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.