Thursday, November 30, 2006

Everything gets done, eventually

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


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


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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Time warp

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


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

Monday, November 27, 2006

Not according to plan

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

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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Big duck day

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

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Out with Saddam's henchman

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

Friday, November 24, 2006

Stuffed and tired

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


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


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

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Big duck country

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


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


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

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Getting to know you

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


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


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


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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gorges du Gardon II

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


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

Monday, November 20, 2006

Normal service will resumed as soon as possible

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


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


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

Sunday, November 19, 2006


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

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Wet and Dry

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

Friday, November 17, 2006

Rain, rain, go away

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


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

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Not really a thriller

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


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


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


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

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Oh go on, it's only a triathlon

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


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


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

Monday, November 13, 2006

Davis Cup

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


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

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Manon des Sources

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

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


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

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Armistice Day

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


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

Friday, November 10, 2006

Worry less and do more!

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


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

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Harrogate's the town!

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


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

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bleiker's Smokehouse and The Sportsman's Arms

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


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


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

What shall we eat today?

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

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


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

Monday, November 06, 2006

Nimes to Harrogate

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

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

Sunday, November 05, 2006

And the winner is

A big chunk of yesterday, and most of today, involved leaving the garden in a reasonable state, and preparing for a trip to the UK tomorrow. We will fly from Nimes to Liverpool and then drive over to Harrogate to see mater. We haven't seen my mother for several months so a trip is long overdue. Mum is Italian and lives in England and I'm English and live in France. You'd think we could have organised that better.


Peter H made reference to this interesting article about France on his website The Languedoc Page. I believe that next year's presidential elections will be crucial for France. It should be very interesting not only to see who wins, but also to see what changes are proposed and how the winner goes about it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

What's your surname?

If you ever had the slightest doubt about Wales, or Cardiff in particular, think again. Look at the fun you can have. Never have so many people with the same surname had so much fun. It even headlined that internationally famous and talented person, Grace Jones. Unfortunately Tom Jones couldn't be there, because he's not called Jones. Unless, that is, you spell Jones, W-o-o-d-w-a-r-d. And they broke a world record to boot. Gosh, I'm so envious, I wish I'd been there, it sounds like they all had a great time.


So there we are sitting at the computers this morning, when I lent over Jan's shoulder.
"What are you doing my love?" I said.
"Booking your birthday present for next year," she said. "How do you feel about going to Rome for a few days next February, for the grand total of 50 euros return?"
It would have been churlish to mention that my birthday is in January and she wasn't going to spend much, so I said "Do you mean 50 euros each?"
"No, it's 25 euros each," she said.
It transpired that Jan had really wanted to go to Morocco, but mindful of current problems had decided that being killed by the Mafia had more appeal. At least you would die with a good meal in your belly. Rome is my favourite city and Ryanair have just opened their French hub in Marseille, an hour and a half away, from where you can fly cheaply all over the place.
It's great to have little treats to look forward to. Isn't she nice?

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Emperor's New Clothes

I must be a philistine! Why the hell would anyone want to pay $140m for this painting? I presume it's the right way up? A few years back, on a trip to London, we went to the Tate and saw a Pollock 'in the flesh'. Jan made the comment that it looked like he did it with all the paint he had left over. We looked and looked and couldn't see one redeeming feature. In fact we both concluded that it was a load of rubbish. All I could keep thinking about was the 'Emperor's New Clothes'. I can't be the only one?
It has just occurred to me that the words Pollock and bollocks sound very similar. I rest my case, m'lud.
OK, another little rant. Why do film makers make it so difficult for you to understand a plot? Last night we watched a new, very glossy, series about terrorists called The State Within. It was very well made with the big exception that it was really difficult to understand what was going on. Fast moving photography, moving from scene to different scene/bit of the plot, left you bemused, reeling and straining to understand what the hell it was all about. There must have been at least five sub plots and it became a strain to keep up. Now I know I'm getting old and my faculties are not what they used to be but purleese give me a break. We discussed the film this morning, after my brain stopped hurting, and quite a bit of stuff came out that only one of us had grasped. Still, I think it was exciting and I'll try and figure another bit out next week.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Waiting for the perfect man

Jan sent me this. I don't get it!


All of a sudden The volume of spam that I receive has dropped significantly, particularly into my gmail account. It's probably because someone (who I don't believe in!) is looking after me because I'm an honest, kind and thoughtful person. (Help, I'm choking - Ed.) Or maybe a combination of Mailwasher and Gmail is finally beginning to work, but somehow I doubt it. They probably had a day off.


The back garden is slowly taking shape, but we still need to lay a couple of tons of gravel which will mostly be used to fill in the ditches that were formed when we laid drainage. Before we can do this however, there are a few tons of logs to move so that a lorry can dump the gravel in the right place. I hope you're paying attention! Anyway, Jan and I started shifting the wood whilst constantly being interrupted by the dogs. In a game of 'I want what you've got,' they kept picking up logs and thoughtfully whacking the backs of our legs whilst chasing each other.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I like Halloween or, more to the point, I like to see children having some fun. We armed ourselves with goodies yesterday and sure enough they turned up. The first group were very young, accompanied by several parents who were playing musical instruments and singing. I hadn't seen that before but it made a pleasant change. The second group were older, unsupervised and more mischievous. 'Better to stay on the right side of this lot,' I thought, so they went away happy as well. This article surprised me, because we have seen more kids this year than any other.


Where has the year gone? It doesn't seem like two minutes ago that I was looking forward to getting my shorts on and heating the pool up. This is all a bit quick for me! Anyway, the morning of 1st November sees me continuing to clean up Christine's computer. It's a bit ancient (a bit like you - Ed.) and keeps hanging. Trying to complete even a simple task takes ages (a bit like you - Ed.) because it is constantly stop, start and it never seems to finish any simple task (a bit like you - Ed.). The answer is probably just to get a new model (a bit like ...... - Ed.).


I met Peter, my tennis pal, yesterday and he told me something interesting. He had just returned from his vacation, and he had brought back a German car (a Mercedes Estate) which he had to put through the control tecnique. It failed because it needed two new tyres. He told me that he had bought the tyres for 35 euros each, in Ales, and that they were second hand. Because he was selling the car he wasn't bothered if the tyres weren't new. I queried this and he said that they come out of Germany and that there is quite a big trade in second hand tyres in France. He explained that in Germany you are obliged, each November 1st, to change to winter tyres. Many households have the equipment to change tyres but many others don't, so, come November 1st they go to a garage and buy a new set of winter tyres and 'discard' the old one's. For the same reason, on March 30th you are legally obliged to change back to 'summer' tyres. Alles in ordnung.