Monday, 31 March 2008

The bianchi boys (and girl)

Bianchi make lovely bikes. They are Italian and look great. The traditional colour is a lovely shade of blue called Celeste, but always known to me as Bianchi blue. I coveted one of these bikes for ages and when we saw a good deal on a frame a couple of years ago I bought it and Ian built it up for me into a damn fine bike, tailored to suit me with women-specific bars and saddle. On Sunday I did my first Audax ride in a long time. Ian and his friends challenged themselves to a 115 km ride while I decided to opt for the less strenuous 62 km 'introductory' ride and set out on the beloved and beautiful Bianchi. Ian set off before me and I soon found a group of like minded and similar paced riders to stick with (much easier than riding on your own as you don't have to keep stopping to read the route directions). I never found out any ones names but there were two men (possibly brothers) riding Bianchis. Both were probably the wrong side of 50 and certainly didn't have the slim and toned bodies that the Italians are noted for (in fact, they were from North London!) We talked a lot about the beauty of our steeds and how, if it wasn't for their fine design and gearing, we would not be able to get round the course so well! At the end we all placed our Bianchis side by side as we went to have a drink! (See picture.. I wanted to include a picture of the Bianchi boys themselves with the slogan 'you don't have to be slim, Italian and beautiful to ride a Bianchi'..but I didn't have the nerve to ask them and I was not sure that they would see the funny side!) We got round in just under 4 hours which is respectable (we had to do it in 2.5 -5 hours!). I then waited a further 3 hours for Ian to finish!

The Bianchi family and Bianchis in love!

Talking of 'slim, young, beautiful and Italian' I also chatted to a young woman cycling round on her own who was just that! While I was waiting for Ian we sat having a coffee (turned out she lives 100 metres from my former address in London and is studying to be an art psychotherapist). While we were sitting there she became a magnet for several young, fit and athletic male cyclists who regaled her with tales of their exploits ('we have just finished the 115 km ride... we are going to do the Paris Roubaix this year.. I hope you don't have to wait toooo long for your boyfriend'- last comment was directed to me!)

The post-script of this is today my bottom was so sore and my legs were so stiff that I couldn't sit down. I was also so tired I had to sleep on the floor at work in between seeing students!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Carter the Maremma

This is Carter the Maremma.
He is my brother's dog and was in his element while we on holiday as he likes nothing better than having his flock around him! Carter is gentle indoors and will come and see you to have his neck and head stroked. However, his instinct to protect is well ingrained and if he doesn't like the feel of someone he will make his unease known (including pissing all over an American's shopping when he didn't like the look of them and growling at someone who shouted at us).
He was a challenge to train by all accounts as he has a slightly unpredictable streak and when he gets an idea about something (such as chasing a dog or hunting a rabbit) he will take off with no warning! Last time we were away (and he was younger) he headed off downhill after a small dog with my sister lying on her back on the ice, gripping his lead for dear life and being pulled down the hill! Pain does not deter him. Another year, in the summer, he poked his nose in a rock and got bitten by a viper! His nose swelled to twice the size and he was pretty unwell for a few days but that has not stopped him trying to do it again!


Well, we survived the skiing holiday! When we arrived it was sunny and the snow was a little thin in places, but from day two it snowed pretty much continuously, dumping at least a metre of new snow overnight and then topping it up each day with a few more centimetres. The advantage was that the snow was soft and when you fell in it, it didn't hurt! The disadvantage was that it was hard work to ski in and you needed to be fit and the surface was a bit unpredictable, causing me to fall a lot! We all ended up sitting in a lot of snow! We also had one day of total whiteout; where the light conditions and in this case the falling snow, meant that it was impossible to make out the contours of the slopes or the edges of the pistes. You couldn't really tell whether the slope was steep or flat until you were on it! One thing this seemed to do to most of us was to make us feel a bit sick. This feeling also seemed to last a few hours after skiing. Apparently it is a kind of motion sickness that affects one in ten skiers (although in our case it was over half the group!). (And no, it was not due to too much alcohol the night before!

Monday, 17 March 2008

Simnel birthday cake

Today I tried to make two cakes in one! I made a simnel cake for Easter and combined it with a birthday cake for Ian and my sister-in-law. They share the same birthday (day and year) and this year it falls on Easter Sunday. I was quite pleased with the result and will take a picture of it when it has the candles on it (providing I can get it to France in one piece!)

More news from Tibet

I heard from Libby today. She had some comments about her research but I was mostly relieved to hear that so far she is okay. In her first email she commented that

things are getting really wild and tense out here… communication is not always guaranteed. I try to proceed with my work as planed.

And I will keep you updated.

Have a good start of the week


Later when I asked her if she was okay she said

May be it is just a beginning…

We are having people from all groups in our team – so far they are all ok.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Trouble in Tibet

I have a student that I supervise as part of a European Masters Degree. She is currently working in Tibet for a charity, looking at therapy services for children with severe disabilities. I heard from her the other day as she wanted some information on the next stage of her work. At the end of her email she added the following.

It is quite a special season out here - today and tomorrow unexpectedly there is no running water... and in the area I am working the situation is quite tense. There have been some battles on the street... between different people groups (see note in field diary). And this with other problems going on, see below... So I hope everything goes well... Greetings and looking forward hearing from you
XI'NING, March 1 (Xinhua) -- Severe snow disasters have left 1.65 million people snow-blind and frostbitten, 500,000 livestock and wildlife dead and 3.1 million others on verge of starvation inTibetan prefectures of north-western Qinghai Province.

Since October last year, consecutive low temperature had gripped the province. The temperature plunged to minus 36.3 degrees centigrade, the record lowest in January in the province, said the provincial meteorological bureau. In Yushu, Guoluo and Huangnan Tibet Autonomous Prefectures, most of the grassland was covered by snow, usually 16 to 32 cm thick, which had brought great losses to local animal husbandry. In the disaster-stricken prefectures, 130,000 people had run out of fuels, 350,000 people in need of food and 110,000 others short of warm clothes or quilts, said the provincial government. Currently, the province's task was to evacuate 11,000 people of 2,000 herdsmen households for the local conditions were not fit to live any longer.

I emailed her back and so far we have not heard back from her. There are reports now of serious trouble in Tibet and foreigners are being kept out so I really hope she is okay.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Comings and goings

Ian and I are off to France next week; not to the land but to go skiing. It is a family occasion. My brother has a chalet in a small ski resort and we are going over the Easter break. However, we don't seem to have done very well about co-ordinating our arrivals and departures! My sister-in-law is driving over on Monday with her youngest child, Ian and I are driving down on Wednesday, my brother is flying out on Thursday, Margaret (friend of sister-in-law) is flying out Friday, my sister is flying out on Easter Monday morning with my other nephew (to make sure he gets on the plane!), my brother's friend Arthur (inventor of the nickname 'lovely') is flying out Monday afternoon, we are driving back the Wednesday after..........

Monday, 10 March 2008

Llamas and TB

I mentioned in a previous post that some llama breeders in the UK have been hit by bovine TB, resulting in the loss of their herds. An article appeared in the Times a couple of weeks ago, adding to the lobby of those wanting to cull badgers. Apparently the spread into the llama population is blamed on them grazing in fields soaked in infected badger urine. I have no idea how likely or true this is. What did interest me was the reference to the vaccination of badgers and deer to prevent the spread. Surely if you can vaccinate badgers and deer then you can vaccinate llamas? They do not enter the food chain in any way so that is not a problem. I must look into it in more detail.


Apparently this is the name given to the part of France where we are going to live, due to the large percentage of English people living there. A friend of Ian's sent him links to 3 articles in the English national press about the area, as from March 9 new rules come into force allowing non-French citizens to stand in council elections. As one article says

With 200 British families out of 2,600 inhabitants, a British population that swells to 900 in the summer months and a dozen British small businesses, the village of Eymet is at the heart of the trend.

However I liked the view of someone at the University of Sussex, who it seems is researching into the phenomenon of British local councillors in France and also happens to be standing in her village in Normandy. (How does she manage to keep her University job and live in France..I must talk to her!) According to the article in the Guardian she argues that

the new wave of British residents are becoming more active locally, often inspired by protecting their rural idyll from things like wind farms and new building projects, or managing the look of the village. "Like in Britain, where middle-class urban people moved to rural areas for retirement, they would typically try and take over things, like parish councils, village fetes ... changing farming practices or seeking to further their own interests. Not everyone is like that, but it looks as if it's now starting to happen in France."

I wonder whether it will be that much different from living in Sussex!

I thought that the comment by Ian's friend was most telling!

I would like to read a French article on the same subject but I guess they dont see it as anything unusual or worth reporting.

Battoning down the hatches

This is what I did today as we had a storm. It was predicted and although it was quite wet and windy, to me it was no worse here than some of the other wet and windy days that we have had this year. Anything that wasn't secured properly in my house and garden blew away months ago so this current storm did not add to the damage. I did hope to go down to sea front and take some pictures of the waves as the English channel in a storm is quite spectacular, but the greyness damp and cold put me off so instead I turned up the heating and stayed indoors!

The unconcious agenda

We have a meeting coming up next Monday. The meeting will last most of the day and everyone who works in the department is expected to attend. Lunch is provided but this is not really an incentive and I have tried to come up with a reason as to why I can't go without any luck so it looks like I will have to sit through it. To put the meeting in context, I work for a fairly large department within a University. The head of department left last week and the advertisement for her replacement went out on the day she left. The department is currently under 'temporary' leadership and while we await a permanent appointment, the many conflicting agendas and politics within the department have been left to roam wild! Freud's theory of the unconscious mind argued that most of what motivates us is the result of hidden and unconscious desires. He also argued that we unconsciously strive to protect our egos from damage and use a variety of defense mechanisms to protect ourselves. Thus without consciously meaning to, we might 'forget' to do things that are psychologically difficult. Others have argued that these psychological theories can also be applied within organisations. So, have a look at the agenda below and see if you can work out what topic is the one that those organising the meeting want to talk about the least and is the most important!

9-45am Introduction and review of progress
10am Curriculum
10-45am COFFEE
11am Economic and social engagement
12 noon Staff and Student experience -
12-45pm LUNCH
2pm Research
3pm TEA
3-15pm Physical environment
Management and relationships

(Not only does it come at the end of the day (almost as an afterthought); there is no time allocated to talk about it!) On second thoughts the day might be more entertaining than I thought!

I have just been reading about the psychology of leadership. One of my colleagues complained that none of the 'leaders' in our organisation were capable of making a decision about anything and likened it to 'leadership by marshmallow'!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

My favourite music

I got to my French class a little early today so I sat in the coffee shop and listened to one of my favourite bits of music. It is the adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo. I think the reason that I love it so much is that I can associate it so much with Spain; particularly the gardens of the Alhambra in Granada. When I hear the music I immediately feel the warm sunshine on my face, can see the oranges on the trees and smell the heat. There is a piece in the music towards the end where the full orchestra joins the solo guitarist in a powerful crescendo. That bit always makes me shiver!

I had initially put the version by Jon Williams but then I found this one by Narcisco Yepes,which I think is much better. He died in 1997 so this must be quite old

Monday, 3 March 2008

Happy anniversary

I am not one of those women who gets hung-up and romantic about anniversaries. Ian says that in that respect, and a few others, I am more like a man than a woman! Truth is I can't remember the exact day when Ian and I first met and when we started 'going out'. I don't even know how you define 'going out'. Anyway, I think we met about 3 years ago, initially on the Internet through an on-line dating site. We talked a few times and then met up in Rye, didn't see each other for a few weeks and then met up a bit later and I guess from then on we were 'going out' and I remember it because it was just before Ian's birthday which is in three weeks! Now, three years later the way that we met seems quite irrelevant to what has gone on since, that I almost throw it into the sentence without thinking when talking, although I am aware that for some people it might seem a bit strange. When I think back to what happened to us in the first two and a half years I am amazed that we managed to come through it. On our first 'date' in Rye I remember wearing mitts all day and complaining that the circulation in my hands was bad and my joints ached and that all in all I wasn't feeling too well. Despite our blossoming relationship I continued to feel bad and by April my legs were sore, I got out of breath just moving, I got stuck in the bath and I swelled to the size of an elephant (well my legs did at least!). By May I was in hospital. Through all this Ian was having to deal with the painful ending of his previous relationship (the repercussions would take another 18 months to be resolved), being homeless and having to live with his mother, and having to do various contract jobs that meant living in bed and breakfast accommodation all week- a pretty grim time for us! We got through this, I came home and had several months off work to recover, Ian got a better job nearer to home and then around the time of the anniversary of his father's death his mother had a heart attack and ended up in hospital. We spent several weekends visiting and then when she came out of hospital Ian had to be around a fair bit for a while. She recovered quite well and eventually by this time last year things had generally stabilised; Ian bought his flat and we started to make plans for France. I did worry that although we were good at dealing with crises we would not manage so well when things were going more smoothly but that has not been the case and despite the fact that my mother has been unwell and we have had to help her move home, we are trying to maintain two homes 60 miles apart, we spend weekends commuting between houses and we are trying to plan and co-ordinate the house in France (and keep up with demanding jobs, and try to find time to have some fun, and various other minor crises to deal with) this year has seemed the easiest! I guess we have been successful in having fun together even when things have been bad and have both prioritised putting effort into the relationship. I am really looking forward to the time when one of us doesn't have to pack up their things on Sunday night and drive back home in order to go to work the following day!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Fanny's farm

At the time of writing this I am so tired I can barely co-ordinate my fingers on the keyboard. We joined the mountain bike group for a ride around the Reigate hills today. Sounds easy as you may ask 'what hills are there in Reigate?' but in fact there are plenty! I managed to keep up for a while but then as I got more tired the pace stayed the same and my legs and lungs just couldn't stand the pain! Still, I made it until lunchtime and then Ian and I went home shortly after (I think he was tired as well!). Lunch was in one of my favourite places. It is called Fanny's Farm and is not far from Reigate hill, just off the M25. Fanny is an impeccably dressed 'well built' lady of a certain age and class. The farm consists of a few ramshackle buildings, a couple of portable toilets and a kind of garden area. It has no mains power or sewerage so the till is an old fashioned manual one and Fanny adds up the bills on paper. It takes no cheques or credit cards. In the summer and warmer winter days you can sit under the trees in the various bits of the garden and have tea, cakes and light meals. We sat in the tree house garden which is a wonderful little garden with a large tree-house at one end.

(picture from

You can rent the tree-house for a couple of hours to have your own afternoon tea with friends. The tea is served from a teapot, in china cups and the cakes are homemade. It is served by a bevvy of teenage girls and as it is in Surrey they can at least string a sentence together coherently. You can buy cakes, chutneys, home made jams etc., plants grown on the farm, arts and crafts, teas to take home. The plants are grown in beds (literally; as the raised beds are made out of old bedsteads turned upside down and filled with soil). There are two enormous Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs who ignore all visitors, an inquisitive Jack-Russell terrier who doesn't, chickens (you can buy eggs for 20p each) and other various animals, plants and bric-a-brac. How Fanny manages to meet current health and safety regulations I don't know but in the summer and at many weekends in the winter the place is packed. It looks like it is on the verge of closure but has probably been going for years! (In fact I have just looked on their website and it has been going since 1979)

Saturday, 1 March 2008

The house in France

Ian is currently working 3 days a week to allow him some time to make some decisions about the house. As we are building from scratch it is possible to make the most of new technologies and make it as eco-friendly as possible. Sounds simple but to be totally sustainable in terms of energy etc would about triple the price, so we have had to think about compromises where possible. We wanted to find some way of collecting and using rain water for the house but as this is relatively new the options are quite expensive and involve various size concrete tanks and a lot of ground work. However, Ian thinks he has found an answer (see picture).

A few companies are marketing what can best be described as very large polythene bags that sit on a flat base of sand and can be use to store water. The company that makes this one is called citerneo (based in a place called Vallières-les-Grandes ) and mostly they have been used for agriculture (storing irrigation water etc) but with a bit of attention to provide a filtering system we think they may be a good and cheaper alternative.