Monday, December 31, 2007

New Years Eve 2007











This morning was all about the last minute (essential?) things like cheddar cheese, lard, mixed chillies, a gammon joint, mixed spice, bicarbonate of soda, beer (for Bryan), preserved ginger, tea bags, ginger marmalade. And there I was thinking that you could buy all this stuff in France. One of us is losing it and it ain't me mes braves.

AJ, my friend from way back and one of the most entertaining people you will ever meet, invited us to spend New Years eve with him, Holly, Chris and Annie at Chow's in Westerham, Kent. We both love good Chinese food and we know this will be good. What more could you want, good friends, good food and a good laugh.
Funny hats were the order of the day! Photos from the top, AJ impersonating a Scottish gentleman, David Chow our fabulous host, Holly and Annie, Jan (she's the one with a chicken on her head) and moi (wearing an elegant handmade mandarin jacket plus mafia hat?), Chris and Annie Hiawatha.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Harrogate to Sevenoaks


It was sad leaving mum this morning. She loves to spoil us and we love the attention. She gets no younger, so leaving her, and the trip back home is always poignant.

The long drive south is Jan's opportunity to listen to Radio 4 and in particular (because it's Sunday) to catch up with The Archers. I like Radio 4 but I can pass on The Archers, particularly when one of the characters in today's programme was called Coriander. What pretentious nonsense. Anyway, as we tuned in, the preceding programme hadn't finished, a programme on church bell ringing. Only Radio 4 could get away with that!

Nothing more clearly demonstrates the difference between French and English 'eating out' than the short walk from our car in St Albans (a brief stop on route). We had a choice of English, Italian, North African, Asian and Chinese restaurants, and all of good quality. We chose Carluccio's, the sensible place to eat Italian food at a reasonable price. We topped up with a few gifts at his front of house deli and headed on to the sixth bed of our stay.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Sportsman's Arms

There I was, being quietly self satisfied, smug almost, because I've got my spam down to a hand full each day when BAM I got 790 messages overnight yesterday and over a hundred last night. They're very busy n'est pas?

The Sportsman’s Arms, Wath-in-Nidderdale, Pateley Bridge, HG3 5PP, 01423 711306, is a great pub. Arguably the best I’ve ever eaten in (the Royal Oak in Yattendon, Berkshire, is right up there too) but they wouldn’t take a reservation.

“We opena 12 of de clock, so no problema. Coma a long.” I suspect he wasn't English. As we pulled into the car park just after 12.00, it was packed with Mercs, BMWs and the like. My face dropped because it had taken 30 minutes to get there in driving rain. I ran inside and grabbed the last table.

They serve Black Sheep Ale, the food choice is good, and they will let you taste the wine before you buy. What more could you want?

Jan’s sausage and mash, mum’s spinach stuffed chicken was perfectly cooked as was my very tender rib-eye steak. Add to this rice pudding, an outstanding summer pudding and my roasted plums with mascarpone.

All this was washed down with a Finca Antigua, 2005 Tempranillo from La Mancha.

This place needs no advertising, it’s in the middle of nowhere, it was permanently full and serves excellent food. Highly recommended.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The best place on earth to live


Who needs broadband? Whilst we are at my mum's I am using dial up. Obviously a little slow but not bad. Still effective.

The postman delivered a parcel from Italy this morning. Pia, my mum’s sister, had sent a food parcel, a food parcel containing lots of Italian Christmas goodies. Two types of olives, cartellate (a fried pastry made with wine, shaped and covered in a cooked wine syrup), taralli (a semi sweet dry biscuit), a packet of amaretti biscuits, a large jar of home preserved artichokes hearts and a container of home made chocolates. Mum was genuinely pleased. For her it was a Christmas trip down culinary memory lane.

Harrogate is a great town and even Jan, a confirmed southern softy, says that she could happily live there. It has such a good feel. As you drive over The Stray and into town you notice that all the bus shelters still have their glass walls intact. There is no graffiti, nobody would dare. If you drop a piece of litter here you get flogged to within an inch of your life. No softy, pinko, do gooders here my friends. People behave themselves. OK, so I’m kidding, but it’s a great place to live. Recommended.

Jan is great with my mum, but I get very short tempered over silly little incidents and I admit I shouldn’t. Even after all this time I get very exasperated. For two days I’ve been waiting for mum to reply to our offer to take her out for lunch tomorrow. We’re sitting outside WH Smith waiting for Jan and out of the blue mum said, “OK, let’s go to the Sportsman’s Arms for lunch.”
“Hallelujah,” I said, “It’s only taken you a day to make up your mind.”
Mum said, “But you didn’t ask me in the right way. You have to be more emphatic and tell me that we’re going and not ask me if I want to go”
“What! It’s my fault that you can’t accept a genuine invitation? When we arrived yesterday you said that you had a houseful of food so I was being sensitive to that.”
Silence. I had steam coming out of my ears and mum sits in indignant self righteous silence.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

St Albans to Harrogate


This morning we headed north to see my mum and sleep in the fifth bed of our trip. I couldn’t believe the amount of traffic. The M1 was solid for three lanes all the way to Nottingham where I got my first pint of Directors bitter. It was worth the wait. Nottingham to Belper, (the last stop on the way), then back onto the still busy motorway up to Harrogate. When I were a lad, the road north, after the Birmingham turnoff (I used to go out with her!), was always much less congested. Not now mes braves, it’s very, very busy all the way.

This links nicely to my new toy, Tom Tom. The more I use it the more I like it. It’s programmed to always choose the fastest route and, on the recent trip to Brighton, it chose back roads to James’ house that were new to us and which was altogether much quicker. And there I was thinking I knew everything! Driving up the M1 towards Leeds, and subsequently Harrogate, it directed us off onto the M18 and then up the A1M. Why it didn’t continue to take us up the M1 I couldn’t fathom, but there you go. So far the satnav has improved our knowledge and helped calm our nerves. A good buy and recommended.

Mum (above right with Jan a couple of years back) was, of course, waiting for us with food. With typical Italian hospitality she tried (and succeeded) to stuff some focaccia down us at 17.15. Now I’m not sure about you, but red wine and bread at a quarter past five in the afternoon is fairly easy to resist, but my mother is not. Refusal can offend. Through Italian eyes, we both looked malnourished and in need of building up. This will be a tasty but challenging few days! Rock on!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas 2007




We've now been two days in St Albans hosted by Tim and Sue. There were 15 people around the table on 25th and 17 today, the 26th. The food was superb and I think we got the wine right.
This morning we all headed off to the ice rink in the town centre. The brave sat and drank hot drinks (you never know what germs lurk inside) and the foolish went on the ice. Being one of the brave ones, I nearly burnt my mouth on a hot chocolate (you're such a big brave bunny! - Ed) whilst others came back with minor cuts and bruises. We all like to live dangerously!

Tim and Sue have been fabulous hosts but I'm sure they will be glad to see the back of all of us tomorrow. Thanks guys!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Santa will visit tonight


This was the first time as grandparents that we had watched Maisie wrap presents, put them under the tree, take them away and then excitedly put them back again. Later she got a drink (a grand reserve Rioja), garlic cheese on crackers (how times have changed) and a carrot for the reindeer and put them near the fireplace for Father Christmas. She was so excited. Great fun.

Christ the car wash


After all the recent fuss about calling a teddy bear Mohamed, look at what I saw yesterday as we were following this star on our way down to Brighton. If you can't name a teddy after a Muslim prophet what about naming a car wash after a Christian one?
Talking about Christians (what a link!), a Happy and Peaceful Christmas to one and all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A pheasant plucker

I realised that Hinxworth was posh when a huge Lexus saloon pulled up outside the house this morning and delivered the newspapers. The regular 'paperboy' was away on a caribbean cruise so one of the village's poor people had offered to stand in.


Proof , if ever proof was needed, that Harry is a pheasant plucker. Just before we left for Brighton I caught Harry 'in the act'. Most people have a bacon sandwich or gruel for breakfast. In Hinxworth you pluck and roast pheasant! I'd show you a picture except someone very dear to me left the bloody camera somewhere!

Really rare

Bar and Geoff came round for dinner last night, which has become a bit of a Christmas tradition. Gill and Bar are Jan's friends from when they were all eleven. Without wanting to labour the point, that's a bloody long time. (You like to live dangerously - Ed.) Anyway, Gill, amongst other delicious things, cooked a fabulous Beef Wellington for dinner. I noticed that Geoff was tucking in and I asked him how rare he liked his meat.


He said, "Oh, really rare."


I said, "How would you describe that?"


He said, " You know, cut off its horns, wipe its arse and throw it on the plate!"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ocado


So we're driving up the A1 yesterday afternoon and I noticed a Waitrose food delivery van operated by Ocado (what a stupid name) but what grabbed my attention was what was printed on the side and in particular the tag line. Get a load of this:

Ocado

working in partnership with Waitrose

delivering with devotion

'DELIVERING WITH DEVOTION', what an unconvincing and stupid tag line! I bet they paid a fortune for some firm to come up with that.

I woke this morning at 09.15 after a really good nights sleep, despite sinking several (OK multiple) pints of Abbots Ale in the Three Horseshoes last night. An excellent night with Gill and Harry and several of their friends.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Laon to Hinxworth


For some reason I slept really badly last night so we were up and out earlier than planned. After I'd scraped the ice from the car windows I asked Jan for a drink of water. The water bottle was solid and a quick check of the outside temperature showed it was -8C. Ooh err. I didn't expect it to get so cold overnight and the boot was full of wine. We had offered to bring wine back for relatives, wine that had been bought in summer (yes I know that I probably shouldn't have done it). Whilst I could laugh it off if it was mine, reporting that we had managed to turn their stuff into iced lollies was going to take some guts. It also occurred to me that Jan would be better at it than me. Funny how many thoughts go through your head in a short space of time when you're under pressure. Anyway, off we went expecting to hear shattering glass at any moment. It didn't happen, we had got lucky. Good guys 1, the rest of the world nil.

The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful despite the fact that I kept falling asleep at the wheel (just kidding), but so much for breaking the journey and taking a rest. When we got to Hinxworth I was shattered, unlike the bottles!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Home to Laon


Today was the first day of our eight bed trip to the UK. The outside daytime temperature was very cold on the journey from the south to the north. Apart from when we left the south, the temperature varied between -1 C and -6 C. Through the middle of France, between Beaune and Reims, it was very cloudy and the trees were covered in thick ice. They had obviously been that way for some time. It made me appreciate our regular daytime temperatures of 8 C with bright sunny days at home. We arrived in good time at the Ibis hotel in Laon and were suitably impressed. The room was small but, for a change, the bed was large. Probably 6 feet wide, which is what we are used to. Excellent. Despite the fact that I favoured some junk food Jan steered us towards the restaurant. It was good without being memorable, a grill more than a restaurant. With a room charge of 47 euros per night this place represents good value for money. Recommended.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Boot camp


With the wine finally chosen for Christams (I've often wondered what a post would look like with all the typos left in, so this is it. I rather like Christams!) we now have no excuse for our little winetasting sessions. Not that bwe've evver needed an excuse in the past.


It was off to 'boot camp' for the dogs this afternoon. They are getting far too soft or, more to the point, we're getting soft (in the head). Each and every time we sit down to watch television the pesky dogs try to sit on our laps. We let them do it occasionally which is a big mistake because they have started to see it as a right and it has become a nuisance. They need toughening up a bit so a couple of weeks in kennels will sort them out (hmnnn, not sure about that one - Ed).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More geese

The bloody geese were back again this morning. Not just the usual dumb male but the female as well. I took Max out on a lead to shoo them away but the female turned aggressive (but then you knew she would didn't you girls?) so I beat a hasty retreat (sensible move boys?) and decided to divide and conquer. It worked. Just got to clear up all the shit now.

***

Having decided what wine to take to England I popped out to buy it. We have decided to take a 2004 Revelation from the cave cooperative in Carnas and a 2001 AOC red from Domaine de Baubiac. Getting the wine from Baubiac is an interesting experience. Raoul sat me down in his 'office', a backroom of his house filled with small trinkets, insisted I had a drink and showed me his latest designs for childrens toys. Excellent.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A new fireplace


Finally, sick to the back teeth of the house filling with smoke when we light a fire, I persuaded Jan to have a foyer fermé in the fireplace. Jan has always wanted an open fire and I fully empathised with her wish but we have tried everything to change the fireplace to stop it smoking without success. It's not that it bleeds smoke all the time but it's sufficient to make it unpleasant and a hazard. I was discussing this with Bryan at the weekend, and the issues to resolve regarding the installation, when Bryan suggested that he have a look. This morning he arrived with ladders to get on the roof and an angle grinder to remove a trapdoor high up in the chimney. Neither job I could do. He climbed inside the fireplace and up the chimney (above) and eventually removed the offending object. There was a time when only young children were sent up the chimney, but after that he climbed on the roof to establish if there were any issues with dropping a liner in the chimney and then we went off to Weldom to order the beast. What a star!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

English as it is meant to be spoken


You no doubt know that the French have an august body that is charged with protecting the French language. L'Académie francaise is the eminent institution that, amongst other things, protects the French language from corruption and in particular from corruption by the English language. The joke doesn't end there. It is run by forty individuals called immortels.
Now excuse me, but as every sensible person knows, language changes constantly. It is a living thing and any attempt at controlling change is unnatural, is itself open to criticism and futile. Today, neither English nor French is spoken as it was spoken 100 years ago. The English language is full of French words or words with a French source. We don't get paranoid about it. But maybe, just maybe we should. Let me explain. I have felt for a while that we should play the French at their own game. What about an English Academy called 'And Don't Even Think About Pissing About With Our Language.' ADETAPAWOL for short. You see good examples of what I'm talking about all around you. We were in Intermarché yesterday afternoon and Jan sent me off to get some computer paper. See how she trusts me? Well, there it was, just what I wanted, A4, 80 gm, white ink jet paper. And what was it called? It was called 'Sign Your Life.' What's that supposed to mean? On our way out of the shop I saw more examples. A clothes shop called 'Hot Tension' that was having a closing down sale (any wonder with a name like that?) and another called '2 Shoes'. Have you ever bought one shoe (with apologies to all my one legged friends) or worse still three shoes?
France be warned. I am going to name and shame your pathetic attempts at messing about with the English language.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wine worries


We're travelling back to England for Christmas, when we will sleep in no less than eight different beds. Oh joy! Already, I can't wait to get back! Anyway, amongst other things, we are taking the wine for the two festive days. We have already decided on one wine, bearing in mind that it has to appeal to quite a wide range of tastes and typically we have left it to the last minute to finalise the other. This morning we set out for Chateau des Hospitaliers, in a snowstorm, before a quick trip into the market in Sommieres. After forcing a few drinks down Jan, Gill, Peter and Bryan (all the others had left because of the cold and snow) we headed off to the cave cooperative at Carnas. They always have dependable, reasonably priced stuff, that pleases most palates. I looked forward to all the tastings on Sunday! But before that we decided to eat out at Baraka in Quissac with Bryan and Gill and got to taste a 2001 Domaine de Baubiac (no website available). I'd forgotten how good this wine is, and how very reasonably priced. In fact, seated across the restaurant was Raul one of the owners of the vineyard, who invited me to visit him anytime. Next week looks good!

Max and Minnie (above) playing in the snow for the first time ever.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

And now for some good news


Don't ever let a child tell you that they have it tough. If they do, show them this article. This has to be one of the best 'good news' stories for a long time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bored?


Coming back from Nimes yesterday afternoon, at dusk, I narrowly avoided running over three little piglets (or should that be boarlets?) wandering in the road. This isn't the first time that I have had to swerve to avoid boars on this stretch of road so there must be quite a few families in the scrub on either side. By coincidence Jan had just read that Sanglier are invading towns at the moment (makes a change from foxes) and that they are causing a nuisance in, amongst other places, Perpignan. Imagine staggering home from the pub and meeting one as you turned the corner.
The picture above gives you some idea as to how big they can get. If you hit a full grown male it will make a real mess of your car.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Straight No Chaser - 12 Days

Thanks to Penny for this.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Coming second

Ouch that hurt! William and I have never lost two sets, never mind three, but Milton played out of his skin and his partner, our latest recruit Stephen, is a very good player and is going to be tough to beat. Stephen is English, works in England and commutes to his home here in France at the weekends. Good effort.

***

Talking about coming second, I found this article. What is it about the English and sport? Have you ever noticed how often we come second? Second in the Rugby World Cup, second in the F1 drivers championship and at the weekend second in the world championship boxing. As Kevin once said, "It's never easy being an England sports fan." How true.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

In the mood


Drinking at lunchtime is never a good idea and despite acting in an almost saintly way, drink wise, for the last few weeks (it won't last long - Ed), I relapsed and went for it today. The event was a Christmas lunch organised by BritsNimes at Hotel Vatel in Nîmes just next to the main hospital (a coincidence surely). In fact the hotel is also right next door to the Institut Vatel a large hotel management training school who provide many of the staff.
Our table didn't include many drinkers so there was an abundance of wine available for one very thirsty old man. The lovely, young and very keen to please trainee staff from next door just kept bringing the bottles. Excellent.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Order in my life



The area around the pool is fenced in. The goose cannot walk in, it must fly, and there it was again this morning making a racket. In fact it woke Jan from her slumbers. Jan reckons that it must see the pool cover as water and head there through instinct. Our problem is not so much the mess that it leaves everywhere, that can be washed off, but if Max sees it he will scale the fence, a fence that, so far, he hasn't thought of climbing and either kill the goose, or at the very least, realise that he can get into the pool area fairly easily. If he can scale a 2.00+ metre fence then 1.65 m would be no problem. Anyway, I opened the side gate towards its house/pen and ten minutes later the goose had gone, disappeared. Hmnnnnn.
But that wasn't the end. I had to spend a couple of hours chasing it away from the house later this afternoon. If I shooed it away, it just waddled away slowly so, not to be outfoxed by a bloody goose, I decided to get Max in on the act. The bloody thing moved when it saw Max charging towards it. The only problem being that I was on the end of the lead, in slippers, being dragged through the air. Bloody goose.

***

So, we're on our way back from shopping in Sommieres when I asked Jan if there was anything she needed from Lidl. She admitted that we needed some bacon (they sell the best smoky bacon you've ever tasted) so off I went. I just love Lidl and all the aisles filled with things you didn't know you needed. My luck was in, I bought two great bargains. A band sander and a radio controlled clock. I have borrowed Bryan's band sander in the past and his Bosch machine costs 139 euros in Weldoms. Weldoms also sell a cheaper one for about 100 euros. My luck was in, Lidl's were selling this one for 40 euros. I tried to get Jan excited about my superb find but all she did was mutter something about it being really useful if I ever had something to sand down. Women just don't understand! (Maybe she really does understand? - Ed)
My next bargain was a radio controlled clock. Look, I admit that I have a thing about being able to tell the correct time. As I sit rocking slowly in the corner of a room, biting my fist, you can often hear me muttering about the need for some order in the world and demanding to know the correct time. I have a radio controlled clock by the side of the bed and it's controlled by a radio beacon. This beacon used to be near Rugby in England and even though it told me the wrong time by one hour, I was still a happy bunny. Anyway, they have recently moved the beacon up to somewhere near Scotland and, because it's much further away, my clock can't get the signal. I haven't been able to sleep at night worrying about this. The answer, however, was obvious, get a clock controlled by a local source. There it was, a clock controlled by a beam from Frankfurt in Germany, so, as long as we were within the 1500 kilometres range, I'd have some normality back in my life. It's a beaut, but it's very big, with huge letters. Suitable for a blind person I heard Jan say. It tells you everything you would ever need to know. I turned it on and waited whilst it 'found' the Frankfurt signal. And, there it was, the time, correct to a second every million years (how cool is that?), the moon phases (are they the same in Germany and France?), the day, the date and the room temperature. I still haven't figured out how they can tell the room temperature from Germany, but I'm not complaining. A great buy!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Domaine de Cauviac


We were in Quissac with Minnie to get her annual injection and decided to find Domaine de Cauviac, the wine we tried in Nîmes' market the other day. We knew roughly where it was and found it quite easily. What a delightful, tranquil place. As Chris W once said, 'There's a good domaine every 25 metres around here but unfortunately there's only so much wine that you can drink.' How right he was. We've been here over 5 years and have only just found this smashing place. Madame told us that they are the 13th generation of the family and have been making wine here since 1524 (so they've had a bit of practice).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dr. Martens

I went looking for a pair of Doc Martens recently and, unable to find anywhere locally that sold them, I eventually ordered them online from the US. Wow, are they comfortable. I must get Jan into a pair. She usually takes my little flights of fancy with mild good humour and then ignores me. Does that ring a bell, girls? The trouble with DM's is that they're associated with a certain time in English history and in particular, hard nosed 'bovver boys', so it's unusual to see a woman of a certain age wearing them. Anyway, if you can get comfort, hard wear and a bit of style (you don't usually see DM's and style in the same sentence - Ed) then you're a champ (shouldn't that be chump? - Ed).
***

We'd arranged to meet Bob and Lynne at the 'tapas' bar in the indoor market in Nîmes this lunchtime and jolly good it was too. Halles Auberge is not strictly a tapas bar but comes close because it offers the same type of food which is served in small earthenware dishes. Three of us had seiche a la plancha which was fabulous, if you like garlic, and Jan and I finished with a very nice creme catalane. All this was washed down with a bottle of Terra Oursy from Domaine Cauviac which was also very nice. We'll go hunting for some more tomorrow! A good idea. Thanks B&L.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Get a new wife or husband

A store that sells new husbands has just opened in New York City. Among the instructions at the entrance is a description of how the store operates:

"You may visit this store ONLY ONCE! There are six floors and the value of the product increases as the shopper ascends the flights. The shopper may choose any item from a particular floor, or may choose to go up to the next floor, but you cannot go back down except to exit the building!"

So, a woman goes to the Husband Store to find a husband.

On the first floor the sign on the door reads: Floor 1 - These men Have Jobs.

She is intrigued, but continues to the second floor, where the sign reads: Floor 2 - These men Have Jobs and Love Kids.

"That's nice", she thinks, "but I want more." She continues upwards.

The third floor sign reads: Floor 3 - These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, and are Extremely Good Looking.

"Wow," she thinks, but feels compelled to keep going.

She goes to the fourth floor and the sign reads: Floor 4 - These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Good Looking and Help With Housework.

"Oh, mercy me!" she exclaims, "I can hardly stand it!"

Still, she goes to the fifth floor and the sign reads: Floor 5 - These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Gorgeous, Help with Housework, and Have a Strong Romantic Streak. She is so tempted to stay, but she goes to the sixth floor, where the sign reads: Floor 6 - You are visitor 31,456,012 to this floor.

There are no men on this floor. This floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store.


The store's owner also opened a New Wives Store just across the street.

The first floor has wives that love sex.

The second floor has wives that love sex and have money.

The third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors have never been visited.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Surely it's more than once?


Here's the definitive answer to the number of times you kiss, when you meet someone. Is it once, twice or three times. Look no further than here.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Wot no money?

It's on days like this that you remember why you're in France. The miday temperature was 16C, it was warm and sunny, there was no wind and everything felt right with the world. We had a few things to get so we popped over to Sommieres. The market was very quiet but we met up with the usual group at Elie's place under the arches and had a wee drink. Milton (he of the tennis) runs a spice stall in the market and when I mentioned that it seemed very quiet he said that most of the French around here wouldn't get paid until the 6th or 7th. Didn't know that.

Friday, November 30, 2007

It's getting hard

Peter, who has more illnesses than your local hospital, hasn't showed for tennis for some time, so Milton his partner, who, obviously tired of getting beaten, turned up with a ringer, René, this morning. It only took me two minutes to see that he could play so I whispered to William that we would have a fight on our hands and so it proved. We just managed to edge the first set 7-5 and were down 3-0 in the second before we got our act together. Game by game we pulled them back until we just won the second set 7-5 again. When René gets his eye in (he hasn't played for a couple of years) it will get even tougher. Should be fun.


***


We have finally got tired of the house filling with smoke every time we light a fire so we went in search of wood burning stoves this afternoon. They're not cheap but we found one we liked at Cheminees Decors du Sud. However, they can't instal until the end of next January when winter will virtually be over. Bum!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Your place or mine

According to the UN, France is the 10th best place in the world to live. First place goes to Iceland. I'll stick with tenth!

***

I have to congratulate the enterprising hooker who has recently purchased a big white van, fitted out with curtains, and who parks in a lay-by just outside Nîmes. You'd recognise the van because it is a) the only one ever there and b) it has party balloons on the nearside door handle. She has plied her trade from this lay-by for several years in a car and I have always wondered, amongst other things, where she, and her companions, went to do the deed. I wonder no more. She deserves an award for her enterprise. Anyone want to give her one? (Sorry I couldn't resist it!).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Guillon Whisky


Did you know that they make whisky in France? We were in Intermarché this afternoon and there it was, a French made single malt from the 'mountains of Reims'. This 'Grand Cru du Whisky' (note the Scottish spelling), Guillon Whiskey, from 51150 Louvois, is 43% vol. I'm no whisky expert but it seemed ok.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Name that road


Ah ha, it worked. The goose wandered out into the front garden this morning, allowing me to shut the gate behind it and keep it out of the pool area. What a mess it left behind (or rather, left its behind). The pool cover was covered in shit which, when I clean it off, I need to be careful not to sluice into the water below. Charming! Armed with a couple of brooms we shepherded our unwelcome visitor back into the village and safety. Safety from me because I have never eaten goose but more importantly from the dogs who came back from kennels this afternoon.

***

I've been inundated with suggestions about English motorway road names (well three actually and all from Nigel who lives near Stansted).

M11 - L'escape-route au Stansted Airport
M20 - Le Rat-run à La Manche
M25 - L'autoroute de Merde

Monday, November 26, 2007

Goose step

Good heavens, I'm celebrating a little milestone today because this is my 1000th journal entry. Thank you all for reading my scribblings. You know who you are!

***



We left H&E after breakfast this morning replete with their fabulous hospitality. Never have so few eaten so much and drunk so well. Thanks to you both.

***



A few days ago, before we left for Agen, we found a goose in the pool area and when we got back this afternoon it was still there. Goodness knows what it's been eating. It was sitting comfortably on the pool cover, gently undulating up and down as if it was sitting in water. We might have one dumb goose here! Anyway, we know where it normally lives, just a few doors away, so we'll try and get it back home tomorrow. It must have flown in because it had no direct access so I opened a gate to see if it would walk out. Strange what you have to do sometimes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ferme de Ramon




We made our annual pilgrimage to Ferme de Ramon in Aiguillon at lunch time. This is a duck farm and this is its open weekend. During the weekend they open up a big barn and add additional marquees where you can buy lots of local goodies like Armagnac, Champagne, Sauternes and cheese and also sit down to a duck fest. The barn is packed with people, mostly French and lots gets eaten and drunk. After our slap up feast we wandered round the stalls and shop buying some goodies for Christmas. This is what I wrote at this time last year. It still holds good.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Duras



After a delicious dinner last night of pheasant and some of H's Premier Grand Crus Claret (I've absolutely no idea what the poor people were eating), we waddled off this morning to explore the hinterland. The destination was Duras and in particular lunch at Dom Camillo, place Marguerite 0553 83 76 00, followed by a trip around Chateau de Duras. If you're hungry, Dom Camillo is the place to be. I was still stuffed from last night, and settled on an a cep filled omelette as a snack. When it arrived I nearly fell off my chair, it was a monster, it must have contained at least four eggs and a cup full of ceps. I was very nearly defeated, but sheer greed got me through. A good effort and highly recommended. I hope my doctor doesn't read this stuff, because I keep telling her that I eat like a sparrow (she only has to look at you to know you're lying, you idiot - Ed). Anyway, re-stuffed we all set off around the castle. What an interesting place but more to the point there was so much to see that by the time we'd finished I was hungry again. Just kidding! It was a fascinating place to visit and is well worth the effort. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Aquitaine



This morning we quickly re-packed and headed off to the west of France, over towards Agen, to see friends H & E. This has become an annual pilgrimage that we look forward to. H & E are very generous hosts and we love to explore the countryside with them. Before we hit the motorway, we popped into Chateau des Hospitalier (above) for some of their lovely oak aged Merlot. Why we don't visit here more often is a mystery because they make lovely wine. Anyway, back to the motorways. The A9, which took us towards our turnoff at Narbonne, has the usual plethora of extra Brussels imposed E numbers, but is also called the Languedocienne. Tom Tom also told me that we were heading for L'autoroute des deux mers (joining the Atlantic and the Med) and this made me think that the French and Italians, who both give their motorways appropriate nice sounding names, have the right idea. This then made me think (shouldn't you be concentrating more on your driving? - Ed) what I would call the English M1. The best that I could come up with was the Route d'Ilkley Moor Bah Tat (a very English joke I'm afraid). What about the rest? A prize for the best ideas!

Sorry, got to go, I'm typing this on a French keyboard and it's making head hurt.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Joe Cocker 2 and a bit of Marseille


JC put on his usual fantastic performance last night. He obviously appeals to a very wide age range and they went wild as he knocked out all the old favourites. Goodness knows how long he can keep it up. He's older than me and, having sung in a band in my youth, I know how draining it can be. At times you'd have though he was ready for a coronary, but good on you JC, thank you, an excellent show.


Marseille isn't at all what I'd imagined but as Jan said, "What did you expect?" In the end I can best describe it as similar to Naples. If you've never been to Naples that's not much help but thinking about it it sort of makes sense. Both towns are huge ports on the Mediterranean with a very cosmopolitan mix of people. Both towns have heavy traffic (in Naples they drive beyond belief crazy) but both towns are attractive, you have to be careful with your belongings and they have an inescapable buzz. This morning we were both tired and our culture meters were running at nearly 100% so we didn't do much. Lunch was at L'Hippocampe, 14 Quai du Port, 0491 90 88 38 and very good it was too. Jan was keen to eat Bouillabaise which she described as fish soup with pieces of fish in it. I said, "Well, what did you expect?" We'll go back, spend a bit more time and explore.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Joe Cocker 1

I wonder if we qualify as groupies? Having last seen him in July in Carcassonne, we set off this afternoon to see Joe Cocker in concert in Marseilles. Neither of us has ever visited France's second city, mainly as a result of our friend Chris W getting mugged there one time. Funny how these things can put you off. But accompanied by my beloved bodyguard, (you just don't mess with Jan when she's pissed off) off we went.


I'd always realised that I had special powers. Psychic would best describe it (surely you mean psycho? - Ed). I have no idea what prompted me, but only two times in the last five years have I set the car's cruise control at the speed limit on the road into Nimes, and both times there has been a police speed check. How spooky is that?


Look I know I've written about this before, but on the autoroute to Marseille Tom Tom advised us that we were heading for the A7/E714/E80. It really makes me mad to think that there is a department of highly paid bureaucrats in Brussels re-numbering all the roads. Can anyone tell me why? The road has a number and it most certainly doesn't need another one let alone two. What's going on? Why doesn't someone stop this lunacy? Imagine this.


"Well what did you do today at the office Daddy?"


"Listen son its a bit too difficult to explain but let's just say that that I got tired of calling the Autoroute du Soleil the A7 so I gave it two new numbers to confuse the hell out of all those stupid motorists. That and I filled out my expenses which as you can probably imagine takes a long time to do."


"Thanks Daddy, will you read me a bedtime story?"

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Winter maintenance

It was blowing a gale this morning. The morning that I had belatedly decided to cover the pool. Yes, I know I should have done it a month ago but something minor had prevented me from doing it until now. This morning I was ready. The wind was unbelievably strong but the good news was that it was blowing from the south and was quite warm. The bad news however was that it blew new leaves in as fast as we could fish them out.

We had four pairs of hands this time (Bryan and Gill came round to help) so it was relatively simple. I remember last year when there were just two of us and at one point one end of the cover dropped into the water and and started to sink. It was the devils own job to hold the cover proud of the water to let the new water drain away. Still we got it fixed easily this time and I've learnt my lesson.

It has just occurred to me that Bryan is a spitting image for Joe Cocker and Bryan has even been stopped in restaurants and asked for his autograph. I don't know who to feel more sorry for, Bryan or Joe Cocker. Anyway, this links nicely with tomorrow's expedition to Marseilles. Guess who we're going to see in concert?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wave like a queen


Have you ever tried doing the queen wave? We were watching original footage of the queens wedding on the news in bed this morning and we were trying to imitate her wave (see what puerile imbeciles we are). It was a good laugh and I thought I'd got it, but Jan was hopeless. I tried to tell her that it's all in the wrist, but would she listen? I reckon it disqualifies her as a pretender to the throne. She said that she thought that I was an old queen anyway. Charming.

Finally got stuck into the Pate de Pezenas today. Mnnnn, not sure, and I understand why Jacqui doesn't like them. My guess would be that they're the forerunner of our present day mince pies. Ours had a subtle lamb taste but with a strong sweet taste of oranges. An unusual combination and anyone that's tried one mutters politely, but nobody raves. If you closed your eyes and thought of England you could imagine a mince pie. I mentioned this to Jan but would she listen?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pézenas



That was an interesting day. We had to leave home at the ungodly hour of 08.30 because, along with 24 others, we joined a conducted tour of Pézenas. When younger I always considered conducted tours were for old fogies and now that I've joined that venerable band, I think they're a good idea. Whilst I can't say that the tour was wildly exciting, it was certainly interesting and we were shown courtyards, fabulous staircases (above) and gardens that we wouldn't have otherwise seen. Sunday morning is an excellent time to visit a town centre because there aren't too many people around and it's easier to move and stop as a group. Lunch at the Hotel Moliere was good.

At dinner with friends in the village last night we mentioned the trip to Pézenas and Christiane waxed lyrical about a speciality from the town called Petite Pâte de Pezenas. I promised to bring her some back and at the end of the tour we were shown where to buy them. They are supposedly made from a recipe left in the town by Clive of India. They consist of a mixture of mutton, suet, sugar and lemon peel in a pastry case. It was Sunday lunchtime and the town was shut but we found a patisserie that was open. Job done.
When we got back, Max managed to scale a two metre fence to get out of the garden. Oh to be young and in love again. Bloody dog!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Again, please


Poor old Max. He and Minnie sleep in the study and we have to pass through the study when we get up in the morning. It was just after 06.00, still dark outside and there he was, sitting and alert. He'd opened the door into the house, and was waiting for his breakfast and his first 'outing' of the day.
Just like a bloke, he had sex yesterday, realised/remembered how nice it was and woke up early hoping for another session. Jan, on the other hand, had other ideas. I was instructed to feed him on the lead, walk him round the garden (in the freezing cold) and bring him straight back in. I heard Jan mutter, "You're not going around to see that old slapper again," and, in order to distract him, Jan gave them both a cuddly toy to play with. That diversion worked for about ten minutes until Max remembered what all the fuss was about. He strutted around the house whining, resting his head on the settee arm like he does when he wants something, and expecting to be let out. When I think about it the similarities with the human species are amazing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

In flagrante delicto


For the last two mornings Max has disappeared, on a mission, straight after his breakfast. He scrambles over a gate about 1.75 metres high and disappears for a while. It's not usually a problem because he reappears quite quickly, especially if you shout 'biscuit'. This morning was different. He was gone for some time which prompted me to put my woolly hat on, get wrapped up against the freezing wind and go look for him. Well, I found him. Stuck. Coupled with a female dog (the old village slapper who usually growls at you as you walk by) and unable to separate. It was easy to get the lead on him but, neither of us were going anywhere in a hurry, not without dragging another dog along, backwards. I felt such a prat. Standing there with my dog on a lead, stuck to another dog and unable to move backwards or forwards. Bugger! Thank god the only person that walked by was René, the local hedge expert. He suggested that I go home and leave them because they might not be free until lunchtime. He might know a lot about hedges but even I knew that this was only going to last for about 30-50 minutes. Max on the other hand, just stood there and looked calmly around as if the whole episode had nothing to do with him. I was sure he avoided catching my eye. Bloody dog. Anyway, after about 20 minutes they separated and I really had to drag him home. Surely he couldn't do it again? When I got home, I shoved him into the kennel for a bit of solitary confinement. At least he could smoke a cigarette in peace!

A couple of hours later we let him into the house. Minnie, who was delighted to see him, rolled over onto her back and started acting very playfully. He had just been unfaithful and there she was making up to him. Bloody tart. Max, on the other hand, was very up (if you'll excuse the expression) and with his ears pricked (again excuse the expression) was looking with anticipation out of the back door as he tried to open it. Horny sod!

All I need now is the stupid owner who let the dog on heat out into the village coming round demanding palimony.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Strikes around the world


For a different twist on the strike by US screenwriters look here.


Talking about strikes, Penny sent me these funny links.




On a totally different theme, we hosted an introduction to wine tasting at lunchtime on behalf of BritsNimes. Ten of us were taught how to consider smells and taste, by a professionally trained oenologist, and then we were given various wines to try and make comments on. It was very interesting but I'm afraid it deteriorated a tad mainly due to someone 'getting the taste'. Oops.



Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Don't talk to me like that



I still keep playing with my satnav (above), despite knowing the journey like the back of my hand. I play with it because it's the only way that I'll get to learn to use it properly. Anyway, we were travelling back from Nîmes again today when Jan made the observation, "At what point does the bloody thing tell you that you've done this journey a thousand times and when the hell will you know the route?" I suppose it's a fair question and it reminded me of the following. Open this page, download the clip which will open in Media Player, make sure your speakers are turned on and sit back. It's very funny.
Later, as we entered the village, Alain the artist pulled us over and invited us in for a quick drink. It was 14.30 and the last thing I really wanted was any booze but, being a man of high principal and low resolve, a drink it was. Lest I seem ungrateful Alain has always been the kindest, friendliest and most helpful man and he further demonstarted this by inviting us to dinner on Saturday. Such is village life. Aren't we lucky?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

That's a real pain

So the four of us are sitting and having a very nice lunch in Hiely-Lucullus, 5 rue de la Republique, Avignon, 0490 86 17 07, when the conversation got around to bread. Is the dough made on site or is the bread bought in frozen? Chris W, who knows about these things, admitted that at one of the restaurants he worked in they bought frozen bread. This obviously happens all the time but the question for me is, does your local boulangerie do this as well? Anyway, we laughed about our local bread shop in Quissac and the formidable lady that runs it. Jan's story is that, in the early days, she would wander into the shop and ask for un baguette. Madame, never one to mince her words, replied frostily that it was une baguette. Chris W mentioned that he had had much the same problem when he first arrived and, after receiving similar treatment, he got a bit of a mental block about the gender. But Chris, as inventive as ever, found a solution. From then on he always asked for deux baguettes because the male/female issue went away. Clever, but it meant that he had to eat a shed load of bread! Mnnnnnn.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Time travel

Its funny how our behaviour has changed since we came to France. In England we lived in a large town but here we live in a small country village. Life seems a bit more personal. This morning, along with others, we attended the remembrance service at the war memorial. Why did we never think about doing this in England? But there are other changes too. Jan buys clothes from the market, she buys food from the market and has even bought cooked chickens, something she wouldn't dream of in England. We now visit different shops for our produce when in England it was one stop Sainsburys. We seem to have taken a step back in time probably in line with our new found leisure time. The pace of life used to be hectic, we both had jobs and had little time or energy for more 'mundane' activities.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Men, women and sat navs

I really like my new Tom Tom. We went to Nîmes yesterday and as we drove home, a journey I've done hundreds of times, it was there advising me, just in case I'd forgotten, where to turn and when. When we got back to the village it even confirmed that we'd arrived. Excellent! How did I ever manage without it? It's an amazing little gadget. I've had to drive this route lots of times and this thing knows it straight away. It even recognises the different speed limits on the road and it warns you if you are exceeding the limit. Talk about spy in the sky! My beloved, displaying a rare cruel streak, wondered if I could input the coordinates so that it would help me find the kitchen and the sink. 'We'll never know', I, perhaps unhelpfully, told her. 'When you know where to find the wheel locking nut, when you next have a puncture, I'll look for and find the sink.' Somewhat unsurprisingly, this didn't go down too well.


Friday, November 09, 2007

And what did you do today daddy?

I omitted to mention yesterday that we met a very interesting couple at the restaurant. She was English and he was French and they met many years ago when they were both performing in variety. She was a dancer and he was a 'foot juggler'. He lay on his back and juggled with his feet. Her history was that she lived out of a suitcase for many years with her parents, who were also in variety and he similarly. They had both travelled the world with their acts and had finally settled in Gard. You should have heard him wax lyrical about Blackpool. He loved it. One of the best places he had ever visited, he said. Hmnnnn, that's a very generous comment, but each to his own. Don't get me wrong, I like Blackpool. When I lived in Harewood, between Leeds and Harrogate, a lawyer friend organised a coach trip and we had a great time. Fish and chips, beer and the pleasure beach. I take it for what it is, but I can think of one or two warmer, sunnier places to spend my hols.

There are lots of jokes around at the moment and thought you might like this:

HER DIARY:

Saturday 20th October 2007

Saw him in the evening and he was acting really strangely. I went shopping in the afternoon with the girls and I did turn up a bit late so thought it might be that. The bar was really crowded and loud so I suggested we go somewhere quieter to talk. He was still very subdued and distracted so I suggested we go somewhere nice to eat. All through dinner he just didn't seem himself; he hardly laughed and didn't seem to be paying any attention to me or to what I was saying. I just knew that something was wrong. He dropped me back home and I wondered if he was going to come in; he hesitated but followed. I asked him again if there was something the matter but he just half shook his head and turned the television on. After about 10 minutes of silence, I said I was going upstairs to bed. I put my arms around him and told him that I loved him deeply. He just gave a sigh and a sad sort of smile. He didn't follow me up straight away but later he did, and I was surprised when we made love. He still seemed distant and a bit cold, and I started to think that he was going to leave me and that he had found someone else. I cried myself to sleep.

HIS DIARY:

Saturday 20th October 2007

Scotland lost. Gutted. Got a shag though.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Toys for the boys

With about 10 other people from an organisation called BritsNimes, we had lunch at L'Esclafidou, 7 rue Xavier Sigalon, Nîmes, 0466 21 28 49. Our set lunch at 22 euros was excellent and a quick look at the carte looked interesting as well. We will definitely be back and well worth a visit.



What made my day however was that my Tom Tom arrived and I spent several happy hours setting it up and learning how to get to various nearby towns. Towns that I could drive to with my eyes shut but, as you know, that's not the point. I have a new toy and now I have to find a way to use it!

A less than perfect Redhead


A man is dining in a fancy restaurant and there is a gorgeous redhead sitting at the next table. He has been checking her out since he sat down, but lacks the nerve to talk with her.

Suddenly she sneezes, and her glass eye comes flying out of its socket toward the man.


He reflexively reaches out, grabs it out of the air, and hands it back.


'Oh my, I am so sorry,' the woman says as she pops her eye back in place.
'I'm sure that must have embarrassed you so let me pay for your dinner to make it up to you,' she says.


They enjoy a wonderful dinner together, and afterwards they go to the theatre followed by drinks. They talk, they laugh, she shares her deepest dreams and he listens, he shares his and she listens.


After paying for everything, she asks him if he would like to come to her place for a nightcap and stay for breakfast.


They have a wonderful, wonderful time.


The next morning, she cooks a gourmet breakfast with all the trimmings. The guy is amazed and totally impressed. Everything had been SO incredible!
'You know,' he said, 'you are the perfect woman. Are you this nice to every guy you meet? '


'No,' she replies. . . . . . .........



'You just happened to catch my eye.'