Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Say that again

This picture is not doctored. Most Syrians struggle to read English. So, how do a group of Syrian protest leaders create the most impact with their signs by having the standard 'Death To Americans' (etc) slogans printed in English?
Answer: They simply hire an English-speaking civilian! to translate and write their statements into English. Unfortunately, in this case, they were unaware that the 'civilian' insurance company employee hired for the job was a retired US Army Sergeant!

Down with bump

After several days of non stop partying it was back to reality and for the last couple of days back to Montpellier to work on our kitchen project. Today, Wednesday, we took James to the airport and are finally back on our own again. Bliss. Having said that it was a wonderful few days and I felt so honoured that so many nice people would get together for my birthday. Thank you all.

Whilst I realise that the weather has been great just lately, it doesn't feel right to see blossom on some trees. February can be a very cold month so the tree, whatever it is, is in for a shock. Still, it's nice and brightens up the morning as we head out to Montpellier in the morning.

Installing a new window has turned out to be much harder and much, much dirtier than you would imagine. The window that the 'cowboys' fitted was too wide and too short for the opening. We have had to widen the opening by cutting rebates into the stone window surround and build-up the height. What a mess. Anyway we are nearly there and tomorrow can start thinking about tiling the floor.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Birthday celebrations

Surrounded by fifteen family and friends, seven of whom had flown in from the UK, Saturday night's party was a great laugh. Prompted by Jan, who has always wanted one, my daughter Cara bought me a karaoke machine for my birthday. After a huge Italian feast, 15 of us murdered songs from the 70's, 80's and 90's. It was so funny and even the shy retiring types (not that there are many of them amongst that lot) felt comfortable enough to strut their stuff. Everybody had a go, even William, who doesn't speak any English. Hats off to all concerned and sincere apologies to all the composers.
Last night we all decamped to the local restaurant for dinner. The pictures above tell the story. From top to bottom: Jan, whose top wasn't even cut straight and I, AJ and my daughter Cara doing her Nigella Lawson impression, AJ doing what he always does best, son James pretending to sing an operatic aria to the tune of 'Yesterday', William and I, last night at the restaurant, AJ and the lovely Holly and Jan and her old friend Jill.

After a midday trip to the airport, it was back to base to continue pampering the remaining guests and slowly collapse.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Thought for the day

Is this the England of today?

And happy birthday to you too

Sorry guys. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was a builder's mate and arrived from Montpellier each and every night, shattered. I had difficulty thinking, never mind writing and Thursday I got my hair cut and my close friends Rob and Floyd arrived from the UK. Tonight we all had a big drink and, as I write this, it's my birthday and I love you all.
Later on today we pick up a bunch of people (including James and Cara my beautiful children) who will have flown in from the big smoke and then we really go for it. I suspect you get the message.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Seeing is believing

A cabbie picks up a nun. She gets into the cab, and notices that the very handsome cab driver won't stop staring at her.

She asks him why he is staring. He replies: 'I have a question to ask you but I don't want to offend you.'

She answers, 'My son, you cannot offend me. When you're as old as I am and have been a nun as long as I have, you get a chance to see and hear just about everything. I'm sure that there's nothing you could say or ask that I would find offensive.'

'Well, I've always had a fantasy about kissing a nun. What would it be like?'

She responds, 'Well, let's see what we can do about that but: 1, you have to be single and 2, you must be Catholic (this one's for you Jacqui).'

The cab driver is very excited and says, 'Yes, yes, I'm single and Catholic!'

'OK' the nun says. 'Pull into the next alley.'

The nun fulfills his fantasy with a kiss that would make a hooker blush. But when they get back on the road, the cab driver starts crying.

'My dear child,' said the nun, why are you crying?'

'Forgive me but I have sinned. I lied and I must confess, I'm married and I'm Jewish.'

The nun says, 'That's OK my son...............

My name is Peter and I'm going to a fancy dress party.'

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Personal shopper

Having had a good old chin wag about shopping at Lidl, at the bar in Sommieres market this morning, we coincidentally met Peter H there afterwards. We all agree that the centre aisles in Lidl are full of cheap things that you never knew you needed. A bit like a real life version of the little shopping catalogues that come with your newspaper. Anyway, Peter, always up for a laugh at other people's expense, took on the role of our personal shopper. A bit upmarket for Lidl but interesting nevertheless. He had an excellent nose for 'essential', but cheap, items. For instance we bought a 10 metres length of outdoor fairy lights for 4 euros and an expandable spirit level for 10 euros. As usual, we went in for a couple of things and came out with half a trolley. Peter, on the other hand, went in for one item and came out with two. That's pretty boring shopping if you ask me and not worth going really, unless you get great satisfaction out of filling other people's shopping trolleys! Good fun.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A young man's body

Having had a good old moan about French customer service the other day, I'd like to redress the balance. This morning we popped into Nimes for a quick visit to the heart specialist (nothing serious just an annual check up) and then wandered around the shops for a little non serious shopping. Each and everyone of the assistants that we came across was very friendly, polite and some, bless em, tried out their English. I'm coming to the opinion that the French are much more pleasant individually than they are 'en masse'. How's about that for a sweeping statement?

Penny has previously asked me about the cost of 'consultant' treatment here in Gard. As part of a bi-annual check-up I have just had four separate consultations. An electrocardiogram performed by a cardiologist, an ultrasound of my heart by the same guy, an ultrasound of the arteries in my neck by another doctor and an electrocardiogram 'under effort' by the initial doctor at another hospital. The cost to me was 77 euros, the majority of which I will get reimbursed. I think that's pretty good. You'll be pleased to know that your intrepid correspondent was pronounced to be in relatively good shape, all things being equal or, as Bryan described it, a twenty year old man fighting to get out of a very old, fat body.

Tonight we were invited around for aperos by our Dutch neighbours. Jans and Hanni were very generous and very welcoming and I suspect will turn out to be good friends. Life's good!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Montpellier trams

I went to bed last night unable to shake off a dry rasping throat that tasted of brick dust. No matter that we wearing masks, I still inhaled a lot of muck.

It was back to Montpellier this morning determined to better protect myself from all the dust. Our trip involves driving to Junction 29 on the A9 and parking at the special car park for the tram. The car and 'aller retour' tram tickets for both passengers is four euros in total. Amazing. Even more amazing, I saw an advert for 30 days unlimited tram travel for 30 euros. Travel anywhere you like on bus or tram for 1 euro per day. That's how to get people onto public transport. Having said that I wonder who picks up the bill?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

With a little help from your friends

The last couple of days have been interesting but, more to the point, very tiring. Bryan and I have been persuaded to help a couple of guys in Montpellier, who have been right royally turned over by a couple of real cowboys, to remodel a kitchen and rectify badly installed new windows. I've always fancied doing some building work and, whilst I have a lot of knowledge, having trained as a quantity surveyor in my youth, I haven't had to tackle much. This is a good way of getting some hands on experience. Rubanne and Clive are very nice people, bought us lunch yesterday, and it's a pleasure to help them. See what we'll do for a plate of food!

Anyway, yesterday a lot of time was spent planning, and today was all about some very dirty work. New cabling needs sinking in the walls so we set about chasing the kitchen walls in preparation for the gaine and electrical work to be installed by somebody with this expertise. God was it dirty. We used Bryan's new wall chaser to cut the grooves prior to hand chiselling the rest out and we both got covered from head to toe in brick dust. Goodness knows how people do this for a living? In fact they usually don't because they just plonk a surface mounted cable duct all over the place which is quite unsightly. No shortcuts with us mes braves.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Galette du Roi

With rain forecast for the next couple of days, we took advantage of the second day of sunshine to clear the garden and finish some general outdoor maintenance like taking all Jan's empty wine bottles to the recycling centre.

This evening the village was invited to a year end summary of important village stuff and to partake of a glass of wine and Galette du Roi courtesy of William our maire and the village council. The important information concerned the ever expanding village and the need to invest in a 'proper' sewage works and the huge cost involved. I seem to remember that this has been talked about for at least the last two years. William also mentioned that this would be the last time that he would stand as maire having completed 18 years of service. Looks like we might get a bit more tennis in!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Competition French style

This article about a huge hydrogen gas cloud suggests that, when it collides with the Milky Way in about 20 to 40 million years time, it could create thousands of stars like our sun. I'll make a diary note to look out for it!
In my experience, customer service is poor in France. The French don't like competition, especially if it might upset the status quo and they are also somewhat xenophobic about things Anglo Saxon or American. They have no problem buying a lot of the utilities in the UK under free market principles but woe betide an outside company buying into France plc. Anyway, Jan was sitting at her computer yesterday and started to mutter about an email that she had just received. It was from Amazon France a company that she uses a lot. The gist of the email was that Amazon's policy of offering free delivery on books in France was under threat and that they are having to pay 1000 euros a day in fines unless they can win their appeal. Amazon argue that this court case is nothing less than an attempt to eliminate competition from And that this action, if successful, would make France the only country in the world where 'free delivery' would be declared illegal. I rest my case. The full text of the email is included below.

Cher client d',

Aussi incroyable que cela paraisse, la livraison gratuite chez est menacée. est en effet condamnée au paiement d'une amende de 1 000 euros par jour parce qu'elle propose la livraison gratuite de livres à ses clients. Cette amende est le résultat préliminaire d'une action en justice intentée par un syndicat de libraires. Nous avons choisi de faire appel de cette décision et de payer l'amende afin de pouvoir continuer à offrir la livraison à nos clients. Les poursuites de ce syndicat ne sont ni plus ni moins qu'une tentative cynique d'éliminer la concurrence d' L'argumentation juridique du syndicat s'appuie sur la loi Lang, qui limite les réductions de prix sur les livres proposées par les détaillants. L'ironie de cette tactique est que la loi Lang a pour but de préserver la diversité de la création culturelle et de donner aux libraires les moyens de proposer une large sélection de livres, et pas seulement les best-sellers. Or, qui pratique déjà la remise maximale sur les livres autorisée par la loi Lang, met à votre disposition la plus vaste offre de livres en français disponibles dans le monde, qu'ils soient neufs ou d'occasion, et quels que soient la renommée de leurs auteurs et le prestige de leurs éditeurs. Aussi, la tentative injustifiée du syndicat de supprimer la livraison gratuite n'aurait qu'une seule conséquence : vous devrez payer plus cher pour acheter vos livres. Et cela constituerait un cas unique : la France serait ainsi le seul pays au monde où la livraison gratuite pratiquée par Amazon serait déclarée illégale. Nous avons donc besoin de votre aide. Vous pouvez faire entendre votre voix dans ce combat pour la livraison gratuite. Nous avons créé une pétition en ligne que nous vous invitons à signer :
Pétition en ligneNous offrons également aux clients la possibilité de débattre librement de ce sujet dans un forum de discussion où de nombreuses personnes partagent déjà leur opinion sur les rabais et la livraison gratuite pour les livres :
Forum de discussion

D'avance merci pour votre aide et votre soutien, Jeff Bezos,Fondateur et Président Directeur GénéralAmazon

Friday, January 11, 2008

Alain Jamis

So there I was wondering what I was going to write today when Alain, our village artist, called to say that he needed a copy of a disc. What we found was he and another artist had collaborated and produced a painting together and a journalist wanted a copy for a magazine. I'm not sure about the other guy but Alain is quite well known around here and we love his work and have bought a few of his paintings. Hopefully the picture above does the painting justice.

It's never boring around here!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Heat and no smoke

We have fire! Or, more precisely, a foyer. Or, even more precisely, an Invicta Sélénic 6769-03.

Look, I realise that this is of minor importance in the scheme of things but for me it means that at long last we can be nice and warm, without starting to turn blue from carbon monoxide poisoning. Our clothes will not smell of wood smoke and it also means that we can have guests on a cold day without fear of a manslaughter charge. So, quite important really.

Jan is slow to warm to it (pun intented), because she really prefers an open fire, but I know she'll come around. Anyway, she'd better, because it took three of us half a day to get the flue liner down the chimney (with Bryan up the flue again to remove an obstruction) and I like it! Big thanks to Bryan for his efforts. I noticed that she didn't complain as she sat nice and toasty warm tonight.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What's your poison?

The wood burning stove has finally arrived and Bryan has offered to help install it. Whilst it is overcast and fairly mild at the moment it looks like it is going to get sunnier with colder evenings at the weekend. Everything is fitting into place. Michel our local macon has also agreed to help because dropping the liner down the chimney will require a bit of expertise and a lot of grunt. We'll be all toasty warm soon without any choking fumes. So far so good.

I was rather irritated listening to the news the other day when some bright spark waffled on about binge drinking amongst the middle aged population. I have recently been drinking a lot less, mostly because I haven't fancied it, so it was with self righteous indignation that I objected to being lumped into the middle aged binge drinking crowd. Anyway, last night Bryan popped round to discuss some stuff and I suddenly felt like a drink. So we did. And, you know what, I think that we are binge drinkers after all! Bum.

senior drivers

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Christmas presents

The most unusual present I received this Xmas was from Kevin. It's a portable solar powered mobile phone charger. How cool is that. All I need now is a portable, solar powered mobile phone. (You are so stupid - Ed) Look, I don't want to sound ungrateful but I spent hundreds of pounds on Jan's present and all she came up with was a couple of shirts, a couple of DVDs, some books and a gay watch. Still, I can wear the watch and impress my gay friends and at least I didn't get any socks. I've got a big birthday coming up in a couple of weeks so I'll get the pressure on now for something spectacular. (You'll be lucky if you get anything at all - Ed)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

It does what?

I was a miserable day weather wise, a day for settling down in front of the tv and 'veggin out' but not before we went to Sommieres and met up with the usual suspects. Rain, hail or snow you can depend on the Brits to keep a bar going. No lightweight namby pamby French customers here m'lud. Solid, no nonsense, wine and beer swilling party animals. There are those amongst us who struggle to keep things on an even keel (sorry, Peter, but I had to include you in all this) but most of us know our limits.

When we got back, Jan decided to unpack and try out her new toy. Her extremely expensive xmas present from a secret admirer. It was secret santa after all. This Kenwood Chef beast does everything and we spent a happy hour unpacking all the bits and wondering what they did. Deciding to show her gratitude, in the second best way, she insisted that I choose a cake (she never stops trying to kill me) and, not wanting to be ungrateful, I chose a sponge, almond, creamy thing. It was good, very good but frankly much, much cheaper if bought from the shop in Quissac!

Friday, January 04, 2008

And now for something different

Yesterday was spent catching up and this morning I was up with the lark (or rather the owl as I passed one sitting on a fence) to pick up Bryan for a rendez vous in Montpellier.
As we drove back through Sommieres I called into Weldom. They had told me yesterday that the fireplace that I had ordered might arrive next week, when I had expected it to be in by now. Yesterday, we had arrived at the shop five minutes before lunchtime and all the staff were in their starting blocks. I didn't feel that they really cared about my request. They also told me that Bruno, who had originally taken my order, wasn't in that day. I was determined to check out what they had said. This time I found Bruno who confirmed that the fireplace had actually arrived and he arranged delivery. Hmnnnn.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

More mind games

This was going to be a close run thing. After a good nights sleep, we tanked up with diesel and my friend Tom told me that we had a journey of 827 kilometres. I'm sure that I've never had 800 kms out of a tank so it was going to be interesting. I mentioned this to Jan and she flashed me an evil stare, which said a lot. My beloved has the patience of Job (she needs it living with you - Ed) and panders to most of my little idiosyncrasies (surely you mean idiocies? - Ed).

Just north of Reims we saw the sun for the first time in two weeks and I started to think about what we would eat that evening (assuming we made it - just kidding) . A big lunch was probably the best thing to get because Jan would not feel like cooking when (or if) we arrived home. I mentioned this to my beloved who said, "I'll be happy to cook an omelette tonight."
Well, you could have knocked me over. I was thinking about an omelette as well! More and more we think alike. It's amazing how often we think about the same things. With one notable exception!

Well, we did it. We had driven just over 800 kms when we stopped to buy a few essentials just outside of Nimes. I suggested to Jan that we try and finish the last bit without filling up, but she lunged at me with a knife and so I decided not to press the point. I filled up the tank, and was able to calculate that we had just enough petrol left to get us all the way home. Some might call it crazy but I see it as a modern day adventure.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year mind games

I quite enjoy playing little mind games whilst driving. One game, which Jan does not like, is seeing how far I can go without running out of petrol. For the record, the best I have ever achieved was driving the car so dry that I managed to put 78 litres into a 76 litre tank. (Good effort - Ed). I'm not sure that that can be beaten. Anyway, this afternoon we're driving down the motorway and the petrol warning light came on. I had a little brainwave. "I wonder whether I can make it to Laon before I fill up," I said to myself. I know that the light tells me that I've got 10 litres left and that that should give me about 100 kilometres. Laon is only about 85 kilometres away. I passed this thought across the desk of my dearest. She was not amused, and warned me quite clearly that I was the one going for petrol, if we ran out, and that she would not help in any way whatsoever. Hmnnn, a bit over the top, I thought.

Boy, was it scary. I watched the needle drop below the empty level so that there was even a gap between the E and the needle. I started to sweat, this was close, I even slowed down so that I was driving more economically. The last few kilometres were really scary because not only was it a public holiday and I couldn't buy a can even if I could find the fuel but I would also have to face the wrath of Khan. I pushed or rather willed the car on and on. I could swear that the needle was getting bent backwards over the stop. I was really sweating. Had I done the calculations correctly? Did the light go on at the 10 litres mark or was there less in? I started to panic (quietly, because I didn't want to lose dignity in front of my beloved) but it was getting really close. Sweat ran down my back, it was that close. Then I saw it. A petrol station in the distance. But, there was going to be one big disappointment. The automatic (it was a holiday) pump would not let me fill up, so I would never know how close it was. (You're round the bend - Ed) I suppose it's just a boy thing. There was however a light on the horizon. I could fill up tomorrow at another station and go for the big one! See if I could exceed 800 kilometres on a full tank. In theory it was possible but I'd never done it before. I couldn't wait!