Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hinxworth - Windsor - St Albans

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


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


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

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More home to Hinxworth

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


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


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

Home to Hinxworth

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

Monday, November 28, 2005

So that's where it goes

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


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

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

My sentiments exactly.


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


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

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Agen to home

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


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

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Fancy a duck, mister?

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


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

Friday, November 25, 2005

New wines to taste

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


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

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Home to Agen

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


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


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

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What's wrong with lesbians?

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


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


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

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Who needs the medal?

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


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


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

Monday, November 21, 2005

Will try harder, again

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


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


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

Sunday, November 20, 2005

One good deed does not deserve another

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

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Weird happenings

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2005

Spring cleaning

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A sore head

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


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

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Proud parents

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


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


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


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

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Cherchez la femme

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

Monday, November 14, 2005

Out with the old and in with the new

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


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

Sunday, November 13, 2005

On top of the world

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


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

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Do all Beaucerons behave like this?

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


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


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


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

Friday, November 11, 2005

At the eleventh hour

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


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

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Not much left to burn

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

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Another nice person

Yesterday, I sent an email, on spec, to the Weston Information Library in the UK, asking for details of any obituary notices around the time of my father's death. SD, a senior library assistant, replied today stating that she had been unable to find a notice in any newspaper in 1989, but had contacted the local Registry Office and had tracked down details of the entry in the Registry of Deaths. Despite all the negative stuff you read in the news, it just goes to show that there are still pleasant and helpful people in the world.


The day was spent mostly in the garden, preparing for winter by pruning the two vines, cutting back undergrowth (it's amazing how stuff is growing at the moment) and making sure all the hedging trees were securely supported. I also spent some time checking and topping up the pool next door. All in all quite a fruitful day.


Because his wife is away, we invited William for dinner. Jan knocked up a vegetable curry and fruit salad. Who would have thought that a French man would like curry? He had seconds, as did we all. Good healthy stuff and lots of it!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Reasons to be sad

Marsha and Kate leave today and, because it's a nice day, we take them to the airport with a short detour to Nîmes to look at the Maison Carré and the Arène. Because it's Monday, a lot of shops are shut, so they go home a little empty handed. We were very sad to see them go. An 11 euros parking offence ticket at the airport made me even sadder!


When we got back we found that Max had chewed great chunks out of one of the cane chairs (above) that we use on the terrace. And then there were seven! Another reason to be sad.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Are you my daddy?

Good heavens, I think that I may have identified my father! By way of background, my mother and my natural father split up when I was very young, and I have never known my father. I had done a little research using my mother's original marriage certificate, but had drawn a blank. I was fiddling about on this site yesterday and posted details on one of their message boards stating that I was searching for details. First thing this morning, I received a message from Diane in NSW Australia (I have no idea who she is), saying that she had searched for me and had found his birth and death details. You could have knocked me over with a feather (well, one weighing about half a ton). What I had missed in my own search, which was clarified by Diane, was that whilst I was looking for his place of birth as Liverpool, I hadn't realised that West Derby is a suburb of Liverpool, so I had ignored that entry. I have long wondered about him, and it looks like my search for information about him is coming to an end but, having said that, other questions arise. More than likely, I have half brothers and/or sisters. I have also established that my father had brothers, so I could have a huge extended family. I have to say, that it all feels a little strange. I may have uncles, aunts and lots of cousins. Until now my 'family' has consisted of, one aunt and two cousins. What will I unearth? Do I want to unearth any more? I think this one is going to run! I hope I like what I find. Stay tuned.


We spent the afternoon at the coast, visiting the beach at l'Espiguette and Aigues Mortes. Because the weather was kind and not too hot, we also spent a little more time than normal exploring the side streets in Aigue Mortes and discovered lots of new things. Altogether a day of discovery!
As a final dinner for Kate and Marsha, Jan cooked a slow (five hour) roast leg of lamb, courtesy of Jamie Oliver, and very nice it was too.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Remember, remember the 5th of November

After a miserable day yesterday, we have brilliant sunshine today, so off we go to the market at Sommieres. To be expected the girls love the market and buy shoes (for 10 euros a pair) and other high fashion apparel!
There has been some interesting comment in the news, over the last few days, about celebrating 'Bonfire Night', and today is the 400th anniversary. For those that don't know what I'm talking about, on November 5th in England, it is normal to remember a failed attempt at the blowing up of the King and Parliament, in 1605, by a group of dissident Catholics. This is celebrated by the lighting of bonfires and firework displays. The Catholics were then, without doubt, an oppressed group. However, today that group would simply be called terrorists. Anyway, what Bonfire Night is actually celebrating is the prevention of the act of treason, the capturing of the group but more specifically the torture and death of one Guy Fawkes, one of the group. His effigy is traditionally burnt on top of a bonfire. The modern day equivalent would be to celebrate the death, by torture, disembowling and mutilation, and burning the effigy of someone we regard as a terrorist. Hardly the behaviour of a civilised society. Interesting.
It's Kate's birthday, so we head for dinner at Mas de Roux. You get an excellent choice from the 22 euros menu. All washed down with wine from Mas de Plan in Serignac, our neighbouring village. At these prices, it's difficult to see how they make much money with a four course meal. Having said that, the place was packed, so I guess it becomes a bit of a numbers game. Good for them.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Back on the tourist trail

It's wet and windy today, but we still set off for Uzès and the Pont du Gard. Uzès has a nice feel and because it is out of season and raining, there are few people about which makes for a more pleasurable experience. Uzès has a very good market on Saturday but I must admit to getting fed up at hearing all the English voices, so we tend not to go. Notwithstanding that, it is a very nice town and we enjoy the visit. The Pont du Gard is a World Heritage Site and is always worth a visit. Did the rain dampen our spirits? Bloody right it did.
We drove back home via Nîmes and happened to pass a
Foreign Legion barracks on the way. The women seemed more interested in the soldiers, in their immaculate, smart, dress uniforms than in anything else we had seen. At least I made their day.
Because it was still raining, I drove them around Nîmes to see the Maison Carré and the Arène and then hightailed it back to a relieved Max. Bless.


Dinner tonight comprised various tapenades on grilled toast, including a confit d'olives, a sweet olive jam (to die for), salmon parcels with a Thai topping, cheeses and a fresh fruit salad.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Kate and Marsha

Kate and Marsha, friends of Jan's from Windsor, arrive today, so part of the morning is spent preparing rooms. Whilst Jan sets off for the airport at Nîmes, I go to the Franciscan Clinic, also in Nîmes, to meet a heart specialist. I need to do this because my nutritionist (who obviously thinks that I'm an overweight slob) wants to make sure that I'm up to playing singles tennis for exercise and has asked that I have an ECG under exercise conditions. Nothing, if not thorough, but a bit over the top, if you ask me. A meeting with Dr B, a heart specialist, will start this process.


This business of Max opening doors is becoming a bit of a pain. If for some reason we want Max inside, whilst we do something outside, then we have to go around and check that certain external doors are locked as opposed to just shut.


The initial ECG goes well and now I have an appointment for 'the real thing' in December. Evidently they will inject a 'tracer' into my blood and then take pictures of the heart to see how well it copes under both stress and resting conditions. It will also show up any narrow arteries. It could be easier just to give up tennis but I suppose that I'm getting a relatively inexpensive and thorough examination of my ticker so it must be a 'good thing'. The cynic in me says that it would be funny if I was knocked down and killed by a bus!


Dinner tonight comprised an Italian starter, lasagne and a fruit tart. I had a drink. Whoops!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sheets made for a king

The tennis games are now so close, that by 09.00, when we are normally finishing, we had still only played 4 games. A tie-break decided it, but modesty prevents me from saying who won. (I notice that you haven't mentioned that he beat you the last two times! - Ed.) William didn't really believe me when I told him that Max now opens doors. So there we were sitting inside having a coffee, watching Max, through the glass doors, sitting outside, when he raises himself and turns the handle with his paw, opens the door and lets himself in. The spring in his step is quite noticeable.
Now this isn't normally something that I talk about, being a fairly butch kind of person, (not what I've heard - Ed.) but last week we bought some new bedding from Marks & Spencer. Normally I would run a mile from sheets made from jersey, but I like these. They are a little warmer than normal and have a very soft sensuous feel (you knew I'd get round to the real point didn't you boys?), a bit like silk. Not that I've ever slept in/on silk sheets. The most exotic bed that I've ever slept in was a huge round raised monster with a few steps up to it, columns surrounded it supporting a mirrored top and sheer voile curtains between the columns. There was also a sunken bath that you could walk into, just next to the bed, but heavens knows what that was for? You get the picture? All this decadence was at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Ahh, those were the days.


Now where was I? Oh yes, this was from last nights Newsnight email:

"Today's Quote for the Day comes from an editorial in the Miami Herald about the visit to the USA of Charles and Camilla:"

"It's the un-Diana tour in which a couple of middle-aged, earnest eccentrics from the English countryside take an educational holiday abroad."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Holidays and hair

It's Toussaints, 'All Saints Day' (sort of dedicated to me) and a national holiday here in France. Not bad for a so called secular state that forbids all signs of religion in its public offices or schools. Oh well, it's about time we had another day off, we only had 5 in May, none in June, only 1 in July, 1 in August and none in September or October, so I'm in need of a break.


Once or twice a week I sweep the floors to clear up Max's dog hair. (Ooooo, you modern man you - Ed.) It's particularly bad in the study, where he sleeps. So there I am this morning, clearing up his hair, when I start to think what it is about Max that irritates me. The final conclusion is that it's only his dog hair, and because we have tiled floors, that's easily remedied. So there you have it Max, it's official, you are very welcome, you provide lots of companionship, unquestioning love (and disobedience) and a bit of dog hair. Thank you, I love you too.
By the way, he opened the back door again tonight by standing on his back legs and turning the handle with his front paw. In fact he did again later with another door.
It was a beautiful warm sunny day today but the ground was too wet to finish digging over the veg patch, so indoor jobs it was. We decide to clean the windows because as the sun shines through, it shows how (really) dirty they are. We have guests on Thursday for a few days and Jan, not wanting to show that she never does any housework (just kidding my precious), decides to use (that I should use) her new discovery, which she has recently purchased from John Lewis. It's a 'microfibre' cloth specifically designed for glass. Windows, are usually my responsibility and I would normally use soapy water and a 'rubber blade' which produces quite a good finish, but this thing's amazing. You wet the glass, buff with this cloth and hey presto a perfect, smear free window. Even a woman can do this, so I may soon be redundant.
(You've no idea how soon - Ed.)
There's Champions League football on television tonight, so guess what I'll be doing?