Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A pleasant change

At long last, a warm, sunny day. January has been colder, windier and wetter than usual, in fact this winter has, so far, been pretty miserable. Today was a pleasant change and got us out into the garden for a bit of tidying up. In particular, I had to clean up the mess left after the wind blew some tiles off the kitchen terrace roof. Unusually the wind was blowing hard from the south east, and got under some edge tiles. I heard the bang from some distance away as the tiles hit the floor but luckily there was no one nearby or there could have been a nasty accident.


There I am moaning about the weather, when I checked the snow conditions at Prat Peyrot, our local ski station, to find that it was inaccessible and closed down, presumably because of the recent snow. Bum, we'd just dusted down our ski stuff in anticipation of a visit next week, and mine still fits.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Domaine de la Prose

Today was all about taking James and Pauline back to the airport, but as nothing is simple in this house, we took a big detour to visit another vineyard. Domaine de la Prose is situated outside Pignan near the village of St George d'Orque just west of Montpellier. I first heard of this area when tasting (or rather drinking) an absolutely delicious red Domaine Henry from Pic Wines. Because James likes to try new wines and new terroirs, and because Jan and I have been known to do the same, we decided to make this little side-trip. We were pleased to be able to taste their wine, and were offered three whites and three reds to try by Alexandre de Mortillet, the owner. The enthusiasm and passion of all the wine makers we meet is so pleasing and this man was no exception.


I received this today, which made me laugh:

A male patient is lying in bed in the hospital, wearing an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. A young, student nurse turns up and starts to give him a partial sponge bath.
"Nurse", he mumbles, from behind the mask. "Are my testicles black?"
Embarrassed, the young nurse replies, "I don't know, Sir, I'm only here to wash your upper body and feet.”
He struggles to ask again, "Nurse, are my testicles black?"
Concerned that he may elevate his blood pressure and heart rate from worry about his testicles, she overcomes her embarrassment and pulls back the covers. She raises his gown, holds his manhood in one hand and his testicles in the other. Then, she takes a close look and says, "There's absolutely nothing wrong with them, Sir!"
The man pulls off his oxygen mask, smiles at her and says very slowly, "Thank you so very much, you're very kind, but listen, can you tell me, are my test results back?"

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Let's adopt a baby

There we were lying in bed, listening to an item about adoption on the breakfast news when I suggested to Jan that maybe we should adopt a child. Jan, an earth mother, purred contentedly. I mentioned that we have the time, we can demonstrate that we have been loving, responsible parents and we can provide a good home. She reacted calmly to this suggestion until I, probably unhelpfully, suggested that if we could get an olive skinned, raven haired, 18 years old with a 38 DD chest, I'd do a lot of the nurturing. She didn't like this idea! I was possibly a bit too specific about the colour of hair. Oh well, I'll know for next time.


Happy New Year! It's the Chinese year of the dog or more formally bingxu. The dog is Jan's sign and I'm a pig, as you have already probably realised, but at least you won't have to sing Old Bloody Lang Syne. I wonder what the Chinese sing? (Ord rang sine - Ed.) Jan and I have always had great fun looking a our Chinese astrological signs, and in particular, how the dog and pig get on together. Hmnnnn.


Jan loves to try new recipes and because James is vegetarian, she particularly loves the challenge. Tonight we started with a Tunisian aubergine salad, eaten with pitta bread, couscous with a vegetable tagine, followed by cheese, pineapple upside down cake and baci di ricotta (lightly fried ricotta cakes). Delicious. If I could remember anything about the wine I'd tell you about that too.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Wine, food and more wine

We had a strange combination this morning of heavy rain but with lots of snow on the ground. The rain did not appear to be melting the snow which felt strange, but there you go. (For goodness sake, not another weather report - Ed.)


This was funny but Chirac took it in good humour.


My son James arrived today and I was really looking forward to his visit. I didn't see either of my children over Christmas so this is the next best thing. James loves his wine, (it obviously runs in the family - Ed) so on the way back from the airport we stopped at Mas d'Espanet, situated deep in the countryside, near St Mamert-du-Gard. We were met by Agnès, an extremely nice lady, who let us try several of their wines. They are seriously good winemakers and I urge you to pay them a visit. Their website has tasting notes and prices.


By way of a late birthday treat, James took us out for dinner. We had booked at Apicius in St Mathieu de Treviers 0467 55 37 97 where we had already stopped for lunch on a couple of occasions. As an aside, because a similarly named restaurant in Paris has objected, they will shortly change their name to Lennys. Anyway, this was our first visit for dinner, so we looked forward to it with anticipation. The meal was outstanding and the restaurant a real place for foodies. No steak and chips here, but amongst others, razor clams or a very different bouillabaisse for starters, a succulent pigeon or watercress soup with fish (St Pierre). My descriptions do not do the food justice. We all tried different dishes and the textures and tastes were sensational. The chef is a real artist and if you are interested in food this restaurant must be on your list. Situated right in the middle of Pic St Loup country, you can imagine that the wines were first class. Highly recommended.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

In anticipation of a trip to Paris in April, I booked tickets on the TGV. I have always wanted to take this train. Last time I drove directly to Paris, it took 7 hours and this journey takes about 3 hours. Because I booked ahead I got what I think is a good deal. For 2 of us, upper deck in first class, it came to 180 euros for the return journey. That's about £64 each. To drive would cost quite a bit more, involve twice the journey time and take a few years off my life. A no brainer really.


When we woke this morning, it was snowing heavily. The dogs, who have never seen snow, were a bit bemused. It was lovely to see Minnie gamboling in the snow. By way of proof, as if proof were needed, the photo above is a shot of the countryside from our bedroom window.


Chapter 2 of my book on understanding women will start with an in-depth study of the deeper meanings of the following encounter:

Jan: Why don't you choose a cheese that you like?

Alex: Ok, that's nice, I'll have that one.

Jan: No dearest, you can't have that one, it melts.

Alex: Oops sorry, I didn't realise that I only liked non-melting cheese.

Jan: Why are you so sarcastic?

You will note that the new improved me let Jan have the last word. I didn't swear or make any negative comment about consistent, rational or dictatorial behaviour. It's just as well that we have both got a good sense of humour.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

When will they ever learn?

What is it with British politicians? I don't consider myself a political animal but I find politics interesting and love observing all its machinations. As long as I've been interested, it appears to me that a politician who blatantly lies about something ultimately gets caught out. Anyone who admits immediately to an indiscretion kills the story and can carry on with their lives. The latest fiasco with the Lib Dems in England is a case in point. First, their leader Charles Kennedy denies being alcoholic, when everyone knows that he has a drink problem, then Mark Oaten is exposed whilst pretending to be a happily married man, and then there's the latest fiasco with Simon Hughes, who I believed to be gay and thought nothing of it. He announced publicly that he wasn't, and I believed him, but now he admits to being gay after all. Whether he was gay or not didn't concern me one jot, but I minded being lied to. What a bunch of donkeys! Three leadership hopefuls all falling by the wayside because they were caught lying. Go back a few years to Paddy Ashdown, who immediately admitted that he'd had an affair, and the 'story' was dead in a matter of days. When will these people ever learn? The press invariably know the truth and will dig and dig, in the face of denial, until they get their scoop. Agree with them immediately and the story then runs out of steam. In the great scheme of things none of their problems were that serious but they made them more serious by public denial. In my opinion, the Lib Dems were becoming more and more electable and could have become a power in UK politics. Now I think they're dead in the water. Stupid.


It was a nice afternoon and we decided to stick the dogs in the car and take them for a short ride into the countryside so that they could wander in pastures new. After 10 minutes, we noticed a DFCI (a purpose built fire track) and started to climb up a hill. The views were spectacular and we also passed about 40 or so beehives half way up. What do bees do in winter? There was quite a lot of 'humming' in the surrounding bush but I'd have thought that it was too cold for them. I felt like a little Google and this is the answer. Isn't Google great!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

OK, so where's your card?

I've always been pissed off that I have had to celebrate my birthday on Burns Night. Now I have nothing against Robert Burns personally, but have you ever tried to read his rubbish? Take a look here. I rest my case. Why is this man so celebrated in Scotland? Have the Scots no taste when it comes to poetry? Is this the best that they can produce? Having said that, when you consider that this is the land of the deep fried Mars Bar, it sort of explains it really. Any nation that can invent haggis, cover it in good whisky, set fire to it, play the bloody bagpipes to announce its arrival at dinner, wear skirts, and carry a huge chip on their shoulders, deserves Robert Burns as their favourite poet. Oh, and I forgot to mention that he also wrote Auld Lang Syne! Thank God they've got their independence, give them their own passport I say.


Now then, back to my birthday. It was a very pleasant sunny day and it started with a nice lie in, when I got my birthday treats. (No details please - Ed.) Jan very kindly bought me a very expensive bottle of twice distilled Lagavulin, my favourite malt whisky, a box of Belgian chocolates and 2 books.
We had a slight scare when we 'lost' Max (Minnie was in the house), who had managed to get down onto the bottom road and gone for a little explore. This is only the second time that he has left the garden unaccompanied and we haven't yet figured out his escape route. Anyway, he was pleased as punch with himself when I let him back in through the gate, full of bouncy energy at his successful 'adventure'. Yet one more thing to look out for now.
For dinner, Jan prepared her own version of duck with hoi sin sauce, followed by 5 hour slow cooked lamb and then 2 puddings, one an individual tiramisu and the other a pineapple upside down cake with a little mascarpone on the side. The perfect end to a lovely day. Thank you darling.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lost in translation

After returning from an airport run yesterday, we had a surprise visit from Vincent Coste of Domaine Costeplane. Françoise and Vincent are such nice people and, time permitting, have always allowed our guests to visit their cave and see winemaking in progress. They are in the process of preparing a new brochure and want a French to English translation, so the rest of the afternoon and part of this morning was spent translating. It was an interesting exercise because quite often you knew exactly what was said in the French but had to avoid a direct translation because of the clumsy English that it would produce. (A bit like wot you write - Ed.) With a bit of imagination and some artistic licence, we managed to produce some readable English that stayed loyal to the spirit of the French. We had to scratch our heads a few times, particularly when trying to translate a technical term like argilo-calcaire marbre but Vincent seemed very pleased with the end result and we had a bit of fun. As an aside, their delicious, medal winning 2004 rosé was our pink of choice last year and their Plan de Savoulous is one of our favourite reds.


It's Max's second birthday today so Jan gave him extra cuddles and treats. Both being males, Max and I celebrated with male type greetings so that he didn't get embarrassed and I didn't get branded a paedophile. You've gotta be careful nowadays!


I popped in to see William this afternoon because I'd heard that he wasn't well, that he'd put his car in a ditch and had to get someone to pull him out. I thought that I'd tease him about French drunk drivers but it turns out it was nothing worse than getting stuck in deep mud next to some roadworks. I'll get him one day!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Wot, another dinner

Despite a request from my ailing body, the dogs had to be picked up by 08.30, so no lie in. Bum. The rest of the day was pretty easy though with a mid afternoon dog walk being the most strenuous activity.


This evening we went over to Jill and Harry's for dinner (well, we haven't been out much recently), to meet their friends. A good evening.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Sur le pont

I'd visited Avignon with Jan some time ago and I remember it being a cold miserable day. All we did was visit the Palais des Papes (if memory serves me correctly, the Popes ruled from Avignon for 400 years or so) and then had a coffee in the main square. I didn't particularly enjoy the visit and my memory of the place was then formed. How wrong I was! (I bet you found that hard to type - Ed.). I really liked Avignon this time.
So last night the four intrepid travellers met up at CW's before the walk across the centre of the walled town to find our pool hall. Despite a breakneck speed I managed to get a very favourable impression of the shops and restaurants as they whizzed by. Jan's going to love this place I thought to myself. Anyway, we eventually found the pool hall, which, never ever having been inside a pool hall before, was exactly as I imagined it to be. We started to drink beer, play pool, tell jokes and generally talk a lot of nonsense. Bob and Steve were in full flow, talking about things very computer technical, when Chris (trainee chef) turned to me and said, "The sad thing is I understand what they're talking about." The quality of the pool, which was never very high, deteriorated in proportion to the amount of beer consumed but nonetheless we enjoyed ourselves. So came the time for a reverse yomp, across town, to Chris' restaurant of choice. La Vache a Carreaux, 14 rue de la Peyrolerie, 0490 80 09 05, was very interesting. Given the amount of beer I'd consumed by this time, I'd be lying if I said that I could remember everything, but here goes. I'd been told that this restaurant serves cheese with everything, and I mean everything, so I decided to start with what I thought would be a non cheese item, a plate of charcuterie. The meats were excellent but were served with a small piece of cheese on a salad in the middle of the plate. So I got that wrong then. My main course was duck breast served with a blue cheese sauce. Sounds strange, but tasted delicious. We then of course had a cheese platter, which Bob pronounced as the best cheese platter he had ever had (he normally eats Dairylea triangles) and to finish I had, wait for it, cheesecake. At the beginning of each course the wine expert gave his suggestion on what we should drink so thank goodness we only had four courses, that is until he dropped a bottle of pear schnapps on the table as a thankyou for consuming so much wine. Just what we needed. If the heart stopping cheeses weren't going to get us during the meal, we stood a fair chance of liver failure after. But such are boys' nights out. An excellent meal with lots of new, tasty ideas to think about. A good choice.
Ok, so what do we need now? Let's pop over to the cafe in the square (coincidently the first cafe that I had visited years before) for a warming nightcap. What could be better than a hot Irish coffee? As it happens, anything, because they had shut down the coffee machine but were prepared to serve us an ice filled cocktail. I tried to tell him in my best drunken Franglais that, it in case he hadn't noticed, it was bloody cold outside but could I melt his frozen Gallic heart? What do you think? An iced cocktail it was. Just what we needed. But such are boys' nights out. Anyway, back to Chris' for a nightcap (just in case we hadn't quite had enough) and he got out a half filled bottle of Spanish brandy. I was just about to tell him that I like that particular brandy, when he reminded me that I'd bought it for him some years ago. He doesn't drink a lot of Spanish brandy, our Chris. On pain of death we were told not to wake Chris' other half, who had to work the next morning, whereupon Chris walked into their bedroom and trod on the stereo control which turned it on full blast. I notice that he didn't offer to commit suicide! But such are boys' nights out.


After Jan and Lynne turned up at lunchtime the next day, we headed for a tapas bar (a bit of a Spanish theme developing here - Ed.) but I forgot to get their card because I was concentrating on trying not to think too much or indeed at all. Nice tapas! The girls, with 3 very brave boys in tow, headed for the shops to buy essential things like a pair of tweezers to pull fish bones out of fillets of fish. How have we managed before, I hear you say?
As night fell, it was now Chris' turn to practise his new found culinary skills. Smoked salmon to start, with a delicious cheese sauce, pan fried langoustines and risotto with a sauce a l'americaine and the most delicious chocolate (with black forest overtones) pudding. Chris, I'm sorry if my descriptions fall short. 24 hours of non stop haute cuisine, sur le pont, and then back home, for a rest.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Oh no, not more fun!

What a hectic social life! Tonight is the 'Office Party'. Historically a bunch of guys who work (or not) on their own, have a get together, once a year, to celebrate with an office party. For various reasons we couldn't make it at Christmas time and today is the next best thing. Basically, it involves a bunch of middle aged men playing pool for a few hours, drinking lots of beer and then all sitting down in a restaurant to enjoy a nice meal. The venue this year has changed from Sete to Avignon and will be 'hosted' by CW, computer guru, blogger and more recently gourmet chef.
I will travel over to Avignon with BW another computer man,
blogger and all round good egg. At least that's what he told me to say (by the way his last blog post was a long time ago and Harry is now about 103 years old). We'll meet up with 2 others, who I know less well, and start the process of trying to drink some poor (or rather lucky) establishment dry.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

And the winner is?

I'm in grave danger of becoming a grumpy old man (What do you mean - becoming? - Ed.). I have never understood the amount of time and space given to the adulation of actors and films. This morning on Breakfast News they devoted a straight 40 minutes to the nominations, not the results but the nominations, no less, for the upcoming BAFTA Awards. What's going on? Why are we so fixated by this, or more to the point, why does the BBC think that this is so important? Why do actors and actressses get so much adulation? Why are they paid so much money? I find it all incomprehensible. Every second of every day millions of people around the world make absolute fortunes for their employers so why aren't they paid vast sums of money? In an interview with Kirsten Scott Thomas she mentioned that making a film is a team effort and all her co-workers are so much fun. BIG DEAL. Every job I have ever had involved teamwork and a lot of laughs. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good film or some good acting but for goodness sake, let's get a better balance. Rant over!


Talking about co-workers that are fun, reminds me of the time when the American company that I worked for bought a small bank, based in Sunderland. This bank came under my direct control and was run, on a day to day basis, by work colleagues who, more importantly, were my good friends. One day I was visiting this business with the CEO of our parent company and during our visit we would receive a briefing on the business and projections about its future. We were each given a folder containing a lot of facts and figures. So there we were sitting around the board table with the senior managers of this bank reviewing statistics and other minutiae. Sitting next to our American visitors, I was turning the pages as we were led through the figures, when my next page consisted of a picture taken of Prince Charles and Diana on the day their engagement was announced. The interesting thing about the picture was that Diana was naked and Charles was standing behind her, holding her very ample breasts in his hands. I slammed my folder shut in shock, because this was a serious meeting, and I tried to catch the eye of any of the guys across the table. They refused to look up and left me to stew over whether our distinguished guest also had an adulterated copy of the figures.


Jill and Harry came for dinner tonight. We started with a warm duck salad (had to do something with all the duck left over from Monday), red mullet on mixed rice with braised fennel, cheese and carpaccio of pineapple to finish.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The party's over

After a late and leisurely breakfast, the birthday party wandered into Nîmes for shopping and sightseeing. We had lunch high up overlooking the Maison Carré in the Carré D'Art Museum. The lunch was fine but not up to the feasts of the last few days, but the weather was good enough to have sat outside, which was a bonus. We then strolled down to the Coliseum and through the old part of town, looking at the shops, or more to the point trying to find a French team football shirt for an expectant little boy, back in England.
On the motorway back to Montpellier, for the flight home, we hit a huge traffic jam. Both the 2 inside lanes were filled with bumper to bumper trucks. It looked like a huge lorry park and made you realise how important that route is for Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, British, Dutch and German commerce. Whilst trying to find the radio, so that we could listen to road reports, we found some radio controls and speakers, but no on/off switch and no actual radio. We eventually found a remote control which when pointed at the dashboard, turned it on. Weird but fun! Anyway, we were only delayed 35 minutes and got to the airport in good time. After sad farewells we returned to pick up 2 very relieved pooches and to an empty house. A good fun 3 days.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A birthday meal

Happy birthday AJ. Notwithstanding the fact that we all felt a little fragile after last night and I had no recollection of some of the things we did, we started laughing over breakfast. AJ was in really good form and Jan had tears running down her face. The inability to remember things worries me a bit but I suppose it's a sign of a 'good' night! (More a sign that you can't take it any more - Ed.)


At lunch time we headed out for a special birthday boy meal at Le Forneau in nearby Aigremont. They opened especially for us and Laure, the chef, did us proud. Given that we had some serious eaters around the table, the quality and balance of the menu together with the wine was a resounding success. Phew! If a bunch of people fly to France specifically for lunch, then it has to be right. 5 hours later, we waddled back home.


The rest of the evening was spent playing Balderdash and Trivial Pursuit. If you've never played Balderdash I recommend to you. We have never found anybody who doesn't like it. TP was a return match, women against men (evidently we played it last night but I slept through most of it) and the ladies won again. We did try, honest.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The fun starts here

This morning we took the dogs to a 'new' pension in nearby Fontanes, for no other reason than to try it out. There will be extended periods over the next few days when it will be difficult with the dogs so we decided that they would be better off in kennels.


In addition to our arrivals later in the day, Jill and Harry arrived this afternoon and I get the airport run whilst Jan prepares food for this evening. She had decided on an Italian feast consisting of home made antipasti (anchovies in oil, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts and insalata caprese), pasta with a mushroom sauce, arrosto misto (roast quail, duck and pork) followed by oranges with a caramel sauce and tiramisu.
Jan and I then shot over to Montpellier to pick up AJ and his birthday party guests and ferry them back in a Renault Espace, hired for the occasion. It was a fun dinner and went on into the small hours.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A nice surprise

Lots of jobs to do today, preparing for a 'surprise' (he won't know until he gets to the airport) birthday visit from a friend from the UK. His partner has invited a group of his closest friends to come over and enjoy themselves for a few nights of wining and dining, and we are co-hosts. Altogether there will be 9 of us, Jan will cook for us all tomorrow night and on Tuesday, his birthday, we have arranged a special meal at our favourite restaurant nearby. Whilst there has already been quite a lot of other preparation, I haven't been able to mention this before just in case he reads about it here. By the time this is posted he will be travelling.
I've known 'AJ' for quite a few years now and my fondest recent memory was when he was last over here. The discussion, around a very 'merry' dinner table, was all about when and how people first met. AJ was, as usual, keeping people in fits of laughter when he turned to an enthralled 10 year old and asked her, "And tell me Becky, when did you first meet your parents?"

I'm really looking forward to the next few days.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Where have I heard that one before?

This morning we get up early (at 07.30 - good grief) and take the dogs to training. Max is his usual, vaguely controllable, good-natured, happy self (he fell 'in love' with a huge female Mastiff and was difficult to control) whilst Min settles in quickly and, at first appearances, looks like she will do well. She appears to be less submissive than Max, more adventurous and dare I say it, more intelligent. We shall see.


Manu, our elusive builder, dropped by this afternoon. He has work to finish next door and we want him to build a kennel and run for us outside. Occasionally we need to leave the dogs for more than a couple of hours and in summer it would be better for them if they were outside. They will need shade and space to move around and we have just the spot, but it needs a certain amount of building work. He promised to call next week to give us a date. Hmnnnnn.


We didn't like the last panetone we bought in Intermarché, so Jan made a quick, easy, weight inducing, cholesterol augmenting, diabetes no no, from the leftovers. This is good. Coat slices of panetone in icing sugar and then lightly pan fry in butter. Serve warm from the pan. Great!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Swapping positions

After such a lousy nights sleep, we both felt pretty miserable this morning but we decided to take advantage of 2 very tired dogs, leave them both at home and nip over to the market at Ganges. We have been told on several occasions that it is a very good market, and so it proved. We stopped for coffee in the middle of the market and I commented on how comfortable I now feel in France. Jan agreed, even though she had to use a hated 'footprint' loo.


After very many years of driving, I have never once been stopped and asked to produce my license and insurance documents in the UK. We have now been in France over 3 years and I have been stopped 3 times. At first it used to irritate me but now I'm more relaxed. However, this type of police vigilance does nothing to improve the standard of French driving.


Jan's joke of the day:

He said - "Shall we try swapping positions tonight?"

She said - "That's a good idea... you stand by the ironing board whilst I sit on the sofa and fart."

Do you think that maybe I give Jan the wrong impression? (Doubt it - Ed.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

By the light of the silvery moon

Leafing through Le Guide Hachette des Vins 2006, shows how many interesting wine makers there are in this area, and that's without going next door into Herault. There are some right on our doorstep, one near Quissac, another near Sauve and one right here in the village. It's generally quiet for us at this time of the year and we usually amuse ourselves with brief visits to new places and wine tasting. Good things to look forward to.

Who says that Friday 13th is unlucky? I do! We went to bed shortly after midnight last night having let the dogs out for their final sniff around. Min came in from the cold as any sensible dog would, but could we get Max in? The moon was very full and it was almost light outside and he decided that he was on guard duty again. We tried everything to coax him in, all our tricks but finally gave up. Jan, who finds it more difficult to sleep than me when he is out (it's a maternal thing) finally let him in at 03.30. I wonder if it had anything to do with a full moon? I didn't notice Jan behaving strangely.


There I was lying in bed trying to cheer Jan up and I said to her, "I'm going to make you the happiest woman in the world tonight."
She said, "I'll miss you!"

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ice stops play

One thing that I didn't envisage when we moved here was that ice on the court would prevent tennis being played. It was so cold last night that everything outside was covered with ice that shimmered and glistened in the sunlight this morning. But it also meant that a call to William was needed. We'll try again tomorrow.


Julie from PicWines called round this afternoon in order to let us try some wine that we need for a forthcoming dinner. If you are ever thinking about buying wine from this area or if you would like to organise a wine tasting in France or the UK, then this is your company. They have carefully researched wines from Languedoc Roussillon and we have never been disappointed with their findings. After sampling three reds, we chose a Chateau Valflaunès, Hardiesse 2002. Yummy.


When I write my book on understanding female behaviour I'll start here.

Jan: How do you think that I should do that?
Me: I'd do it like this.
Jan: How come you always tell me how to do things?
Me: Because you bloody well just asked me.

Funny how easy it is to start an argument.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Feeling good

What a great feeling! I've been puzzling for a while now on how to merge the 2 mail stores in Outlook Express that I've ended up with (Please don't explain why - Ed.). I knew the full address of both stores and by using the import tool in OE I should have been able to merge them. The only trouble was that the import wizard didn't allow me to type the address, I had to choose it from a predetermined structure. This structure, however, did not show sufficient 'layers' so I came to a full stop. That is until I had a brainwave this morning. Maybe the view in 'Folder Options' had been set to truncate all the system levels. Well, wadaya know - who's a clever boy? And, by the way, if you don't understand any of this rubbish then you are a healthy normal human being, but if you do understand it, you're probably not well.


Something that really pisses me off at the moment is the 'blame culture' that seems to pervade British society. There are lots of examples of this, not the least, the 'ambulance chasing' legal advertising, but something that really hacked me off recently was to hear some guy complaining on television that the British government had given him no money after his adult child had been involved in some foreign catastrophe. I have every sympathy with anyone's misfortune, at home or abroad, but why one's government should be expected to pick up the pieces and then compensate one's relatives is beyond my understanding. I suppose it's an inherent danger when you try to run a nanny state and when you try to please too many people.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Working the system

The weather is much better today, cool with no wind, so we were able to start the tennis again. Obviously these conditions favour someone from a more northerly climate, and let's just say we finished with a 'banana' rather than a 'banane'. Kevin will be pleased that I restored national pride.


I nipped round to the Mairie this afternoon because I want to swap my UK driving license for a French one. Whilst my UK license is perfectly valid here, a French one does not have to be frequently renewed after 70 years of age, as does the UK one, and, of course, a French license is valid in the UK. We have also had some minor problems hiring a car in the UK with an English license and living in France, but I won't bore you with all the ins and outs. Michelle, the Maire's lovely, all knowing secretary, gave us the necessary forms, so now it's up to us.


Today was the start of a 'try harder' eating regime for both of us. We had minestrone and fruit for lunch with fish and vegetables for dinner. I feel thinner already!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

La Galette des Rois

The final celebration of the Christmas season is ‘la Fête des Rois', Feast of the Kings, on the last of the twelve days of Christmas. On this day a special cake is baked called La Galette des Rois, which contains a small ‘fève', a charm inside it. The person who finds the charm is crowned King or Queen for the day. We, along with a few hundred other people, were invited by the Maire and le Conseil Municipal, "a partager la galette des rois" tonight in the foyer, the village hall. The cakes, either a brioche filled with candied fruit or a warm flaky pastry filled with almond paste, are provided out of village funds and this get together is one of the traditions that we so enjoy in our village. William gave his annual address regarding village events of the past 12 months and outlined some continuing issues and problems still to be resolved (like the sewage works, but don't worry and in case you can't sleep at night, I'll keep you informed as things progress). By the way, I found a porcelain fève, but had to eat several pieces of cake to find it. Nobody crowned me King, but somebody will get a bill for the cracked tooth!


I find France a fascinating country and not the least the behaviour of its people. In some ways it is also a frustrating country and, as you know, I rant on about this from time to time. This article, by a BBC Paris correspondent, is interesting and goes some way to start to explain certain French characteristics.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Seeing the light

We had been thinking for a while of visiting the UK next March. As usual we um and ah about driving and flying. The former being quite expensive at no less than 600 euros if you include petrol, a hotel in each direction, motorway tolls and the channel crossing. So Jan checks the cost of flying. Given that we can borrow a car in England, the equivalent cost, flying, comes to 109 euros total for both of us, and that's with the added benefit of being restricted to what we can buy because we can't carry it back. It's a no brainer.


Last night Minnie appeared to hurt her leg badly, badly enough to cry out and limp a lot. Her rough and tumbles with Max make some minor injuries inevitable but this morning she was still protecting the leg, so we whipped her off to the vet. It's obviously a sign of age, but when you start to look at medical professionals and you don't believe they are old enough to diagnose a decapitation, you need to take stock and take a deep breath. The vet was young, but very considerate and caring and gave Min a thorough examination. She had hurt one of her toes, I remember Max standing on her foot the other day and when he stands on mine it hurts, so for her it must have been excruciating. A painkiller and rest were prescribed which was a big relief for us, if not for Min.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A rude awakening

It snowed last night, well, not snow but sleet or rather slush, but either way it left a thin layer of white on the ground. The dogs seem to be sensitive to bad weather and don't want to go out in it, so this morning I had to push them out of the front door. So there I was smugly thinking that I'd got the better of them, when I heard them yelping at each other and playing with their toys. Max, of course, had let them in out of the rain, through the back door. We then had to deal with wet paw prints and other dirty marks throughout the lounge and kitchen. When am I going to get the hang of this?

The poor weather relegated us to a nice lie in, a breakfast of poached eggs, my favourite, (everything's your favourite - Ed.) and jobs inside the house. The first job was to fix the front doorbell - done. Next to backwash the pool (it's about to overflow) and third to to fill in some bits around the fireplace with some special heat resistant mortar. I bet you're impressed?
I had a terrible shock this afternoon. There I was reading Kevin's blog and he brazenly admitted that he wasn't immortal. He has been misleading so many of us for a very long time and I suspect that it will take an even longer time for the pain to heal. Watch that man!

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Max now routinely lets himself in and out of the house by opening the back door. The only real downside to this is when it is raining and cold. We need to remember to lock the door if they have let themselves out so that we have the opportunity to dry them off before they come back in again. Not content with just this type of behaviour, one of them, and we suspect Max, not only opened but pulled out a heavy kitchen drawer last night. Jan was in the kitchen at the sink and jumped at the sound of something big falling behind her. Goodness knows how it was done, but this heavy drawer was pulled out and then lifted for the final bit before it fell on the floor. Maybe we have poltergeists?


Off to Montpellier this afternoon for a bollocking about my weight. In fairness I had only put on half a kilo over Christmas, which I felt was good going, but needless to say the lovely Dr K disagreed. Hell she's tough, but then I suppose you need to be to deal with people like me. I've been seeing her for six months now and I've only lost 2.5 kilos. (We're not surprised - Ed.) It's probably time to knuckle down a bit and make more effort. Thank goodness I finished the Christmas cake yesterday. That'll help a bit!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Three men in a boat

This is an interesting article on dieting and the book may be worth reading. On reading the article I empathised with the issues surrounding 'habit'. For instance we have been in the habit of opening a bottle at about 19.00 or earlier and then by the time the meal arrives there is a question of whether we should open another. In the past we always opened a second bottle, but now we try to delay opening the first. (Not always successfully! - Ed.)
We have just watched an entertaining programme - a loose re-enactment of Jerome K(lapka) Jerome's, Three Men in a Boat. Having both spent a large amount of our early lives in the Thames Valley, we found it particularly interesting. It's an area we know very well. We were both really pleased and touched to see 'The Bull' (a pub) at Sonning feature heavily. Jan and I first met there on a blind date. Ahhhhhhhh. (Cut this sentimental crap please - Ed.)

Monday, January 02, 2006

But baby it's cold outside

Because I once read that this area offers 300 days of sunshine each year (and I didn't believe it), because it appeals to my neat and tidy mind but, more to the point, because I'm a very sad person, I keep weather statistics. Each day I note five basic bits of weather information and record it. Now that we're in a new year, I have another full year of stats, so put on your best enthralled face and read on. Comparing 2004 and 2005, in that order, the average temperature was 19.4 and 19.5, however 2005 would have been higher had it not been for an unusually cold December. The number of 'warm' days were also similar at 265 and 256 but there were more 'sunny' days at 240 and 259. If you think 2004 was dry then 2005 was even drier with 24 days against 19 days of rain and significantly, it was a lot less windy with 178 days compared to 120 days this year. Goodness knows what you will do with this information, or me for that matter, but digest and enjoy!


William came round at 14.00 as arranged and despite my earlier prognosis, the wind had got up and was making things difficult. Notwithstanding the wind, he played a steady game and adapted to the conditions much more quickly than I did. He beat me 6-3. Bum.


Last night the fireplace started to play up and the house filled with smoke again. There was a slight wind from the west and it was quite a bit warmer but I'm not sure how that would cause it. We've been here before, and it's starting to piss me off, especially as I as was beginning to think that we'd fixed it! Tonight it started to smoke again but quickly stopped. It was much windier outside. I wish I could identify some consistent characteristics.


I see the nutritionist on Thursday and, at my request, Jan prepared a vegetable stir-fry for dinner. I've no idea how I'll lose the kilo that I've put on over Christmas so it looks like I'm in for an ear bashing. With the amount of Christmas cake that I've been eating it's a wonder that it's only a kilo but I don't think that I can use that in mitigation. I do like Christmas cake! (And mince pies, you deluded fool - Ed.)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A right royal feast

Right, last night's feast. We had a choice of starters, the first, smoked salmon with creme fraiche and dill, and the second, cooked spiced pears with a Roquefort dressing. To follow we had an Italian arrosto misto, roasted quail wrapped in bacon, rabbit marinated in oil, honey, garlic and herbs, pork loin rubbed with fennel seeds and garlic and duck, roasted with oranges. All this accompanied by roast potatoes and green beans with butter and garlic. In addition to an excellent, new, local red, Les éclats Domaine Mirabelle 2003, which is a real find, and champagne, the Lloyds brought a wonderful selection of cheeses and a raspberry mousse. I think that I'll get leftovers tonight. Mnnnnnnnnn.


William calls from Florida, which was a really nice surprise and so we chew the fat about New Year's Eve and other earth shattering matters. It's funny how you can sort so many world problems in such a short time. We also discuss meeting up in Paris, in April which will be something to look forward to. I feel my first trip on the TGV coming up.


The rest of the day was spent clearing up and generally recuperating from last night's marathon stint (we don't do very late nights like we used to), hey ho.