Thursday, August 31, 2006


Ben (Jan's eldest son) and Paula his wife, (above) arrived this afternoon. They are fresh from a holiday in Thailand but minus their luggage. BA lost their luggage on the way out and on the way back. On the way out, I can understand because of all the recent airport troubles, but on the way back there is no excuse. You might be thinking that I have got a thing about BA, and you'd be right.


Off to the Notaire this afternoon to sign the Acte Authentique for our petite maison. By 19.00 it was no longer ours, which was sad. The new owner seems to be a nice lady and she is our new neighbour. Jan was very touched that she (new owner) had bought her (Jan) a pretty bunch of flowers. I knew we had sold it too cheap!!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Domaine Costeplane

What a joke. Doesn't anyone get embarrassed?


Up early to finish clearing the last bits from our petite maison. It was renovated with much thought and loving care and Jan particularly is sorry to see it go. Ah well, I suppose that we could always renovate another.


Maisie is a delightful, chatty 3 year old and Elsie cries a lot. Never having been a real 'baby person', I know which I prefer. If at first you don't succeed, give them back to their parents!


I nipped over to Domaine Costeplane this afternoon to buy some more rosé. Vincent took me behind the scenes to let me try the juice which he has just pressed. He told me that he will make a slightly more sophisticated Chardonnay this year with more buttery overtones. To that end he has part picked the Chardonnay grapes and will pick the rest which will have 'more honey' in about a week. The juice that I tried looked and tasted not unlike an unfiltered sweet apple juice. In the same vein he is going to change the composition of his special rosé. Normally it is a Syrah, Grenache blend but, into the next wine he will add a little Merlot and it's the Merlot juice that we tried. This, like the Chardonnay was very sweet and it's amazing to think that it will eventually turn into wine. Power to his elbow!
The other interesting bit of information is that he will attend some kind of wine fair at Lords Cricket Ground, in London, in either January or February next year and I offered to accompany him. He seemed genuinely pleased. He deserves all the help he can get and that's something to look forward to next year. It's a tough job but someone has got to do it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Being a grandpa

A few quotes that I have read or heard recently and which have made me laugh.

"As for Hitler, he has come in for a lot of criticism, much of it justified, but at least he did something with his life."

"You know your old when you find that they've discontinued your blood type."

"I've told you a million times to stop exaggerating."


We both went to the hairdresser today. There are just the two of them, Alain and Joelle, husband and wife (a typical French setup given the labour laws) and at one point they had 5 people in various states of hair cut, wash or colour. They struggle to juggle (I like that - struggle to juggle) that many people and what, for us, should take no more than 40 minutes, actually takes 75 minutes. Still they're nice people and I always have a joke with him.
Today's bon mot was, " Je viens toujours ici ressemblant à une grenouille mais laisse toujours ressembler à une grenouille très propre." OK, so it made him laugh.

Jan's daughter Rebecca, partner Trevor and their daughters Maisie and Elsie arrived this afternoon. Maisie is 3 years old and it doesn't take long to have her laughing, especially as we have a 'big secret' which involves buying her a 'huge' present. Not a small one, it has to be huge. I like being a grandpa!
Oh, and by the way, the bath pug that I bought today fitted perfectly. It's a boy thing!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Never let a man buy a Breitling

I have mentioned before about my displeasure with my Breitling watch and this feeling was further compounded over the weekend. The tiniest of screws from the metal clasp has fallen off which means that until my next trip to Nîmes I can't get (or possibly order) another, which means that I can't wear the bloody thing. Great! I bought this watch when I had more money than sense. The advertising promised me that I would need one to fly a plane (as long as you didn't mind being a few minutes late), that I could join the jet set sipping Martinis on the back of their yachts and that I would have great sex with the women of my choice. What actually happened? Well, the bloody thing is always a few minutes out, costs a fortune to be serviced every two years because the wind up knob refuses to screw down correctly when you have to change the date or time and the metal bracelet keeps falling to bits. As for the plane, Martinis and sex, all I can say is, not yet! Jan, who has a huge collection of cheap watches that she uses as fashion accessories, tuts at my stupidity. She may have a point!

The parcel didn't show again today, however Pierre did and he worked some more on the pool. He's done a good job. Thanks Pierre!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Never let a woman buy a bath plug

You may think that the above is quite a misogynistic statement but let me explain why I made it. We have our two grandchildren coming out next week and we know that they have a nightly bath. The fancy plug in our bath does not work very well (look here for a very smart new plug), and remembering this, I suggested that we buy an old fashioned bath plug. Simple you would think, so I left my beloved to organise it. She takes her measurements and off we go. We eventually find bath plugs at the droguerie in Quissac; you'd be amazed at how few shops stock them.

"That's the one," she says, "it's 4 centimetres. I measured it."
"Mnnnn, looks a bit small to me," I said.
Jan gives me a withering look, like I'm on early release from a happy farm, "I've measured it and that's the one."
Trying to impose my will, I take a look on the back of the packet and point out that it says that it is 3 centimetres. In fact I take a look at the back of all the other sizes (being a bloke you do these things) and they all say 3 centimetres.
"Look," I said, "why don't we buy the larger one as well," because being a bloke I have already reckoned that the cost of coming back to the shop is more than the cost of the larger plug and we can always give one of them to someone for a Christmas present. Smart us blokes!
"No, that's fine, let's go," she said.
We got home and you can guess the rest, but suffice to say that Jan's last words were, "you couldn't wait to try it just to prove that I was wrong!" Actually that is not at all what I was thinking, but it will be the next time!


They don't like Parisians in this part of the world. Whenever I ask why, you always get the answers arrogant and rude. You know what's strange, I've started to try to find fault with them as well? What's even stranger is that with the exception of several trips to Paris, I don't think that I've ever spoken to one. Is this how racial bigotry starts? I now find myself looking out for Parisian cars (75 plates), of which there are plenty at this time of the year, and looking for faults in their driving or manners. Talking to Chris Ward (author, journalist and more recently chef) the other night, he said that the Parisians are without doubt the rudest, most arrogant and aggressive of all their diners. I don't feel comfortable with my attitude to all this because I have never experienced any problem, but I know several who have. Where there's smoke?


No doubt dreaming of the green, green grass of home, Jan cooked a traditional Sunday lamb roast with all the bits. The traditional theme spoilt only by eating figs, that we picked this afternoon, for pudding. Still, can't complain.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

How to feel good

This morning we decided to finish emptying the other house rather than visit the market at Sommieres. There was also a trip to the dechetterie to dump rubbish from both houses. Boy, we felt better after that. When we got back I cleaned the car out as well. There's nothing like a good 'spring clean' to make you feel good, or so they say.

For dinner Jan cooked a delicious fish and pumpkin curry.

That's it, not much happened today but it was bloody hard work all the same.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Honk if Pluto is still a planet

We can all sleep a lot easier in our beds tonight. 2500 of the world's top scientists have met for several days and come up with
this shattering announcement. There you were, wondering if this could ever be resolved, but you had faith and your faith has been rewarded. How could you have doubted?
Later in the day
this came up. And the message is, 'Honk if Pluto is still a planet'.
All this is about as useful and time wasting as rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.


There's nothing I dislike more than sitting around waiting for people. We were expecting a parcel today and I had arranged to be in all day so that they could deliver. Needless to say it didn't show up. Damn.


Jan fancied pasta for dinner and made two different sauces. A ragu for herself (not my favourite) and a vegetable based pasta for me which is probably my current favourite. Roast cubes of aubergine, peppers and onions with some cherry tomatoes, and mix into your cooked pasta with the juice. Add cubes of mozzarella, salt and pepper and a dash of olive oil. Divine.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

No flowers, just bring a stripper

This made me laugh. Do you think that maybe male mourners will outnumber female mourners?


We were sorry to see the Lloyds leave today. As Jan points out, she only has me to talk to now. They're a lovely family and we shall miss them all.


I didn't expect to have to spend several hours this afternoon standing up to my waist in the pool. When he fitted the auto refiller Pierre noticed that the pool was losing water from behind the skimmers, so we lowered the water level and got into the pool to best remove the skimmer covers. It's possible to do it from the top by lying on your stomach but this is very uncomfortable, and not as efficient, so in I went to effect a better job. It turned out to be a bigger job than expected, so that meant that I spent several hours in the pool. It wasn't warm, mainly because I was not moving about. Oh, the joys of pool ownership! Pierre is coming back tomorrow with a powerful waterproof compound that will fix any leak. They could have done with some of that on the Titanic!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Being eco-friendly

Glyn helped me take the large furniture out of the other house this morning, so that Josh could soak up his last few rays before we took him to the airport at lunchtime. In the meantime, Pierre the Poolman arrived to instal an automatic refill system for the pool. I'm quite good at remembering to turn the water off when I top up the pool but from time to time I forget, and it floods. In our ecologically sensitive times this is a huge waste of a precious resource, never mind the fact that it hurts my pocket to watch the water drain away. So with a mixture of caring for the environment but, more importantly, caring for my pocket, Pierre is installing an automatic top-up system. Alex Hampshire, eco-warrior.


Out for dinner tonight to Chris and Delphine. Chris is confident that he has finally sold his house (fingers crossed for him) so it's celebration time. Except that we didn't read the email properly and had eaten before we arrived. Bum. Anyway, I managed to stuff a bit more food into my face (it's a good job that Jan doesn't feed me properly) and a pleasant evening was had by all, especially when Chris opened his Laphroaig.
On the subject of selling houses, I've been surprised at the length of time that it takes to complete this task in France. This could of course be a symptom of where we live (in the sticks), or the properties that we were selling, but it has taken both of us over two years to sell houses. I can rationalise the reasons but it still takes a bit of getting used to when we are accustomed to a much faster process in the UK.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mnnnn, fish pie

This morning was mostly spent blocking off Max's most recent escape hole into next door's garden, whilst Josh went canoeing with the Lloyds in the Ardeche. What happens is that Max can hear the Lloyds, who live next door but one, chatting in their garden and he makes a beeline to go visit them. It's annoying for us because we have to keep plugging holes and irritating for the Lloyds because they get an unexpected visitor.
We have sold our other house in the village, so this afternoon was spent finding all the paperwork, regarding the improvements that we have made (see the before and after pictures above), to justify mitigating the capital gains tax.
Both jobs were completed successfully. Which was nice!


As a treat for Josh who leaves tomorrow, Jan made him fish pie (basically various types of fish covered with mashed potato). It was good but not as good as one made by Jan's cousin Gill, which she made last time she was over. That was outstanding. I remember it as having the perfect balance of ingredients combined with a delicate lemon taste.

Monday, August 21, 2006

What a meal

I can't be sure, but I think that we had a small 'twister' this afternoon. It was a hot, sunny and cloudless day with little or no wind, when suddenly, the most powerful 'circular force' lifted and knocked lots of things over in the garden. It lasted no more than 10 seconds and did not reappear. Strange.


Jan had arranged with the Lloyds (pictured above at the recent sausage evening) that they should come over for dinner. Glyn offered that they should bring both the starter and pudding and Jan to prepare the main. What a meal! The starter consisted of a mixture of the largest crevettes that I have ever seen (from the far east), combined with mussels, in a fish soup. Jan cooked roast, stuffed (with apricots and nuts) tenderloin of pork with dauphinois potatoes, followed by a salad and then cheese with figs off our tree, and Gill prepared peaches in Sauterne. Wow, what a feast. Arguably the most sumptuous meal we have ever eaten here and as Jan said, "you'd be pushed to find anything like that in a restaurant."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Plums and figs

The Warrens left this morning at 06.30. The journey down from Calais took 18 hours last weekend and they have allowed 13.5 hours to get back. It should be enough as long as the traffic isn't too bad. We shall see, but rather them than me!


The fig tree has lots of fruit this year and of a reasonable size, but the plums are a little disappointing. We only gathered one bowl of plums, but two bowls of figs with lots more to pick. I can see that we will be all figged out in a couple of weeks time. Still, a nice problem to deal with.

Out for dinner at La Pousaranque last night, half way between Quissac ans Sauve. It's very rare for me to criticise a restaurant because, if I don't like one, I usually make no comment at all, but this restaurant, which used to be good, has noticeably gone down hill since we last visited. The menu has dropped in price (now at 15 or 19 euros) and the food offered was not up to the previous standards. I was sitting next to the kitchen window and I didn't feel that there was much cooking going on. My smoke salmon was fatty and of low quality, my beef was tough and my chocolate mousse was made several days earlier. The mostly local wine was reasonably priced. Not recommended.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

La Traditionnelle Saucisse

The Sommieres market, which we went to this morning, just gets busier and busier. So much so that it is getting difficult to park, unless of course you know a little (well huge actually) spot nearby, but even this place is starting to fill up. Ah well, it's all worth the effort because it is a very, very good market with several good watering holes to meet and greet.


We were surprised to receive details for La Tradidionnelle Saucisse the other day because this is the second such event within the month. The last event on 22nd July was a salad evening, which was very good, but which was no doubt a sop to some sandal wearing, bearded vegetarian. Tonight it was good old sausages, which were very, very tasty, cooked on an open fire. The full menu was taboule, melon, saucisse, frites, fromages, an ice cream, wine and coffee, all for the princely sum of 12 euros which, given the quantity and choice provided, would produce a very healthy profit for the comite. Just as the abrivado in Quissac recently, the comite were all very young. At a guess the majority were under 20 years old and I can't say how impressed I am that people of such a tender age get so involved with village life. Very impressive. Anyway, back to the festivities. The event is not so much about the food but more that 200 or so of the village sit down, eat together and generally have a good time. Dancing rounds off the evening.
The pictures from top to bottom, Tom Lloyd and Rebecca Warren, Gilles Leyris (Guide Hachette des Vins 2006 page 741) from Domaine Leyris Maziere, right here in the village, a seriously good wine maker and very nice man, the Boss and I, and finally Josh on hearing that there wasn't a fourth helping of sausages.

Friday, August 18, 2006

United Nations, the biggest joke on earth

So there you have it.
The UN haggles and wriggles for weeks, and France, who were pleased to announce that that they were leading the process with the US, have now offered to send the grand total of 400 troops (out of a potential force of 15,000), as long as they don't have to fight. Can somebody please tell me what is the point of having soldiers if you do not want them to fight? I can see it now, the youth of France wanting to join either the fonctionaires, or the army, because it's a pretty easy job, for life, with a good pension.
Nobody wants to disarm Hezbollah. Lebanon are supposedly sending troops south (where exactly were they before?), other nations have pledged troops in their thousands and France wants to command the whole shooting match. Can I point out that it was France who was leading the 'peacekeeping' mission that already, supposedly, exists in Lebanon and who obviously did nothing, as Hezbollah dug in and assembled the means to fire thousands of rockets? The whole lot are a total shambles and a bunch of jokers! We should all be thoroughly ashamed of our governments.
And lest anyone be carried away with the notion that UN forces are any use at all,
take a look at this article.
Anybody want to join me in a world revolution? We can sort out the details later, just like everybody else does!


Michel arrived as promised at 07.00 this morning to start the hole plugging efforts. There were 4 separate areas that needed fixing to stop Max getting out of the garden and he had it all finished by noon. Thanks Michel!


For dinner we had smoked salmon, 5 hour slow cooked lamb and chocolate souffle puddings.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

7 euros for the drinks and 8 euros for the toilets

It was Control Technique time for the Golf this morning. The CT is like the English MOT with the advantage that it's every 2 years not 1, as in the UK. The procedure is very similar to what I can remember with the exception that they appear to check the shock absorbers here. Anyway, my little black beauty passed with flying colours. Which was nice!

"Whilst you're in Quissac," said my beloved, "could you buy a couple of frozen legs of New Zealand lamb?" "It's a third of the price of French lamb (what do the French farmers do with all those subsidies?) and equally as good." So there you go, shopping tips as well.
It was a good day for workmen today. After Max had smashed his way out of the house we had been unable to close the volets shutters from the study but Mr Volet Man arrived fresh from his holidays and did a temporary job and also measured up for a new garage door. Anyway, he can't complete either job straightaway because he will have to order the materials and the factory is still closed for the holidays until the 28th. Such is life in France.
After him, Michelle, our friendly macon, arrived to look at the holes that Max (again) has punched in the fence and to discuss ways of keeping the little sod in. As with all macons, it's a question of concrete and reinforcing things so he promises to look at his timetable and see what he can do. As it happens he called later that afternoon and promised to start tomorrow. Aren't we lucky?
After an early dinner of ribs, we all headed off to Nimes for the night market. Josh, Jan and I headed to the upstairs bar in the Caree d'Art (it's a bit pricier than some places but they've got the added advantage of having nice toilets), whilst the others browsed the stalls. The top picture is one of Josh and yours truly, and the one below of a proud mum and her son. As it started to rain, we all headed home, very damp but very happy.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fatter and uglier

Whilst the Warrens went to Anduze to catch the
steam train, Jan and I popped over to Nimes to pick up Jan's son, Josh. Even with all the recent security and airline problems, the plane was only 45 minutes late. On a separate issue, with airport security at the highest it has ever been in the UK, the fact that a boy could pass through all the security checks and board a plane with no ticket or passport is quite amazing. Read about it here.


One side benefit of having Barry Warren to stay is that I get a good hit every day. Barry was a very good tennis player and coach, so after half an hour I'm dead. For various reasons William and I haven't hit for ages so I'm becoming even fatter and uglier (see picture of fat Italian above). This week should be useful for both of us, because Barry is also fat and ugly (with friends like you .....Ed.) and it will do us both a power of good!


I persuaded Jan not to cook couscous tonight because I fancied a chunk of meat. Josh is also a good eater so barbecued lamb steaks it was, preceded by a North African meze and followed by either an apple tarte or tarte au citron (my favourite).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Assumption or ascension?

It's a national holiday today, The Day of the Assumption. This day celebrates the assumption of Mary into heaven. If you look here you realise that very little is known about this event, or in fact whether it happened at all, which in my humble opinion is hardly a good reason, for a so called secular State, to have a national holiday. If Chirac had a quiet word with the unions, do you think that maybe he could get them to give up the holiday? What do you think? Anyway, who am I to complain, a day off, is a day off! (But you're on a permanent day off! - Ed.)
This reminds me of an incident at my school (a Jesuit College) when the class was being taught by a priest, who not only taught us physics but also religious education. This happened during a physics lesson where the conversation centred on the speed of light and such things.

Priest, pointing at a boy with his hand up: "Yes Medlycott, what do you want?"

Medlycott: "Please sir, do you know at what speed Our Lady ascended into heaven?"

Laugh, I never thought my trousers would dry. We must have been a nightmare for these priests. Funnily enough the boy in question subsequently studied for the priesthood but now he is happily married with children.


I have a thing about shoes. At the point that you first analyse someone, I always look at their shoes. For me, shoes are an important clue about someone's character and outlook. The men's shoes that always gave me the heebie-jeebies were 'Jesus' sandals. To me they were always worn with shorts by a man with a beard and a pipe. If he was really naff and couldn't give a shit what anyone thought about his dress sense, he wore socks as well. Not that he knew what dress sense was. The next types of shoes that I dislike are made by Clarks and they look like Cornish Pasties. They are sold as 'natural fitting' shoes, as if there is anything natural about wearing Cornish Pasties on your feet.
In women's shoes, a big no-no are white stiletto heels especially if worn with jeans. To me it always looks common but at least there was always the knowledge that if she liked you, you might have 'a good time', if you know what I mean?
Bye the way, in the last few years Jan has got me wearing Jesus sandals, but I haven't yet grown a beard or smoke a pipe and I definitely don't wear socks with them. Well not yet!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Aigues Mortes

Because our visitors head off to Aigues Mortes and the beach, Jan and I catch up with a few maintenance jobs, like taking all of Jan's empty bottles to the recycling bin (just kidding). Mind you, because we don't go very often, and we usually have quite a lot to take, standing at the bin for 15 minutes listening to bottles breaking must give us either a very good or, more likely, a very poor reputation. I always make a point of saying very loudly that Jan needs to drink less, lest anyone thinks that it's me.


Starved of a day out and a decent meal, I suggest that we nip out to buy a couple of things and Jan comes up with the idea of having lunch at Les Delices du Liban in the market square in Sommieres. They offer three menus, 14.50, 17.00, and 22.00 euros. Amongst the cold starters they have Fatouch, Taboule, Hommos, Moutabal (my favourite) and amongst the hot starters, Kebbe, Falafel, Makanek and Arayess. The wines are sensibly priced and sourced from Collines de Bourdic. If you fancy something different, then this is the place.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Abrivado bandido

Trying to expose the Warrens to something different, and a little local culture, we went off to Quissac this morning to see the abrivado bandido. For a bit of background to the history of abrivados
look here. Quissac has several fetes throughout the year and they are usually pretty good. This one started last Friday and will carry on until next Tuesday 15th, which is a national holiday. The main purpose of these abrivados is for the Camargue cowboys, gardiens, to demonstrate their skills at controlling bulls through the village streets. These events are organised by the comite, pictured above, whose average age can be little more than 20 years old. The cowboys and cowgirls (there's something very sexy about seeing a young girl riding a large horse and controlling these bulls) take it in turns to guide one or more bulls, whilst the town 'youth' do what they can to slow the horses down and then grab hold of the bull. This all takes place within touching distance of both horses, bulls (and cowgirls) and provides quite an adrenalin rush.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The roads to hell

It's no exaggeration to say that the roads around here are dangerous. Every time I drive to Sommieres, a distance of 15 kilometers, almost without exception, I see an 'incident' involving dangerous driving by a French local. Today was yet another example, with a car trying to overtake a line of cars (this time coming towards me) and I had to slam on my brakes. France has a very high mortality rate on its roads and they talk about all kinds of measures, like keeping headlights on and enforcing speed restrictions. None of this will make a scrap of difference. Keeping your lights on during the day will not stop people behaving dangerously. The only thing that will help is to have a national programme of electric shock therapy or brain transplants for male drivers between the ages of 20 and 60.


My elderly Italian aunt always said that the weather in August would change around the 15th, the Feast of the Assumption. Well blow me, but it has today (12th) changed. The temperature has dropped from 31 C yesterday to 24 C today and the outlook for the rest of the week is similar. All this is not good news for our friends the Warrens who arrived en masse for a short stay this afternoon. The journey from Calais took about 18 hours when normally 11 hours would be sufficient. Thinking that they would beat the traffic they drove overnight but found the service stations completely jammed even at 4 in the morning. Anyway, they arrived safe and sound, at 6 in the afternoon, ready for bed! Bless.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Les Delices du Liban

I know this sounds strange, but it's getting colder. The midday temperature has reduced from an average of 34 C to 30 C, but it feels quite cool (let me get this right, the temperature has dropped so it feels cooler! This kind of discovery puts you on a par with Copernicus, Newton and Einstein - Ed.). When I mentioned this to Jan over breakfast (poached eggs, one of my favourites) she replied glumly that I shouldn't mention the temperature, because it reminds her that winter is coming. I should have realised that she was feeling cold because we had soup for lunch for the last two days. There's no pleasing some people. Anyway, because the wind has died down a bit, I decided to have another go at spraying the weeds. I use Roundup as my poison of choice but even that stuff struggles with some of the weeds that grow around here. I need something with a bit of a 'nuclear' kick. There you go, that's something terrorists could usefully do, obliterate western weeds (you qualify under that description - Ed.).


On Monday I ranted on about the UN and this article just confirms what I was saying. It is now Friday and these highly paid world statesmen continue to score points over each other and have achieved absolutely nothing. Hezbollah continues to pour rockets into Israel and Israel continues trying to flatten southern Lebanon. And the cause of the latest hold up to some form of agreement? Why, no other than the Lebanese government. What a crazy world we live in.


Talking about Lebanon, it has been pointed out (by Peter H) that the correct spelling for the Lebanese resto/bar in Sommieres is Les Delices du Liban. I am very happy to put this right. I'm also very happy to provide a map showing how to get to Sommieres. Looking at the website, I notice that he is open most evenings for food. That's got to be worth a try.
Aren't you impressed in my ability to intertwine world affairs and food? (Such literary skills! - Ed.)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's my 'human right' to be mad!

Max decided to go walkabouts again this morning and we're not sure how he got out of the garden. The chances are that he just jumped over the gate. He has begun to realise that anything around 1.5 metres is easy, so off he goes. I'm beginning to realise that it is going to be virtually impossible to keep him in with anything less than prison walls, so I'm starting to relax. Eventually he turned up at the gates, wagging his tail, and I let him back in. The stupid mutt hasn't figured out that he can retrace his steps.


I did a little harvesting this morning. The white grapes 'turned' whilst we were in Italy and so we now have a wonderful harvest of raisins! Determined not to let the black grapes do the same, I was out this morning picking them, as you can see above. They are a very sweet variety of black Muscat grapes. Additionally, I picked the first of our figs and offered it to Jan. Scrummy food!


If there's one person who really irritates me, who appears regularly on UK television, it is someone called Shami Chakrabarti. She represents an organisation called Liberty and she is always bleating on about 'freedom' and 'rights' of the individual and seems happy to get on the case when terrorist suspects are being held, or even supporting crackpot ideas such as this. This morning, millions of people had their lives turned upside down and their liberty massively curtailed because of potential terrorist activity. Why doesn't she appear on television now complaining about the people who have caused the restrictions to all our freedoms and 'human rights'? If you have done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear (well most of the time)! However, if the police need more time to secure your conviction or, if you want to marry your horse, then you can rest assured that Shami will be on your case.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The girl who has everything

Katie Lloyd always celebrates her birthday here in France, because they visit during the school holidays. Tom has already had his birthday in June, so trying to be nice neighbours, we took them both into Nimes yesterday to choose a present. Tom is a 15 years old male, knows what he wants, goes straight to the shop, spends a fortune on a pair of shorts and is finished. Katie is a 12 years old female, has no idea what she wants (mostly because she already has it), but decides on a smart and expensive new pencil case for school and, because she still has money to spend, we shoot over to the most enormous store where I gave her 30 minutes to choose something before we leave. Needless to say she could not decide. If you check back to this time last year it could be interesting to see what I wrote.
Today was mostly spent doing more neighbourly things. The part for the Lloyd's car had arrived so I accompanied Gill to Nimes to drop off her car and then to the airport to pick up her mum. On the way back we stopped at the supermarket. This afternoon we visited the derelict house next door to them with a view to checking out the possibilities of making both houses into one. The vendors want 200,000 euros for the property which is way over priced but they should probably settle for 150,000 or less. Because it adjoins their property, even at that price and with all the work to be done, it could still be a reasonable investment.
After dinner Gill, Tom, Katie, Jan and I went to the night market in Sommieres. Basically it's just a scaled down version of the night market in Nimes. The atmosphere was good with lots of people eating in the market square and the new bar/restaurant Delice du Liban doing a roaring trade. I'm pleased for them because they serve good food and Elie the prop is a very nice man.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Disunited Nations

Max had his stitches out this morning and it all went smoothly. We tell everyone that he is tres gentil but I'm always nervous that someone might inadvertently hurt him and how he would react. When he plays with Min he quite often has her head in his mouth and I'd hate him to do it with a human.


I've been thinking for some time about how useless the United Nations is. Other than a diplomatic talking shop, where countries play at diplomacy, where a consensus is quite often just an interpretation of a few words, what do they ever seem to achieve? They pass resolutions that everyone ignores. They have 'peace keeping' forces that everyone ignores, to the extent that Hezbollah was firing rockets from within the midst of a peace keeping force in southern Lebanon and they have no aggressive mandate. What good are they? Did you realise that there are 9 Messengers of Peace? The whole organisation, as far as I can see, is a total waste of time. A resolution already exists to disarm Hezbollah, a resolution already exists for Israel to withdraw from certain areas so what's the point of another resolution? It's all about countries scoring points over one another without ever seeming to really achieve much. Scrap it I say! Nuke the lot of them (maybe that's going just a bit too far - Ed.)


Jan popped into Nimes with Gill for a little light shopping (whatever that means). Anyway, Gill's car develops a nasty sounding fault and I suggest getting it to the garage sooner rather than later because being August everything will take longer to fix. Parts take longer to arrive and they have fewer mechanics on hand, all because of the holidays. The VW garage in Nimes is pretty good and they diagnosed the problem quite quickly. Subsequently, Gill came home for a lie down because the part, on its own, will cost 800 euros! Ouch!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Jumping the queues

The telepeage badge for the Golf arrived whilst we were away, so we nipped over to the airport to make sure that it was working properly and to buy a Sunday Times. Both objectives achieved it was back home to slob in front of the television. Apart from picking lots of sweet tomatoes and some perfumed and juicy melons not much else was accomplished. We don't grow much, but what we do grow is a pleasure to eat.
For dinner Jan cooked cauliflower risotto with a spicy breadcrumb topping, from Jamie Oliver's book, 'Italy'. Sounds horrible but tastes delicious. My heroine.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Trust me, I'm a doctor

Last night, we eventually settled on the hotel's 'Il Giardino' restaurant for our last night's dinner. It was a warm still evening with a good atmosphere and the service was good. The food was good but not memorable. However, what was good was the wine waiter who looked after us well and who guided us through the Italian wine maze of which we have little knowledge. He did well, and so did we. Having had enough of fish because we had eaten it for the previous two nights, we both settled for meat, my beef was excellent, but Jan who is not a great meat eater was less happy. At least one of us made it.

By way of a bonus, I include a couple of snaps that I wasn't able to upload at the hotel. One, of the Russian Orthodox Church and the other of the pool. Don't say you don't get good value!

HEALTH WARNING: If you have a nervous disposition or are about to eat a meal, skip the next paragraph.
We were fairly early to breakfast this morning so it was quiet, that is until this huge woman heaved into view. We had noticed her yesterday both at breakfast and in the pool. I omitted to say anything yesterday lest you think me an insensitive moron (you got it in one - Ed.). She obviously has a significant medical problem with skin lesions and is massively overweight. My beef is that for two days running she has worn the same, very small outfit to breakfast, lunch, and in the pool. What she wears is basically a swimming costume with a tiny little skirt. Lots of her hangs out of it - LOTS. It makes you feel sick to look at her. I got the impression that because of her problem everyone feels sorry for her, and rightly so, but hang on, let me tell you what she puts on her plate. At lunch yesterday she chose the most enormous piece of chocolate cake, basically it was a third of the cake. It was if she left the regular pieces that had been cut and took the remainder. She proceeded to eat half of it and leave the rest. Obviously something deep down in her tiny brain warned her that she was close to exploding. This morning at breakfast, after shouting her convoluted order for coffee to a bemused waiter she piled her plate with cakes and pastries and on a second trip she cleaned them out of butter and jam. This woman is not well and she was making matters massively worse. She was inappropriately dressed and I suspect that out of political correctness no one said anything. It actually flashed through my mind to pretend that I was a doctor and berate her for her gross stupidity and offensive behaviour. I didn't, shame on me.

It had been a very enjoyable and comfortable few days but this morning we packed and headed off to Ventimiglia, about 14 kilometres away. On the way down we had noticed a supermarket and Jan wanted to top up on a few Italian goodies like olive oil (now comes in gold foil bottles), parmesan (it freezes), pancetta, provolone and scamorza (two of my favourite cheeses), Limoncello (one of Jan's favourites drinks) and Amaro Lucano (one of mine). Yum.


The journey back took over an hour and a half longer than going because of heavy traffic. It would have been even longer if we didn't have the Telepeage. This neat little gizmo costs hardly anything and really come into its own when there are scores of cars queuing to get through the toll booths. I just don't understand why more people don't use them. You get a dedicated lane and pass through with the minimum of fuss. One of life's little mysteries.

Friday, August 04, 2006

What's the Italian for pneumatic?

I broke a long standing rule last night, because we went back to eat at the same restaurant as the night before. The food is so good at Maona that it would have been silly to chance it somewhere else. The food is simple but of a high quality and well cooked and I can't praise it high enough. Go there.


Breakfast this morning was funny. We were surrounded by the oddest group of people, and that's coming from Jan who is usually far too polite to make such comments. Not me, bruv. On a table to our left was a couple who spoke a latin language, which was difficult to comprehend. Anyway, this guy sounded like a mafia don. He had the gruffest most rasping voice imaginable and, on top of that, he spoke to the waiter in English whilst ordering 2 Diet cokes for his breakfast. Close to them was a female couple, probably mother and daughter, the older woman looked to me exactly like an old friend of Jan's from England. No names because I don't want to be sued, but she behaved so slowly and strangely that she looked as though she had just been released from a home for the terminally bewildered. Last but not least, was the chap who reeked of old money. A gold signet ring on his left pinkie, a great mop of hair, and the oldest scruffiest pair of tennis shoes with no laces. The sort of guy I used to meet in the old days at certain merchant banks in London. You could tell he was a bit gagga because he asked the waiter for a table for four and five of them promptly sat down. His three boys all had an over confident, public school, nonchalant air and all of them needed a good haircut. If I said Don King you should get the idea. Anyway, it gave Jan and I something to giggle about and, more importantly, something for me to write about. I love it here and for once I feel normal (steady on - Ed.)


Visiting the town centre you can't help but be amazed at the number of scooters. These young men, but mostly young women, weave in and out of traffic, at break neck speed. They appear reckless beyond belief and you can only imagine that they must have learnt their skills delivering pizza in Beirut. They were that good!


The swimming pool is not for the faint hearted. All the bronzed, olive skinned beauties vying with each other to see how little they can wear. They're about as subtle as a Meatloaf concert. I got to know the bagninos fairly well, in a cor blimey, look at her, leering kind of way. I asked if it was permissible to sunbathe topless, the bagnino shrugged his shoulders and said he supposed so. I told him to go and tell one pneumatic blond that she could take her top off if she wanted to.
Actually I didn't say that, I just thought it, but I would have said it if I'd known the Italian for pneumatic!


We lunched at the pool side restaurant Corallina. This was disappointing. The food was no better than down below and the service poor. The restaurant had oodles of staff but they were not well organised. The Maitre d' took all the orders and spent too much time with customers at the expense of people waiting to be seated. It took the edge off the expectation of our last night's dinner in 'Il Giardino', the garden restaurant where you do not have to wear a jacket but are expected to wear long trousers. I suppose that's not too much to ask.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

San Remo, a town of charm and faded grandeur

This is a very, very nice hotel, with more staff per square inch than Buckingham Palace. At breakfast I clattered the lid of the container containing the eggs and bacon. No sooner had the last echo finished ringing around the dining room than I was helped to put things right by a gorgeous young waitress who had also noted that I kept returning to my table without a fork. She was very observant and probably works for the Italian secret service in her spare time. Talking about gorgeous young women, this place is full of 'the beautiful people'. I've tried hard all my life to join the set, but lack that certain something, like a beautiful body, good looks and money. Ah well, one day?


They have thought of everything at this hotel. One very useful thing, is the very gentle night light that you can switch on to aid your nocturnal wanderings. It's so gentle and unobtrusive that you don't notice it as you go to sleep but it gently guides you on your way as you navigate round the room in the middle of the night. Excellent.


San Remo has an air of faded grandeur (you must feel really at home then - Ed.). Like Nice, along the coast, it became popular in the late 19th Century, and was populated by the great and good of Europe. One of the first buildings we came across, right next door to the hotel, was a Russian Orthodox Church. Evidently, San Remo was frequented by the mother of the last Russian Czar (Nick the third I think) and there was a large Russian presence living here. The church was never fully finished and is a little bare inside but the exterior is quite spectacular and unusual for this part of the world. For some reason I'm having difficulty uploading pictures, so you will just have to imagine!


It was a little windy this morning so we decided to explore the town and wandered into the centro storico. This was very attractive, with narrow streets and washing hanging from the balconies, but after an hour or two of culture, about as much as either of us can stand, we sat in a bar on the main drag and watched the world go by. We both really like Italy. There we are, sitting in a roadside bar, breathing in enough exhaust fumes and carbon dioxide to keep the planet going for a few more years, but loving every minute of it. Jan really loves the language and understands it very well, considering that she has never studied it. We could easily up sticks and move to Italy, but that would be quite a big project. Still, you never know.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How much is it to tell me the time?

I saw Jan ironing last night. Admittedly, she was a bit confused with the iron thingie and burnt herself a few times because it's not something she enjoys doing. If I'd had a camera I'd have recorded the event for posterity and posted the photographs under 'scenes you seldom see'!


We've completed the journey to Italy a few times but we still find it exciting. A bit like the frisson you get when you get into bed with a woman for the first time (that's taking poetic licence a bit too far - Ed.). It's a beautiful journey that deteriorates with the concrete jungle around Cannes and Nice. Anyway, first stop is Lancon de Provence, for a sandwich. The service area is situated just after the toll booths. The peage is enormous, with 25 toll booths side to side. The major problem being that you have to recross all 25 lanes after you exit the peage to get to the service area. Fun nonetheless. A little later, just past Aix en Provence, we passed Mont Victoire. Personally, I can't see what all the fuss is about (but then you're not Cezanne, are you? - Ed.), to me it's just a big lump of rock and should have been pretty easy to paint.


The journey to San Remo was a bit quicker than I thought and we drove into the town 4 hours after we left home. The Royal Hotel sits on the sea front and has a very long, windy drive to reception. As befits a hotel of this type, you have to do nothing, except tip all and sundry. This I continued to do for the rest of the day. It's all a bit posh, but I coped. It's so posh that I'm typing this from the air conditioned comfort of our elegant room. I've finally got my ancient laptop to work, so there's progress.


Having had a few (expensive) beers by the pool and idly watched the bagninos ogling all the yummy mummies, we repaired to our room for a siesta (just a siesta!). At least that way you have little chance of spending huge sums of money and don't have to tip anyone. Come to think of it, I'd rather work here than stay here, these guys must be making a fortune and I'm getting paranoid about even asking the time!


Fainting at the cost of dinner in the 'cheap' restaurant, and not having a jacket to wear in the expensive one, (I like that, they tell you what to wear and then stick their hand in your pocket), we decided to find something that didn't require a remortgage. A few hundred feet down the cliff face, at sea level, Jan had found a restaurant. Ristorante Maona, Corso Imperatrice 86, 0184 53 24 76, is run by Antonio and his family. If there had been an award, I'd have voted Antonio miserable git of the week - month - year. Anyway, I got him talking and he cheered up considerably. He'd spent from 1972 to 81 working in London and, all misty eyed, he said that they were the best years of his life. He shut up as his wife walked by. The food was excellent, we both went overboard on fish, grilled, fried, you name it and everything fresh and very tasty. Jan is an excellent scout and can be hired by the hour. With 2 bottles of wine and stuffed to the gills, the bill came to 93 euros. Up in the hotel, we'd have paid that for just one meal, no wine.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I can smell the food from here

On a whim, I called Olivier to see if he could look after our pooches for a couple of days whilst we nipped to Italy. Just recently I've been bugging Jan to prepare some Italian food and what better way to get what I want, and to give her a rest, than to get an Italian to cook for you. Olivier had space this week, so Jan set too, using her bloodhound skills to find something nice not more than 5 hours away. The Italian border is about 4 hours away so that gave us quite a few towns to choose from. She finally settled on
The Royal Hotel in San Remo. It's an expensive way to get a few bowls of pasta, but what the hell! Bet it tastes good!


This is an interesting article which adds weight to some of the things that I have been writing about France recently. France is a wonderful country, in so many ways, but it's in danger of slipping back into the middle ages unless it changes its leadership and its love of bureaucracy. Even with the right person at the helm it won't be easy but with a presidential election coming next year, both front runners, Zarkosy and Royal, appear to see the problems and appear to be making the right noises. It will be interesting.


Have you ever noticed how much faster a car goes after you have just cleaned it inside? I swear that ours glide through the air so much more smoothly. Maybe I just imagine it (you could say that - Ed.) but with that in mind I cleaned the car for tomorrow's journey.