Thursday, 30 April 2009

What's the panic?

I can't really take this pig flu that seriously I'm afraid. I understand the seriousness of a flu pandemic but when I worked in hospitals I saw people die of flu every year. In fact it was the only time any beds became vacant in the nursing homes. Okay, I know it sounds a bit grim but that is how it is. There will still be more people killed by 'normal' flu that the pig variety and it seems to me that the panic here is that rather than just affecting the old and infirm pandemic flu kills young people as well. So that makes it more of a tragedy? Perhaps it does but I suppose it depends on your point of view. We seem to have this idea in our Western and privileged society that it is only okay to die when you are old. I wonder if it is the same in Mexico where infant mortality is high and in many parts life expectancy is low. What kills people is poverty, poor nutrition and poor sanitation and I would guess that in parts of Mexico they have all three. So far pig flu in the West has been a relatively mild illness. Things may change and I may live to have to rewrite my words but my bet is if you want to reduce the mortality rate then it is better to try to eradicate overcrowding, poor sanitation and poverty, and to provide free health care to the poor, than it is to waste money telling us all how to blow our own noses.

I also find it a sad indictment on our culture that the couple from Scotland who contracted flu on their honeymoon are now being represented by the publicist Max Clifford. I can only wish that any money they make from their unfortunate experience is paid back into the health service that looked after them in their hour of need.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Bicycle links

I have posted before about our uncanny connections with all things bicycle related and the way our lives seem to revolve around them (forgive the pun!). While we were away Mike wanted to drive over to a neighbouring town to look at some metal work and other things that a woman was giving away. I can't remember the name of the place we drove to but it was about 40 km away in the Lot et Garonne and by a lovely canal. The woman and her husband had moved to this house three months before from Tenerife, where they had been living for 18years, and bought a run down and badly renovated house. They had just stripped out the insides of 5-6 apartments and were looking for a new use for some of the contents. This suited Mike quite well as he is renovating his house into one bedroom flats.

The woman told me that her husband was a keen cyclist and when I spoke to him about it he said that in his youth he had turned down a place in the 1964 Olympics as in those days there was no money in it and no possibilities of a future career in sports and he had his own career to consider in dentistry. How times have changed!

Pictures of the house

Thought I would post a few pictures of the house....

The first two are the main doors, front and back. If you look closely you can see my reflection in the back door. We don't have a front door handle or a doorstep yet!

This is Ian and Mike demonstrating the art of erecting stud walls and the following two are views of the house; one from close up and one from the road.

The final picture is of Herman's place with the field of rape in the background.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The end of winter

On my trips to the supermarket to fetch the daily supplies I stopped off in the town to look around. You can still see the wreckage from the winter storm. The willows down by the campsite were ripped up by the wind and they have still not been cleared from the river.

However, nature has been a bit more active and signs of spring are everywhere. There were at least half a dozen of these flowers over the land which I believe are pyramid orchids.

I was also fascinated by the beautiful butterfly; much larger than anything I have seen before. It was collecting nectar from the little pink flowers.

He is quite camouflaged in the picture but in reality the yellow stood out against the grass quite clearly!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Slow progress but progress never-the-less

This time last year the builder had just emerged with his digger and dug the first holes and last August we were having lunch on our block floor in an imaginary dining room. At the end of the week Ian and Mike had successfully put up the walls and ceiling of what will be our bedroom and had made a good start on the kitchen and living room (and put in the ceiling joists for the ceiling in the tower.) At times it feels like things are progressing painfully slowly with no end in sight, but when we look back we can see how far we have come. When people ask when it will be finished and when we will move in Ian says it will be finished when it is finished. I think that is quite a sensible way of looking at it.

An omission

One thing the check-in girl at P&O didn't ask us was whether we were carrying any incendiary devices or fireworks! I hadn't thought at the time, but I had made a cake for Mike as it was his 50th Birthday on the Saturday and we wanted to surprise him with a lunchtime treat. I had heard about these cake fountains or candles that are rather like an indoor firework and so hunted one out to go on the top. The cake was a sponge with white icing, which I dusted in gold and decorated in my own eccentric style as you can see below. Even Mike was impressed with the flame thrower effect of the cake fountain!

Joys of travelling

After a mad week in France working on the house we are now back and caught up in work before we get a chance to take a breath. It really does feel like I live in parallel existences at times; not sure whether I am in London, the South Coast or France when I wake up!

As usual, our journeys were eventful. We had an early start on Saturday and realised that we were a little tight for time as we approached Dover with minutes to spare before the final check-in time for our crossing. Still, the traffic Gods were on our side and we arrived at the check in with 3 minutes in hand.

"What do you have in the van?" asked the check in girl.

"Tools, plasterboard, plywood.." volunteered Ian

"Do you have any oil based paint? Any aerosols or pressurised containers?"

Ian thought a moment. "I do have a couple of sealed cans of expanding foam filler"

"Well, you can't take them on the boat..let me have a look at them (Ian gets them out of the van)..oh yes, look, they're marked as hazardous and you can't take them on.. I can't take them from you either as they are'll have to go over to.... " (with that my eyes glazed over and I knew we had missed the ferry!)

In the customer services department the man looked perplexed. "Well. I can't really take them off you either"

"What, you mean my sealed, fire-rated tubes of foam filler are so dangerous you can't take them?" said Ian.

"What about a can of hairspray? Can I take that?" I asked "not that I have any anyway".

"Hmmm, hairspray is a bit of a grey area.."

After some smiles and a few more negotiations the four cans of filler were disappeared and we got on the later ferry. I suspect the involvement of health and safety man for this and suspect that we were a little too honest for our own good!

The rest of the journey down was uneventful although very long and we finally arrived at 2.30a.m and went straight to bed!

Coming back we split the journey in two, planning to stop overnight when we dropped off Ian's friend Mike at his house in the Somme. We planned to leave at a civilised time but unfortunately Mike came down with an upset stomach over night and Ian followed on a few hours later, so the trip back was a rather agonizing dash between toilet stops. Sitting between the two of meant that inevitably I came down with the same thing the following morning and thus the journey up to Eurotunnel was more of the same, this time with me being the one suffering!

We did notice two good things. On the way over on P&O ferries (The Pride of Kent) the staff had definitely undergone a make over in terms of enthusiasm and friendliness (and also looked a lot smarter and cleaner than I remember)! Our crossing with Eurotunnel was also pretty effortless with no one asking about our 3 cubic metres of contents.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Going back again; the next stage

Touch wood, the French fishermen have called off their blockade of Calais after promises of more money so hopefully we will be on the move on Saturday! Blogging will be sparse as not only will we not have a network connection but my Eeee PC has died; or more specifically Internet explorer has imploded and now everything needs to be reinstalled! Ian has been too busy collecting trailers and going to France to sort it out. Mind you, after our last trip I was far too busy and tired to cope with any sort of blogging in the evening!

Ian did send me a photo of the house with windows, which I attach to show the progress. Unfortunately he also discovered that the roof leaks!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Got you!

Lovely lusty ladies is becoming my most popular page and where I get the majority of hits, according to my site meter! How sad and predictable the world is!

The ports are blockaded so it must be Easter

A frustrating few days ahead I fear as we are set to go over to France on Saturday and as we are taking the newly acquired trailer (Ian picked it up a few hours ago from a Tesco's car park on the M3 and manhandled it into his garden), fully laden with plasterboard, we could not take the tunnel on this occasion. So, we are booked onto a ferry from Dover only at the moment the French trawler men are blockading Calais, Boulogne and Dieppe in a dispute over fishing quotas and we are going nowhere! Usually these things don't last too long but as the trawler men can't fish anyway since there is nothing left in the ocean for them to catch they have nothing better to do than to park their boats at the harbour entrance. This would have been timed to coincide with everyone returning from their Easter vacation and thus ensure the maximum disruption and publicity. I must say the French really know how to protest. Demonstrations in Paris usually involve riots, fires and copious use of teargas that make the climate protests in London look like a day out (which mostly they are except for the usual small group of anarchists stirring up trouble and one or two rogue police officers who have not yet been assigned to desk duties).

The fisherman all get in their boats and go home over night, only to return the following morning and start the whole thing off again! Ian and I were wondering why the navy just don't go and sink them!

We are trying to think of a plan 'B'!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Mother's tales

Today was spent visiting my mother and she was in good form. She is properly settled into her apartment now and seems to enjoy having other people nearby to the extent that it has given her the confidence to get out and about when she can. She is certainly slow and unsteady on her feet and I can understand her reluctance to walk what for her seems a long distance when it is all up hill. This is made worse by the fact that the pavements and kerbs on her route are broken, uneven and there are no suitable places to cross the street. I was going to take some photos of her trying to get around and send it in to the local council only I ran out of memory on my camera. It will have to wait until my next visit. We had a nice meal in the local curry house. Perhaps a strange choice for an Easter Sunday but I haven't had curry for ages and my mother also enjoys it from time to time. We walked up and back and then sat to rest for a while in her flat.

My mother spent most of her life as a secretary to various men. She started in the civil service and then worked for an accountant, finishing off in a big charitable organisation. She was able to take shorthand, was a touch typist and was also involved in organising the day to day life of her boss. I suppose we would now call her a Personal Assistant. She worked before the days of Internet, emails and computers when the 'boss' never wrote or composed anything himself and at best would dictate a letter for her to edit and type and present for signing. She watched the story of the senior government official who had to quit because he sent some ill advised email with some amusement.

"I thought to myself.. in my day if you had a good secretary this wouldn't have happened. We all worked for these men who were always apt to do stupid things, because after all, they are men! Your job as a secretary was to watch out for them, and if they looked like they were about to do something stupid you tactfully asked them if they were really sure they wanted to send that letter or note and pointed out what might happen if they did"

Nowadays of course once you press the SEND button the damage has been done and can't be undone, you type your own letters, and if you have a secretary and if he or she is bright enough to work out that you are about to be a bit of an ar*e then they would immediately send a copy of the email to the local tabloid journalist and take the cash reward!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Easter apart

Ian has made a quick trip to France over Easter to take yet more plasterboard while I have stayed at home. His aim was to sleep in the house overnight (something he referred to as romantic but without heat, showers or a toilet not quite how I would have described it!). Apparently the weather has been a bit grim and after a few minutes of listening to the wind coming in around the roof and door he decided to abort the mission and sleep on the neighbours' floor! This morning he phoned to say that he thought he had lost his passport (although after a few minutes of thought and a bit more searching it reappeared)! It has felt strange for me to have a whole weekend in the house by myself and although I had a long list of jobs to do so far I have not been that productive!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

A (very) relaxing day

It was pouring with rain when I got up this morning and I had an early start as I was teaching in Brighton. I took the train and got soaked trying to get the parking meter at the station to accept my 20p coins; but by the time I got to Brighton it was dry and the sun was attempting to shine. After a pleasant morning I headed off further into town for my afternoon treat. I had booked half a days leave to use a voucher that my brother and sister-in-law had given me for my Birthday. This involved over three hours of body treatments, including a massage, facial, salt scrub and manicure in a spa in Brighton. It was the most pampering I have ever had in one session. I remember falling asleep and being vaguely aware that I was beginning to snore during the facial treatment! I now feel very floppy!

I walked back along the seafront. Brighton is much busier than Eastbourne, aptly named London-on-sea. I took this photo of the burnt out West Pier as it falls further and further into the sea and didn't notice the seagull at the time.

This view from the prom is how I felt at the end of my pampering!

In the meantime, Ian has gone over to France and I have a weekend to myself and a list of jobs and things to do that will take the best part of two weeks!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Building gates

The logistics of finishing off the house in France, commuting between our respective homes and moving tools and materials around the country can lead to some interesting dilemmas and challenges to our problem solving abilities (and not to mention long conversations that start "where did I leave my box of galvanised nails? In France, at your house or are they in the loft?"). Ian has been looking out for a trailer for the van and found one a few days ago that met all of his criteria. The only problem is, we have nowhere to keep it. So, a cunning plan was hatched that basically involves removing two panels of the fence at Ian's place and constructing a gate in its place. That way the trailer can be manoeuvred into what passes for his garden (a little patch of grass by the side of his flat). My task yesterday was to take a crow bar to the old fence and dismantle it..a job a quite enjoyed although Ian is cross that I did not carefully chop up all the bits of wood and put them in the bin! I should also add that my morning job involved assisting Ian to unload 36 sheets of plasterboard from the van to its temporary storage place in a neighbour's garage.

While we were outside another of Ian's neighbours, Patricia, came out. She is around my age and usually quite active but on this occasion looked like she could hardly move. Ian helped her to take out her lawn mower and she mentioned that she was having problems with her hands and feet. I asked her a little more and it seems that she most likely has rheumatoid arthritis and has been having problems since Christmas. She had started some treatment but so far was still in pain. When I told her that I had gone through something similar a few years ago she seemed genuinely relieved. "Oh, but you are able to do so much, you cycle everywhere". I told her what it had been like for a while, how at the time I wasn't sure if I would even be able to work, let alone cycle, how the first year or so is hard because it takes that long for them to work out how to treat you, medications take months to work, how it takes you a while to adapt and that for most people with the right treatment the future is okay.

I remembered having an email discussion with a fireman with MCTD when I was first ill. He told me that he had eventually made it back to work and achieved full fitness and it filled me with great hope so I hope I was able to give Patricia something positive to aim for. She seemed pleased and that afternoon she mowed her entire lawn (although it was obviously very painful for her). She said to me later "I just have to weather the storm for a while don't I?" I said "Yes, I think you do".

Now I have to make a trip to Screwfix for a box of galvanised nails!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


The news today is full of Obama's visit to Britain. He is portrayed as the handsome prince whilst Sarkosy, the French president, is more like the evil wizard, casting gloomy spells over the glittering ball! I have one question. If all the nations of the world are having to borrow more money who are they borrowing it from? (As you can see I have never studied economics!).