Monday, October 31, 2005

Smoke gets in your eyes

It's good to get back playing tennis again, and William and I have a really good game this morning. Just as we are finishing our post-match coffee, who should arrive but Manny, our plumber, who has come to instal the extractor on the chimney. Ever since we have lived here, we have had a problem with the chimney not aspirating very well. Not all the time, but quite often, and certainly enough to make it a problem. We have tried lots of different things and this is almost the last thing that we can do. The chap from whom we bought the house was a designer and he put in this enormous 'baronial' type fireplace. It looks great but as a fireplace it is useless. The opening was too big, the flue diameter too large and the chimney too short. In fact, three metres too short! Since moving in, we have raised the hearth and put a hood over the fireplace. The very last thing we did was to raise the height of the chimney. Unfortunately, we could not raise it high enough because it would have become unstable. Today, Manny fitted an 'aspirateur', a rotating cowl that should draw air up the chimney whatever the wind conditions. He thinks this will finally solve the problem. He could well be right. As I understand it, the top of a chimney should extend above the top most part of a roof and it should not be too big in terms of diameter. Our chimney, which is some way from a higher adjacent roof, is too low and when the wind is in certain directions, it hits the roof, tips over the top, and creates a downdraft which then pushes smoke back down the chimney.
(OK, enough, we get the message - Ed.)


Will sent me this today. We both found it very funny and it should appeal to people of a certain age. Make sure you have your speakers turned on.


We just remembered that it was Halloween and nipped to Quissac for some goodies for the kids. Last year we only had a couple of kids come to the door but this year there were lots. Max finds it all a bit bemusing and a bit scary because they all turn up in strange outfits. At one point he shot out of the front door and scared the wits out of some kids. It'll be interesting to see if they come back next year. I was glad to see however, that Max took his guarding duties seriously. That is until one kid, who I know has another Beauceron, approached Max, despite his barking, whereupon Max shot back into the house. Fearless he is not! Anyway, this was the last of the callers because, shortly after, we had the mother and father of all thunderstorms. Does anyone want any chocolate?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Small steps forward

I spent the morning trying to sort out my various computer problems. I managed to restore my internet connection on the laptop, by uninstalling the recently installed XP Pro. Going back to Windows 98 gave me connectivity again. A classic case of don't fiddle, just leave things alone if they work well.
I'm still working on the other two problems, the major one being my own sick PC and the minor one being a failure with the wireless range extender. If all this computer stuff is making you feel sleepy, I apologise but until I sort it out, I won't feel whole again.


I'd seen this before but thought that it was a coincidence. Max has learnt how to open a door. He will only do it if he is very excited, like he believes there is something outside to see, but he stands on his back legs, brings his paw down on the handle and lets the door swing open. Having now done this a few times, I think that he has figured it out. We also have sliding doors out of the study onto the terrace and he has worked out that if he sits down next to the door, the act of sitting down and pushing at the door at the same time, will open the door sufficiently for him to get out. Now, if I could just get him to weed and cut the lawn, that would make me very happy! I wonder if he knows anything about computers?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Give it a rest

Still no change with 'el diablo' this morning. It's as if I expect a computer to get better overnight. A bit like 'a good nights sleep' will sort it out. No, it won't, dumbo!


During our recent stay in England there was a big national celebration for Trafalgar Day. As I understand it, Nelson died but won an 'important' battle. Frankly, I have no comprehension as to why this would be celebrated. I'm not one for celebrating wars or battles and understand even less a battle that took place 200 years ago. Why not all the others as well? There was probably an 'important' battle everyday of the year throughout history. I have no problem in remembering all those that gave their lives in defence of their country but to celebrate a battle just seems to me to be jingoistic nonsense. When I questioned this during a dinner party recently, one idiot stated that if we had lost the battle then we would all be speaking French and eating cheese. I had to remind him, that whilst I can always find something to criticise in the French, as I can the English, the French also eat well, drink wine, have the best healthcare system in Europe, work a 35 hour week and take the whole of August off.


Our new 'aperos' are now carrot or tomato juice with worcester and tabasco to pep it all up. Jan cooked meatballs with an interesting, sweet and spicy tomato sauce, courtesy of the Times. Jan wasn't too sure about the sweetness so I enjoyed it more than her.
A quiet Saturday night watching rubbish on the television. It seems like a long time ago that we last did this.

Friday, October 28, 2005

And I thought that I came home for a rest

Just great. The computer is still playing up, as if I haven't got enough to do today. I switched it on at 09.39 and at 11.05 it was still running scandisk. Sounds like a question to this board is needed. It's amazing how displaced and uncomfortable I feel without my computer. I'm not sure what that says about me but it's a bit worrying. (Yes, you're right to worry! - Ed.) And just in case you are wondering, I'm using Jan's computer to stay in touch with the world.


I spent a couple of hours this morning with the LLoyds trying to sort out their pool before they leave today. Then a trip to Nîmes for a car service and to pick up Max on the way back home. I'm not sure who was the most pleased, but it's good to have him back, even if he does smell a bit (lot).


Eventually, during late evening, the computer loaded in Safe Mode but it runs like someone has poured treacle inside. By 23.35 I was starting to feel like giving up for the night, because every button that I clicked took minutes to respond. The CPU is working at 100% and I'm not sure why because there are no applications loaded. All very strange. Max slept like a log all evening, lucky him!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Home, not so sweet home

I have no idea why, but I could hardly sleep last night, so I spent several hours finishing off my latest book, Digital Fortress, by Dan Brown. It's a good, fast moving thriller. Recommended.


We made an early start and the final leg of the journey was fairly unexceptional, apart from the motorway through Lyon. We always go through the centre of town because, with no holdups, it's faster than the ring road. One day we will get caught but so far so good. The motorway lanes through Lyon are narrow and everything travels at a fair old lick (110 kph), so this part of the journey requires a bit more concentration. It's definitely quite exhilarating. The journey from Brighton to home is, 1218 kms and took 12 hours 51 minutes of driving time. Of no interest to you, no doubt, but this is a good place to record it for me. So there.


As ever, it is good to arrive home, but then the fun started. My computer, which has been switched off for 11 days, refuses to fully boot up. No matter what I do, I have no success. We are invited to the Lloyds (our favourite occasional neighbours) next door but one for dinner and I leave it running to see what happens. Nothing. It gets as far as the wallpaper and refuses to move forward. Bum, bum and thrice bum! Anyway the dinner was excellent. Smoked salmon to start followed by duck on a bed of lentils and spinach. Delicious and much better than I would have got at home. I leave the computer to fight with it another day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

More good news ish

Another excellent sea crossing. Hopefully I've now cracked my seasickness. The downside is the effect the Mercalm has on me. It makes me quite sleepy. So, no seasickness, but kill yourself falling asleep at the wheel. This needs more work. Mmnnn.
As usual, the roads in northern France are a delight, with only a fraction of the traffic of the motorways in the UK. We made it to Rheims for something to eat and a night's sleep.
What is it about the Gallic shrug that really pisses me off? Really nicely, I asked the woman who owns the hotel, if I can have another pillow in the bedroom. She says there's one in the room. I say I know, again really nicely, but there are two of us so could I have another pillow, please? She made a sort of snorting noise, invoked the Gallic shrug, and trounced off to find us another pillow. When she found it, she dropped it on a chair in the entrance hall for us to pick up on the way to our room, without saying anything or any other acknowledgement. I was tired, it was 21.30 and in no mood to walk out, which I would have done in days gone by, plus she had our credit card number and would have charged for the room anyway. She ran the joint, there was no one else to complain to, so I was forced to just ignored her rudeness. If you ever have a choice, do not stay at the Campanile - La Neuvillette, north of Rheims run by Joelle and Franck Born.

Normal service will be resumed

We leave Brighton early (dare I say for some last minute fresh food shopping) and head towards Dover. Normal service will be resumed in a couple of days.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Good luck

We managed to find some on street parking again last night which is pretty lucky. It means that I don't have to get up too early to move the car. That's the first bit of good luck. The second bit of luck is that we had decided not to leave today, because it's blowing a gale and the crossing would have been very rough. The forecast is better tomorrow, ish. The third bit of good luck is we were late to move the car and had not received a ticket.


Today was a total chill day, dedicated to us. We read a lot and walked around town. It's half term and all the kids are off school so the place is chaotic. Bum. Not as peaceful as we would have liked but maybe our run of good luck had come to an end.


For our last night before heading back to France, Rebecca invites us (me, Jan, Josh and James) for a take out meal at their house. As we approach the car, one hour after it should have been moved, a warden is giving a ticket to the car next to us. As we were next in line he said, "You were lucky." I was suitably obsequious. The fourth and final piece of luck. Maybe Brighton isn't so bad after all.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Toys R Us

Another great night's sleep. I suspect that the 'little one' wore us out yesterday. Being gluttons for punishment, we arrange to take her out for the afternoon today, whilst her parents do their thing. It's pouring with rain, so we hot foot to an indoor play complex. There was nothing like this when I was a child. We had to make do with the great outdoors, our imaginations and like minded friends. This place is huge, with exciting things to climb and play on, all in padded safety, a bit like a huge padded lunatic cell. The noise level was unfortunately a little like sitting in an aircraft hanger whilst they test the engines. A bit over the top, but hey, what are grandparents for if not to put up with this rubbish? Maisie was great, I stuffed her with chocolate (I know, I'm not a responsible gp), but we handed her back shortly after, and her parents can deal with the fall out. And so on to our next stop, Toys R Us, for a little more spoiling. That's what being a grandparent is all about.
(Hmnnn, we need to chat - Ed.)


James is nothing if not competitive, so Jan and I get roped into a pub quiz tonight, but before we go, we get to tick off the last of our 'must do' meals, an Indian curry. The Bay Leaf, 104 Western Road, Brighton, 01273 773804, fills that spot beautifully. Service was a little slow, but the food was good and a little above the norm for an Indian restaurant. Recommended.
The quiz was held at the Lion and Lobster pub nearby. We joined a team of, mostly, lecturers from Sussex University. Question - how many Doctors does it take to win a pub quiz? Answer - a lot more than we had. We came fifth!
In the good old days I used to enjoy visiting pubs but nowadays I find the noise and, more importantly, the smoke gets to me and I hate my clothes and hair smelling of stale cigarette smoke. (All you ex smokers are the same - Ed.)

Sunday, October 23, 2005


James very kindly offered us his bed last night, and we both slept well for the first time in a week. It was great, thank you, James.

Apart from the opportunity to catch up with our elderly, and not so elderly, kith and kin, the highlight of our trip will be to see Maisie, our grandaughter, so we pop over to Hove to meet up with Rebecca, Jan's daughter, and Trevor, Maisie's parents. The little angel is in good form and quickly settles down, after the usual bribes are offered. We play with her for hours and she is a delight, but the great thing about being a grandparent is that you can leave the little angels at the end of the day. Rebecca produces an excellent Sunday roast lunch, beef, potatoes, roast veg and Yorkshire Puddings, followed by a plum and apple crumble. Seriously good Sunday fare that has evaded Jan and I for a long time. And still no alcohol! You've gotta be impressed.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

St Albans to Brighton via London

We leave St Albans late morning and head for central London to meet up with Cara, my daughter and Luke (together with Lydia), Jan's youngest son. Cara has booked for us to eat lunch at Yauatcha in Soho. Excellent chinese food in a very modern setting. The dim sum was excellent, so much so that we asked if we could have the table for longer (they usually only have one and a half hour sittings) then took the menu again and ordered a whole lot more food. Highly recommended.


London still has a huge buzz for us both and the streets are teeming with people. At times a few too many for us simple country folk! Jan still has enough energy for more retail therapy so we hit Muji, a great store where Jan buys lots of small Christmas presents, Mac, and John Lewis again before we get into the car for the drive south, through London, to Brighton (our fourth bed). The drive was slow and stressful and we eventually arrived at 20.30. Not knowing what we had already eaten, James (my son with whom we are staying) booked us into a Thai restaurant, er yum. Having said that we ate well.
I'm not too sure what I feel about Brighton. If the yobbish behaviour that we saw, as we walked to the restaurant, is anything to go by, then it is difficult to think very highly. It is without doubt an attractive town and there are lots of good things to see but at the same time it makes me feel uneasy especially as we walk downtown. As Jan pointed out, it is probably no different to many town centres around the country, but that only hightens my dismay. Anyway we left the revellers to it and beat a hasty retreat to bed.

Friday, October 21, 2005

St Albans

After a lazy start, we head off to Welwyn Garden City where they have a very good John Lewis department store. JL is our must-visit shop on any trip to the UK. There is no store like it in our part of the world and JL, Welwyn, is a particularly good one. A huge range of quality goods, attractively presented, and all at a good price. We shop til we drop.

(All you can talk about is bloody shopping. Get a life. Ed.)


Over to Tim and Sue's for a take out Chinese dinner, which is another of the must-have meals we can tick off (an Indian curry is still to be had). Still no alcohol, but I think that I'm starting to look ill!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Harrogate to St Albans

Before we leave Harrogate, Jan manages to squeeze in a 3 hour hair do. No different to what she has done in France, except France is a third of the price. But what do I know? Mum puts on the perfect farewell lunch, smoked trout, parma ham, pickles etc., before we wend our way south, down the M1, to St Albans, Jan's home town. Just above Leicester there are roadworks and it's the only time that I have ever witnessed cars travelling at exactly the mandatory speed of 40 mph. If you look carefully at the warnings they tell you that your average speed will be measured. Cameras note your number plate at the begining of the works and again at the end. If you exceed the average of 40 mph through the roadworks you get a ticket. Clever or what? It certainly kept the traffic under control and it really works. In fact it is very difficult to keep your speed down and I bet lots of cars get booked.

We hit St Albans where Gwen, Jan's mother in law from her previous marriage (her husband Garth died very young), makes steak and kidney pie, yum, good old fashioned English grub. Unfortunately, we now have to endure the third and smallest bed of the trip, smaller even than a standard double. What with the dip in the middle, I find myself hanging on to the side so as not to roll towards the middle and disturb Jan. I needn't have bothered, because Jan can't sleep either, so we read lots and doze fitfully. Not my idea of fun and it's at times like this, that you long for your own bed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Harrogate is such a nice town. Surrounded by 'the Stray', 200 acres of grass and trees, it oozes refined, gentile life. At first glance, there must be more BMWs per square inch than anywhere that you can think of. When I was 18 years old, and impatient to get on with my life, I couldn't wait to get out of Harrogate. When I hit 40, I started to look at it with older, wiser eyes and it became the sort of place that I could seriously think of retiring to.
The shops are great and the first port of call everytime for Jan is Lakeland, a shop full to the brim with new kitchen ideas and interesting gifts. We generally shop to find out what we need, so M&S is also on the trail followed by Boots, Superdrug et al.
One of the 'fixes' that we need when we visit the UK is a Thai meal so that's where we head for dinner. Even mum, who doesn't like spicy food, enjoyed it. Lots of retail therapy and a nice dinner. A good day!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Laon to Harrogate

Given that the hotel is on the 'holiday' route between the channel ports and the south of France, it should have been no surprise that we would meet someone we know. But surprised we were because we meet the estate agents, who are selling our gite, at breakfast. I resist the urge to ask them why they are not at home pushing our property and waved a cheery goodbye as we headed north and they headed south.


Whilst we are still 2 hours away from Boulogne, the fact that it is windy should not have bothered me too much, but the truth is I'm not looking forward to the channel crossing. Passing through a peage as we come off the motorway, I noticed several policemen standing shivering in the strong cold wind (it was 8c and the coldest we'd experienced so far this year was 16c) by the side of the toll booths (this is an excellent place to stop and examine any suspicious cars as they pass through). This not only reminds me that the crossing might be rough but also that we haven't packed any overcoats. Bum.


In order to keep myself amused whilst Jan dozes and I drive, I play little games. Games, like seeing how far I can get without the tank running dry, or estimating the speed of an overtaking car and then seeing if I can overtake the car in front without braking. Just fun really, but sometimes a little unnerving for Jan. Anyway, after one slightly close encounter, Jan said "You're playing games with yourself again", to which I replied, "at least it's a playing with yourself game that's not frowned upon by the Catholic Church!"


We arive at Boulogne after 1101 kilometres and 11 hours 55 minutes of actual driving. (I suppose that's an interesting nugget for someone. Ed.) Having stuffed myself with Mercalm, we took advice and sat in the centre of the catamaran on the lowest deck, and given that the sea was very calm, we had an outstandingly smooth crossing. Just excellent. At 50 minutes, with a free ticket, this is the way to travel! What more could you want? I'm a sailor!


The roads in England are busy. Very busy, and a lot different to the north of France, but we arrive safely in Harrogate after 1545 kms and 16 hours and 47 minutes driving. Like every good Italian Mamma, mum has prepared pasta with a rich tomato sauce followed by salad and the meat that was cooked in the sauce. Yum. She has also found a very meaty Chilean rosé to wash it all down, but, of course, I didn't have any.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Home to Rheims

Onto the A9 at 10.00 am, set the cruise control to 2500 revs (this only produces 70 mph but it's the best compromise between speed and deisel consumption) and let the miles go by.
The countryside around our house is permanently green, mainly because of the scrub oak and pine trees, so we really appreciate the yellows, reds and golds of the broad leaf trees as we travel up the Rhone valley. We are heading for Pellusin, which is high up on the edge of the Massif Central, to view the latest litter at Murier de Sordeille. Needless to say the puppies are gorgeous and there are lots of oohs and aahs as Jan picks them up. We also get to see Max's mother Silk, who gives us a bit of a shock because facially she looks just like Max. (What were you expecting that she'd look like? Ed.)


We aimed for Rheims, as our first stop for the night, only to find that there was no room at the Inn. This type of unplanned behaviour is unusual for an anal me, inasmuch as I would have had all the hotels booked in advance, but Jan is much more relaxed and is happy to go with the flow and to that extent, it makes for much more "interesting" journeys. But hey, no problem, we head futher north and stay at an old favourite in Laon. The restaurant is quite good and offers good value. Despite the fact that I'm in holiday mood, I requested green beans with my steak instead of chips. Who's a good boy then?

Home to the middle of France

We leave today for the UK, and the first stop is Max's breeders Corinne and Guy Bonnefoy. Unfortunately, until we get to our first base in a few days time, I will not be able to access the internet. Details of life on the road to follow soon.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

St Alex of Cannes

Well, now I know what it's like - existing on a Life Support Machine. You're lying there, glad to be alive, but it's not exactly a whole lot of fun. I don't want you to think that I'm getting obsessive about this, but at midnight tonight, at the end of my third day, there will be 35 days, 14 hours and 20 minutes, before I will have completed my pledge not to drink before the next meeting with my nutritionist. Which also reminds me, that I will need to clear a couple of days after the meeting because the hangover will last at least that long. As I said, I'm not obsessive, but you will notice, that what I thought was a month, is in fact somewhat longer. She's nothing if not sneaky, the lovely Doctor and I should have paid more attention.


Today was all about getting ready for tomorrow's trip. Tidying the garden, checking the car over and packing. This afternoon, we took a reluctant Max to his pension, in St Mamert du Gard, and left him in the capable hands of Olivier, his trainer. The house is always quiet without him and you tend to miss a 40 kilo dog trying to sit on your knee. Hey ho.


Will cheers me up no end by mentioning that the nightly trips to the toilet might be a sign of prostate problems. Don't you think I've got enogh on plate at the moment? By the way, now that he's broken cover, Will's the one who very wisely chooses the month of February to abstain each year. February, because it has the shortest number of days! Nice one, Will.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Matters medical

Now there's nothing I like more than pondering over medical mysteries. Today's mystery goes like this. I have, of late, been waking a few times in the night to go to the toilet. (Do we really need to know this? - Ed.) I put this down mostly to the wine that I have with dinner. It's liquid and has a diuretic effect. This I understand. So how come, following my pact with the good doctor yesterday, I have nothing to drink at all during the late afternoon or evening but I still have the same nocturnal journeys? This needs some serious consideration n'est ce pas? I may have stumbled upon some new and unexplained problem, new to science. What do you think?
(I think you're an incontinent prat - Ed.)


It rained this morning, so two of the day's planned forays were cancelled, but there are still two to go, so read on.

It must be a sign of age, or something, that makes Jan decide to enter 3 pots of jam into our village competition, the Premier Concours de Carthagenes et de Confiture. I'd always seen her in a WI (Women's Institute) kind of way, and now she's proved my point. After much deliberation, nothing if not thorough our Jan, she enters an apricot, brugnon (nectarine) and lemon curd (my favourite) but we rejected the fig jam, which she made last year. There is also a competition for cartagene, which would be fun to judge. I would love to be on the judging panel, giving it a kind of international flavour. The new sober me would, of course, have to refuse but they'll have another competition next year, so here's hoping. As a matter of public duty, the new sober me must also point out the dangers of excessive drinking.
L'abus d'alcool est dangereux pour la santé. A consommer avec modération.
(I should have said, incontinent sanctimonious, prat - Ed.)


We popped down to the village hall at 18.00 for the results of the Belote tournament, and the cartagene and jam competitions. We're not too sure about the card game Belote, the village drunk won the cartagene competition (he's had more practice than anyone else) and Christine, the mayor's wife, won the jam making competition with a cherry jam. Jan came fourth with her lemon curd which was the only jam that was completely finished when the public were allowed to try them all. These village get togethers are great fun and we enjoy participating. Jan even gets kissed by the village drunk now (they're sort of kindred spirits) and at each successive event, we feel more part of the community.


Dinner at Le Fourmeau tonight and very good it was too. Everyone really enjoyed their meal. The food just gets better and better and always with reasonably priced wines. At ten minutes from the house, it's our restaurant of choice. And yes, not a drop passed my lips. Strange, but true.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Wot, no wine?

I wake in the night with another idea regarding my network problem. So I start working on it again straight after breakfast. Well, I need something to take my mind off my visit to the nutritionist this afternoon. I have no luck, so I will have to bring in the troops. It's probably something simple, but then it always is.


Jan kindly accompanied me to the nutritionist this afternoon. Mostly for moral support, but mainly because, if I'm going to get bollocked about my eating behaviour, then she might as well be in on the loop. It will be easier to change with her help. It transpired that my weight hadn't changed. To some people (like me) that was a positive result, but to others, like the nutritionist, it's a failure. Bum. I get grilled (excuse the pun) for 20 minutes and finally agree to cut out booze for one month. A good friend used to give up drink during February each year. He always stuck to it religiously despite my best efforts to test him, so I will do the same. Am I really writing this? I do like the odd glass of wine so it will be a real sacrifice. As we left, the nutritionist suggested that Jan do the same, which I thought was funny, but I'm not sure how funny Jan found it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A little knowledge does not go a long way

Jan goes out for lunch, with the girls, and leaves me to slave over a warm computer. I spend all morning dealing with phone calls and other bits in connection with next week's trip. We are going to cross the English Channel (for free this time) with SpeedFerries, so I ask Jan to buy me something for travel sickness. Just starting to think about it makes me feel light headed. A seafarer I am not.
(At least you know how people feel when you start spouting off - Ed.)


I spend a lot of the afternoon trying to upgrade my laptop to XP. It seems to go well, despite dire warnings from the Dell site that XP is not supported, but after getting the wireless card to work, I have no network connection. In the process of installing XP, I have lost my network configuration so I try and remember what I was taught by Chris W, the original Doctor K, (coincidently, I'm seeing a much prettier, female Dr K tomorrow), but after several fruitless hours I still can't connect it to the network. Bum. I retire beaten, but alive and determined to fight another day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bouncing back from a bruised ego

Rearrange the following words into an embarrassing and painful phrase:- morning beat this 6-2 me William. I was still sore from my efforts on Monday, but no excuses, he won fair and square. It was good fun and I love it being competitive.


A day for jobs and general autumnal tidying up. We leave for a few days in the UK on Monday and it would be good to have things ship shape by then.


Out to Jill and Harry's for dinner tonight. Jill's a good cook and tonight she produced a prawn and mango salad to start, a five hour cooked leg of lamb and crème brûlée over fruit. And yes, I had seconds.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sand blasted by the seaside

Bar, Harry, Jill and Geoff arrived at 09.30 to join us for a trip to a bird sanctuary, a walk around an etang and lunch in Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. Personally I find the Camargue a bit boring. It is very flat, as you would expect the Rhone delta to be, and unless you are interested in ornithology, then it is not the most exciting place to visit. I'm actually quite good at orni, but not too good at thology. But hey, give it a go and see what happens. We arrived at the Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau and everybody started covering themselves in anti mosquito stuff. Now forgive me for stating the obvious, but why are we all heading into an area where we will be eaten by bugs and have to cover ourselves with deet? Surely looking at all the pretty birds is safer and far more comfortable, with binoculars, from the safety of the car. But no, what do I know? The bird sanctuary bit was actually very interesting with, guess what, loads of birds and other wild things. The flamingoes were very pretty close up (out of hundreds, it was the only bird that I recognised) and Jan was interested in the coypus, because we have them in our garden. That is until I told her that they are related to rats. I think I said the wrong thing! Anyway, I enjoyed the bird sanctuary bit. The walk around the lake was far less interesting. The wind was quite strong, not unlike one end of a wind tunnel, and the waves lapped gently around our ankles. I suspect you're getting the feeling that I'm not a great walker, and you'd be right. The only walking I like is the few metres from a car to a restaurant, which is a nice link to the next bit of my story, because we then arrived in Les Saintes Maries de la Mer for lunch.

St Maries de la Mer is quite famous. It has an interesting history, is featured in Alistair Maclean's book, Caravan to Vaccares and there are two huge gypsy festivals there every year. Much more importantly, we visit the Brasserie Le Belvédère (0490 97 92 87), right on the sea front, for Moules and Frites (9 euros). The restaurant is run by Davide, a tall, dark, long crinkly and greasy haired, latino type, who Jill fancies. I can sort of understand why because he is charming, pretends he remembers you from a previous visit and gives you a free liquor at the end of the meal. In fact, come to think of it, I quite fancied him too! (You tart - Ed.)

Lunch over, we wandered around the town with the wind whipping the sand, in an exfoliating kind of way, into your face. Great! It's a nice little town, especially when all the sensible people stay at home because of the weather, so, wandering aimlessly with your face pointing to the ground, out of the wind, you don't bump into too many people. I think you're getting the picture? The fortified church was rather gloomy inside and the internal stone work looked like it needed a good clean. In fact, they looked like they needed a good sand blasting, just like the external walls.
(For goodness sake, stop moaning - Ed.)

Back into the car (yippee) for the short ride to Aigues Mortes, where we leave the others, because Jan and I need to get back to relieve Max. Or, more to the point, let him relieve himself.


Because I stuffed my face at lunch time, Jan rustles up a plate of fairly low cal kedgeree for dinner. One of my favourites. Yum.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Max and Min

We intend to visit Max's dog breeder next Monday, on our way back to the UK. On the remote (certain) possibility that we will chose a female companion for Max (above, in his usual elegant pose). We have decided to call her (the mythical dog) Amina. Amina because she will have to have a name starting with the letter A (see previous postings), and also because we can shorten it to Min. So then we have Max and Min - geddit? I would have preferred Asbo which is an acronym for an Anti Social Behaviour Order, however, Jan pointed out that that would have been a better name for Max. Whatever.


This morning, William and I play tennis, whilst Jan went off to her art class. I know which I prefer. I was serving well, tried very hard and basically kicked his butt, however, I suffered with a lot of aches and pains for the rest of the day. Ouch. As I suffer, I remember that I meet the nutritionist on Friday so it's all in a good cause. In keeping with this looming deadline, Jan prepared two salads for lunch. The first a beetroot and cumin salad and the other, an old favourite, bean sprouts and peppers with a very tangy and tasty dressing. For all you foodies out there, this how you make the dressing:

Zap all these ingredients in a liquidizer:

Half a teaspoon of ground ginger
Half a small onion, finely chopped
6 Fluid ounces of olive or groundnut oil
2 Fluid ounces of red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons of soy sauce
A small stalk of celery, finely chopped
2 Teaspoons of tomato puree
2 Teaspoons of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

This should produce a liquid dressing that is quite thick and tangy. It has a strong flavour so it will overpower delicately flavoured food. I reckon that it could also be used as a marinade. Play around with the ingredients to suit your taste.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

I used to go out with a wild bore

There I am, it's 07.21 and I'm reading. I nearly jumped out of bed when I hear two very loud shots fired in the surrounding hills. Who the hell was shooting? It was still dark for heavens sake! No wonder so many hunters get killed or injured around here, and whatever they were firing at must have been pretty big because, based upon the loudness of the bang, they were using something pretty highpowered. I presume it was a sanglier or some such because anything smaller would have been blown to bits. Such is life in the French countryside. Jan slept through it all, bless.


I find this business of water diving very interesting and dido sends me more information. Her tale somewhat mirrors my own experience many years ago. She wrote:

I'm glad that this has produced other comments. I have been doing some research on the subject and it's reported that 80% of the population should be able to produce some sort of result. I mentioned this to "Le Sourcier" this morning as he was here trying to sort out a drainage problem that is affecting our basement and he mentioned that he had his baguettes with him (his brass diving rods) and did I want a try - so I did!
Well, I must be in that 80% because they worked a treat - including the bit where you clear your mind and concentrate and ask them how deep the source is! You count down the depth and when you reach the level they just start turning inwards - it is really quite spooky! The plumber thinks that I may have a talent for this so he is going to make me my own set of baguettes! We will see whether it is true when they come to dig the well in the spring (no pun intended!). I'll report back with the results!


Reading this amusing article made me wonder if any other nation plays with conkers?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Please return the goods in an undamaged state

It's been a long time since Jan and I were able to go, on our own, to Sommieres market, so today was a treat. We had nothing much in mind but bought a couple of goodies for lunch, a meat galette from the Lebanese stall, and onion bhajis, made with sweet onions from the Cevennes, from another. We met Lynne, who had left Bob in bed, she didn't say who with, who was trying to find a friend. It was a warm pleasant sunny day and the market continues to be packed. At one bar we listened to a guitar trio playing flamenco and other Spanish gypsy music. Just excellent. I got their card because if we have a party at Christmas, they would be excellent entertainment.


With Bar, Geoff, Harry and Jill arriving tomorrow I spent most of the afternoon cleaning the cars. I got them both into showroom condition. Is it just me, or do cars drive more smoothly and quicker, when they have been cleaned and polished? (It's just you - Ed.) They arrive in Nîmes by plane (guess who is going to pick them up?) and want to borrow the Golf. Last time Harry was here he rather carelessly demolished two tyres on his own car, so I will need to remind him that the Golf has 4 perfectly good, expensive, undamaged tyres and I would love to see them again in that condition.


In anticipation of setting up a video link with the UK, John, from Salisbury, has been helping me set up my computer. Voice contact using Skype was fine, but the video was not working properly, but we're getting there.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Let's have another strike, mes amis

A few days ago I heard of yet another French national strike. I say heard of, because it didn't affect me one jot, but I know it affected thousands of other people. It says a lot about French character that they so often use strikes as a means of voicing discontent. This is like the England of the 70's, when unions tried to control government thinking on all matters industrial and when England was known as the sick man of Europe. The French, in their own inimitable way, have continued this behaviour and no one seems to mind, nor do anything about it. If I understand correctly, the strike started from the sale (or privatisation) of a nationalised, bankrupt, ferry operator based in Corsica. The ferry employees had been on strike to protest at the bankrupt company being sold. Thousands of tourists were stranded in Corsica as a result. I have never understood the rationale of striking when a company is in trouble. It can only make matters worse. Anyway, after the police were used to allow stranded tourists to return to the mainland, a national strike was then called to voice discontent at this, and government policies on a string of other issues. Hmnnnn.


Another beautiful day today, so it was out into the garden to zap the weeds. I increased the weed killer dosage to 'nuclear strength' because the weeds are in danger of taking over the garden and this is one I'm going to win. (My hero - Ed.)


William, Christine and Paloma came for dinner. It's prawns in a spicy Thai sauce to start, swordfish with a tomato, basil and white wine salsa and plum crumble to finish. Jan's into crumbles at the mo. Yippee.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

More water divining

Last night, as a result of advice I get from this website , I log on to MSN Messenger to see if I can get a better experience with my webcam. Who do I find online? My daughter Cara who is no doubt up to no good but we chat for a while. What a nice surprise!


The comments made by dido and myself, on 1st October, about water divining, produced this message from Phillip, who lives in Australia.

I was interested to read about your dabble in “water divining”. In 1967, as a young Lieutenant, I was leading a group of some 20 Australian soldiers on a well digging project in a village on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. Their existing water supply had mysteriously diminished and a potential health problem existed. Over a couple of days we manually sunk a bore hole nearly thirty feet deep only 25 yards from the bank of the mighty Sepik (full of crocodiles I might add!). Amazingly, we could not find water. A second attempt at a likely spot produced a similar result. The soldiers were tired and frustrated and morale was not good…not too many social distractions that far into the country. The village natives thought our efforts were laughable. One of the soldiers suggested “water divining” but was ridiculed. I decided to give it a go and stripped a thin y-shaped branch of its bark and took the forks in hand. Strolling around the areas we had been working in was fruitless. I then moved further away from the river and at one location the branch seemed to take a mind of its own and pulled downwards. We dug and struck the water table at 5 feet!! Not surprisingly my skepticism was relieved. Only three of our party could get a result with a branch. One fellow got a result with shaped galvanized wire.........

Cheers, Phillip


It was another glorious sunny day, at 21c, as we met Bob and Lynne (and puppy Harry, now 8 months old) at Meli Melo, in Anduze, for lunch. It was nice enough to eat outside on the terrace, which is actually the space between the carpark and the main road. This is an interesting restaurant that offers food from five different countries (French, North African, Spanish, Italian and Thai). Normally I would run a mile from somewhere that offered such a wide range but they have a Thai chef and Thai food is our favourite. It's a better than average attempt, but in a 'dressed up for the French' kind of way. Next time I'll give 24 hours notice and ask for something more authentic. That could be fun. When we got back, I'm sure Max thought that we'd been unfaithful because he could smell Harry as he sniffed and licked us all over. Sorry Max, but you are now just too big, even for outside dining.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Retail therapy

William arrived for tennis at 8.00 and very enjoyable it was too. The set swings one way and then another, always competitive and with plenty of exercise. At one point I said, "Can you smell it?" He understood immediately what I was talking about. The smell of fermenting wine was very pleasant and very strong. There is a cave a couple of hundred metres away, run by Vincent Auquier, but nothing closer, so we put it down to that. Heaven knows how strong it must have been in the cave.


Jan has a well deserved lie in and finally emerges at about 9.30. It's sunny with no wind and very quiet. Blissful in fact, but the silence magnifies the lack of extra bodies in the house. We have had people around, virtually non stop, since May, and we are taking some time to adjust to being on our own again. The silence this morning was deafening. I know it won't last.


We headed off to the new Ikea near Montpellier this afternoon. For those of a foreign persuasion, Ikea is a huge store, from which you can furnish a house. It is a shopping experience like no other I know, and many hate it, mostly because it is usually so busy. We went for a look see and were generally impressed. It has a massive underground carpark which will be useful in the heat of summer and a similar layout to other Ikeas. As usual there was little that we needed but also, as usual, after two hours we left with a trolley full of stuff. Some of it unbelievably cheap, like an attractive glass teapot and 6 glass mugs for 5 euros. How do they do it? As Jan said, as we drove away, "A little retail therapy without breaking the bank."


It was a warm, still evening, so I barbecued Dorade, and Jan cooked pan fried leeks and stir fried cabbage with caraway seeds, yummy! Very healthy, but not when you include the bottle of wine each or the bar of chocolate! Sorry.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Busy, but not really achieving much

Amongst lots of other minor things, we start the day by taking the Jeep into Nîmes to get the seat fixed. Part of the seat mounting has broken so that it tips over when I go round a right hand corner. Very disconcerting and a little dangerous. We leave it for the day. Knowing that we would have to go back into Nîmes, we found things to do and spent the afternoon there. When we go back to fetch the car at 17.00, we find that they haven't finished it. I know I should have called them to check progress but, because we were in Nîmes, I didn't bother. Bum, a wasted afternoon.


Finally, late last night, I got some webcams working. One for me and one for Jan. I'd seen them earlier in the day at 19 euros each which seemed a good price. The idea behind this being that, if I can convince Jan's daughter to install one in Brighton, England, Jan can talk to her granddaughter on a regular basis and they can see each other at the same time. Well, that's the idea. I'm not sure why at this stage, but the latency when Jan and I tried to communicate was awful and effectively made the system useless. I need to understand why. We shall see. I'll post the question on my favorite message board, when I can get connected.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Changes in the wind

William arrives for tennis and we both agree that it is too windy. It was just about playable but it would have been no fun. So cancelled it was. Jan makes an early start and leaves for her art class and I spend the morning on the computer clearing up some administrative jobs.


You know that the seasons are changing when Jan starts to make soup. Soup is standard lunchtime fodder during the cool months and today was the start of cool. First soup of the season was a sort of Scotch broth, using the remains of the gravy from the lamb shanks (nothing if not thrifty, our Jan).


The last two fruits of the year have now been picked. First, was the one and only kaki that grew. It was perfect in every way. I shared it amongst 7 of us and whilst only Jan and I had ever eaten one, it was met with much acclaim. 10 out of 10 for that. Second were three apples which were pretty miserable, badly marked and not very sweet, so only 1 out of 10 for them. Must try harder. I've really enjoyed growing things this year and I'm starting to get the hang of it. Roll on next season.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

It's all over now

Alison, Liza, Neil, Toby and Floyd leave today. We shall miss them all and especially Floyd who has been with us, on and off, for the last month. It is probably the last tennis group this year and Jan will have to adapt to a quieter life in the kitchen. This will be good for both of us because we will eat and drink less and generally lead healthier lives. Anyway the last lunch consists of Jan's famous Coronation Chicken, with a spicy rice salad, a tomato salad, cheese and fruit to finish. Altogether a healthy meal, if only I had one helping and no wine. Hey ho.


After a quick trip to Nîmes, for the return journey back to Blighty, Jan and I settled to read the Sunday papers, wondering what we should do for the next few months. Part of that question gets answered when Jan asks me to look at the Du Murier de Sordeille website. This is the éleveur where we bought Max. Jan is getting broody again and has been thinking for some time about our 'second child' and getting a companion for Max. The breeders have just had a litter of 10, 5 male and 5 female, and I am delegated to email and ask if they have a female available. We shall see, although it's starting to look like a foregone conclusion.


Dinner tonight was leftovers of the lamb shanks from last night. Delicious.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

On top of old Smokey

In our never ending quest to stop smoke filling the house when we light a fire and the wind is blowing 'in the wrong' direction, Manny, our plumber, calls to fit a mechanical turbine to the chimney. It doesn't take him long to realise that the cowl is too small for our huge chimney. There will be a solution, he promises, and he will check it out on Monday.


OK, so dido writes and tells me about water divining. I have some simple divining equipment myself and I can do some easy stuff but I don't really know what I am doing. For some time I have been thinking of trying to locate a source to help with watering and pool filling. Dido's tale struck a cord. She wrote:

My plumber announced on Monday that he was also a water diviner and did we want him to search for a source (which would be a great saving on our colossal water bills due to pool filling and arrossage!). Anyway he turned up on Wednesday with 2 pendulums and brass diving rods and after much dangling and twirling (including dangling a pendulum over a map of the garden and waiting for it to turn in a circle!) he announced that we have 6 sources and the biggest would give us 7 cubic metres an hour - not bad! Today he brought his friend, a "maitre sourcier" (and yes I did manage to pronounce it sorcier - in effect calling them a couple of wizards - blush!) who double checked the reading and pronounced that 5 metres away from the original finding was a point at which 2 sources meet, giving us 14 cubic metres an hour (perhaps we can sell it?). All we have to do is get it out of the ground (without alerting the neighbours in case they do the same and drain it before it comes through to us!).
Anyway, thanks for the mention. I hope you all have a great weekend and don't eat too much! (I'm very partial to chicken with tarragon myself!).
Best wishes

I suspect that finding the water is not too complicated, if it exists, but drilling the hole, especially if it is deep, is another matter. I come up with another solution. There is an old community well that is never used, on the boundary of our property. It always seems to be full of water. Why don't I just ask William if I can use that water?


It's that time of the month again when, with bated breath, you are waiting for last month's weather digest. September was actually a very kind month, with an average temperature of 24.9c (25.7c in the first half and 23.9c in the second half). There were only four days of wind, the least wind this year, 21 days of sunshine and 29 warm or hot days. Apart from a few days of heavy rain during the first week, it was a very good month. The pool is still at 22c which is far too cold for me but others still venture in - brrrrrr.


We visited Saussines this afternoon for their Journee a l'Ancienne and in particular to see the Abrivado Bandido at 17.00. Our visitors never fail to be amazed at the sight of cowboys and bulls careering through the streets, something that would never happen in Health and Safety conscious England.


Smoked mackerel paté (not one of my favourites - but Jan's is delicious), lamb shanks and brioche pudding for dinner tonight.