Thursday, December 31, 2009

How uncool

Personally, I'd have kept quiet.

Declining standards

If, like me, you are disgusted at the poor standard of education nowadays then you should read this.

New Year Honours

Whilst lying in bed this morning trying to decide whether 'it' was going to be the last one of 2009, or to wait until tomorrow for the first of 2010 (if you get my drift), the television news went on about The Honours List.

They were discussing the various people who had received an honour. Some woman who had built up a lingerie empire and a few lovey actors were awarded OBEs and CBEs. So Jan asked what I thought about it and I let rip.

I think honours if used properly are a 'good thing'. I would scrap all the different minor honours like MBE and CBE etc. and have just one honour. To become a 'Sir' because you are some poncey lovey actor is a nonsense and debases the whole system. Honours should only be given if you do something over and above what is normal to your daily routine and benefits either the country or your local community. Turning up for work for many years, doing something that you are paid for and obviously enjoy, is not for me a reason to be awarded anything.

Mind you, Sir Alexander Hampshire has a nice ring to it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Now I understand

I've never been that bothered about turkey, especially at Christmas. Even though I like turkey, my consistent line has always been let's have something different, like a stir fry or Peking duck. Given that we only ever have turkey once a year I must admit that even I found my attitude a bit puzzling.

This year we had turkey. Jan, a traditionalist, likes turkey and as she's cooking the bloody thing then turkey it is.
But yesterday it all came together.

Lunch at this time of the year usually consists of a warming soup and a sandwich. So I'm sitting there waiting to stuff my face when all became clear.
Jan had made the most enormous pot of turkey soup.

Now don't get me wrong, I like turkey soup. I like all Jan's soups. But seeing the size of this witches cauldron sent a shiver down my spine. I'm going to be eating the stuff for several weeks. That was it. Having to down litres of turkey soup at this time of the year had obviously buried into my subconscious. I linked a turkey meal with weeks of turkey soup!

Bingo, another problem solved, or not.

Anyway, it cheered me up when I read yesterday that one of my heroes, Van Morrison, had had another child at the age of 64. Well done that Van the Man!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Each time I visit the diabetes consultant, he checks my weight using a no lie 'balance' scale and I keep him sweet by keeping my weight under control.

For a some time now I've questioned the accuracy of the bathroom scales I used to measure my weight. They had a tendency to read exactly the same weight week after week (they were probably at their limit - Ed) so I got an elderly set from Ikea working but they never agreed.

So which set was right? At least the weight on the ones from Ikea varied a bit so I trusted them a bit more.

With that in mind it was off to Nimes to get another set yesterday. How posh is that? A three scale bathroom (more like, how anal is that? - Ed) and bingo, today I got two of them to read the same weight. Sorted.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


As seen in the daily mash.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Oh no, not Christmas again.

This made me laugh. Happy Christmas to you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sofa guy

Says it all really.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

At last, a decent ethnic meal

It's very difficult to find decent ethnic food around here. Anything like a curry or Chinese meal is so altered for local French taste that it resembles something that was dished up in England in the 70's.
At long last we've found a place that feels pretty authentic. Well at least authentic to our taste. If you like Japanese food then it's worth visiting Shogun, 38 Bvd Victor Hugo, Nimes, 0466 27 59 88. The lunch menu featured a Bento Box Shogun, which at 17.60 was excellent value. Amongst other things, sushi is included in the box and you also get a choice of either sashimi or tempura. We washed this down with a bottle of La Combe d'Arnon 2008, made by Saunier and Sanchez in 30210 Carriéres. I need a nice white for New Year's Eve so we'll be popping over there soon.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's all Bing Crosby's fault

There I was listening to the BBC news about problems with the cold and snow in northern France and trains getting stuck in the channel tunnel, when they moved to a similar piece about snow problems in England. That made me think about my mother and how she would slavishly try to get to church this morning despite all the warnings about making unnecessary journeys.
Anyway, the weatherman then mentioned a white Christmas. A white bloody Christmas! England gets six inches of snow and comes to a grinding halt. Who the hell wants a white Christmas? What is this continual fetish about wanting a white Christmas.
It was alright for Bing Crosby sitting in his centrally heated studio warbling on about some mythical, fairy tale snow covered setting. What about the reality. I blame Bing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Pogues again.

After my previous post I happened to read this. Then, back in the Christmas spirit, this.

Christmas greetings

Reading this today reminded me that I need to send you a Christmas greeting. So here it is, my very favourite Christmas song.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Idle hands

I was lost this morning. As part of a planned outage (they're burying the overhead cables in the village) we had no electricity for three hours this morning. I didn't know what to do with myself.

When I get bored I usually read the news on-line or some such but this morning I've even had to write this rubbish by hand. How uncool is that? I don't normally do retro!

It's funny how much you depend on electricity and how much you miss it when it's not there. Whilst my beloved finds lots of things to do (they're funny like that aren't they boys?), she's not very sympathetic when I sit and whinge!

One day, I'll find lots of things to do, but easy does it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grandma Moses

Funny how these things work out.

All of a sudden I'm a pimp. Or, to be more precise, the agent for an artist.
For several years now Jan has dabbled in art. She religiously attends an art class each Monday and, without doubt, she has improved. She still needs to remember that a face has only two eyes, but that never caused Picasso any problems did it?

Anyway, we're at the BritNimes Christmas lunch today and, along with others, she agreed to bring some paintings to exhibit.

Well, blow me down, but an orthopaedic surgeon from Nimes offered to buy one of her paintings. He liked it so much he wanted it for his consulting rooms. If he'd worked at a lunatic asylum then I'd have understood, but no, this was an intelligent bone doctor.

From now on all communication with Jan has to be through me, I handle all her PR and I'm even thinking of offering my services to Tiger Woods. But then, what does he know about painting?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Now there's a thought

This news item caught my eye. Basically the government will give you money if you trade in your old boiler.

Now all I have to do is persuade Jan!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I see that Tiger Woods' wife has been installed as the favourite to top the USPGA money list next year.

France Telecom - Orange

From time to time I rant on about about poor service and French bureaucracy, well let me tell you about my latest personal experience. This one concerns France Telecom or their subsidiary Orange to be more precise.

Earlier this year I had offered to help a friend install broadband at his house. On 23rd September he received a letter confirming his request together with the contracts which were duly signed and returned. Shortly after this he received his Livebox (modem router) with detailed instructions regarding installation. However I couldn't install it because I needed the installation user-name and password. Remember that this was at the end of September.

I then allowed a few weeks for their technicians to do their bits at the local exchange and then rang them up to find out what had happened to the final bits of information, allowing me to connect the Livebox to the Internet.

Despite their earlier written assurances that all this would be completed within four weeks I started a regular phone schedule to chase them up. Each time the person I spoke to was helpful and even slowed down so that I could comprehend the technical jargon a bit more easily.

Whilst Jan would probably disagree, I have a pretty long fuse. When dealing with large incompetent organisations my tactic has always been to be pleasant but persistent, record all conversations and generally give them the rope to hang themselves. Remember, they are toiling under the strain of a 35 hour work week!

The information that I needed was supposed to be contained in the written confirmation that the contract had been accepted and what I needed to do to get on-line. Presumably just standard procedure. Bear in mind that we are now into December, after several weeks promising that they would send me this information by post and that it couldn't come any other way. It was yesterday, two and a half months after the contract had been returned, that I finally managed to get hold of someone who gave me the information over the phone.

What a shambles. What gross incompetence. What a way to run a business.

Ah well, at least it's sunny outside!

Having said that, what happens when the sun stops shining?

Monday, December 07, 2009

A sad travel tale

A cruise in the South Pacific goes all wrong, the ship sinks and there are only three survivors; Jim, Tom and Susie.

They managed to swim to a small island and lived there for a few years doing what’s natural for men and women to do.

After several years of casual sex, Susie started to feel terrible about what she was doing. She felt that having sex with both Jim and Tom was immoral and she felt so bad that she killed herself.

Jim and Tom were distraught but, very slowly, came to terms with her death.

After a while resistance to nature’s urges waned and the inevitable happened.

After a couple of years Jim and Tom also started to feel bad about what they were doing, so you know what they did?

They buried Susie!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Think twice about living in France

The most negative aspect of living in France, for me, is the sheer ignorance, bloody mindedness and stupidity of its drivers. When we first arrived, it was vaguely amusing. Ah, the French, we used to say. Aren't they silly?

Well now that general amusement has worn just a tad thin. Take today. Today was bad, very bad.

We were on our way to an appointment in Nimes when we found a lorry completely blocking a very narrow road. At the most convenience to themselves, they were using the lorry to dig a hole at the side of the road. Bugger the rest of you we don't use shovels any more (how else could they get their job done in a 35 hour work week?) It was too narrow to turn around so it meant a significant journey in reverse to find an alternative route. No sorry or apologies from the workmen, just the usual shrug of the shoulders. Bastards.

Incident number two occurred outside the main entrance to the hospital in Nimes. This is a drop only zone. The driver of a car (ambulance taxi) left the vehicle and went into the hospital. Ten minutes later he was nowhere to be seen completely blocking the road and with no chance of getting past him. In the end several of us had to reverse a considerable distance down a narrow one way drive to retrace our steps and leave the way we had come in. The inconsiderate bastard.

The third and most dangerous incident was as we turned left onto a major road only to be nearly wiped out by some idiot overtaking on a blind bend. The stupid bastard.

On the drive back home I was in the mood to kill the next stupid, inconsiderate French bastard that I came across. Fucking ignorant pigs.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Time on your hands?

If you fancy a bit of fun try this. Post your name in the box and see what anagram comes up. My mother's is - sharp mad whine!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The latest blockbuster film

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Hydrant.

Thanks to Kevin for this.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Can't find your book?

Thanks to Robin for this.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Patience - French style

After yesterday's rant about French bureaucracy, how about this one. As a result of a nationwide upgrade, last February my mate Bryan was asked to return his Carte Vitale (medical card) in exchange for one with his photograph on it.

The other week we both went into CPAM in Nimes to see if it had been lost (the usual excuse with French bureaucracy). The receptionist checked the details, identified where the problem was and just shrugged her shoulders (French style) and said that there was nothing that could be done. It was just a question of waiting.

He has just received the replacement, nine months and two days later. With twenty five percent of the working population working for the state, it beggars belief.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

How to waste your time

Well, that was a complete waste of time. I finally got round to going for my pig flu vaccination yesterday.
I arrived in St Hippo (Tom Tom didn't recognise the address), so I stopped in a car park and asked someone for directions. I felt a right chump when she said, 'Your standing right next to the building.'
Inside the queue was enormous. I waited 30 minutes and calculated that it was going to take at least another hour. There wasn't any polite queueing (this is after all France), mainly because it comprised of mums with little ones and pregnant women who all wanted/needed to get on with their lives. What a shambles.
St Hippolyte du Fort is about a 25 minutes drive north of us and this centre obviously covers quite a wide area. But get this, it was only open two afternoons a week, so it was a complete fluke that I turned up when it was open, and there was I thinking that it would be open round the clock. I left in disgust and will try again tomorrow but this time with a flask and sandwiches. What a shambles.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A pimp? Not me officer

I feel like a pimp. I took a phone call this afternoon from a chap who had got our number from our vet. He said that he was looking for a Beauceron male to mate with his female. He had been told by the vet that Max was a particularly good Beauceron and he should call us.
Looks like you might be on for a shag Max. Lucky sod!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Have a little fun

The other day, Jan and I went into town for a little shopping. We were only in there for about five minutes and when we came out there was a policeman writing a ticket. I went up to him and said, 'Monsieur how about given a man a break?'

He ignored me and continued writing the ticket, so I called him a Nazi turd. He glared at me and then wrote another ticket for the part worn tyres.

Jan then went up to him and, unlike her, called him a shit in uniform. After he finished the second ticket he wrote a third and so it went on for about 15 minutes. The more we abused him, the more tickets he wrote.

Having said that we didn't really care. We'd gone into town by bus.

We feel that as you get older you have to have a little fun each day! It's important at our age.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

You look a bit peaky

I knew that I was ill. I received my Bon de Vaccination Contre La Grippe A/H1N1 today. Jan, who I'm sure thinks she will die before me, didn't get one. They obviously see me as a special case (no comment - Ed). I'm going to take a copy and waive it in front of her whenever I need a bit more care and attention (which is most of the time - Ed). You don't actually get one injection I've received a 'bon' for two. Suppose I'll find out more when I go. No appointment necessary, just turn up somewhere in St Hippolyte du Fort which is about 20 minutes away, and get done. I've decided I'm feeling a bit peaky, so I might go tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vive La France

Read this. Some might say, liberté, égalité, fraternité, stupidité. But that would be cruel.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A big red one

That was a strange afternoon. I was sitting in the study fiddling on the PC when I heard a loud noise coming from the other side of the house and it sounded like something heavy was being dragged across the kitchen terrace. My immediate thought was that Minnie was playing and causing a bit of destruction.
I sent my trusty servant to investigate and she reported that the noise was coming from the dining room and that the wall lights had gone out. I ambled along to check it out and, as I went down to the fuse board to check what state it was in, the fire alarms all went off.
We could then smell burning and a quick check of the lights showed that one of them was on fire. Flames were licking up the wall and molten plastic had dropped onto the cupboard below and was burning merrily. How strange! My first thought was '
I knew I should have bought that fire extinguisher.'
Anyway I managed to put the fire out and I didn't once mention the fire extinguisher that we hadn't bought. But I am now!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Forgive me if you've already read them, but I've just finished reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. It's one of a trio of books that he wrote before he died and I've just started the second. With an unusual hero and heroine it was a thrilling book of the type that you do not want to put down. Recommended.

Roses from Bob

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ireland vs France

The match between Ireland and France this weekend looks promising. Trapatonni, the Irish manager, is taking it very seriously if you believe this. Having said that, (thanks to Dianne) it looks like a good dose of Irish humour will wind them up even more. This will make you laugh.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tough love

Every time I drop Jan outside the hospital entrance at Caremeau in Nimes, currently three times a week, I'm greeted by the sight of sick looking patients, quite often in wheelchairs, attached to medical equipment and smoking. WTF is going on? The other day there was this guy, ashen faced and bent double, wired up to an array of stuff accepting a light from a fellow patient. He didn't look as if he would last the day. It made me feel quite angry.
As an ex smoker, I feel somewhat hypocritical making this comment (no change there then - Ed) but it occurs to me that maybe it should occur to them that they're not really helping the situation. You have lots of resources being pumped into their well being but they couldn't give a stuff.
It raises the question should they be treated at all if they're not prepared to help. What could or should anybody do? What does common sense dictate? A contract would seem to make sense to me. A contract along the lines of, 'We will do this if you will do that.' I know it's easy said.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Byetta (again)

Since I started using Byetta in March this year, I've now lost 14.5 kilos (32 pounds). Since this equates to a bag of the dog food that we buy, and I know how heavy that feels, that's one hell of a lot of fat. It's difficult to imagine that you can carry so much excess weight. I was obviously kidding myself about the amount of food that I was eating. It's all a bit scary.
Anyway, talking about food, when we were in Italy recently, Jan took a shine to some beautiful looking small, red, bell, chilli peppers (about golf ball size) in the market and made some enquiries as to what to do with them.
'You stuff them,' said Pia, who, understandably, knows a lot about Italian cooking. We were led to believe that they might be 'sweet,' so Jan insisted that I bring a load back on my last trip.
When Pia started to make enquiries of her friend Lena, who also knows about these things, Lena's husband was dispatched to buy a kilo, a handwritten recipe was delivered along with several jars for our tasting delight. Trust me, they're not 'sweet' they're hot! Bryan and I demolished them. Excellent.
Over the last few days Jan has been cooking her peppers and stuffing them with a tuna mix before keeping them under oil, in a jar. Whilst all that was going on she also found a recipe for these chillies in Jamie's Dinners. It's not the same as the recipe that I brought back, the stuffing is different, but it looks interesting anyway. Here it is (minus roquet and parsley in the ingredients list). I've not tasted them yet so I'll let you know.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

An old cowboy

An old cowboy sat down at Starbucks and ordered a cup of coffee.
As he sat sipping his coffee, a young woman sat down next to him.

She turned to the cowboy and asked, 'Are you a real cowboy?'

He replied, 'Well, I've spent my whole life breaking colts, working cows, going to rodeos, fixing fences, pulling calves, bailing hay, doctoring calves, cleaning my barn, fixing flats, working on tractors, and feeding my dogs, so I guess I am a cowboy.'

The young woman said, 'I'm a lesbian. I spend my whole day thinking about naked women. As soon as I get up in the morning, I think about naked women. When I shower, I think about naked women. When I watch TV, I think about naked women. It seems everything makes me think of naked women.'

The two sat sipping in silence.

A little while later, a man sat down on the other side of the old cowboy and asked, 'Are you a real cowboy?'
He replied, 'I always thought I was, but I just found out I'm a lesbian.'

You've won how much?

Now far be it for me to be ungrateful, but given that two people won 50 million euros each last night, on the EuroMillions lottery, my 1 euro prize feels a bit shabby.
How will I spend my euro? Err, now let me think? I must admit that I'd rather have the problem of spending that little bit more. But that then raises another question. What would you actually do with a big win? I doubt that I'll ever find out (and yes, I am tempting fate), but the chance to ponder would be nice.
As a disgruntled punter it occurs to me that it would be better and a bit more equitable to make ninety people happy with a million each rather than dumbfound two people with 50 million a piece.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Kind deeds

A long time ago, the mechanism on the car glove box failed and we had to break the handle in order to open it. Eventually I managed to find replacement bits on the internet, had it delivered to my mother in England and picked it up when I was over there recently. When I got home I stupidly replaced the mangled handle but not the inner workings. Needless to say it jammed again. What an idiot (no comment - Ed). I was right back to square one.
Today I bit the bullet and took the car into our local VW dealer in Nimes and asked the workshop receptionist if there was any way of breaking in without breaking the handle. He said, no. Bugger.
Anyway, he was generally fiddling with it and he got it open and without murmur set too and replaced the broken innards with the new. He wouldn't take a penny, just my heartfelt thanks. See, there are good people in this world.
This isn't the first time that this garage has displayed exemplary service and I heartily recommend them to anyone around the Nimes area.


Pinga - treat with caution.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

This really works

Thanks to Will for this excellent tip.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sitting there

Last night I'm sitting there bored out of my mind, waiting for the plane to touch down, when it occurred to me that flight attendants must lead a very boring life. It was dark and I was looking forward to getting home and asked the young flight attendant, 'was she finished for the day?' 'No' she said, 'we've got to go to Bristol and back yet.'

This morning I'm sitting in the waiting room, for my turn to have a blood test. In comes a woman with a large container in a semi transparent plastic bag. The container must have held several litres and what nearly made me fall off my chair was it was full of urine. She must have been collecting for weeks!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Leave my plate alone

Back in Harrogate for a couple of days but I've had problems getting the puter to access the web and then when I got that sorted it wouldn't contact blogger - bugger. Returning home this afternoon via Girona. I wasn't the biggest fan of sitting around in airports and planes in my previous life and that hasn't changed much so I'm not looking forward to the journey. Add to that it's blowing a gale and raining heavily which probably means we're in for an uncomfortable flight. Still, after this the travelling is over for a while.

Friday night we had a nice Thai meal at the Thai Elephant on Cheltenham Parade and last night we tried an Italian restaurant called Vivido also near Cheltenham Parade. Vivido was a slightly strange experience, given what I'm used to now. They served large portions of good quality, well cooked and tasty food, non of your nouvelle cuisine here mes braves. The size of each plate was a surprise and then there wasn't much lingering over the meal because as soon as you'd finished, whether or not the other had, the plate was cleared. As mum is a slow eater and I'm at the other end of the scale there was a lot of sitting around to do. I know that this might sound a bit strange, but there were too many waiting staff who were all a bit too eager to please. It wasn't very relaxing. Still the food was very good and I recommend both.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

And what's your name young lady?

This adds a whole new meaning to The Horn of Africa.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I'm coming home baby

The major part of today will involve getting back to France with 20 kilos more stuff than we arrived with. Au revoir.

Memory lane

As hard as it is to think about it, mum may never visit Foggia again. She gets no younger and has a worsening mobility problem, so perhaps subconsciously it seemed perfectly natural that she wanted to visit the grave of her mother, father and brother. The second of November (All Souls) is when one would normally visit a grave and, as we leave tomorrow, a visit to the cemetery it was.

Italian cemeteries are wondrous places, so different to anything that I’m used to. Rather than burial in the ground, it’s normal for common folk to be interred in the walls of an above ground building. The walls are over two meters thick and the coffin is pushed in feet first.

The not so common have their own above ground mausoleums, some of which are obviously architect designed and very attractive.

The cemetery at Foggia is huge and my uncle Nino is interred at one of the furthest points from the main entrance. It was a struggle for mum to get there. It’s so big that they have built a road around it to make access to the furthest points easier. The need for space is further exacerbated because, as far as I can see, there is no cremation.

Anyway, as I write, mum and Pia are in the kitchen loading up with food for tomorrow’s journey. Vegetables, meat and lots of fruit, most of which I know will have to be dumped, are being loaded into yet another bag. I’ll bite my tongue right now and fight with mum later. We have already exceeded our weight allowance.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Don Carlo Gnocchi

Mum was in seventh heaven this morning (excuse the pun). She and Pia were watching a combined live broadcast from Milan cathedral and the Vatican (with you know who) concerning the beatification of one Don Carlo Gnocchi. It’s well documented that this priest did lots of good works with disadvantage and disabled children, so good for him. However, the poor guy’s glass coffin was sitting outside on the steps of Milan cathedral whilst lots of prayers were said, and hymns sung around him, in front of a cast of thousands.

I’m a failed Catholic. To be honest, I’m an atheist, but I was brought up with all this ritual and I now watch with nothing more than morbid curiosity. We all have the right to worship our god and I would never comment. Each to his own I say. Still, mes amis, putting a stiff on display to be gawped at by one and all is a bit rich.

Having said that, he’s now Saint Don Carlo Gnocchi. He sounds like someone out of The Godfather. What a great name. Cool.
I’m going to be called Saint Alex of ‘Arrogate (Given that saints are normally deceased, you get my vote now – Ed).

When will I ever learn?

I should have known better. Soldiers get decorated for less. I must have been bad in a previous life.

My mother wanted to buy 'a couple of things', so, with encouragement from Pia, I agreed to drive her to the shops. My mother has never bought a 'couple of things' in her life. She doesn't know what a 'couple of things look like'. She shops and time stands still for her. She enters an alternate universe devoid of common sense, devoid of any feelings for anybody else, devoid of time.

I have to say that I was very scarred when I was young. Scarred by agreeing to take her by car into Harrogate, parking on a double yellow line with a definite promise that she only had a 'couple of things' to get and that she'd only be twenty minutes. It was the early days of traffic wardens and there weren't many about, so I decided that I would take a chance and stay with the car. What a fool. What a poor innocent fool.

Three hours later (YES -THREE HOURS LATER) I'm still sitting there expecting her to return any minute and not knowing if she's forgotten and gone home. Words can't explain how angry I was, so when you put the words 'shops' and 'mum' in the same sentence, I so don't want to know.

Anyway, we arrived back with her complaining to Pia (who seemed to find it all very amusing) that I'd only allowed her two hours to buy 'a few things'. She has no idea how lucky she is. Where's the medal?

I need a shot

I love my coffee. I love a shot of caffeine. It has to be short and very sweet. I have fond memories of visiting bars with my uncle Nino, mum’s brother, when I was younger and slugging a mid morning shot in Sotto Zero. Ah, those were the days.

Anyway, sitting in the saloto, trying to get an internet connection with my new fangled Italian dongle from TIM (there’s a joke there somewhere), I fancy a shot.

‘Zia, mi fa un cafe?', I said to Pia. See, it's easy to understand and gramatically correct. She then goes over to her all singing and dancing coffee machine (it grinds the beans, boils the water etc. etc.) They are not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination but this machine costs in the region of 600 euros. They take drinking coffee very seriously here, and, before I die, I’m going to get one.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The rules

There is a benefit to being me (hmmm – not sure about that one – Ed).
I suspect that I’m the male head of the family. Dino, Pia’s lovely husband, is obviously older than me but he’s a Forgione. I believe that I’m the eldest male of the ‘famiglia Zarra.’
I’ve got a cousin Antonio, a big shot cardiologist, who is persona non grata around here, who's a lot younger than me, and I’ve got no intention of rocking the boat in case someone else qualifies. Lil’ ‘ol schmuck me has finally made it. It’s all very cool and particularly so because everyone panders to me. It doesn’t matter who’s sitting at the table, male, female, guest, family, I get served first. I get the biggest portion. My advice is sought about the quantity and quality of the dish.
This doesn’t sit well with Jan, but I encourage her to get used to it and I'm sure that with practice she will. Being a modest sort of chap I usually wait a couple of seconds for someone else to get served before I tuck in, but hey, I hate cold food.


Get me outta here. Last time I was in Foggia (week or so ago) I put on three kilos.

We’ve just had a five kilo Sunday lunch, comprising, orecchiette (my favourite pasta) with a tomato sauce, torchellino (rolled and stuffed pork belly), fresh ricotta, percoche (a late harvest hard peach from Puglia, the sort they put in tins, great when dunked in red wine), cake, chestnuts and amaro, an Italian digestivo. Burp, excellent.

Nothing changes, cos I have a row with my mother. She tries to correct my Italian at every opportunity. I shouted at her because everyone (including her) understands what I’m saying. ‘Mum, at my age I have absolutely no intention of learning the grammar. Leave me alone. Stop correcting me. Why can’t you understand that?’
‘Most people would relish the opportunity to have their grammar corrected’, she shouted back at me in vain. It didn't help that I burst out laughing at that.

To shut her up I changed the subject. I mentioned that knowing that there was no way she’d leave Italy without taking back lots of goodies; I’d brought an empty suitcase with me. See what a bloody caring son and angel I am?

What a mistake. What a huge mistake. The conversation then switches to transporting jars of vegetables, liqueurs and anything weighing nothing less than two kilos. I try to calm everyone down and point out that it only takes seven items at two kilos each to blow the weight allowance. Pia, ever the pragmatist then insists that I pop to Ipercoop to buy lots of plastic bags and bubble wrap. Sorted, but a close shave nonetheless. Why don't I just learn to keep my mouth shut?

It had to be said.

I've had sex with few myself.

Lotsa noise

I've got a headache, so thank goodness there's only one television on. I'm lying on a put-up bed in the study, the room next to the kitchen and I didn't sleep very well. The noise from next door is horrendous. I can clearly hear every word being said on the television and my aunt Pia has decided to reorganise all her pots and pans. To me it sounds like she is throwing stuff at the walls. It sounds like she's trying to drown out the television. I have got to get up.

Italian television is great. It's so bad, it's brilliant. It's 08.30 and the morning breakfast programme is blaring away. I've only been here a few hours and every programme that I've seen involves very beautiful, some would say stunning, young women standing around, looking gorgeous but doing nothing. Where do they find them all? On last night's programme there were six of them, all absolutely gorgeous, who traipsed on carrying keys (don't ask) and, sitting to one side, was a man whose dress and demeanor said that he was gay. He seemed to be an important guest and frankly I have no idea why he was there. Anyway, as the girls slithered onto the set the host turned to him and said, 'aren't they gorgeous'? As if this wasn't funny enough the look on the gay man's face was a picture. He looked ever so slightly confused and not sure what to say. Eventually he said, 'yes, the dresses are beautiful.' The host turned to him and said, 'is that all you can say?' I nearly fell off my chair laughing.

Back to this morning's programme, a sort of Italian breakfast news, there's this stunning young woman talking about whatever and I can't take my eyes off her. Pia notices this and said, 'she's beautiful, isn't she. She's this year's Miss Italy. And, she's intelligent as well!'

Anyway, I need peace and quiet. I must admit to being a bit noise sensitive so off I go to sit in another room where I can sit quietly and type this rubbish. Bearing in mind that it's early Sunday morning when, what happens? Some idiot upstairs starts drilling with a bloody jack hammer into the concrete floor above.

The Gregorian chant coming from the television in the kitchen was beginning to sound very inviting.

Don't you just love 'em

It's only on flights to Italy that I come across loud cheering and clapping as the plane touches down. The relief is palpable. We have absolutely no right to be in the bloody sky and it's a miracle that we landed safely. Crazy people.

My aunt's house is full of elderly people (that includes you boyo - Ed). Italians make a lot of noise. Italians who are hard of hearing make even more noise. There are three televisions all in different rooms but all in close proximity. Each television is blaring out a different programme. By blaring I mean bloody loud. Loud enough that when a phone rang on a programme in the next room everybody dived for the phone and confusion reigned because there was nobody on the line.

It had been a long journey and I was tired. I just wanted to get to bed but, despite it all, I found it very, very funny.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Get your reward later

I can't say that I'm looking forward to the rest of the day. Not that I'm looking for sympathy or anything (oh yes you are - Ed) but I leave home just after lunch then I have a three hour drive to Girona, a two hour wait at the airport, a one and a half hour flight and then a two and a half hour drive to Foggia. It wouldn't be so bad if I was going on a holiday but it's in order to bring my mother back from Italy to France. The return journey to be completed two days later. This is not my idea of fun. I don't subscribe to the notion of getting your rewards later.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Robin has reminded me that if a woman really wants to get noticed she needs to consider how well she applies her eye makeup. There are no shortcuts.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Makes you think

This is an interesting article.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

You're how old?

What's the point of having a 50 years old body, when you get to 100, when you can't remember what to do with it?

It's how much?

As if sensing my latest culinary theme and knowing my love of Italian food, Will sent me this menu. It's from a restaurant in Florence.

In the days when men were men and, more to the point, our expense accounts were very generous then I might have been tempted. But €90 for a bloody poached egg. You gotta be a joking!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spot on

Staying on a motorway service area theme, I spotted this in Italy. The perfect name for a place to buy sandwiches!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I want hot chips

Both Italian and French motorway services work with a strange kind of morality. Outside both of them you find lots of people slowly killing themselves, smoking. Inside either of them you can drink yourself silly and then leave the service area and kill both yourself and others on the motorway. You figure it out.

But that's where the similarity ends. The Italian services are much much better. The travelling public expect and get a higher standard. The restaurants serve a choice of reasonable food and, if all you want is a shot of caffeine, you will get excellent freshly made coffee.

Driving back from Girona last night we needed something to eat so we stopped at the Narbonne Vinassan service area restaurant. It was was 20.00 and it was fairly busy as you'd expect at that hour. To cut a long story short, the food was abysmal. It was cold and of generally poor quality and the coffee was from a machine. I know, I know what do I expect from a service area? Well, I expect more. These places need a good kicking. From my limited experience, English service stations have generally improved so why not the French?

Change the world

Well done chaps, that'll make a real fucking difference.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Memory lane - again

What an interesting morning! We leave for home tomorrow (but I'll be back in a week) and we’d both wanted to take a quick trip to Siponto. This is real memory lane stuff for me because my mother brought me here from age 1, and, as Pia likes nothing more than for us than to get out from under her feet, as she cleans the house for the first time that day, we headed out.

Our first stop was the 12th century church (above) just outside Siponto or to give it its full name Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore. The custodian was very helpful and informative and even opened up the crypt for us. The crypt, which is not normally open (he must have felt the tip coming on), is actually a 5th century church upon which the present church was built. The excavation next door is the remains of a 4th century paleochristian/pagan church which was destroyed in an earthquake. It was all very, very interesting.

On the way into Siponto (deserted beach above) I’d also noticed a sign directing you to a farm where they make mozzarella. I love good mozzarella. Not just any mozzarella but ‘mozzarella di bufala’. I have a longstanding joke with Dino that in all the years that I’ve been visiting Italy I have never ever seen any buffalo. I even suspected that it was yet another Italian scam where they buy milk from somewhere else and then pretend it’s from buffalo and then sell it as authentic. Well, let me tell you mes amis that I’ve seen the light. Or,to be more precise, I’ve seen the buffalo. I’d heard that they made mozzarella locally and we had the time to explore. So explore we did.

A few miles down a narrow track, in the middle of nowhere, and full of local Italians buying the stuff, we found the farm and right next to it were many, many buffalo. I’d finally found them. The search was over.

Needless to say the provenance of this wonderful speciality, the freshest possible, had to be found. Caseificio dei Pini, viale dei Pini, Podere no 3, Siponto-Manfredonia, Puglia, 0884 541799 is the name of the farm. There was a shop on site next to the cheese making bit where they sold another, rarer, speciality, ricotta di bufala (even Pia had never heard of it). We love fresh ricotta, there’s nothing like it, it’s very special so we were in seventh heaven. Excellent and very highly recommended, assuming of course that you like the stuff.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In a hole

Conversations with my mother are never boring.

We’re sitting outside finishing lunch on a beautiful, sunny Girona day. The plane doesn’t leave until 18.15 so we have time for a leisurely lunch.

I flew to Leeds on Sunday to pick her up, escort her on the journey to Italy and generally ensure that she reduces the weight in her luggage from 30 Kilos to 15. She’s Italian and considers the rules about weight allowance as advisory rather than compulsory. A bit like Italian drivers at red traffic lights.

Anyway, I’m sipping my coffee when mum said, “Don’t do that, it looks horrible.”

I have to look around because she can’t possibly be talking to me.

Wrong. She is looking at me.

“What are you talking about?” I said.

“That thing with your hand,” she said.

My offence? I’m in the habit of holding my hand level, palm down, under my chin to avoid spills when I drink coffee.

“What wrong with that?” I said, “in fact what’s it got to do with you?”

“I’m your mother (as if that's the answer to everything), and it makes you look like that man,” she said.

Intrigued, I said “Which man?”

“You know, him. The American.”

That’s narrowed it down a bit I think to myself. One in 125 million are much better odds.

“Er mum, which American?”

“You know, that one in the ground.”

“Mum, please, what are you talking about?”

Mum, talking to me as if I’m stupid, “That one, the one they found in a hole in the ground.”

Jan and I looked at each other, looking for inspiration.

“He had a beard,” she said.

The clues don’t really help. I started to get exasperated, I’ve got better things to do with my life and stupid conversations is definitely not one of them.

“They found him hiding, you know. I know you know,” she said.

Jan and I look at each other, looking for some help.

It finally dawns on me. Do you mean Saddam?

“Yes that’s him. Hussein, Saddam Hussein.”

Jan fell about laughing.

I said, “Mum, he’s not American.”

“You’re just being awkward,” she said.

“Let me get this right mum,” I said, “because I hold my hand under my chin when I’m drinking coffee I look like Saddam Hussein?”

My mother looked at me as if I’m an imbecile.

“Yes, you must have seen him do it? It looks horrible.”

“Mum, I’ve seen quite a bit of him on television, mostly strutting about and dispensing goodwill, but frankly I’ve never seen him do that.
What's worse, I find myself apologising.

Jan can hardly contain herself, she’s screaming with laughter. Saddam is one of the few things she’s never called me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bloody cold

Grief it's cold. We left mum's house in Harrogate just before 07.00 this morning and blow me but the ice warning light came on in the car. It was 3C. Being an idiot I'd only packed Hawaiian shirts and flip flops. I don't think I looked stupid? (No more than usual sunshine - Ed)
At least when we get to Girona it will be all toasty warm. It's only October and it's bloody freezing in England, so stop moaning back there at home!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hello big boy

I hate to be late. I’m lying there dozing, watching the hours tick by and finally I give in and decide to get up and get going. Better to spend time on the motorway making progress than lying, stewing in my pit. OK, so it’s not yet 04.00 but I want to be away at 05.00 so it’s onwards and upwards.

As you would expect, the trip to Girona is very easy. Turn on cruise control, point, and go. It’s pitch black, it’s Sunday, so no lorries, and hardly any cars. A really boring journey and I struggle to stay awake. Still, the CD choice is good and I manage to stay on the road by listening to such uplifting lyrics as ‘doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo.’ Those guys must be laughing their heads off as they count their money.

Normally Jan would chat and keep me awake, but she’s not driving down to meet us until tomorrow, so my mind wanders through my early life as Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder and even Manfred Mann remind me of times when men were men and life was good.

Security at the airport was easy, no queues and bored but friendly staff. After passing through the metal detector, a guard, thinking that I must be pleased to see him, pointed at a big lump in my pocket and, with a knowing smile, asked me what it was. It was nothing more than my plastic spectacle case. He looked a little disappointed but it’s good to know that they're alert and check you over thoroughly.