He is full of the joys of spring because he has just bought himself a pair of Nike tennis shoes and a new tennis racquet. The man in the shop had told him that with this new equipment he will kick my ass. Mnnn - only if he teams up with Roger Federer!


Our new visitors, who arrived tonight, are Desmond, Jean and James Hammerton. Desmond is Jan's cousin but they have not met for at least 15 years. Jan seems to have this effect on people! They have a little problem finding us, but notwithstanding their late arrival, we have a nice meal on the terrace under the stars and crawl into bed at 1.00 am.

Friday, September 02, 2005

That's a joke?

A mid morning hit with Paul and Jane before they leave, which was just what I needed. If I can keep this up I'll become waiflike! Paul and Jane came out with the tennis group last week and because they liked it so much they decided to stay for a few more days. They are a nice couple and we hope they come back.


Jan's joke of the day:

"I was asked to run a marathon today, but I said, "no way."
They said 'come on, please, it's for spastics and blind children.'
So I thought, fuck it, I could win this."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Do exactly as I say

So Robert takes his two young children, Ella (8) and Michael (5), to the beach. A good time was being had by all when Michael says: "Daddy, I want to go to the toilet."
Robert says: "That's no problem Michael, go into the sea and do it."
Michael looks puzzled, because this is the first time that he has been given such an instruction.
"OK daddy." Michael walks down to the water's edge, pauses, and standing in two inches of water, pulls his willy out and lets fly.


It's the 1st September and it seems like only yesterday that we were looking forward to summer. But we can't complain, it's 31c in the shade today and the next few days are also looking very good. The pool gets up to 28c most afternoons, the perfect temperature, so we spend a little more time than usual sitting and swimming. Good eh?


Back to Michael again. There he is messing about in the pool when he shrieks because he has been bitten on his tummy. The only thing that we can see that could have been involved was a waterboatman swimming nearby. I was certain that waterboatmen are harmless, so I Googled it and my supposition was confirmed. But there at the bottom of the article it said waterboatmen are easily confused with backswimmers. I had never heard of a backswimmer so I Googled it and there it was. They can give a painful bite. Isn't Google a wonderful tool?