Sunday, December 31, 2006

A good year

Bryan, Peter, Jan and I were at our usual haunt in the Sommieres market yesterday morning. It was easy to tell who had had visitors for a long time over Christmas. They just couldn't stop talking. On the other hand, Jan and I had visitors on Christmas day and that was it. So we just sat and listened. (You have never sat and listened in all your life - Ed.) Unfortunately we probably sat, drank and listened a bit too long because I had a huge headache later in the afternoon.

***

The Lloyds got back from their six hour journey into Spain yesterday evening and then came round for dinner. Jan had cooked the hare that Michel gave us the other day and jolly good it was too. Non of us were big game eaters but it was a compliment to Jan that we cleared our plates. After I had jointed it (actually chopped it into pieces with a cleaver) Jan marinated it for about 30 hours in wine and vegetables and then casseroled it. It was tasty, succulent and moist. Good effort Jan, but game will never be our first choice. The next problem is to know what to do with all that's left. There are another two meals and I'm definitely not going to eat game for the next few days.

***

It's New Years Eve. As I reflect over the past year, I have only good memories. Jan and I had lots of fun and not too many problems. Our children are all settled and into their careers and we have two lovely grandchildren. Life is good, and our heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped make it pleasurable.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Aggressive tennis


Tennis again this morning with the 'the boys'. Peter and Milton came at us like tanks and pretty soon we were three nil down. How did you expect us to respond? Slowly but surely we hauled them in and beat them 6 - 3. Just to rub it in we then went on to win two tie-breaks. It was very competitive and we had some great games. Anyway, the 'good guys' are winning 3 - 1 at the moment.
***
Michel turned up again this morning to finish the chenile. It looks fantastic with its tiled roof. There's no way that Max can escape from this little beauty. Thanks Michel.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Playing with new toys

It was a pleasant and fairly relaxed day yesterday. The Lloyds, William and Christine came round for aperos at midday which, as usual, lasted until late afternoon. A nice group of people to spend some time with over Christmas.

***

Today, 'the boys' came round at 09.30 for doubles. Whilst it was sunny, it was very cold and ice had formed at the end of the court that gets no sun in winter. Anticipating such an event I had bought a large box of salt which soon cleared the problem. I just hope I'm not doing any damage to the surface. I suppose it might bleach it a bit but I doubt it.
A large part of the rest of the day was spent getting Jan's new Palm up and running. If only I followed instructions a bit more carefully, it would not have taken me 2.5 hours. There were subtle, but important, differences with some cables (the cradle to the computer) but I got it all working eventually.

***

The Lloyds invited us round tonight for dinner. Roast quail for mains all washed down with a delicious Costieres de Nimes. After dinner we played Balderdash into the wee small hours. An excellent evening.

Monday, December 25, 2006

To Queen or not to Queen


Let me first state that I'm generally in favour of the monarchy. I can't defend power, or rule, through an accident of birth, but when you look at how long the Queen has performed her duties as Head of State (over 50 years) and try to compare that with any equivalent presidential type head of state, then her record looks very good. Jan, on the other hand, is an avowed republican. But, and it's a big but, the Queen does seem at times to be out of tune with the public. This morning's news that the Queen's speech would be available as a podcast is a good example of that. I may be wrong, but in my opinion the average age of pod casters is likely to be around 15/20 years old and I may also be wrong when I think that the last thing that any 15/20 years old would be interested in, would be the Queen's speech. It's an inappropriate gesture. Get real Betty. Or, more to the point, stop listening to those around you who are also patently out of touch.


***

If you want to get away from it all and spoil yourself for a few moments visit Reindeer Tipping.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Yet another Christmas greeting


The Lloyds arrived this morning to get away from the gloomy weather in Lancashire and spend Christmas here in sunny Languedoc. Look, I'm not trying to make you feel bad because it's very, very cold here at night but at least we have sunny, cloudless skies during the day, and it should stay that way for most of winter. Oh OK, eat your heart out!


***

This would be funny if it wasn't so true. And, whilst we're talking about the French, I thought that this was funny as well.


***

Because I'm a very nice person here's a Christmas greeting for you http://www.jacquielawson.com/viewcard.asp?code=1105453359545
As usual make sure your speakers are turned on.

Elf yourself


My very best wishes to all of you who regularly read this journal. May I wish you a Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year, and, by way of a little early nonsense, watch me 'elf myself!' Make sure you have your sound turned on. Click on the link. Enjoy.
Alex

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Lidl bit better


When he had finished yesterday, I gave Michel a few bottles of wine as a Christmas thank you for all the work he has done for us this year. I stared at him a little blankly when he asked if we ate gibier. I nodded and smiled in my usual pathetic way when I don't fully understand something, so, not to be outdone, he rushed home and came back with a rabbit and a hare that he had recently shot. At least I now know what he meant by gibier, game. I'd mixed the word up with gesier, gizzard, and had visions of Jan trying to look pleased as he handed over some animal innards. Phew. Having said that I'm not sure if Jan has ever cooked rabbit and I know for sure she has never cooked hare. Could be interesting.
If you'd like a funny image, imagine Jan trying to stuff two long, frozen hard animals into an otherwise very full freezer. She did it, but she came back a little red in the face!
***
As it's the last Saturday before Christmas, you'd expect the roads and shops to be very busy. Far from it. We went as far as Montpellier and found everywhere very quiet. I even popped into Lidl to get Jan a Christmas present and that was quiet as well. Lidl is amazing, it's an Aladdin's cave of things that you never knew you needed. The one near Sommieres has recently been remodeled and has several aisles of goodies. I bought Jan a screwdriver set for 7 euros, a flannelette nightie for 5 euros (I don't mind paying a little extra for good quality) and an extendable paintbrush for those awkward little places. They even have clothes for sale and from now on I'm going to be dressed by 'Man at Lidl.'

Friday, December 22, 2006

Whirlpool take note


I'm not sure about the rest of France, but around here, in some villages, you come across communal, open air wash houses. Basically it's a huge stone built 'bath' with running water and covered with a roof. The one above which I saw recently in Parignargues (30) was unusual in that it was full of water and ready for use.
***
Michel turned up as agreed and started to cover the chenile. He thinks it very funny that I go to so much bother for the dogs. Most of the time the dogs are either in the house or in the garden but for the odd occasion that we have to keep them in the kennel I want to know that they are comfortable and safe. More to the point, when Jan gets pissed off with me, I'd like to think that I've got somewhere warm and dry to sleep.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas is coming




It's starting to feel very Christmassy. Carols, from Kings College Chapel Choir Cambridge, playing in the background, Jan dressing the Christmas tree (before and after above) and me, sitting with my feet up, stuffing my face with mince pies. You can't get more Christmassy than that.

***

This made me laugh. If you're not well travelled, and, by the way, whilst I like Paris a lot, I don't think that it is the most user friendly place on earth. But then, what capital city is?
***
Michel, our favourite local macon, turned up today to start fixing various things around the house. The garage is built right next to a steep bank and floods when it rains heavily. He started by lowering the surrounding terrain around the garage, digging drainage channels and then, together we put in some agricultural drainage. (Do we really need to know all this? - Ed.) He's coming back tomorrow to start putting a roof on the kennel. Unfortunately it's the only way we can keep Max in the kennel, without chaining him in.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A trip to the vet


William and Peter turned up for tennis yesterday morning as agreed. We weren't able to play the day before because of wind (no fart jokes please - Ed.) but this morning was sunny and cold. Cold enough for me to wear a hat and a left glove until I got warmed up. Despite my hacking cough, I was in good form and won the majority of my games. The leader board currently reads GB 12, Fr 9 and Cz 8. That's more like it.

***

My trip to the vet with Minnie this morning was good fun. It was her annual vaccination and, as we sat and waited our turn, a heavily pregnant lady entered. I pointed out to her that maybe she had made a mistake because the doctor's surgery was next door. She didn't seem too amused but the man sitting next to me thought it was funny.
Talking about waiting, in my experience, the French seem to have no concept of giving service to people waiting at a counter and will take new phone calls and/or plough on with existing phone conversations as if no one else existed. Take this morning for example, there were four of us waiting patiently whilst the harassed receptionist had to hand hold a phone enquirer about the use of some drugs. She had to keep repeating the names of drugs and the order in which they should be given. After ten minutes, when we are all shuffling our feet, I said in a loud voice to all the people hanging around, "I'm English, and even I understand the instructions!" Ah well, it calmed everybody down.
Minnie behaved well and got lots of admiring comments. When all is said and done she has very good antecedents and is a very fine example of her breed. (More than can be said for you - Ed.) As we were leaving, a man who may have been single and not too sure about the ways of the flesh came in and asked the vet to accompany him outside because he thought his dog might be pregnant. Why he didn't bring the dog in baffled everyone waiting but, more to the point, the poor guy seemed very unsure when asked if the dog had grown fat slowly or had it come on suddenly. Good fun.
***
Just before I posted this piece, Jan complained that the picture above was not an actual one of us playing tennis. I had to point out to my beloved that the picture was supposed to be representative. That we do not have acres of grass courts and, the last time I looked, none of us was black. Bless.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Shopping the Ikea way

We're in Ikea and Jan picks up a pack of something porcelain that I don't recognise. Interested (or more to the point, nosey), I asked, "What's that?"
She replied, "I'm not sure, but they're very cheap and I'm sure I'll find a use for them." Is it any wonder that Mr Ikea is one of the world's richest men?


***
Talking of rich men:

The waiter took a bottle of Merlot to the woman and said, "This is from the gentleman seated over there," indicating the sender. She regarded the wine coolly for a second without looking over at the man, and decided to send a reply. The waiter, who was lingering for a response, took the note from her and conveyed it to the gentleman. The note read: "For me to accept this bottle, you need to have a Mercedes in your garage, a million dollars in the bank, and 7 inches in your pants." After reading the note, the man decided to compose one of his own. He folded his note, handed it to the waiter and instructed him to take it to the woman. The note read: "For your information, I have a Ferrari Maranello, a BMW Z8, a Mercedes CL600 and a Porsche Turbo in my garage. There is over twenty million dollars in my bank account, however, not even for a woman as beautiful as you, would I cut off three inches. Just send the bottle back."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Outiror


If you still can't decide what to buy your loved one for Christmas then I have the answer. Outiror will be visiting Quissac on 20th December and will have everything that you could ever need for your beloved. I was fascinated by this service when we first came to France over 4 years ago and it still seems to be going strong. Basically it's a huge pantechnicon stuffed to the gills with all things diy. So if you want to buy your dearest a log splitter - ref 24379, thermal underwear - ref 24985 or even spoil yourself with a new car jack - ref 19839, then this is the truck for you.


***

Out to lunch at Bob and Lynne's. Lynne who is now a Pru Leith trained cook (god knows why, cos she was bloody good before) served, as usual, an excellent lunch with Bob, as usual, providing excellent wine..

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Who's not bright?


Jan and I are both full of cold and not feeling too bright, so both yesterday and today were heavy going. J&H came round for dinner on Friday and then we took them to the airport today.
This is the first time that I have covered the pool for winter so on the way back from the airport I popped into a pool shop to get some floats that need to float diagonally across the pool in order to allow for expansion if any ice forms. And all I ever thought you had to do was get in and swim. Bloody pool.
Also concerned about our palm trees, we popped into Truffaut to get advice on protecting them from winter frost. What happened to planting something and then walking away from it?


***

We finished translating the last of Vincent's letters at 23.33 tonight with the last one being particularly tricky. You read the French and you understand what he is saying, but then you have to make a sensible and well constructed letter out of it. Anyway, I was pleased with the final result and I just hope Vincent is as well.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Jan de Cannes


After we had an aborted trip to the dentist (his chair had broken down) in Quissac, Vincent Coste of Domaine Costeplane popped round this morning to ask for help with the English translation on an email he is about to send out. It transpired that he has quite a few names and addresses for wine importers in the UK and he wants to mail them with an invitation to Vinopolis on 22nd January 2007. Vincent exports wine to several countries in the EU and wants to break into the tough UK market. As a little business challenge for myself I'm trying to see if I can help him.

***

Jan's art class held a vernissage at Mas de Roux tonight and several hundred people turned up. The cynic in me says that the free drinks and canapes helped but so what. As we walked into the room I heard a group of people commenting on a rather nice painting of tomatoes on the vine. Because we had only taken it the day before it wasn't included in the catalogue but the anonimity had created a little excitement. I proudly pointed to Jan as the artist. Well done 'Jan de Cannes' (her new artistic name). By the way, I'm now her manager and agent.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Salt and pepper icons





Is this the shape of the last 30 years? I first came across this style of salt and pepper pot, in the US, during the 70's. I obtained a blue painted pair for Jan in the UK in the late 90's to match her kitchen decorations, and these two beauties adorned our table in a hotel in France just the other day. A trans global cruet set that stands the test of time. Wish I'd invented them!
By the way you can see exactly what Jan has for breakfast!


***

You begin to understand why the Turks may find it difficult to gain acceptance in the EU when you read this: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6175893.stm Anyway, when I was a kid, if I remember correctly, Turkey was shown on a map as Asia Minor. Nothing too European about that. Who changed the boundaries and why wasn't I told?


***

This morning, around 30 of us met up in the village of Combas and took a 2 hour walk. Bryan, being careful not to get sued, chose a much safer route this time. Then it was back to B&G's house for mulled wine. Contrary to what we have just been experiencing in England it was a crisp, sunny day, just right for a walk. Excellent.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Saddle sore


We left Brighton yesterday at around 11.00 and headed for the Channel Tunnel. It was blowing a gale, and hell would freeze over before I would get on a boat, so we ignored our pre-booked catamaran crossing with Speed Ferries. After landing in France at 16.00 local time we decided to see if we could make the journey to Languedoc in one hop, and skip the night in a hotel. When I was younger I thought nothing of driving through the night, but I'm a little older now (you don't say - Ed.), so this was an unusual experiment. As it happens, it was quite straightforward and despite missing an important motorway interchange, which added about 1.5 hours to the journey, we arrived home at 3.00 in the morning. In order to keep alert, we both drank a few cans of Blak (Coke's new caffeine drink) which actually seemed to work. I was amazed at how fresh I felt after 15 hours in the saddle. There must be a Roy Rogers joke there somewhere?


***

The best part of today was spent unpacking, getting things back to normal in the house and picking up two rather smelly dogs. Joy.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Murasaki Cafe

Our hotel was packed with young people, presumably after their visits to various weekend Christmas parties. Over breakfast, it was noticeable how they spoke. Now I'm no snob, but frankly, it was difficult to understand them. It was Estuary/Essex English at its finest. It makes you wonder how a 'foreigner' would start to understand them. It's a bit like how we sometimes feel in Languedoc. Those that speak 'regular' French, we have no problem with, but those that speak with a strong local accent we have great difficulty with or do not understand at all. Language changes, and that's healthy, but please, gimme a chance!
After a good nights sleep it was family visits today, dishing out presents for Christmas. Jan very kindly offered to cook lunch for her daughter and the rest of the family. She still can't get away from providing for her children, even if it isn't always appreciated.

***

In the evening we saw my son James, for the last of the family contacts. Still full from from a late lunch and wanting something 'light' we ate at Murasaki, 115 Dyke Road, Brighton 01273 326231. I love Japanese food and for a change it wasn't too expensive. Recommended.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Al-Jazeera


Al-Jazeera were planning to launch an interactive service. They decided against it when they realised if they told their viewers to press the red button, half of them would blow themselves up.

***

We're both getting a bit tired and we slept heavily last night. Whilst I was in Reading meeting Cara, Jan had a girlie night with friends in Windsor. This morning we had another re-pack, loaded the car again and headed off for Brighton. Another town and another bed, the fifth this trip but we're over half way so that's good. We have three of our offspring in Brighton so it's an essential part of any visit to England. Additionally, we now have two grandchildren here as well.
Another essential for these trips is to choose the mince pies that we will take back to France. So far we have tested Duchy Originals (awful), Waitrose Deep Fill (the filling tasted as if it had been pureed), Marks and Spencer (into the taste off), Tesco Finest (too much brandy but not too bad). We still have to test Sainsburys Deep Fill and Tesco Deep Fill, last years winner. See the effort we go to to get things right (and fat - Ed.).

Friday, December 08, 2006

Cara



This morning we drove over to Windsor to see Robert Mac at Mailboxes etc. We know and love Robert well and use his business as a private mailbox particularly when we want items, ordered on the internet in France, to be either held for collection in England or forwarded to France when the business won't deliver. After using his computer to locate a wifi hotspot I finished up at cafe Nero in the Royal Station from where I am posting these words. The wonders of modern science.


***


I met Rob (not to be confused with Robert above) at his club Stoke Park (above). This is a very nice club with both indoor carpet and beautiful grass tennis courts. Historically, Rob and I have met for a curry and a few pints of Cobra on Fridays. We decided to relive this tradition today. Memories of India, The Broadway, Farnham Common, Bucks 01753 644166, is the best Indian restaurant that I have visited for a long time. We arrived at 13.30 and the place was empty (not usually a good sign) but we had the undivided attention of all the waiters and the whole kitchen. No wonder the food was good!


***


A very important part of this trip to England for me was to meet my daughter Cara, who I hadn't seen for 9 months. She was in good form, the best I have ever seen. Her life mostly revolves around her business life (she works for a large software house) and it was good to see her getting on so well. You know that she is doing well when she offers to buy dinner! My little girl, buying me dinner brought a lump to my throat. Sniff. We ate in Reading at a 'gastro pub', Bel and the Dragon, Gas Works Road, 0118 951 5790. Despite the huge number of Christmas parties the service was excellent and the food well cooked and imaginative. It was difficult to choose. Go there, you won't be disappointed.
What a lovely day. Seeing Cara after such a long time and two rather good meals.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

You want to stick your finger where?


After three very enjoyable days with Jill and Harry it was time to move on. J&H are very kind hosts so the prospect of a few nights in Travelodges did not appeal too much. Anyway, there were things to do and people to see so off we went.
Later in the afternoon, as we were driving around the M25 in torrential rain, I got a call from my old friend and former partner in crime, Rob. It transpires that he was house sitting in Stoke Poges and wanted to know if we would like to stay with him. It occurred to me that a couple of nights with home comforts had to beat a Travelodge any day, so Stoke Poges it was. What a house! It was very big and very old and featured an illuminated well below a glass floored kitchen. Sorry Travelodge but this was too good to pass up. This is the life!


***

Later in the evening, a long standing dinner arrangement with Toby and Alison took us into London. T&A are old friends and very kindly invited Rob along as well. From their lovely house in W5 we headed into the West End for dinner at Hardy's, 53 Dorset Street, W1, 020 7935 5929. This is an excellent restaurant with a 'spoilt for choice' menu and an excellent wine list. Highly recommended.
Over coffee back at Chez T&A, Alison proceeded to tell us about a very unusual full body, oily, Indian massage that she had once experienced. Evidently, at the end of the massage, the masseur sent her into 'another world' by sticking his fingers in her ears. I couldn't wait to question her about this and learn more, but Toby insisted on showing us some bloody home movies. I suspect that Toby had heard enough and wanted to save Alison from further embarrassment. Given that he had been such a kind host I couldn't say anything but rest assured I'll probe further (no pun intended) mes braves. A great evening.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A day at a spa


Jan (and Jill) went off to Henlow Grange (Champneys) for a day of beauty treatments and relaxation. This was Jan's birthday present from her children from earlier in the year. If I was an unkind person, I'd say that a day was hardly sufficient, but then I'm not an unkind person, so I won't. In the meantime, Harry, very kindly drove me to Welwyn for a little Christmas shopping. This was my only real opportunity to get Jan a (very expensive and highly desirable) Christmas present without her being around. Even Harry, who hates shopping and Christmas in that order, browsed for his beloved. The shop very kindly wrapped the presents for me, at a price, so my dearest has no idea what to expect until later this month.
The girls returned home at around 17.00 and the difference was truly amazing. Well worth every penny of the £***'s they each spent, (he said sarcastically). (If you say any more you'll be a dead man - Ed.)


***

Bar and Geoff very kindly invited us all for dinner this evening. The meal was truly fabulous, they pulled out all the stops. Thank you so much B&G.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Roman remains


It has always irritated me when the first thing that an expat can say when he gets back to blighty is how he longs for a pint of beer. Well, I'm embarrassed to say that I am now that man. The pub, within walking distance of J&H's house, is a Greene King house and sells Abbott Ale. Last night, after two pints I was a happy man and walked back to J&H's for a wonderful meal of baked sea bass.


***

Today was a family visiting day so we drove to St Albans (the abbey above), Jan's home town. As we drove through the town I can't help but mention that it isn't a patch on my home town Harrogate. Jan naturally disagreed and in order to prove her point mentioned some outstanding features that St Albans has over Harrogate. I list them below, with my reply.

Jan: St Albans has Roman remains.
Alex: Harrogate has a living Roman remain in my mother.

Jan: It had the first English martyr, St Alban.
Alex: I'm an English martyr (just not yet canonised).

At this point Jan gave up because I was not taking this very seriously. However, I think I proved my point.

Lunch at the Holly Bush on the outskirts of St Albans, with Gwen, included a pint of Flowers EBA. Good beer.

More visiting in the evening at Tim and Sue's and their delightful children Emma, Jessica and Abigail with a chinese takeout. Excellent, and they're not even my family.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The colour of old urine




So there we are having dinner last night which, frankly, wasn't too bad given that we were eating in an hotel. We got to the pudding wine, which Jan didn't like too much. She described it as, "the colour of old urine." Now forgive me, but I'm much too gentile to describe the colour of antique piss over dinner.



***

Driving the final leg from Reims to Calais we needed to stop. On the CD player, Annie Lennox was singing 'Sweet Dreams' when we stopped at the next service area. As we walked into the lobby for our pitstop, what should be playing over the tannoy but Annie Lennox and 'Sweet Dreams' at exactly the same spot as we'd left it in the car? Weird or what?



***

Being something of a mystic, Jan changed our booking on Speed Ferries' catamaran to the Eurotunnel train a couple of days ago. She was so spot on. It was blowing a gale in the Channel and sea crossings were described as 'very rough'. I'm a poor matelot at the best of times and the switching of transport was just what this matelot needed. Thank you so much my mystic honey.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A caravan to Reims




I have to declare an interest. I don’t like caravans. Why would anyone want to drive at 50 mph all over the countryside, sleep in some makeshift bed, empty the effluent out of their own toilet and pay a lot of money for the privilege? There must be some perverse pleasure that I haven’t quite cottoned on to. Anyway, there we are driving up the A31 on our way to Reims when I saw something that really puzzled me. It was a Porsche Cayenne pulling quite a small caravan. It occurs to me that anyone who can afford a Porsche Cayenne has a bob or two. Anyone with a bob or two can afford to stay in a nice hotel of which there are hundreds around here. So what is he doing? Margaret Beckett, the UK Foreign Secretary, likes caravans and as a result causes the Secret Service a nightmare when it comes to protecting her. In my view, if she likes caravans, she is a legitimate terrorist target and, the sooner the better. (What you don’t understand is that the guy pulling the caravan is now broke because he bought the Porsche – Ed.)


***


Travelling north on the A26 on Sunday lunchtime you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world had come to an end and that you were the only people left on earth. When you add mile upon mile of boring, flat, farmland that must take weeks to cultivate then you could also be forgiven for falling asleep. Add caravans to this mix and you have very dangerous territory. Beware!


***


Every single time that we have driven up through France we said that we wanted to stop and take a look at Reims and, in particular, the cathedral. Well, today was the day. The frontage (above) is quite spectacular and is being cleaned but it does nothing to prepare you for the splendour and majesty of the building within. Historically the cathedral is very important insofar as every French king (bar two) have been crowned in Reims. The first crowned king was Pippin the Short (just had to mention that), and the first king to be crowned at Reims was his grandson, Louis the Pious in 816 AD. (OK, thanks, that enough of copying out of the history books – Ed.)

It was very cold, wet and windy when we left the church but, as an added bonus, we stumbled across a very jolly Christmas market nearby. I'm getting into the Christmas spirit!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Mug a child for Christmas

Good grief, we got away at midday! After dropping the dogs at Olivier’s and after having to give Jan a corrective interview after she tried to pack 10 days worth of clothes into 2 small overnight bags, we set off. We didn’t intend to drive too far today because, for once, we intended to visit places on route instead of making it the usual long, boring and tiring grind to the Channel.

There were several things of note travelling north on the A7, first the huge number of Spanish registered cars with skis on top, presumably travelling to the Alps. I know that there isn't too much snow in the Alps because of the very warm autumn we have all been experiencing. In Cortina (1224 m) midday temperatures are 15C, which is normal for May. It was also forecast that this could be the start of the end of European skiing below 2000 m. In addition to the Spaniards, there were also lots of Italian camper vans travelling in convoy. And, something that I’d never seen before (you definitely need to get out more – Ed.), overhead motorway signs displaying your car registration number and telling you to slow down if you were speeding. I’d be interested to know whether these cars got booked. How very civilised, to warn you without booking you.

The hotel (Mercure at Chalon-sur-Saone) was fine and we couldn’t quite figure out why, but it was full of kids. Something to do with Christmas I think. I like hearing kids enjoy themselves but as long as they behave. This lot were not very well behaved but they didn’t stop us enjoying ourselves. But then we’re old hands, don’t forget we have Max and Min!

Friday, December 01, 2006

In charge of bullshit


A couple of months back I promised to help Vincent Coste (above with his family) of Domaine Costeplane at a wine fair in London. He turned up this morning to say that he now has the dates. He, with others, will be showing their wines at Vinopolis in London on Monday 22nd January 2007. He will be the wine expert and I will be in charge of bullshit (at last you have found your calling - Ed.).
***
Vincent D also turned up as agreed this morning to finish filling trenches, putting in a new land drain and levelling. Vincent likes a drink and last night I went glass for glass with him. Mistake!
***
Apart from a visit to the dentist to fix a broken tooth, an appointment that I had to wait three weeks for, a lot of time was spent this afternoon getting ready for a drive to England to deliver some wine left here by friends, see family and to buy our Christmas goodies. Hopefully we will leave at about midday. We shall see.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Everything gets done, eventually


A few months ago I mentioned that our centralised hoovering system was blocked and wouldn't work. Well yesterday, the chap finally turned up to fix it. He ended up cutting away several pieces of piping, under the house, to find the blockage. He eventually found it and the blockage consisted of another piece of small pipe. It must have been there since the system was installed and a steady build of rubbish around it had finally completely blocked the pipe.

***

We've decided to put Minnie 'on the pill'. Jan still hasn't decided whether she wants to let them have pups and we can't afford to keep replacing the shutters when Max decides that he wants to get his leg over and breaks out of the house.

***

Vincent D turned up this afternoon, as agreed, to start filling in some of the trenches that he dug with his pel a couple of years ago (above). Nothing around here gets done in a hurry. Not what we set out to do, nor what artisans say they will do. Welcome to France.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Time warp




I forgot to mention that a strange thing happened over the weekend on the journey to Agen and back, in the area around Beziers. In both directions the car clock changed, by itself, going forward about 1.25 hours. Weird.
Mr Chimney Repair Man showed at midday yesterday, as re-scheduled. After a lot of sucking through his teeth (why do they do that?) he gave us a possible solution and, without giving a precise date, he said he'd come back and make some alterations to the fireplace. Everything is worth trying now.

***

You wouldn't think that a man would use a visit to the gynaecologist to get time off work, but this one did.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Not according to plan








A couple of shots of our visit to the duck farm yesterday. Look at the size of those ducks. Nothing half hearted here mes braves. Lunch was taken sitting at bench tables in a huge rustic barn. Around the sides of the barn they were selling champagne, wines, beer and food. There was another huge tent with lots of other food things for sale next door.

***
An early start this morning (look, 11.30 is early for us!) for the trip back home. We were sorry to leave because H&E are such kind hosts and good friends but there is much to do at home before we leave for the UK next weekend.
The dogs were delighted to see us and when we got them home, they rushed to see the new fencing that Michel had installed to keep them in the garden. You could almost hear Max saying 'damn'. Mr Chimney Repair Man didn't show as planned and rescheduled for the next day and Mr Landscape Gardener didn't show either (I'm not sure why I'm surprised), however a lorry load of gravel was delivered as planned. I suppose that one out of three isn't bad by French standards but it's irritating because I made a special effort to get back in time to see them.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Big duck day


If your cholesterol is a little low and needs a gentle boost, then I've found the place for you. If you eat at Ferme de Ramon, Lagarrigue, 47910 Aiguillon, there's a very good chance that your cholesterol reading will be gently nudged into double figures. They have a foire twice a year and we were booked in today for lunch. If you like foie gras (all complaints can be directed at and will be handled personally by the farm managers) or any duck related products then this is the place to be. When we arrived at midday, the place was already buzzing. In fact there were so many people that there were barely any duck breasts left for sale. Now I'm partial to a bit of magret de canard, so I dived in and in true French elbow gouging fashion managed to get to the front of the queue to buy the last three breasts available. I glared at the woman in front, who knew I was on a mission, and dared her to buy them ahead of me. But, in typical French fashion she backed down (or was she just being nice?) and she left them for me. There, a bit of entente cordiale without any nastiness.
It's a neat system. There were many local producteurs there and you choose your various courses from amongst them. Lunch was courtesy of H&E, so I purchased a bottle of Sauternes from Chateau Lafon, 33210, Sauternes, who were proud to announce that there vines are au milieu des vignes d'Yquem, to drink with the entrée. Well there you go, a wine that rubs shoulders with the best! How posh can you get? I'll whisper that we had foie gras mi-cuit for the starter (complaints etc..........). For the main course we had the almost obligatory magret and frites washed down with a red Domaine Amblard 2003. The magret was huge, and god knows what the ducks look like, but, I wasn't there to judge a beauty contest. Having said that the woman selling the Amblard was rather pretty. Anyway, it was now the turn of my blood sugar to take a hammering. Jan, who is usually a very nice person, forced me to eat the most delicious walnut cake covered with honey and, of course, I just had to finish off the Sauternes. Whose idea was this?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Out with Saddam's henchman


We took a trip west to the old town of Bazas at lunchtime, not only to look at the cathedral (above) which is on the pilgrimage route to Compostela in Spain, but also to eat at Le Bistrot Saint-Jean, 42 Place de la Cathedrale, Bazas 0556 25 18 53. The restaurant was mentioned in Rick Stein's French Odyssey television programme (but not in the cook book). The speciality of the house is beef (boeuf de Bazas) which has a special taste and is cooked to perfection, especially if you like your meat still breathing. My starter of terrine de foie gras was accompanied by an onion jam, flavoured with grenadine, very unusual but very nice. The cote de boeuf, which I shared with Harold, almost walked into the restaurant. Thank god I didn't want it rare. If you're a beef junky then this is the place for you.
***
In conversation over lunch it transpired that Harold once had his picture in the Sunday Times with the caption that he was one of Saddam Hussein's henchmen. Two things come to mind. First, don't upset Harold, and second don't believe everything you read in the papers, but then you knew that anyway. The other thing that came out, was Jan mentioning that she once had to sign the Official Secrets Act. She then told us all about it.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Stuffed and tired

My usual way of creating this journal is to dump my thoughts at the end of the day, when I'm tired (and sometimes emotional), and then to edit it the following morning. Here's the unedited version from last night.
"Arrogance is an interesting word. Last night I described certain people that we know as arrogant, which then made me consider whether I am arrogant. Jan thinks I'm arrogant, or at the very least, very self confident. I'd certainly agree with self confident but not arrogant. My self confidence come from a previous life. A time when I (we) were faced with lots of problems, nothing insurmountable, but (business) problems nevertheless. After you had faced, and resolved, a raft of problems, many of them people related, the same old problems started to surface again and again. Problems that you had already faced, and dealt with, you instinctively knew the answer to."
When I looked up the word arrogant in my dictionary it said "Origin - Middle English via Old French from Latin arrogare (see arrogate). So there you have it, Jan is right, I'm arrogate from Harrogate.

***

So much for an early start. Michel the builder turned up completely unannounced to start work on some fencing that Bryan and I had agreed we'd tackle. What was weird was, how he knew that the materials had just arrived? Then a lorry load of gravel arrived, that was supposed to have been delivered yesterday, so by the time that it was all sorted out we didn't leave until midday.

***

The journey to Port Sainte Marie takes 4.5 hours but is largely uninspiring. H&E were pleased to see us, as we were them, and provided their usual lavish hospitality. We went to bed stuffed and tired.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Big duck country


Whilst round at the Lloyd's this morning, trying to sort out their pool (it rained very heavily the other day and the water level needed lowering), I looked over the wall into our joint neighbours garden. What a mess. The place had been wrecked. Kids had obviously broken in and filled the pool with everything that they could lay their hands on. There was also lots of other damage. It looks like we have some problem children in the village and the sooner that they are stopped the better. So much for a peaceful village life. Anyway, the Gendarmes are now involved and talking to neighbours it is well known who the trouble makers are likely to be. There aren't that many kids in the village.

***

My interest in the English football club West Ham made me read this article about Icelandic business. For a country so small they are taking a sizeable interest in UK businesses generally. It makes interesting reading.

***

We are going to visit friends near Agen tomorrow so most of the evening was spent organising for an early start. It's a 4.5 hour journey so we need to leave around 10.00 to drop off the dogs and then get on the road. There is so much going on at the moment that I would like to postpone the trip but we know we will have a great time because H&E have already lined up lots of interesting things to see and do (and eat). This is big duck country, so there's a good chance that we will be handing out duck related presents this Xmas. Place your orders now!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Getting to know you


Today is our anniversary. It is 10 years since Jan and I first met. Aaaaah, those were happy days. What happened? (She got to know you better - Ed.) The picture above is as close as I could get to something appropriate. (Like I said, she got to know you better - Ed.)


***

I went to Quissac today to order the materials for the new bit of fence that I have to erect, but based on Max's recent behaviour it looks like I'm going to have to put up some more. His recent party piece is to clear the 1.5 metres fence near the bottom gate and go off for a wander. If he doesn't get fed up (and frankly I doubt that he will) then it looks like I'm going to have to erect some 2 metres fencing. It's always 2 forward and 1 back with Max.


***

Will, sent me this. It's a very funny 1.5 Mb sound (wma) file. Guaranteed to make you laugh.


***

We had a problem this evening, knowing where to eat. All the local restos were shut (we had this same problem last year) so despite the offer of a slap up take out (with extra toppings) from the pizza van, Jan decided that we'd eat in. Can't say I didn't try.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gorges du Gardon II


In a drunken moment (there have been a lot of these in my life), I promised to show J, H, B & G (can't be bothered to write all the names - look at my face, do I look bothered?) the above walk. When I woke this morning it was raining. "Thank god," I said, "the walk's off." WRONG. This is over 3 kilometres of hard walking, with a 1 kilometre vertical section, up a cliff face. Kate, my TV heart throb, might do triathlons, but let me remind you that I walk the Gorges du Gardon. This must mean something to a super fit woman! (It probably would if your face wasn't purple and you hadn't had a coronary half way up - Ed.) Anyway, the bloody walk was on. We loaded the quivering dogs into the Jeep and set off. Max and Min are not good car travellers so they make it difficult to load them in the boot but determined not to be embarrassed by 2 poxy dogs, off we jolly well went.
Also, determined not to let Minnie drown in the fast flowing river we kept her on a lead until we started the climb up the other side. It was a bit tough on Min, never mind me on the slippery rocks, because we let Max run free, but there was no way that I was going to jump into the freezing cold water to fish her out, so a lead it was.
All went well, and all the more so because this time we found the correct path up the mountain which was much easier than last time but it still didn't prevent the old ticker complaining.



***

I can't remember the last time I had a bath (or baaath as Jan would have me say). As a Yorkshire lad I was taught to use short vowels, non of your poncy loooong southern vowels. Do you say castle or caaaaaastle. Anyway, we rarely if ever have a baaaath nowadays, but after we returned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Jan's suggestion of a baaaaath went down really well. In fact, it was soooooper, very relaxing and we both had our pj's on at 18.46. I think that we can now be classified as 'officially old'.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Normal service will resumed as soon as possible


Bar, Geoff, Jill and Harry came for dinner last night. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, but I've noticed recently that when we have certain visitors from the UK, Jan goes into 'typical English fayre mode'. Strange but true. So for dinner we had a lovely roast lamb meal. I can't quite figure out the logic of giving visitors to France something that they eat regularly at home but then, I'm just a bloke. To further add to my confusion, when Geoff asked Jan if she had developed a lot of different recipes whilst she has been in France, she said, *No." She changed this to, "Yes," when I spluttered into my soup and was questioned more closely by Geoff. Seems like I'm not the only confused person around here. (You're going to be a very hungry, confused person unless you shut up - Ed.)



***

The latest Davis Cup score is CZ 7, F 7 and GB 9. I just thought that would like to know that I'm keeping my end up. The games get better and better and we're all competitive which makes it more fun. Roll on Thursday.


***

The item on breakfast tv this morning was about babies' allergy to cow's milk. My attractive news presenter (let's call her Kate) was interviewing the 'professor' about the problem. She said, "Now tell me prof, are we talking about breast milk or bottle milk?"
As the whole point of the interview was centred on a cow's milk allergy the prof was slightly at a loss for words. Ignoring the stupid question he ploughed on and replied to the hapless Kate without a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
It looks like Kate and I will not be spawning intelligent children after all.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sanglier


We're going to eat sanglier, wild boar. We had an old (well new actually) oven to get rid of because Jan didn't like it. We had offered it to Claudie, a lady in the village, for her new house (an old empty hotel with 400 m2 on the ground floor) in Aveyron, which she had purchased with her brother for 49000 euros. Whilst it was an exceptional price for such a large property with a lot of land, it is right on top of the Massive Central and it gets very, very cold up there in winter. Anyway, her hunter hubby, Jean Pierre, who famously got shot in his ass once, came to fetch the oven this morning and he said that they killed three sanglier yesterday, two on the hill opposite us and one elsewhere. By way of thank you they turned up with a carrier bag of sanglier meat. Claudie's first instruction was put it in the freezer for a minimum of 5 days to kill all the bugs. Great, sounds very appetising! Now all Jan has to do is figure out how to cook it. Probably with a lot of disinfectant. I can't wait.
***
James and Pauline returned to England this afternoon and we're sorry to see them go. They both enjoy this part of the world and their enthusiasm for the lifestyle and countryside is refreshing. Max and Min got lots of walks as well, so I guess they will miss them too.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Wet and Dry


What a dramatic change in the weather this morning. At least I got the chance to survey the damage and make some repairs. The water in the garage was not reducing very quickly so it was just as well that we bought a wet and dry vac yesterday. These machines are great (it doesn't take much to keep you happy! - Ed.). The vac has a 29 litres capacity and by the time I'd finished I reckon that it had removed the best part of 80 litres of water. No wonder it wasn't evaporating very quickly. I bet you find it difficult to contain your excitement at seeing the picture of our new vac above.
***
James, Pauline, William, Christine, Jan and I (strange but out of the five previous very English Christian names, one person is German and two are French) ate at Mas de Roux last night. And, whilst we are into statistics, five of us had the same fish and yours truly had a slab of meat. I should be able to read something into that? (Yeah, have you written your will? - Ed.)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Rain, rain, go away


If you want to know what I think is wrong in the UK, then look at this, it's quite funny.


***

Boy, did it rain last night. We had flooding in the garden this morning and part of the drive and back garden were washed away. Tha garage and cave had flooded slightly and the pool has now filled up and will need attention again tomorrow. Assuming that is, that it stops raining. I don't understand why rainfall here is so violent.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Not really a thriller


Pierre the Poolman arrived as planned yesterday morning to show me what was involved in fitting the new pool cover and putting the pool to bed for the winter. There's a bit more to it than I imagined. At one point the cover, which has a narrow mesh running the full length of the cover to let rain water run through, was sitting over the pool, not secured, and started to fill with water. Now, the cover alone weighed something like 50 kilos and when it was weighed down with water as well, it was a nightmare to move. Still, we managed and eventually got it fixed in place. Thank god it's only once a year!

***

You can call me an old cynic but when I read this I nearly choked on my cornflakes (actually it was Jan's home made muesli but cornflakes sounds better). The thought of Michael Jackson and a choir of 50 children in the same place can only be described as grossly inappropriate (but then these were the bad taste awards - Ed.). He was of course found innocent in a court of law and I have accepted that verdict (I'm thinking of lawyers here), but assuming that was the correct verdict, then there were an awful lot of people perjuring themselves. Why haven't they been prosecuted?

***

I had a bit of a panic this morning. The Golf was in the garage having a new silencer fitted, and it wasn't going to be finished until this evening, Jan was out, and James and Pauline arrived this afternoon. How was I going to pick them up? William very kindly offered to give me a lift to the garage to see if I could get the car back a little earlier and it was amazing what his presence produced. His old mate and garage owner, Monsieur Calvetti, was suddenly able to bring forward the time that the car would be ready, to 11.30. Just like that.
Note: need to get William to drive me around a bit more!


***

We had a bit of fun at dinner tonight by blind tasting five wines. James and Pauline are considering getting married in France next September, so for a bit of fun, Jan and I covered five different wines with silver foil and we all sipped away. It's amazing what you find out about yourself and the preconceptions that you have about individual wines. Try it, it's fun.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Oh go on, it's only a triathlon


I have a soft spot (or rather a hard spot) for one of the lady newsreaders on Breakfast TV. Jan allows me my little fantasy and doesn't really mind. This newsreader, I recently found out, competes in Triathlons, an exercise fest comprising a 1.5 Kms swim, a 40 Kms bike ride and a 10 Kms run. This lady is very, very fit. Anyway, there I was drooling over said lady this morning when Jan turned to me and said, "Listen buster, you wouldn't last 5 minutes. She'd eat you alive." Still, the thought was there.


***

Bryan S popped by this morning to help and advise me on some fencing that needs doing and shave the bottom of a door. As with all these things if you have the right tools it takes no time at all. Bryan has the tools but more importantly the know how. I could have a go with the fence but I know I wouldn't do it correctly and I hate bodging jobs.


***

We have never covered the pool in winter, allowing it to turn over and then cleaning it occasionally. Having read (but not being exactly convinced) that I'd be liable if a child broke into the property and drowned, we have decided to cover the pool this winter. There are some young children next door who I had to chase away last year so I'm not prepared to take the chance.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Davis Cup


It was Czechoslovakia, England and France playing tennis again this morning. Peter (CZ) was today's best player. His technique is not great but he is the youngest of us and reaches balls that lesser mortals struggle to get to. The current score is CZ 6, F 5 and GB 6. I bet you'll sleep better for knowing that.


***

Today was the first of a series of UVA treatments for Jan. It's a little problem that we don't discuss openly, so now you're in on the secret. This treatment means that we have a 90 minutes round trip to Nimes for the best part of 10 minutes at the surgery. It's so quick that it's worth parking outside and chancing a ticket. Adds a bit of spice to an otherwise boring event.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Manon des Sources


Max and Minnie are difficult to control whilst they are on the lead because they pull so much. Max is much worse than Min, and, being the heavier dog, pulls with much more force. No amount of training seems to help. In itself not a major problem but it causes quite a severe strain on my lower back and therefore becomes very tiresome and painful. On the recommendation of Bryan S we purchased a couple of Halti head collars. We took them both out this afternoon and at first glance they seemed to work. Max had no problem with his and Min tried everything she could think of to get hers off. She failed. Fingers crossed we might have solved it. Thanks Bryan.

As an aside, Jan pointed out later that I'd attached their leads incorrectly. And there you were thinking that I was infallible (er, no we didn't - Ed.)


***


We have finally got our hands on a subtitled copy of Manon des Sources, (it's the sequel to Jean de Florette) and we watched it tonight whilst choking on the fumes from our problematic fireplace. Excellent film - lousy fireplace.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Armistice Day


It's Armistice Day, a public holiday, and along with 25 other people from the village we troop off to the War Memorial to mark the event. This is strange behaviour from us because it's not something we ever did in the UK. Anyway, the 'foreign' contingent accounted for about 25% of the the turnout (four English and two Dutch). The photo above shows the official party (William and his deputy) reading messages from the French War Veterans Association. I'd like to understand why we have changed and why we do this. Maybe it's because we have more time on our hands or maybe we have developed a greater sense of public spirit.

***

Talking about public spirit, we headed off to Sommieres for a wee drink and to meet up with Jill and Harry and Bryan and Gill. How come everyone's called Jill/Gill at the moment?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Worry less and do more!


So what does Jan worry about? North Korea, nuclear proliferation, Darfur, Iran? No, she didn't sleep well last night and spent a lot of time worrying about our luggage. As usual, we bought tons of stuff and knew that we were going to be overweight for the flight back. To solve the problem, we should have bought a cheap bag and checked two bags instead of one. And, as it happens, she was dead right to worry because Ryanair hit us with a £55 surcharge for our one overweight suitcase. No mercy. It was our fault entirely and you know what, worrying about it didn't help one bit?
Additionally we had to endure the now obligatory humiliation at security but it was very hit and miss. Some people had to remove their shoes, others did not, some removed their belts, others did not and, whilst I was there, the woman checking the X-ray screen was hardly looking at it. To me it seemed like a total shambles, a scatter gun approach, a knee jerk panic. It was totally unprofessional and a total waste of time and effort, never mind the affront to one's dignity. We need to get power back to the traveller. Vote for me and I'll make it happen!


***

I don't normally talk about food, but Jan made her own, very individual, kedgeree tonight using a big chunk of oak roast smoked salmon that we brought back from Bleiker's (I mentioned them Wednesday). Normally, she would use smoked haddock, but she tweaked the usual recipe, used some curry powder, ground cardamom and fresh coriander as well as the salmon. Delicious.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Harrogate's the town!


There's something about Harrogate. From the architecture to the way the women dress, Harrogate oozes class. There are more top of the range Range Rovers, BMW X5's and Porche Cayennes here than in Chelsea (you're such a snob - Ed.). When you bear in mind that it is a dormitory town for Leeds then I suppose it starts to make sense. It's just one helluva nice place to be. I mentioned this to mum as we returned from the town this afternoon and she said, "Well you can put that in your clog." Bless.


***

We ate at the General Tarleton, Ferrensby, Knareborough tonight, and jolly nice it was too. Very good food in a beautiful setting and definitely recommended. The only difference was it was 50% more expensive than the Sportman's Arms yesterday. But hey, the delightful Polish waitress made my evening.
Because we ate out tonight, mum has lots of food leftover. Does anybody want to go and help her eat it up?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bleiker's Smokehouse and The Sportsman's Arms







Dial Up is soooo slow. I set up the connection when we arrived on Monday and it takes some getting used to when you normally use ADSL. I'd forgotten!

***

Mum's table is always so interesting. Nothing straightforward here don't you know. Not ordinary marmalade, but Orange, Apricot and Amaretto marmalade. Not just honey, but Active UMF 10+ Manuka Honey. Not just strawberry jam, but strawberry and champagne jam. The list goes on.
There's nothing straightforward about my mother. Watching her eat her marmite and banana on toast for breakfast tells you that. Toast made from
Dr h c A Vogels original mixed grain brown bread. He was a famous Swiss nutritionist (says the packet) and this loaf won a gold medal in 1954 (I knew it was stale). It is made from kibbled wheat (don't ask), kibbled rye and with no artificial anything. "But mum, it still tastes like cardboard!"

***

At around 11.00 we headed off into the stunning scenery of the Nidd Valley. Mum has to pick up some smoked trout from Bleiker's Smokehouse, Glasshouses, Nr Pateley Bridge, HG3 5QH, 01423 711411. As ever mum has great taste because this place is recommended by Rick Stein as one of his food heroes. The staff there were outstanding in their friendliness and helpfulness. This is typical Yorkshire hospitality which is so lacking in others parts. Jan and I bought a lot of stuff to take home. Roll on Christmas.
On our way over to Glasshouses we passed near or through many villages with lovely and unusual names, Hampsthwaite, Killinghall, Blubberhouses, Kirby Overblow, Burnt Yates, Bedlam and Smelthouses, to name but seven. The Nidd Valley where men are men and women kick start jumbo jets for fun. Anyway, needing a good pint of beer, I asked for a recommendation for lunch from one of the lovely ladies in the smoke house. Quick as a flash she said, "For a great lunch and good beer you need the Sportman's Arms in Wath."
What an excellent recommendation. The Sportsman's Arms, Wath-in-Nidderdale, Nr Pateley Bridge, 01423 711806, is outstanding. I'd be writing for days to tell you how good the food was. This is a superior restaurant with food of the highest standard. The bill for three with wine was £83. Very highly recommended. Miss this place at your peril.
***
We headed back to Harrogate afterwards and finished off a perfect day with a little retail therapy. Mnnnnnnnnnn.

What shall we eat today?


Mum always has something good on the table. Today at lunch she had, amongst a lot of other things, the most delicious mozzarella. As I’m a bit of a mozzarella aficionado I must tell you about it. If you are ever near a Waitrose (in England) buy their Fattorie Garofalo, 121 via Santa Maria, Capua, 0039 0823 627025, mozzarella bufala. It was unbelievably fresh; as good as I have ever eaten fresh in Italy. Jan, who is mostly a fresh ricotta fan, also thought it was wonderful. If you like buffalo mozzarella and you can’t be bothered to go to the south of Italy, then this is the stuff for you.

***
I’d had a forewarning about the afternoon. I knew that mum had an appointment at the District hospital, 25 miles west, in York. She usually does this journey by public transport, which takes out an afternoon. Why she doesn’t just go to the local hospital, 2 miles away, is another story. Naturally we offer to take her even though it will mean a lot of waiting around. Ok so I don’t really mind waiting (that’s a lie – Ed.) but for the first hour we drove away from the hospital and read the newspapers. When we got back the car park was still full so it meant waiting in a space reserved for children that needed a special badge. It was the only unoccupied space available and I couldn’t get near our meeting point. I sat with the car whilst Jan searched the hospital for mum who was by now half an hour late. It wasn’t just a case of sitting there, I had to be on full alert because I didn’t want a ticket and I didn’t want to miss my mother who could walk past at any moment. It wasn’t at all comfortable, but then I don’t mind waiting, do I?

***

On our return home from York, Jan fancied fish and chips, and Mum suggested a place nearby. When questioned, it turns out that the last time she had used this place she was disappointed. When I pointed out that she was suggesting a place that she didn’t like, I was faced with a blank stare. Ok, if you want fish and chips there is only one place, so it was back in the car for a 15 mile journey south to Leeds to eat at Bryan’s, 9 Weetwood Lane, Headingley, Leeds 16, 0113,278 5679. This is the best fish and chip restaurant in the world, bar none. Go there you will not be disappointed.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Nimes to Harrogate

It was an early start this morning because we had to drop the dogs off at their pension at 08.00 and then we had to make an appointment in Nimes by 09.00. It’s always hard leaving the dogs because they don’t exactly look forward to it and naturally we will miss them.
We have time to kill before the flight, so there I am sitting in a typical French café (that’s strange – Ed.) on the Boulevard Admiral Courbet, dunking my pain au chocolate when, as I looked down the sun dappled, tree lined road, I had this strange sensation. Here I am living in France and suddenly it feels very exotic. This is the France of your dreams and here I am living it. We both feel very lucky.

***
Jan and I have been together for quite a few years and even now I still learn things about her. We were talking about attraction and what makes people attractive. Jan, looking at a man, said, “Look at the back of his neck, it’s horrible.” I was amazed. This was something new. An element of attractiveness that I’d never considered before, at least not consciously.
“I’ve always wondered why you walked round and round me on that first date,” I said.
Necks, it turns out, tell a story. You learn more every day.
***
Flying isn’t much of a pleasure. I’ve flown a lot in the past, on business, and grew to hate it. Of late, the flying has been more for pleasure so it was less of a burden, but there are now big differences. Now we are all potential terrorists and are stripped of our dignity when we enter an airport building. We are questioned at check-in and are treated as a real threat at security. The staff at Nîmes were generally cheerful and relaxed this time so security wasn’t too bad, but it has been awful in the past. You want to scream at them. “Do I look like a bloody terrorist? I’m obviously a middle aged overweight tourist. That little grey haired old lady looks even less so.” Or more to the point, how many terrorists have ever been stopped and caught at security? Look, I know all the arguments, but isn’t this all just a little over the top? To subject every flyer to this kind of security is nothing but a stupid waste of time. To frisk little old ladies and young children is downright insulting. What about a little profiling, why not make the searches random? Why not use a little more common sense?
***
Liverpool to Harrogate is a little under 2 hours and mum is pleased to see us. She has the next few days mapped out, mostly involving food but with the odd trip to sort out her medical problems. Dinner was a cicatelli pasta with a beef ragu, washed down with an excellent Chilean Chardonnay, a 2003 Montepulchiano d’Abruzzo and then, just in case we hadn’t quite had enough, a 2003 Valpolicella Zenato which was just excellent. We rarely drink Italian wine so this was a nice treat. Being the oldest male around at dinner, (the only male at dinner – Ed.) I’m entrusted to taste the pasta and pronounce when it is cooked correctly. Apart from drinking too much, this was my main contribution for dinner. What a responsibility. It’s tough being me!