Tuesday, 30 December 2008

New year -new layout

I have been experimenting with a new layout as I think a year of looking at the same colour scheme is more than enough! I will be playing around over the next week or two until I find something that I like.

Shopping

Ian and I managed one visit to the sales which as usual were a great disappointment. We sat in traffic for 20 minutes and then Ian wandered round Maplins, Comet and PC world while I looked in Next, Marks and Spenser and Debenhams. There were no bargains and nothing worth buying that we needed but we did notice that the new stock in the stores seemed much more expensive; probably a result of the abysmal value of the pound which is now virtually the same as the Euro.

I bought a pair of shoes, Ian bought a tee-shirt and that was about it!

Monday, 29 December 2008

Journeys

Yesterday morning at 7.00 we were in the Alps, looking up at the clear sky as the sun slowly came up, trying desperately to de-ice the inside of the car windows and pack our things.

The mountain air is challenging. It bites into your lungs, sears your skin, turns your hair and nails dry and brittle but if you can survive it you feel the benefits to your system over time, so despite the fact that I have ached, fallen over, bruised myself and generally felt exhausted I feel calmer, less stressed and now, after a week, much fitter. Interestingly my normal joint pains have almost disappeared.

We drove down the mountain in the dawn and by 11.30 we were passed Dijon and heading up towards Calais and England. We got back to London at 9.30 pm UK time and I felt a strange sense of unreality. How could we be in the Alps in the morning and then back in the city a few hours later? I felt quite unsettled! I have had this experience before when travelling and was telling a colleague who said it is when your spiritual self and your physical self have not quite caught up with each other.

Meanwhile, our physical selves were subjected to a dreadful lunch in a French motorway service station. As we were not in a hurry we decided to join the French in their exodus off the motorway in search of lunch. If I was ever under the illusion that the French were fussy about food and that all French food was better than English food it was well and truly put to rest yesterday. The queues were long, the food cold and oily and I ended up taking it back. The second attempt was not much better! We vowed never to do this again no matter how hungry we were!

To replenish our spiritual selves on the journey Ian tried to find an open D.I.Y. shop. However, as it was a Sunday they were all closed, so we stopped off in Reims and visited the Cathedral!

Getting in the last run

For the last couple of days away the weather turned a little colder and we were back to wearing layers of thermals, although the sun still shone brightly all the time. As usual, by the final day I was feeling less sore, fitter and finally could remember the point of skiing and how to do it (except this is what always happens and then when I return a couple of years later I have to start from the beginning again!). I wanted to get the most out of the final day but as I am not at my best in the morning and I also offered to walk the dog before going, I didn't get on to my skis until just before lunch time. The days are short this time of year and by 4.30 the sun sets fast and the temperature drops quickly. I took these pictures while I was waiting for Ian to finish (as he went off to do some more difficult things..)






I rather liked this tree as it got covered in a layer of ice over night which refused to melt all day, even though it was exposed to the sun.








This is the view looking up one of the main slopes at the end of the day, with everyone rushing to do their final run of the day!

The final picture is the view down the valley into the setting sun, from where I was drinking my hot chocolate!





Friday, 26 December 2008

The end of the turkeys

The turkeys were cooked and eaten yesterday and they tasted pretty good. No sign of food poisoning yet! Christmas day was spent opening presents and then we went for a leisurely ski (although for me even a gentle ski leaves me feeling knackered!). In the evening we had a few flakes (flocons) of snow to accompany our Christmas dinner. The only down side is that my coccyx is still bruised after falling off the chair lift the other day making sitting down a bit uncomfortable.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve and here in the Alps there is brilliant sunshine and blue skies again. As predicted I was as stiff as a board today and even getting out of bed hurt, so I didn't do too much. Ian and the others went off to do some high tech skiing and I settled for a couple of runs on my own just to get moving. The best bit was that I managed two conversations on the chairlift in French. The first was with a man from Paris who has a small studio here and visits regularly; the second was with a ski instructor who told me that he was in London two years ago when Le Grand Depart came to London. He was Paul Sherwin's (ITV4 commentator) driver from the London to Canterbury stage so as we were marshaling on Westminster Bridge he would have driven by! I sometimes think that everyone that I talk to in France has something to do with the Tour. The other topic of conversation that all the French people seem to enjoy talking about with the English is the value off the pound against the euro. As my instructor yesterday said 'welcome to the real world!' I think that there is a feeling that we have had it quite easy for many years!

We all met for a late lunch and I returned back to chalet after while the others went off more skiing.

This is the view from the balcony this evening....

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Another day on the slope

Another lovely sunny day; almost like spring skiing. Coming off a chairlift this morning I locked my skis around Ian's and fell on my bottom, so now sitting down is rather uncomfortable and I think that tomorrow I will be rather sore! (After that with any luck my stiffness will subside to be replaced with a more supple and lithe body!). My lesson was good and I managed to go down a red run for the first time, only falling when I was standing still! My instructor could not explain why that had happened after I had come down a steep slope! (In the summer he is a keen cyclist and he cycled up the Col de la Columbiere in 31 minutes. Ian took 50 minutes and I took 2 hours!)

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, which is more of a celebration in France than the 25th. We hope to watch the 'decente en flambeau' tomorrow evening, when all the ski instructors ski down from the top of the mountain with lighted torches.

My nephew is doing an ice sculpture outside for his art project and we are awaiting dinner!

Sun and snow (and falling over at 50)

The first day of skiing passed without too many serious consequences! The snow is good and sun and mild temperatures are forecast so yesterday was great for treating my full spectrum light deprivation! I only looked like a complete beginner for half a day yesterday although have still forgotten how to turn properly and so ended up on my bottom several times; the most spectacular involving my skis ending up over my head and a 10 metre tumble down hill. I discovered that getting up once down is a real challenge!

The sun is shining, my legs ache, I have a lesson booked at 2.30 and the slopes beckon so I will be brief!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

In need of coffee

Ian logged on in the Eurostar terminal and found a customer relations address so decided to complain and ask for a free cup of tea (we are easily satisfied!). This is his email and the reply.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dear Sir,

I am currently sitting in your departure lounge because an earlier crossing has been cancelled. While I understand you have operational issues at the moment, this has happened the last two times I have travelled with you.

It would have been helpful to have reflected the delay on your website in the latest travel information section. I was also surprised that your staff in the terminal building did not have vouchers available for a complementary hot drink.

Yours faithfully,

Ian


Dear Customer, Thank you for contacting the Customer Relations team at Eurotunnel. We are always keen to receive the views of our customers, and the feedback we receive is important to help us improve our service to you. All emails are responded to individually by a member of our team and you will receive a full response within twenty-one working days. For your reference, emails sent to this address are managed between 09.00 and 17.30, Monday to Friday (except Bank Holidays). Kind regards Eurotunnel Customer Relations .

Not much help to us then in getting a cup of tea!

(PS. Titan's sister is called Alexandra)

(PPS. I don't know what is worse, James Blunt or Christmas Carols)

Eurotunnel and conspiracy theories

Well, here we are back in the waiting area at Eurotunnel waiting as yet again we are delayed although this time apparently not by enough to warrant free coffee and tea. Time then to write some more about conspiracy theories and the Eurotunnel fire on September 11th! Several things don't add up...
1. The fire was bigger than the previous one several years ago and did more damage and yet it was relatively under reported. All we have seen of the repairs is a very edited programme on the BBC.

2. The burnt -out trucks are still property of the French police and under strict guard.

3. Normally after such a fire there would be interviews with truck drivers and passengers that were involved but there has been nothing so far; not least we have heard nothing from the lucky driver of the vehicle that started the fire who apparently escaped unhurt.

4. After I published my last conspiracy theory blog my site was 'visited' by Eurotunnel.

5. A free cup of coffee will stop me from writing more!

(To add insult to injury we have just been joined by a noisy family who's eldest child is called Titan! The sounds of 'Titan come here!" are echoing around the terminal.)

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Saturday before Christmas

What is it about Christmas in England that makes grown men walk around B&Q wearing a Santa hat (and he wasn't an employee!). Yesterday at work we did a group teaching session with staff and students wearing party hats and listening to a tape from Top Gun! (The Christmas Carols CD had been taken to someone else's workplace). Ian said he chaired their business meeting yesterday with them all wearing party hats as one of his colleagues is Portuguese and had never seen Christmas crackers before!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Turkey Tales

The turkeys arrived on time. I had warned all the office staff of their possible arrival as I thought if someone turned up with a turkey they would think it was a joke, but as it turned out I walked out of my office to go upstairs and saw a DHL man arrive with a parcel.

"You wouldn't be the man with my turkeys would you?"

"Well, only if your name is Lovely"

"Well, it is as it happens; lucky I caught you"

"Well, when you said have you got my turkeys I thought you were joking! I didn't know that's what was in the box! Have a good Christmas!"

and with that he handed me the box and left!

The turkeys spent the night in the industrial fridge at work and now they are unpacked and in my fridge and waiting to be moved down to London for the next stage of the journey.

Tomorrow we have another Christmas dinner with Ian's mum, sister and niece and then our family duties are over and on Sunday we hit the road with the turkeys!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Cause and effect

The main story on BBC news tonight was that British Troops will withdraw from Iraq by next summer. The second story was about the state of the economy and how it is going to get much worse. I couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't a direct relationship between the two.

I have never supported the notion of troops in Iraq anyway so any reason for them to leave is fine by me, but the cynic in me says that the withdrawal at this point is more to do with the cost than ideals. At least if the country is really poor they won't be able to afford to invade Iran or Pakistan or other such nonsense.

Tale of two turkeys

We are off for our holidays soon and unlike last year we are not spending Christmas running up and down the country but are driving down to France to ski in Le Grand Bornand with my brother and family. We are looking forward to it. As Ian said in an email to my sister -in-law, "there has been too much grey here! "

Tomorrow two turkey crowns are being delivered to my workplace. I must find a way to keep them fresh on their various journeys from work to home, home to Ian's and then in the car all the way under the Channel, down through France until they finally arrive at their Alpine destination three days before Christmas Day. If we all get food poisoning I will know why!

Monday, 15 December 2008

More progress

The builder has been in touch and it seems that the roof structure arrived last week and the roof should be progressing in the New Year, which sort of suggests that the walls are now finished. Ian will need to go out for a meeting in the New Year to check on progress and consult with the builder. So, although slow, work is progressing.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Understanding technology 3

This weekend has been spent trying to work out how to install Office 2007 on my Eeee and still have enough memory left for the thing to work. This has now been accomplished and Ian is in the process of re-building his laptop for reasons that I don't really understand!

Understanding technology 2

My sister is a novice to the world of technology having spent most of her adult life teaching fitness. Recently she had to attend a remedial driving course (or pay a fine and have points on her license for doing 50 miles an hour in a 40 mile zone). This involved using a computer with a mouse and she said she ended up with her arm so far over to the right that she fell off the table!

However, times are changing and together with the Nintendo Wii-fit you can exercise from your laptop. You can check her out her on-line lessons here!

Understanding technology

We watched a programme Friday called the IT crowd on Channel 4 and as Ian has been a life-long IT geek he found it quite amusing. In the show the office manager had been voted employee of the month and had to do a speech to the shareholders. As she was pretty incompetent she asked the IT geeks to write something for her and as they disliked her they decided to set her up. They convinced her that the Internet was something portable and gave her a black box with a flashing light on it to present as 'the Internet' and then sat back to watch her look stupid..only the whole thing backfired as the shareholders at the meeting also had no idea and were convinced that the Internet was something that you can carry in black box!

Although we laughed it is a sad fact that there are many people who commission IT services (in places such as the NHS) who also have about as much knowledge! On a more basic level, one of the IT support staff at work got called to assist someone who was doing a PowerPoint presentation and couldn't get their memory stick to work. When he arrived they were trying to insert it into the Ethernet point! (Ian has also been asked where the any key is).

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Choices

I have just watched a programme about assisted suicide. It received a lot of attention as for the first time on public television they decided to broadcast someone in the act of killing themselves. The man concerned was intelligent and logical and was in the late stages of motor neurone disease, with very limited mobility, requiring a respirator to assist with breathing and loosing his ability to swallow fast (independent swallowing being an essential component of assisted suicide). His wife and family were very together and supportive and the whole thing seemed very logical. Watching the actual suicide was not nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it would be and the death seemed peaceful. What did make me feel a bit uncomfortable was that through this deeply personal act there were advertisement breaks and I wandered in and out of the kitchen doing the washing up. I somehow thought the programme and I should have been a bit more respectful.

The other thing that occurred to me is that if you are rich you get choices and if not then you don't. The whole procedure was not cheap and I also imagine that the cost of this man's care before his death was not cheap either. A portable respirator, expensive wheelchair etc would all be above the reach of the typical uninsured American as would the flight and accommodation in Switzerland. So if you are poor then you don't get to choose to die when you want but you die much sooner because you can't afford the treatment to prolong your life.

Karma

I was away from my office today and tried to phone in but couldn't get through. Later on I tried to access my email and the website but all were down. This evening the website came back on with a message about a power failure.

After my gentle warning from high about the blog yesterday I call it Karma!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Shhhhh secret squirrel 2

It seems that the way to manage health and safety man is not to manage him but to manage the people around him, so I guess it was no surprise today to be called into the office and told that I could be in trouble if health and safety man read the Blot and recognised himself! As I have never identified him or the place of work I feel that this is unlikely that this would be the case. However, I am already beginning to feel that my ability to express my true views in relation to health and safety man is becoming more and more restricted as the popularity of this page has increased and as I do not wish to have to censor my ideas anymore it is with much regret that I announce that details of health and safety man and his exploits will no longer appear on this particular blot.

I wish to announce however, that a new and totally uncensored blog will be created dedicated entirely to the topic of health and safety man and other antics at work. However, this will be a secret blog and access will be by invitation only! Do leave a message if you would like to be on the list!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Shhh.. secret squirrel

All workplaces have a health and safety man equivalent. In Ian's place she is called 'head of unimportant things' and so to compensate likes to make sure that everyone realises exactly how important she is. Ian is not considered a proper worker as he is that breed known as a 'temp' or a 'contractor'. As this breed has grown considerably, a few weeks ago they were moved to a brand new office with new desks. Non proper workers don't get the same automatic privileges and rights as proper workers, such as basic equipment, access to all the rooms, subsidised lunch and access to international phone lines. That is fine except that Ian needs to be able to make international calls to do his job and in his old desk this had been negotiated. So..you would think it would just be transferred to his new desk wouldn't you? Well, no, a new desk apparently means the whole thing has to be requested and authorised again! And.. this service and any communications about are so secretive and important that even mentioning it to anyone or, heaven forbid showing anyone else any correspondence about it is likely to be punishable by death! So..be warned!

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Sunday, 7 December 2008

Mistaken identity

As the blog is open to anyone to read I have always taken care to change or omit names before writing anything about people and hence 'Ian' is a pseudonym; except I write about him in the blog frequently and now I have started calling him 'Ian' in real life. He is not amused!

Christmas is coming

Christmas is on its way and much to Ian's annoyance I put up my Christmas tree this weekend. It is a pretty poor specimen of a plastic tree and a few lights but I couldn't cope with the idea of pine needles all over the floor and it was easier to go up into the loft than to go out and buy and tree.





I also iced my Christmas cake. I mentioned before that I am cultivating the art of mad and eccentric cakes and this counts as one of them!



Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Wandering in Brussels

I had an interesting day in Brussels, if a little bit on the long side as Ian was working until 6.00. After an hour and a half of looking around the much hyped Christmas market (about 20 wooden stalls with novelties) and the shops I decided that there was nothing much that I wanted to buy (why spend £10 on a chocolate Santa..OK I know it is nice chocolate but would anyone I know really be able to tell the difference). I had my first hot drink in a health food restaurant as I was desperate to use the toilet and Brussels seemed to have a lack of public ones. After that I wandered some more around sparkly arcades with and took some pictures of the unusual Christmas tree decorations.





As you can see this one was made of mirrors! Lunch was beckoning and I had a yearning to try one of those nice looking tarts and so settled on a little coffee shop. It was full of older women sitting at tables by themselves having coffee and cake. My French has come on enough to understand the conversation between an older lady and a couple at another table. She struck up the conversation and after a talk about the weather she told them that her husband was now dead and she lives on her own but tries to make the effort to come out every day to talk to people. After lunch I wandered some more and took a photo of this cyclist! Just nearby a meals on wheels van was delivering its' fare .





After lunch I did more wandering...and began to get a bit tired. I longed for somewhere to just sit! As it was Monday all the museums were closed so I wandered up to the Cathedral. It was warm and inviting, with nativity scenes around the chapel representing all the ethnic communities in Brussels. I sat down and found myself drifting off to sleep for a while until the priest interrupted with a short prayer for all those who had lost their homes! I was surprised to see how many people ran out of the Cathedral at this as it is after all what the building is about and it was pretty inoffensive. Perhaps the priest thought I was one of the homeless as I was beginning to feel that way with 3 more hours to wait and nowhere else to go! My next walk took me past the main railway station where I looked at a few shops and then 'rested' again in the waiting area! I really did begin to feel like a down and out as the street dwellers came in to finish their cans of beer in peace and the man who looked like he was suffering from the side effects of his anti-psychotic medication came to beg food!


A final stop in another cake shop passed a bit more time and then I headed towards Le Grand Place where I was meeting Ian later. It was dark and the 'Electrabel nights' show had started with coloured lights projected over the grand buildings in time to electronic music from steel speakers in the square.



At this point Ian said he was on his way and it started to pour with rain so I popped into a nearby restaurant, ordered a beer and sat and waited for him!
So my experience of Brussels was interesting! I understand why they invented all those beers, I got a feel for what it must be like to have nowhere to go all day and I realised that the world is full of lonely people.




Monday, 1 December 2008

Brussels

Am writing this from our hotel in Brussels. Ian has gone off to work so I have the day to play and shop, although the grey drizzle makes it a little less than inviting. We arrived yesterday. Eurostar arrives at Brussels Midi, which is just outside the centre and the home of a very large ethnic market on Sunday morning that was reminiscent of Whitechappel market in London. Orientating ourselves out of the station is always the most difficult job and it took us 20 minutes to work out what direction we needed to go to get to the town centre. We decided to walk as it is usually the best way to orientate yourself to a city. As we approached the city the buildings got a little bit smarter and by this time we were both really hungry so we went into the first available restuaruant that looked half decent! It seemed quite reasonable and the food was OK and when we looked closer we saw that the customers were either tourists or gay men out for breakfast!

After lunch we walked briefly around the town centre and then we decided to walk out to the hotel ('not much further than we have already walked' according to Ian). The route out of town took us through the Arab quarter of town with little shops selling all sorts of exotic vegetables and lots of 'cafes' that were men only places involving mint tea and backgammon (and a space away from the family). We witnessed Brussels driving first hand when we saw a Passat collide into the back of another car and then hit a parked van (he had seemingly failed to notice the wet roads and the slow traffic in front of him). The road was definately quite long and mostly up hill! My feet were aching and we were in need of a drink and with some relief we reached the hotel; basic but clean and with internet access in all the rooms but other than that not much going for it!

We reflected that all big cities, no matter how glossy on the surface, have their run down ends where a lot of the imigrant populations tend to live and in many ways we could have been anywhere, in London, Paris, Zurich etc.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Shanghai surprise

My sister has some hard decisions ahead of her over the next few weeks (although I think in truth the decisions have already been made and it is more about living with them). About a year ago she became re-acquainted with a former flame and the romance has re-bloomed. Jon is now a divorced father of two, who has his children every other weekend and has a successful career in sales. There-in lies the difficulty. Supporting two children is expensive and making a living in sales over the next couple of years in Europe is going to be difficult.

After he parted company from my sister 14 years ago Jon traveled quite widely throughout Asia and hence when his company saw an opportunity for developing a new market in China I think his name was top of the list. As the year has progressed what started as a romantic dream has moved towards reality and slowly the potential problems have been weighed up and now he is seriously contemplating taking a two year job in Shanghai. The implications for my sister are that she either goes with him or faces the end of the relationship and as they both seem quite happy at the moment the latter has not been an option for either of them. So, as it stands Jon will most probably go out to Shanghai in January followed by my sister a little while afterwards, once they have sorted out their respective affairs here. For my sister it means giving up her job, her way of life, her friends and her contact with her family and starting anew in a new country, where her role will be primarily that of supporting her partner until she can find a niche for herself there. During trips home she will no doubt be involved with collecting and caring for Jon's children as well as trying to look after their respective UK homes and somehow try to fit in her family commitments; especially to my mother, who has become quite dependent on her since she moved. Whilst I can see that this could be a great experience for her to see a different culture and to travel I think that it is quite a lot to ask of someone who has never lived outside of Middlesex and still has the same group of friends that she went to school with. When talking about it, she gives it an up-beat and positive spin but I know her well enough to see that underneath she is quite worried.

So when she announced to all of us that she and Jon were getting married next year as well, we did not automatically respond with messages of congratulations and great joy, our concerns at the trade off that she has had to make between being with someone that she loves and giving up everything else that she knows perhaps being paramount in our minds.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Half century

Tomorrow I celebrate 50 years on this planet, most likely more than half of my life. We are going out for dinner tonight with family and then tomorrow we are going over to Brussels for a night (while Ian works on the Monday). I decided to buy myself lots of birthday treats! Yesterday I had my haircut and this morning I had a pedicure and manicure. I have never had diamond bits put on my nails before so I did that as well, and the owners of the nail shop (aptly called the Nail Fairy) gave me the diamonds as a Birthday present! (Well, they are not real diamonds; just sparkly bits!)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Definitively winter

Autumn progresses, the weather gets colder and colder and the days get shorter and then one day you look out the window and you know that it is winter when the trees look like this. If you look closely you can see that there is just one leaf desperately clinging on!

The mystery of the immune system

I am currently unwell. As my birthday is in November I am usually unwell on the day so it looks like this year will be no exception. However, one thing about having a b*ggered immune system is that coughs and colds etc don't seem the same anymore! It has taken me a while to work this out but the normal symptoms that we get with a cold are really due to the immune system doing its job of fighting off the virus. In my case my immune system doesn't really do this properly as I have to take medication to suppress it; so I don't really get the sore throat and runny nose bits of a cold. You may think that is great but at least those symptoms tell you there is something wrong! In my case I wake up and feel like I have been beaten up by a gang of thugs and can't work out why! Usually a few days rest does the trick but I have to notice that something is wrong and not do what I did last week and put it all down to my hormones and the weather. I am learning...

I find it quite weird to have a illness that no one really understands. In fact, the mysteries of the immune system are slowly being unravelled only to uncover more things that they don't understand; a bit like exploring deep space and coming across a black hole. No one can really explain why one day, out of the blue, my body decided to take up arms against itself and begin to attack my healthy cells. Treatments are being developed all the time and in a notorious case when healthy volunteers were injected with a new medication being trialed for rheumatoid arthritis they developed a severe and life threatening auto-immune response in a matter on minutes suggesting that the balance between an ordered and disordered immune system is incredibly delicate. Also of interest is that the more aggressive flu viruses that are likely to cause pandemics such as avian flu, are thought to over stimulate the immune system and produce a severe auto-immune response in healthy people. Strangely, if there were an outbreak I might fare better than someone with a better immune system!

For this reason I have been particularly interested in watching the TV series 'Survivors' on the BBC. In the story a worldwide flu pandemic kills 90% of the population and the story is of the 10% that survived. I remember watching the original in the 1970s and being particularly taken with the story and disappointed that it was never shown again. However I enjoyed the first episode of the remake and look forward to episode 2 tonight.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Happy Christmas 2008

For regular readers, this is my alternative to those Christmas round-robin letters!

One good thing about writing a blog is that the annual Christmas letter is much easier as I don't have to rely entirely on memory to go through the year's activities! Last year has not involved any major decisions or life changes but has been more about trying to implement the ones that we have already made and move towards a life in France (this being a little difficult as although we did have a builder at the end of last year he had not really commenced any building!) So, we have had several trips over to France to get things moving. Our first visit however, was in March, at Easter when we went skiing. Easter was early and the snow was great and I was really delighted that I could manage a few days skiing without any serious consequences. We stayed at my brother's Chalet in Le Grand Bornand with the family and had a really nice time.





We visited the land on several occasions, the first being in April, then again in the summer for three weeks and finally in October for a week. The prime reason was to try to keep on top of the project as, as with builders everywhere, they need encouragement to keep going and not get distracted by other tasks! It is slowly paying off and below is details of our progress (although note we have yet to acquire a roof!)




Still, the good news is that things are progressing and this time next year I hope we will have clear plans about when we will eventually move there to live.
We have also not been idle at home as we have decided that we will most likely rent out our current homes (as the recession and property collapse makes the idea of selling at the moment rather difficult). Therefore we have been painting and decorating to get the places rentable. There is still a fair bit to do and I expect next year will be more of the same. Anyway, this focus on DIY has meant that my cycling has become a bit more functional in the last year. We did a couple of charity road rides, which I enjoyed and I have gone out on my own some weekends. We also cycled quite a bit on our holidays in the summer. This is something to work on next year as the danger of having a two year plan is that you spend most of the time working towards it and not enough time living!


Next year will see some changes in my family as my sister is planning to get married and although not confirmed it is quite likely that she will go and live in Shanghai for 2 years. This will be a big change for her and maybe I will get a chance to visit! We will also have to give some thought to how to support my mother as she has been providing a lot of care for her over the past year.
Fortunately my health continues to be relatively stable with no real problems to note although an attempt at reducing my medication was not successful. It's quite hard to realise that you still need to take medication when you actually feel quite well.
Work has continued. I can't say that I have enjoyed it all of the time as it is hard to maintain an interest when you have made a decision to leave and it makes it hard to take on anything new. I have not really done much of great excitement or very different from usual except a trip to Ireland in may where I am an examiner.
I am continuing with my French classes as I can't imagine living in France and not being able to communicate. I passed my intermediate certificate last year but this year have been concentrating on conversation classes. It is really about finding the time to practice (which I might be better at if I didn't spend so much time blogging!)
I celebrated my 50th Birthday last week which was a little scary as it does seem very old (especially at the moment when it is winter and we are all trying to fight off colds and flu!). This Christmas we are going skiing with my brother and sister-in-law and coming back for New Year, which hopefully will be a time to rest and recover.
Wishing you all the best for your own Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Seasonal affective disorder

It's a cold, sleety, grey, dark miserable day in London in that depressing period leading up to Christmas; where your exposure to natural light reaches dangerously low levels! I am trying to think of some positive things to do to lighten the mood.
1. Go on a bike ride (but probably a bit too cold to make it bearable)
2. Make a cake (requires walking up the hill to buy some eggs)
3. Do my French homework.
4. Do some work work such as marking (but this will just make me feel more depressed.)
5. Write my Christmas blog entry.
6. Do Ian's ironing (see 4.)

Only number 1 will significantly affect my exposure to daylight!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Banking in France

Ian has been trying to organise a small loan with a French bank to tide us over the poor exchange rate. We first applied in August with a personal visit to the bank where we met Emma, the English speaking financial advisor. Although Ian speaks fluent French we had to see Emma as we are English and she is employed to deal with the English clients (even though this required an additional trip to Bergerac). She was very positive and we started off the application. All was progressing smoothly (or so we thought) until the banking crisis, when we were told that the loan we had applied for was no longer available (even though Emma had told us it was okay). Anyway, it seems that Emma's promises are meaningless once the paperwork gets as far as head office.

Here is a sample of the emails that have been going back and forth!


Hi Ian

Head office need a quote from an electrician for wiring the house and a quote from the workman who will be putting in the windows… and hopefully then I will just have to push the print key and send the « demande de financement » direct to the address you gave me in France…

I will be in my office until about 3 o’clock your time and I will try to call you again tomorrow morning if we can’t get in touch before then.

Regards,

Emma Bertillon

Banque des Fermiers
Financial adviser/Conseiller particulier anglophone

De : ian@hotmail.com Envoyé : jeudi 16 octobre 2008 15:28À : Cp-en-ligne (CR824)Objet : RE: TR: RE: Home loan information: Quotes/Contracts

Hi Gemma

I tried to ring you, but you were away from your desk.I have no quote for the electricity since I envisaged my friend would be doing it with my help and then we would have it inspected by the Consuel.The windows will be installed by Batiman (I thought this was in the quote?)I hope this is sufficient.

Kind regards

Ian


Hello,

For the electricity I need an “attestation sur l’honneur” basically a letter saying that you are going to do the work, to make things easier here it is:

Je soussigné M Ian BARTON né le 09/07/1960 au Royaume Uni certifie que pour la future construction de ma résidence principale à SAINT EULALIE D’EYMET je ferais les travaux d’électricité moi-même.
Je m’engage à ensuite faire inspecter la maison par le consuel.

Sign and date the paper and then mail to me.

For the windows I need a quote for the main d’oeuvre from Batiman (the quote I have is just the material).


Regards,

Emma


Dear Emma
Please find attached the attestation

When I looked at the Batiman quote I can see for each item the line “Pose et fournitures diverses” which I think mean installation?

Kind regards

Ian


Hi,

Dossier back from head office, we need the following things:

The devis must all be less than six months old, the only one that is is for the menuiseries exterieurs.

The permis de construire is dated 2004 which means it is no longer valid, we need a new “recipissé de depot de permis”

We need to know where house plans came from, if they were done by you we need an attestation confirming that you did them

And while we are here, I am going to ask you for an original attestation for the electricity (same as the one you scanned and e-mailed me) just in case they decide they want one of them later (precaution)… Please send to me at 25-27 rue St Catherine, 24100 BERGERAC.

Regards,


Emma


Hi Emma

This is starting to get rather silly, it has been a month since the last round of questions. How much longer are they going to take? I said previously that it was important to have this moving since the builder will need paying shortly. If the process takes much longer I will not need a loan since I would have already paid him.I am not going to get quotes less than 6 month old since I already engaged the builder back in October 2007.The permis is valid because the work started in November 2007 prior to its expiry (declaration d'ouverture de travaux sent to the Mairie).The original house plans were signed off by the architect and formed part of the dossier for the permis de construire - I wouldn't have got the permis otherwise. I will send you the original of the declaration since your head office seems to be incredibly difficult at the moment.


Kind regards Ian

The tension is beginning to show!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Winter sky and sea


This afternoon I was visiting further down the coast near Hastings. After days of grey rain the sun was out and I left just as it was beginning to go down (3.30 this time of year!). The picture doesn't really do it justice.





Pudding time

I attempted to make a Christmas pudding tonight. I am 50 years old in two weeks and I have never made a Christmas pudding before! I realised that the fuss is in the cooking and am now experimenting with the slow cooker as I can't face the idea of steaming for 10 hours as the kitchen will get like a sauna! I am making two types of pudding; one traditional and one from the recipe below which is chocolate and panettone Christmas pudding.

100g ready to eat dried figs (chopped)
150g each sultanas, raisins and currants
50g dried cranberries
1 large apple, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
Finely grated zest of one lemon
50 ml of brandy (I added a little more!)
150g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground mixed spice
175g unsalted butter, melted
200g panettone, torn up
3 large free-range eggs, beaten
100g soft light brown sugar
100g plain chocolate, chopped

1. Mix dried fruits, apple, lemon zest and brandy in a large bowl. In another bowl, sift together the flour, spice and a pinch of salt. Pour the butter over the dried fruit mix. Stir in the panettone, eggs, sugar, chocolate and spiced flour.

2. Spoon into greased pudding bowls (I used two 1 pint bowls and had enough over for a small one). Steam.. for 3 hours; only I am trying it in the slow cooker.. will await outcome eagerly!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Pirates of the new millenium

I thought that the last time pirates ruled the oceans was back in the days of Jack Sparrow but it seems that there has been a recent resurgence in pirate activity as I heard on the news that two ships (one of them an oil tanker) had been captured by Somali pirates. It seems that modern day piracy has come on a bit since the days of the jolly roger and is now a bit more hi-tech and almost a recognised profession in some parts of the world.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Upstaged by my mother

I was telling my mother about my glimpse of someone who I thought might be Vinnie Jones. Name dropping makes no impression on her now however, since she is quite settled in her apartment in Windsor. Together with all the other residents, they keep a watchful eye on the local goings-on and generally try to keep up to date. One of the ladies was in an art shop in Windsor today and looking around she came across a group of young men and thought that one looked familiar. Realising that she had been staring for some time she thought that she may have appeared a little rude and turned to one of the young men and said

"Oh, I'm sorry if I have been staring but you do look just like Prince Harry"

"Well I am actually", came the reply.

"Oh, I'm really sorry. I was actually just looking for some candle holders"

"That's all right, they're just round the corner on the right"

Now I don't know whether I believe all of this story or not but my mother made it sound convincing!

Nearly famous

Ian spent yesterday doubling the security on his garage and I decided to go out for a bike ride. I have a nice little route now, heading out towards the Darenth Valley and then back via Crokenhill. It is a strange area. Nearer Darenth and Hextable you can see the Dartford bridge and although the countryside is unspoilt in places it doesn't always feel the safest place on earth and I generally hurry through without stopping too long at traffic lights! Yesterday was no exception and as the rain started to get heavier I thought I would attempt a short cut. This took me through the delights of South Darenth. In the East End of London all the gangsters moved out years ago and I suspect they moved there. It was no surprise then to see a film crew in the car park of the Three Bridges filming what looked like the latest gangster movie. At first I thought the blokes milling in the car park were the locals until I saw the camera and realised that they were extras. I was trying to make out the leading man, who looked to me like Vinnie Jones. However, I then had to move as the director did not think that a middle aged cyclist crossing the road would be good background material! The real locals looked even more grungy than the paid ones! The rain got heavier and I realised that my short cut wasn't really a short cut and arrived back an hour later, soaked through!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Community policing

We have had a little bit of excitement this weekend, if you can call it that! I arrived at Ian's on Friday evening at about quarter to nine with my bike and he went to take it round to his garage as usual. He came back a few moments later to say that he couldn't open his garage door as the lock had been bent and it looked like at least three of the other garages had been broken into as the doors were open. The garages are behind the flats and as they were built in the 1960s no one worried about lighting or security at the time so they are an easy target on a dark evening for people looking for an illegal way to make a few pounds to fund their evening's entertainment. After a quick debate and a discussion with one of the sensible neighbours we decided to report it to the police. Now we were aware that this was not a life threatening emergency so we initially called the community support officer on his mobile (where I live they call them teletubbies because they are dressed in yellow and round!) Anyway, he did not reply so we tried the local police station. However that is closed at the weekend and they are looking for community volunteers to staff it! In desperation then we called the emergency services! Fortunately they put us through to our local 'call centre' and we reported it. We were then told that this would be dealt with by the 'telephone investigation unit' and we duly called the following morning by said service and had to repeat all the details again!

After this Ian dropped a note into the doors of all the neighbours telling them what had happened and asking them to check that nothing was missing, resulting in a flurry of activity around the garages. Many of Ian's neighbours are elderly and a bit upset so within seconds some one's son arrived and another lady came over wearing her nightdress, giving the whole thing the air of a pyjama party. They had rummaged through one lady's garage and gone through her personal possessions but she couldn't tell if anything had been taken.

As we were leaving to go shopping for a lock and a security light the 'scene of crime' officer arrived; a woman in her 30s. Predictably there was nothing for her to examine. She told us that what she really needs is blood so that she can get a DNA sample and that although we weren't to say that she told us, the best way to protect the garage door and make her job easier was to put a strip of carpet gripper along the bottom edge!

In the evening the doorbell rang and the two police community support officers were there to introduce themselves and tell us all about their job! It was my introduction to modern policing in the Met!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Remembering

Today was armistice day and after our recent visits to the Somme I thought about it a bit more deeply. At my French class tonight the teacher told us that in France it is a public holiday (but then there are many public holidays in France!). However, more French soldiers were killed than any other nationality and as a percentage of the total population it was a literally a generation killed. When I was younger and more idealistic I used to disapprove of these commemorations as the glorification of militarism and used to think that wearing a red poppy somehow condoned that. I preferred the idea of the white poppy to symbolise peace. Now I think that it doesn't really matter what bl**dy colour the poppy is as what we are doing is acknowledging the immense loss and tragedy of war. Perhaps continuing to remember armistice day will ensure that younger people who have never experienced such events get some appreciation of what man can do.



Post script: Ever since writing this post I have been looking everywhere for some pictures that I took a couple of years ago. On our way back from France Ian and I stopped off to visit the war graves of the Somme..well just a couple; the whole tour would take the best part of a week. I eventually found them last night.



Monday, 10 November 2008

Memories of other bonfires

Whilst looking through my old Japan pictures I remembered another event that at the time bore a strong similarity to the Lewes bonfire festivities that I attended last week. When we were there it coincided with the Kurama Himatsuri or Fire Festival, which takes place towards the end of October every year just to the north of Kyoto. We went there by train, and as with the Lewes festival the trains and the streets were packed. The origins of the festival were to light the way for the spirits of the dead but my guess is, like a lot of these autumn festivals, it was a way of marking the approach of winter. To start fires are lighted in front of homes and children dressed in traditional clothing march up and down carrying small lighted torches. As the evening progresses the men follow dressed in traditional costume which leaves their bottoms naked to the air (not a pretty sight!). They march up and down chanting and marching to the rhythms of drums, carrying larger and larger torches. Finally they march up the hill to the shrine and then seem to roll themselves down! In many ways it is just like Lewes!


Welcome to Obama


I saw on the News that the town of Obama in Japan was celebrating after Barack's victory! This rang some bells in my head. In 2004 I went to Japan on a 2 week cycling holiday. It was a kind of 'trip of a lifetime' type of holiday and I had saved both money and annual leave to enable me to go. We were the first group to go on this trip and had the dubious pleasure of being followed round for the first week by a well known holiday programme and a rather famous former BBC News reader!


We started off in Osaka and then headed off across Japan to the sea coast, ending in the town of Obama. I remember the weather being rather like it is here today, wet and windy!





The town was grey and the hostel was spartan but the town put on a special treat for us and treated us like royalty with a full Japanese banquet, gifts, games and a presentations! We left the following morning but were hampered a little in our journey as the road had disappeared during the storm two days before we arrived!




After that we took the ferry to Kyushu and the BBC left us in peace! The memory prompted me to search out some old photos taken by me and fellow guests!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A nice link

There is a nice link the the last three posts. I didn't stay at the bonfire parade long enough to see all of the effigies that are paraded through the town and then burnt on the bonfire in ceremonial fashion. They are usually topical and after much hunting in the Internet I have just discovered that this year the Cliffe effigy was a giant Alistair Darling with Barack Obama dressed as Uncle Sam and holding a dollar sign. Alistair Darling was holding an Iceland receipt listing Lewes, East Sussex and Kent councils along with Sussex Police Authority, (a reference to the fact that they all had millions of pounds invested with Icelandic banks which collapsed last month). The source was the Argus.

God save The Queen

Apparently at a meeting with the London School of economics the Queen asked why no one saw the credit-crunch coming. I think the answer to that is that they did but they shut their eyes and waited for the impact rather than try to change gear and put on the brakes!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A new broom

I'm not a great fan of American politics but I was moved when I heard that black American voters took pictures of their dead parents and grandparents with them into the ballot box to be with them when they voted for the first black American president. I was too young to really understand what was going on the the 1960s in the United States but when I saw Jessie Jackson with tears in his eyes as Barack Obama swept to victory I got some sense of what it might have meant.

Lewes bonfires

I am now happily sitting in the warm, at my computer, after a trip to the Lewes bonfire night celebrations. It is traditionally held on Guy Fawkes night to mark the discovery of the Gunpowder plot, but actually encompasses much more including the commemoration of the memory of the Protestant martyrs, the history of the town, remembrance day and a whole host of other more pagan traditions! I went with a work colleague who had not been before. Despite the efforts of the local councils to deter visitors the trains arriving into Lewes were packed and the streets busy , mostly with young people. We followed the one-way walking system and made our way to the bottom end of town where the Cliffe bonfire society has its torchlit procession (one of 6 going on in the town).


The Cliffe procession is generally thought to be the most traditional and also the most radical. As we approached the crowded streets were lit with the glow from burning crosses, 17 in all representing the Protestant Martyrs. The members of the Cliffe society dress in traditional costumes depicting Tudor times, pirates, soldiers, zulu warriors; all representative of the rich history of the town and parade up and down the main street, each time more exiting than the last. There are explosions from cannons, fireworks, flaming torches and bangers thrown into the marchers. The atmosphere is light hearted but deadly serious and there is an undercurrent of tension throughout. Add this to the crush of people all trying to get across the narrow bridge with the police desperately trying to keep control, and you begin to get the picture. The marchers themselves are from all ages and all walks of life, some in pushchairs and some in wheelchairs and some too old to march so they stand and watch! Every year they burn effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V and also effigies of someone or something more topical (This year there was WALL E, the robot from the Disney film) .




Attempts to control or restrict the parades are generally ignored ! We stayed and watched 2 or 3 processions and then had really had enough of things exploding near us and crowds of people so, not wishing to have to queue to get the train home, we left early! It is an weird event and one that everyone should see once if they can!


Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Warmer in the water than out

Yesterday morning I went swimming before driving back from Ian's. One attraction of the health club near him is that they have an outdoor heated pool so I plucked up courage and dashed outside into the winter air in my swimsuit. Once in the water was lovely but I had to adjust my swimming stroke to make sure my arms did not spend too much time out of the water. as the outside air was pretty chilly! Getting out the pool took my breath away, but I am sure it was good for me. There were three other ladies in there. They didn't seem to mind getting their hair wet!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

I don't believe it!

I don't really understand what all the fuss is about with regards to the incident involving Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand and the answerphone message and I certainly don't understand why it was headline news for 3 days running! Here is my opinion on the matter.

Jonathon Ross and Russell Brand phoned up Andrew Sachs (the actor who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers) and when he wasn't in they left a string of messages on his answerphone that by all accounts were a little childish and offensive and were subsequently broadcast on the radio show. I didn't listen to the programme and when it was broadcast it received 2 complaints. However Andrew Sachs complained to the BBC about the nature of the messages, this news seemed to get out and then the wonder of the Internet and You Tube meant that everyone who hadn't heard the show the first time could listen to it to see what all the fuss was about. This led to a total of 30,000 complaints, which personally I would discount since if they thought it was going to be offensive they didn't need to choose to listen to it! (I thought I should also listen to it to see what all the fuss was about and after 2 minutes decided it was rather boring and silly and so stopped). It seems that Andrew Sach's granddaughter (who sings in a band called the Satanic Sluts) was particularly put out by the fact that Russell Brand had said that he had had 'intimate relations' with her! Now as this turned out to be true I think that she only has herself to blame here for having the bad taste and bad judgement to sleep with him in the first place as he is not known for his discretion nor for his chastity. Andrew Sachs was offended by various comments made, perhaps rightly, but then this is the man who was made famous by using all sorts of racist stereotypes to portray a dumb Spanish waiter so if he was offended then that's too bad but in the end it isn't that important in the context of 'shit things that can happen to you in life'.

The consequence is that two people resigned and one person is suspended but for Russell Brand and Jonathon Ross it isn't going to make too much difference to their career prospects and Andrew Sach's granddaughter has had some good publicity for her band and the BBC executive will probably get a job for Sky. I am just amazed that with an American election next week, a bloodbath in the Congo and the economy in collapse that this minor story got so much time! Perhaps it is a conspiracy!

Whatever happened to autumn?

It's hard to believe that the photos taken in France were little over a week ago; when we were working in shirt sleeves. Autumn has seemed incredibly short this year. One minute it was almost like the summer that we never had and the next moment the trees were bare. Today it is dark, cold and wet and last week seems a lifetime ago! Still, the good news is that there has already been some snow in Le Grand Bornand and that is where we are heading at Christmas!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Courting Le Chasse

There is one set of neighbours that I haven't mentioned yet and that is Stephane and Stephanie (despite their matching names they are a married couple). They live in the village in a small house in between the road and the church and are around retirement age although neither seems to have fully retired! They have a vegetable patch opposite the church and a large barn on the opposite side of the road and speak with a strong local accent! They are always welcoming and pleased to see us and like to be kept up to date with the local gossip including our news. I stopped in to say hello on my way to take lunch to Ian and his friend on the last day and we got invited for aperitifs that evening at 7.00 (thus ensuring that the building had to be finished by then!) The aperitifs consisted of Stephane's home-made wine (tastes nice but gives you a shocking headache). The wine improved my French enough to join in the conversation and we had a good laugh about the events with Herman, the state of the world and le chasse or the hunt; for which Stephane is a key figure! From what I can understand le chasse seems to be an organisation broadly similar to the Freemasons in England except that in France they go out with guns and try to shoot things. Certainly the movements of le chasse are considered extremely important and usually most conversations with us end with 'when are you coming over?' and 'will we still be able to hunt on your land?'. Our view so far has been that while we are not here they can but once we get animals in the field then this will be more difficult and I can see that this is one area where we are gong to have to negotiate very carefully if we are not going to upset a lot of people. We were then told that a family of hares had set up home in the base that has be scraped for the garage but not to worry as le chasse had got them all! We were later presented with a jar of home-made hare pate! In her colander on the sink Stephanie had two enormous animal hearts. I was amazed to see them and made a comment but she just thought I was asking what sort of animal they came from and tried hard to explain that they were from something shot at the weekend! At least they eat all the bits of what they kill!

Stephane and Stephanie are the sort of people that enjoy and appreciate every moment of their lives! They are always smiling and always welcoming and make such an effort to understand my poor French. They both have that special spark of passion for life inside them and you can see it in their eyes.

Campsite man 2

Ian was fully engaged all week building the llama house so while we were in France it was my job to run errands, do the shopping and generally be friendly to everyone. I made several trips to see campsite man (Pierre-Henri). It was his last week and there were three old camper vans on the site. On the first two mornings that I went there it was deserted and campsite man was nowhere to be seen. However, on the Friday I finally saw him. He looked tired and even thinner than I remembered him in the summer. It was cold enough to see your breath and he was clutching a bottle of wine under one arm and saying goodbye to the remaining campers. He didn't recognise me straight away but when he did he seemed generally pleased to see me. My attempts at communication were limited by my inadequate French but after a while he started speaking in a little English (something I never knew he could speak!) and then we communicated using both. He told me that he was finishing with the campsite all together. He had had enough of the local commune and had fallen out with them and told them that he would not do it the following year. He decided that it was too hard with too much stress to make it worthwhile. He was about to start a job in Agen in a factory repairing electronic goods. From what I could understand this was a revival of an old factory that had been set up years ago, where he had worked as a young man. I wished him well and felt quite sad a I don't think the campsite will be the same without him. When we were leaving the following day we saw him driving his camper van in the opposite direction. We tooted and waved at each other. I wonder if that will be the last that we see of him?

Monday, 27 October 2008

The house grows..

When we arrived on the site there was no sign of the builder but it was reassuring to see that the walls had progressed a little to the height of the windows. There was no sign on Tuesday but on Wednesday he arrived with the rain and activity resumed at pace. By the time we left on Saturday morning the walls were completed to the top of the windows and the builder was awaiting a new delivery of bricks in order to continue. It was good to see progress so quickly and the roof and windows were promised by the end of the year (although this remains to be seen!) Below are some pictures of the progress! The window is from the main bedroom and was inserted as almost an afterthought. Looking at the view I am very glad that we put it in!




Llama house 3

shelter

Ian, Mike and Bill (another neighbour and owner of the gite where we stayed), managed to finish the mobile field shelter in the time available although it was close and they were working up to dusk on the last day. There are one or two finishing touches to add but basically the construction was a success, although we had several discussions as to whether the llamas would actually appreciate it! Here is a picture of the finished item!

Below is a close up of the towing mechanism which was custom designed and hand welded by the man down the road. Its capacity to withstand towing has not yet been tested!

tow

Sunday, 26 October 2008

A long lunch and a long wait

Having decided to forgo the joys of Eurotunnel for our return trip, due to the fact that the only available crossing was at 6.00 a.m. on Monday, we booked onto the last crossing with Speed Ferries expecting to depart at 9.45p.m. Well, here we are sitting in a line, in the van, in the rain at Boulogne with a one and a half hour delay. Ian has just said that he now remembers why we don't travel this way normally! All the white vans are in one line next to the line with all the Range Rovers! Not a good choice. Mr Range Rover driver has just slammed his door open into Ian's van almost causing a violent incident!

On a more positive note, we took Mike out for lunch to thank him for his hard word this week. He suggested a restaurant in a nearby village called La Taverne Du Cochon Sale (the salted pig). We had to book and the restaurant was full. The food was definitely not for vegetarians but really excellent local recipes, well cooked and beautifully presented. I had scallops (cooked beautifully) to start followed by a stuffed quail, a selection of local cheeses and a desert called the Paris-Brest (maybe after the famous bike race!). It consisted of choux pastry, praline, chocolate sauce and a sort of local bread pudding. We arrived a 12.30 and left at 3.45! A proper French lunch at under 90 euros for three! I can recommend it if you ever find yourself in the Somme.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Freedom and occupation

We have brought Ian's friend Mike with us to assist with the arduous jobs, such as sawing, cutting and lugging wood and to assist with the technical aspects of the design, thus giving Ian someone to talk with and leave me free to be a 'domestique'; fetching the refreshments! Mike lives in Albert. Albert is in the middle of the Somme a few kilometres from the front line and after the first world war all but one building remained and a handful of people, living in cellars. Mike bought a house on the main road opposite the aerospace factory, in an area that was once a casualty clearing station for the French. The house was formerly a hotel and at one time a brothel and a bar. It was in pretty poor condition and Mike is painstakingly restoring and renovating it; turning it into flats and bed-sitters.

The history of the area is fascinating and depressing. Mike has found human bones when digging but unless they can be linked to a person by other artifacts no one is interested as there are so many to be found. On the first day of the battle of the Somme 60,000 young men were killed or fatally injured. That is more than 20 times the number killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Here in the Dordogne the history is not quite so tragic although during the second world war the border dividing occupied France from free France was a only a few kilometres away. Apparently the area where the land is was occupied and the older locals remember stories of villagers being taken to the woods and shot. There is still some animosity towards the Germans (although at the same time a gay German couple lived happily in the village for many years).

Know your boundaries

We are now happily settled at the neighbours' gîte and are re-acclimatizing to life in rural France; the quiet, the wildlife (including cluster flies, harvest mites and hornets), the beautiful countryside and the eccentricities of the French, the bureaucracy and the local population. It feels good to be back!

Yesterday we had an early start as we were putting in or les bourns cadastral or boundary stones. This is not just a case of bashing in a few rocks but involves the local geometre, (official surveyor) an array of complicated and highly technical measuring equipment and the presence of all concerned parties. Thus a strange bunch of people assembled at 9.00 am at the land. We were there together with Herman (the herb farmer at the bottom of the field), Madame Delgrano's brother, who owns a neighbouring field, and Madame Fleurre, a smart and sprightly seventy something lady who owns another of the fields.





The French contingent were in good spirits; it was sunny and they were enjoying the outdoors! They told stories of their youth. Madame Delgrano's brother started life picking grapes for Madame Fleurre's father and then should have been a baker, in the family tradition. However he rejected that plan as he felt that all he would do was to make things that disappeared with nothing to show for it. He decided to be builder; something he found much more enjoyable as his buildings were there to stay and he could still look at them. Madame Fleurre and her friend went off to look for mushrooms in the wood but the dry autumn meant there were none.

All seemed to proceed amicably. The plans for the fields were originally drawn up in Napoleonic times and hence there was some discrepancy about the exact dimensions which did not stand up to the robust measuring tools of today. However, all was agreed and all seemed happy except for Herman (who had been convinced that he owned all of the wooded area around the boundary - we suspect because he has let much of his land get very overgrown and if he cannot freely access the edge of the woods he will have a lot of clearing to do to make it possible for him to access all of his land!) Herman stormed off at one point (to the amusement of the French) and although he parted in a seemingly good humour in the afternoon we saw him marching back and forth around the boundaries of his land. No doubt we will hear more from him! The boundaries were officially marked with all due ceremony! The man in the photo placed the original stones 40 years ago. He is retiring next year!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Waiting (hopefully not in vain)

Here we are sitting in the Eurotunnel waiting area while our crossing is delayed by an hour and a half due to 'operational difficulties'. I am making use of the free Wi-Fi connection to blog! In the seat behind me is a young man reciting a monologue about himself to a blonde woman. I have not heard a word from her but know a lot about him and his remarkable achievements. Children are running riot and we have just been given vouchers for more hot drinks! I hope we don't have to sit here too much longer as I have already spent £30 on perfume!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Good and bad in America

I have a confession and that is when I get in from work and make myself a cup of tea one of my favourite ways of relaxing is to watch Judge Judy. For those who are not followers, it is an American TV show, where people bring their small claims court cases to be heard in front of a real judge on prime time TV. The cases are mostly minor, usually relating to money and relationships and I will leave you speculate about the people who are happy to air their grievances in public, suffice to say the phrase 'trailer trash' enters my head a lot. Judge Judy herself is a shrewd New Yorker who relishes in telling it like it is... a woman after my own heart!

Conversely I am not that interested in the American election, even though the staged debates do have the air of a Judge Judy court room about them. When I first heard that Sarah Palin's 17 year old daughter was pregnant I didn't immediately make the connection but when I read that she was accused of abusing her power by trying to have her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper because he was going through a bitter divorce and custody battle with her sister I began to see that Judge Judy really does represent all walks of life.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The builder re-appears

To coincide with our visit next week we heard from our spies that our builder has resurfaced in earnest and turned up on site together with a very large pile of bricks. We look forward to seeing the progress!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Saving the economy

Yet more dealings and negotiations have occurred over the last few days to try to stop the city talking itself into economic meltdown. The upshot is that shares rose again and my brother now works for the government after his bank was nationalised. He is looking forward to less pay, shorter hours, more holidays and paid sick leave.

Llama house 2

This is the kind of shelter Ian wants to build when we are in France. I have persuaded him to make the doorway bigger and we are going to put in 2 windows to allow the air to pass through in the summer and to give the llamas something to look at! Who knows whether they will like it or not! We are picking up the wood on Saturday morning from Kent and driving it down to the Dordogne. I will post pictures of the work in progress. (The picture is from here.)


Do you believe everything you read?

We are going to France by Eurotunnel again but the recent fire means that the crossings are not so frequent and we could not get the exact times that we wanted. When the fire happened (the most serious fire in the history of the tunnel) I did notice that it happened on 11th September or 9/11; the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the twin towers. It was surprising that the usually speculative press made not one mention of this fact. In fact it was universally accepted that it was caused by a fire on a lorry caused by hazardous chemicals (forbidden on the tunnel) and by a lorry tipping over (an impossibility). I am not a great one to believe in conspiracy theories (I think Princess Diana really was killed by a reckless driver) but the facts in this case seem vague and the lack of speculation seems improbable. There are a few mentions of this on various websites but if there really is a government cover-up then expect this blog to disappear forthwith!

Autumn spiders

After a wet and cold summer Autumn, or at least the last three weeks, has been glorious. Yesterday it was as warm as summer although this means that in the mornings and evenings it is misty. In preparation for winter the spiders are at their busiest and there are large webs everywhere that show up in the dew. Here is a picture of one.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The dangers of getting involved at work

Today has been irritating! The problem is that up until the last week or so my heart was still in France but then it slowly got tugged back to work and I found myself more and more entwined. The problem with that is that the more that I get involved the more irritated I get and I had finally had enough today when I learned (through the circles of gossip) that the boss is off on 4 weeks holiday from Monday. Not that I begrudge her that but as I have to give weeks of notice, get it approved, negotiate it with my team and arrange cover for my work when I go away it did feel very much like there was one rule for us and one for the boss. Anyway I made my feelings clear which also didn't go down too well! The good news is it will not take long for me disentangle myself from work the week after next when we head over to France again! My challenge is to stay disentangled for as long as possible when I get back. It would be good to make it as far as Christmas.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The price of peace

Had another conversation with my brother tonight as he works for a major bank that looked like it was going down the toilet yesterday and I wanted to check that he was still sane! He said he was okay as he now works for the government so is looking forward to less money, longer holidays, shorter hours and paid sick leave. He said that the global economic crisis would probably mean that the U.S. will pull out of Iraq, regardless of the result of the election. In fact this crisis has been what Al Qaeda have been trying to do since 9/11 and if only they'd have known that this meltdown would just occur on its own they could have avoided a lot of bloodshed! Now all the major economies have got their money tied up supporting the banks their won't be anything left to spend on weapons and wars. Wouldn't that be nice!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The sh*t will always hit the fan eventually!

I can't help thinking that work is a microcosm for life in general. There have been a few issues lurking around at work that those in power have been aware of for a while but have adopted a perplexed laissez-faire attitude about; until now. Well, guess what has happened? The mistakes got more noticeable and the sh*t (which had been ignored for a while) has well and truly begun to hit the fan and we will all feel the fall-out very soon. I couldn't help but notice that this was akin to the events in the economy where the various governments have been aware for a long time that all was not well with the major banks, their dealings and their integrity but adopted a similar approach to that of the big chiefs at work and let it be. When the sh*t happened they seem a bit surprised to find that all the major economies of the world are now about to be flushed down the toilet and Iceland was declared bankrupt on the basis of a rumour concerning something that someone said in Germany.

Ian and I talked about it on the phone tonight, (the closest we get to an intimate relationship on weekdays). We both agreed that having been in the position when one day we thought we had it all and then seemingly a day or so later realising that we probably had nothing, that all this about the economy was relatively minor.

Interestingly I can remember discussing with my brother how the trading floor worked a few years ago. It seemed to be run mainly on suspicion and something akin to witchcraft. Most market crashes happen in Autumn because that's when everything happens in the city and every autumn they get jittery (Halloween also happens about then). When my brother was a trader he would only open his book at a time with a number 7 in it (IE. 8:07, 7.57) as he liked the number 7. He was not alone in having these various superstitions and beliefs. Most people that are traders are basically gamblers and if they weren't employed gambling with the banks' money would be down the betting shop. We all know the downside of addiction!

NB: My brother seems to have come out the other side and is now the most cautious person I know when it comes to money"!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Llama house

We are going over to France in October for a week and Ian had hoped to be able to progress with the house but as we are unlikely to have any walls by then I guess that will not happen! So, we want to use the time productively. Doing the fencing is really too big a job but Ian suggested that building a field shelter for the llamas might be a good thing to do..Okay, we haven't got any llamas or a house for us yet but you have to start somewhere! Ian was keen so looked up patterns for mobile field shelters (it has to be a temporary structure or we need planning consent). In the meantime I looked up 'field shelters-llamas' on Google. Now here we have the difficulty. A mobile field shelter needs to be quite solid so that when you tow it across the field it doesn't fall apart; whereas llamas get claustrophobia and prefer a more 'open-plan' style! I think we will have to design our own!

Talking of llamas, Matthew Parris (a part time llama farmer himself) wrote a funny piece in the Spectator about the economy and the bottom dropping out of the Llama market. Good news for us as by the time they are at rock bottom we may be ready to buy!

Mandi's return

One day you are in the next day you are out, or vice-versa! My cat Mandi was actually named Mandelson, after Peter. For a while everyone thought it was rather funny but in recent years I have got the the point where I don't even bother to explain the true origins, just saying that it is an abbreviation that stuck. The most anyone ever queries is why my male cat has a girl's name. That is until last week and the reincarnation of Peter Mandelson in the government. After years in the wilderness Mandi has returned!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Experiment

This is really an experimental post to try out a new tool that I found on my Eeeee.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Food for friends

Just spent a nice evening with colleagues. The idea was to drink some of the wine I bought back from France, which we managed. I also made something for us to eat. It was the first time I had made it and it turned out quite well. The recipe comes from a Sainsbury's magazine and was quite easy.

Roasted Butternut, aubergine, tomato and feta couscous.

I small butternut squash (I used a large one)
1 small aubergine (I used a medium)
2 tablespoons of olive oil (I didn't measure)
10 cherry tomatoes (thereabouts)
2 tablespoons of pine nuts (used what I had left in the packet)
150 gm couscous (I used 204gm..what was left in box)
250ml boiling water (I used about 320ml)
150 gm feta cheese (I used a packet of low fat feta)
a handful of mint leaves (didn't have so didn't use)
2 red chillies (I used one hot one)
sea salt
(I also used a small green pepper and ground mixed pepper)

Preheat oven to 180 (fan) 200 electric or gas 6.
Peel de-seed and chop squash into chunks (assisted by colleague). Chop aubergine into chunks. Toss in oil and roast on baking tray for 20 minutes. Scatter tomatoes and chopped pepper among the vegetables and roast for a further 10 minutes. Tip pine nuts into a small tin and roast in oven at the same time. Place couscous in bowl and pour on boiling water. Cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
De-seed and finely chop chili. Chop mint. Mix chili, vegetables, salt, pepper, pine nuts and crumbled feta cheese into the couscous.

Serve with salad and garlic bread.

We talked about a lot of things including health and safety man's latest escapades which will be the subject of a future post!