At 20:30 on a cold Winter’s Saturday night I can't say I was exactly raring to go; curling up with a warm computer seemed more attractive. But the tummy was rumbling and I'd paid, so I sorted out those glad rags that still fit the tumescent tummy and set off to the Foyer Rural.
For once we'd judged the degree of lateness; last year we were on time and, embarrassingly, the first people there.
The "welcome" feeling started as soon as we arrived - one of the Foyer Rural équipe was taking the coats and putting them on hangers. A gnarled old son of the soil, whose other job is stoking the wood burners until they roar and glow red, handed out a single rose in cellophane for the ladies.
We were handed to our allotted table by the bluff, friendly treasurer, where we found people from last year, including a lovely friendly couple from Villeneuve. Our Maire, another lovely chap, sought us out - Xtine was "embrassed" for the first time!
The dinner was catered by a local traiteur and served by the Foyer Rural équipe; the food was good and, apart from a rather acid blanc, the wines were palatable too. It was the usual formula - long gaps between courses for dancing; as usual we did a lot of sitting during the interminable polka and old-fashioned waltz thingies that we can't do, interspersed by the occasional rock or smooch which we can. The dancing got less inhibited as the night progressed - I’m still chuckling at a roomful of generally middle-aged French singing the football yob anthem - "'Ere we go, 'ere we go, 'ere we go!"
The clock turned over to the New Year in a strangely low-key manner, and our roots tugged as we had to wait an hour before the texts and calls from the UK appeared on the mobile.
We made it as far as 02:30 before the call to blanket land exceeded the attraction of coffee and liqueurs. This was a really lovely evening!
Yesterday was the last time we could have a bit of a do with the decorations still up, so we invited some neighbours; a Belgian Jean and his German wife Ingrid, plus a Belgian brother Daniel, to lunch at Tessel Bas.
We served smoked salmon, Tilley gammon served hot with a mustard and brown sugar glaze stuck with cloves, cheese and rhubarb crumble. The wines were a Bourgorgne white (Vézelay) with the salmon, a 96 Cahors Noir and a Sauternes drunk English-fashion, with the pud.
They were charming company; their French was easy to understand and the conversation went rapidly in and out of French and English, very occasionally dipping into German.
They had a new Toyota Prius with the hybrid drive train, how strange to hear it whir away up the drive on its electric motor!
I booked pussycats Henri IV and Gaby into the vets for the "unkindest cut" operation next week. Poor little souls.
I've been amazing Christine in a wild orgy of personal spending at the January sales!
The other day I was working on the hill in the wood, cutting, pulling up and generally cursing the ash tree saplings that grow like grass on my land (how anything can grow 5 metres in a single season astounds me!). Anyway I have this pair of robust shoes that I bought in Australia - real solid leather bush-whacking "Man from Snowy River" style, made by "Rivers", to go with the old Drizabone waxed cotton coat and the genuine rabbit-fur Akubra, g'day sport!
However, pulling on one robust sapling, my foot and sock suddenly appeared from between the upper and the sole.
Well, of course I was disgusted, I've only had them about 14 years, bloody Aussie crap! And the shoe shop in Brandon Park, Melbourne is a bit far to take them back and complain!
So on the way to Leclerc I noticed the Gep Shoe-permarket had a sale on. So in I went and found a good pair of heavy frog boots, just the job for chasing sanglier through the Dordogne, marked down 30%! So I had to buy them, and, exhilarated by this rush of retail fever I bought a pair of genuine doddery old granddad slippers!
So I take my prize boots back home, but then I reconsider. These are nice, shiny leather boots. Can't get them dirty, can I? Much better to keep them for best - I can use my old walking boots in the garden - AND give myself an excuse to buy some new walking boots!
Christine was speechless.
But the furry-lined slippers are very nice in the Porcherie!
French epidemiologists have reported that the inexorable
spread of parsnip mania has reached the Lot & Garonne.
An outbreak of parsnips measuring 5.5 on the Panais* Scale was reported in the Place Lafayette in Villeneuve sur Parsnip. Several expatriate British people were seen to be furtively buying them from shady parsnip "dealers".
One such person interviewed, housewife Christine Gillis (29) of Ste Colombe de Panais said "Well they're for me ‘usband, he likes 'em, you see. I don't see no 'arm in it meself, keeps 'im off the streets they do".
One theory is that the Grippe Aviare is sensitive to the ingestion by birds of parsnip seeds, so that birds with their crops full of Turkish parsnip seeds survive the bird 'flu and fly down to South West France dropping seeds pre-packaged with guano to ensure instant germination.
What's next? Swede? The French will have to import Swedish chefs!
* The French get confused between turnips (navets) and parsnips (panais). Often the two words are used interchangeably.
Tonight I set out as normal to take the pussies on their
evening stroll around the patch. As usual they dawdled, finding new places to sniff,
new places to wee, new places to scent mark, as pussies do.
Now if the weather is clement they like walking down through the wood - a steep slope down and around and back up. I'd walked down to the bottom, when Gaby, the lithe and lean tigré cat shot past me at emergency speed - she's fast anyway, but this was really fast. I looked back for the others - no sign until I spotted Henri IV, the one with a rouille coat with a panache blanche - about 5m up a tree! So I looked for Magic and saw her at the same level up another fork of the same tree.
Now Magic is a big, black, respectable pussycat, weighing 7 Kg, so to drive her up that far she must have seen something really scary! As I watched she tried to turn and come down, but slithered and fell with a hefty thud - fortunately she was shaken but unhurt.
Henri IV however was perched like a chamois on a tiny twig, mewing, so Daddy had to go get a ladder to get him down. Grabbed by the scruff of the neck he didn't want to un-stick from his twig, then finally let go, grabbing Daddy's face with claws extended and throwing his spectacles into the undergrowth.
So Magic and Henri VI were taken back to Mummy to relate their scary experience, I went back to put the ladder away and find Gaby.
Gaby turned up, of course, miffed in case her walk was to be curtailed, so we had to finish it, with Gaby revelling in the exclusive attention. My glasses turned up after a prolonged search!
So alls well as ends well, but I'm left with the question - just what was it that spooked the cats? Bearing in mind that we've lost three loved cats in three years, it's a matter of concern. There was no noise, no crashing in the undergrowth, no barking, just three petrified cats? And I was no more than about 50m away.
We had a lovely Sunday lunch with friends Peter and Lammy,
who live in a little stone house across the other side of our valley; a very
pleasant two-story cottage, nicely restored and enhanced by Peter's collection
of old clocks which fill the house with ticks and chimes. Had it been available
we would certainly have considered buying the house, its only real disadvantage
would have been a rather steep drive which would have been difficult to
negotiate with our caravan.
The guests, apart from Peter and Lammy were Claude and Françoise: Claude came from Poitou-Charente and his French was very clear and easy to understand; Françoise was a local girl and not so easy, with a strong local accent; but the conversation was wide ranging and almost totally in French which was very good for Christine and I.
Google tells me it's Wolfgang Amadeus's birthday (one of the "o"s has a wig on it). Actually he was baptised Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart but his full name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Gottlieb Mozart. Not a lot of people know that!
Anyway a pretty white sprinkle of snow greeted us from the bedroom window. I was of course astounded by the extra few arc-seconds of view afforded by my lumber jacking efforts yesterday.
I had felled a tall oak, a typical French oak which was very tall, probably about 30m, but spindly, with most of the trunk no more than 50cms diameter. The head of the tree was very bushy, though, and impeded a nice view through the trees. I find such jobs scary - there's a lot of potential energy in tons of oak and they can do strange and unexpected things.
So I planned it, marking the notch in chalk, clearing brambles away from the base so I've got an escape route.
With heart thumping I cut a generous notch. The tree was leaning slightly that way so I was pretty sure it would fall in that direction anyway.
Then I made the felling cut, leaving a good "hinge" and beat a retreat as it started to creak. I stood and watched. The tree stayed where it was, ticking slowly. The felling cut opened up a millimetre or so and then stopped.
I decided to go and get a wedge and sledge to help it along. On the way back to the tree I watched as it gracefully keeled over.
No buttered scones for tea, but this lumberjack felt definitely OK!
We woke up to a cold morning (-1°C) and a sprinkle of snow. We did our normal veggie market shop in Villeneuve, by which time it was snowing quite heavily, with big floçons. So on to Leclerc, and by the time we came out there were several inches of snow. Normally I would have taken a short cut from Leclerc that goes up a steep hill to Pujols from the N21, but decided to go back into Villeneuve and take the D118.
At the foot of the hill to Pujols there was a mêlée of cars turning round; gently stopping told me why; there was black ice under a few inches of wet snow. I sat and waited until it was clear and decided that I'd have to make it as there is no easier route back home. Unfortunately the car is automatic and I couldn't select a high gear, but I coasted up on a whisper of throttle. All the locals, of course thought that the best way was to floor the throttle, then curse when the driven wheels slowly drifted into the kerb.
Having got up the Pujols hill we descended into the next valley, and had to climb the long, winding hill up to the route du Laurier. Fortunately I had the road to myself and could concentrate on exploiting the whisper of grip in the conditions, see-sawing the wheel as the driven front wheels lost and then regained their grip. It was nerve-wracking and I really needed that big bottle of Pelforth with lunch!
Tessel Bas had a good 15 cm of snow and looked very pretty. Henri IV and Gaby didn't approve of this cold, wet, white stuff and kept slipping until they learnt to engage the claws on their 4xPaw drive.
Last week I reported on the insidious spread of filthy cattle food panais, or "parsnips" as the anglo invaders call them, on to our market tables, so the Brits can cover them in HP and mint sauce and talk in loud voices about Johnny Foreigner.
This week I spotted another alien import in Villeneuve. They are not content with just bringing their British televisions and Skyboxes over here, spreading clusters of satellite dishes as cancerous growths all over our patrimoine stone farmhouses and driving our bars and estaminets out of business as they watch their "Eastenders" and "Coronation Street" instead. No, they have started to clutter up the shelves of our Maisons de la Presse with that propaganda weapon of the Tony Blairite BBC – “The Radio Times”!
Where will it all end?
The weather was perfect for lurking in the Porcherie and
dealing with The Tax Return. I was reminded by it being the due date for
payment of the first of the three yearly tranches - I paid quickly and
conveniently by means of Le Fisc's excellent user-friendly website - doing so
gives one an extra five day's grace. It even gives you a receipt to wave in the
Trésorie in case of dispute.
The Tax return is getting easier - having done two before I now find it relatively easy to modify last years with this year's figures. I still use an accountant to fill in the actual form (still not received yet), but most of the work is collating all the figures that add up, before being put in the boxes. It helped that I've had a major reorganisation of The Filing System, so that tax things don't just have a big file called "Tax", but several, called "French Tax" (divided into Impôt, CSG, Habitation, Foncière, etc) and another marked "UK Tax" (divided into Ian, Christine, Double Taxation Claims).
Little did I think when I retired to France that major time periods would have to be devoted to clerical work, instead of playing in the sun or sipping Armagnac.
I think there's a real opening for financial gophers who don't bore you for hours on end with investment advice. They should just take your money, invest it, pay the tax on it and give you what's left. Oh and be scrupulously honest - OK perhaps it's too much to ask!
I'm going through that phase when the major refurbishment is
largely finished and one realises that there is life to be enjoyed outside
bricolage. So far this year Smartgroups going legs up has kept me off the
streets and in the Porcherie, as has the Tax Return and a major and much-needed
organisation of the filing system. Most of the remaining work on the house is
external, so lurking in the Porcherie when there is freezing fog outside has
its attractions. Even working in the barn was a bit chilly!
I seem to fill my time pretty adequately, though, am never bored and always have something not done to feel guilty about. Like my new digital Ixus camera - how the Japanese manage to fill something the size of a credit card with so many functions amazes me! I bought a plastic waterproof box for it, for skiing and snorkelling, and found that there were shooting modes designed for snow and for underwater! I can see myself missing shots while I search for some function hidden at the bottom of a menu tree.
Our trip to the Pyrénées couldn't be simpler - just get on the N21 facing south and drive until it stops - about 236 km or about 3.5 hours or so.
Very strange weather for the journey, though - really warm - 20°C on the car thermometer - with dark black orographic rain clouds formed by the warm, moist air passing over the Pyrénées. By Lectoure there was a long, narrow letter box slot on the horizon, with a wonderful view of the mountains brightly illuminated in a super-wide-screen format.
I immediately liked Cauterets and we were very lucky with the accommodation - a three-bedroom apartment directly opposite the post office and centrally located for all services. It was a new refurbishment with all mod cons and could easily have housed another couple with kids. There was even a pleasant little garden; so the place would make an ideal summer stay.
Sunday morning was cold and crisp and we bought the week's lift passes and took the new fast telecabin lift which rises 1000m from the centre of Cauterets which is at 900m - the départ is a short walk from our apartment - with the usual apprehension after two years without skiing. But a few runs on the baby pomas and most of the skills started to return.
There was a heavy snowfall on Sunday night, even at village level. It was very cold, minus 6°C with strong winds and blizzard conditions and not much ambitious skiing was done!
The alpine ski area is centred on the Cirque du Lys; an amphitheatre of mountain rising from 1850m to 2400m with some pomas at the bottom and four chair lifts taking skiers to various points on the exposed and treeless rock face where blue, red and black runs criss-cross and return to the base. As a result it was quite dangerous skiing in high winds and poor visibility - it's important to see the edges of the piste and the surface definition of the snow.
Unfortunately most days were affected by wind, cloud and driving snow; we had only 2.5 days relatively clear. I had an ambitious plan for a long route using blue runs on my birthday that had to be shelved. On the positive side we skied every day, there was a great deal of fresh and squeaky powder snow, good food and wine in the mountain restaurant and lots of restaurants doing lovely tartiflettes, raclettes and fondues to get the cholesterol alarm bells ringing!
This morning we had to clear snow away before we could leave, driving through Tarbes, which was extensively flooded and made me wish my car had more ground clearance, and a very soggy Gers, with much standing water in the fields. And no, I didn't fall over! And yes, the pussy-cats missed us and were overjoyed to be picked up from the cattery!
Tue Mar 21, 2006 10:03 am
Sara, Christine's daughter-in-law, gave birth to Millie, a
new granddaughter for Christine, today, 21st March, the first day of Spring, at
She weighed 3.86 Kg or 8lbs 8ozs in the old money. Both are doing well and Simon is a very, very proud father.
At sea Sun, 23 Apr 2006 15:57:42 +0200
Typed by Christine
The journey was uneventful, though tiring. Lovely Kathy took us to Bordeaux Airport at three am and we made all the connections through to Miami where we ground to a halt in the Immigration queue, submerged in a sea of Rumanian tourists. Fortunately there was plenty of time before the ship left Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, but body clock and the bright sunshine were by now seriously out of sync!
The ship is jaw dropping and mind-boggling! The sheer size of the thing - to see something the size of a city block and thirteen stories high park in a small Caribbean port is incredible. But the decor! - as if an Italian lunatic had been given giga-lire to indulge his wildest fetishes for marble, terrazzo and Modena glass! It was a very brave design and it worked for us.
The centre piece of the interior is an atrium with three glass lifts oscillating between ten floors - at the top a glass staircase hanging over a vertiginous drop leads to the posh peoples' restaurant.
Our room, despite being one of the thirty per cent without a balcony, nevertheless has a largish window and is spacious and has all the facilities of a good quality hotel room. What's more it is immaculately clean, indeed the whole ship is kept bright and sparkling by an army of Philippinos.
The restaurants and the food they serve are of a good standard and a wide variety.
For my Birthday a ship's Gala Night was declared, with formal dress required, that was hard for my Ian - (formal on this Italian boat is defined as no shorts or tank tops - presumably the Australian code of black thongs (flip-flops) would also have sufficed). We had a complementary bottle of Moet and Chandon and a cake, delivered to the singing of 'Happy Birthday to you' by a mixed Italian and Philippino choir of waiters.
The islands we called at were interestingly different. Puerto Rico was added to our list of tatty places we won't visit again. We went on a snorkelling trip in a nice catamaran with an unpleasant "Ugly American" Captain who clearly resented a crowd of "brain dead tourists" on his boat. St Thomas was quite the opposite - a lovely island and more snorkelling, but this time with a happy West Indian Captain and a tatty boat, but lots of friendly advice and a guided snorkelling tour to see lots of green turtles and stingrays. St Maarten (a small island divided into French and Dutch sides) was sweet and well provided with duty free shops (Ian bought a JVC HTD video camera). We only had a morning in Antigua, which was well filled by a post-snorkel rum-fuelled binge hosted by a lunatic Rasta crew.
Now we are en route to Madera across the Atlantic - the weather is still 25 to 30 degrees and we are looking forward to the wicker basket ride in Funchal and horse riding above Malaga in Spain. Perhaps now we will have time to open our books.
At sea Thu, 27 Apr 2006 11:44:59 +0200
We're scheduled to arrive at Madeira tomorrow - this morning is cloudy and down to 17 degrees, the coolest so far. The Krauts were confused, but most decided that sun beds still must be reserved. Towels are freely available around the decks, so they have to adopt new procedures, such as stringing scarves across the beds located in their favourite places. It's so nice to have national stereotypes reinforced - so far I've resisted dumping their little stratagems in the pool and yelling "Ve von the var".
The sea has a few white tops this morning after an otherwise millpond-smooth crossing.
Off to the reading room - I'm now averaging a book a day. Yesterday was "Wine and War" - the story of the impact of France's best wines on WW2 - a fascinating read and thoroughly recommended. Today is "The Messiah Code" - also recommended, it's a first novel by Michael Cordy who is a sort of thinking person's Dan Brown.
At sea Sat, 29 Apr 2006 11:10:29 +0200
I'd been to Madeira before, but only looked at Funchal from the RMS Pendennis Castle in 1969. We slid into harbour in the morning and we woke to see the town lights twinkling against the lush backdrop or vegetation. Still slightly ship-lagged; we've changed an hour forward every night for five nights.
We took a long all-day tour of the island, which included lunch and the wicker-basket toboggan down the hill in Funchal. I was impressed with Madeira - dramatic volcanic scenery and lush vegetation with flowers abloom everywhere. Definitely on the list of places to revisit - lovely walking country.
We're now en route to Gibraltar, which we expect to pass tonight. With another time change last night we're back on Central European Time.
At sea Sun, 30 Apr 2006 15:15:36 +0200
The ship slid through the (dire?) Straights of Gibraltar, nipped into Malaga, did a three-point turn and parked neatly at the jetty.
Your roving reporters continued their research into the beneficial effect of hedonism on sexagenarians by going horse riding through the olive groves above Malaga, under beautifully warm Mediterranean sunshine.
Now Xine is topping up the tan while I tend my flock as we sail towards Savona in Italia.
Oh, I've been to see the Bordeaux Show,
The elephant and the kangaroo!
Never mind the weather........
That was my first mistake - cool outside but blazing sun in the morning - shorts were deployed in anticipation of mid- to upper-twenties during the day. So of course as soon as I left 47 I found that 33 was covered in a blanket of high cloud that kept it cool all day. Fortunately I'd got my Goretex golf jacket in the car so only the knees were blue, and they've been trained by cycling to school on frosty mornings in the era when you only got long trousers when you were about 25 (knees mend themselves, holes in long trousers need patching).
I missed the first Bordeaux Lac turn from the Rocade and took the next one, ending up on the other side of the lake. I drove into the first carpark, only to find after I'd paid my 4.50€ that it was just outside Langon. Or at least, it so it seemed by the time I'd walked to the show.
I had three objectives, to look at the Toyota car range, to find a possible replacement for our old stove and to just wander about and take in the ambiance.
The first objective was soon failed; there were only second-hand cars on display. I did find a very tasty Mazda MX-5 finished in Black Passion c/w full hairdressers' kit, and a BMW Z-3 in metallic blue, but told myself to be sensible and find something comfortable to take my beloved and her summer visitors out and about in the Lot & Garonne. A nice low mileage D4-D Avensis in silver said, "buy me" but it was manual and therefore not approvable by senior management who doesn't approve of four (or even five) on the floor. Next to it was an automatic Vel Satis, which was nice apart from looking ugly, and being a Renault.
There was the usual range of foyers/poêles/inserts (no I don't really understand the differences - a "foyer" in this context is more of a hearth or hearth place but the term also seems to be applied to stoves, a poêle à bois seems to be the best translation of a free-standing wood-burning stove and is thus what I want, and an "insert" is a built-in wood burner with ducting to bring convected hot air from the rear and sides out of grilles at in the "hotte"). Our old stove needs a replacement corbeille, which is burnt through, and the chimney has no inox liner and thus doesn't conform to modern fire regs. Unfortunately the world and his wife were also looking at the same things and there was no way I could talk to any salesman without queuing, so I contented myself with taking photos. I'll take my pics to a local man - many of the exhibitors were Bordelais-based.
After having done that I wandered around the rest of the show - I still love the show - it's a typical French mix of ancient and modern, rather like the Royal Melbourne Show. A big area of eco- and green techniques vies with the sights and smells of the cattle, and everywhere there's food, both on display and being wolfed down. One hall has stalls from the rest of the world, with the noise, colour and smells of Asia and Africa.
I had to leave some use in the legs to get to "Langon" and pick up the car, so I paused to pick up a pressie for Xine and trudged to the car park. So I blew a "rhume des foins"-afflicted nose, which promptly started to bleed. Fortunately I had an emergency roll of toilet paper to make a plug with, and set off into the Bordeaux rush-hour traffic. I soon encountered a big queue waiting to get into the show, so I pulled a U-ey and got totally lost following "Itineraire Conseillé" signs that suddenly finished.
As a finale I took one last wrong turn and finished up in Ikea car park. So now, at last I know where it is, so I can avoid it in future. I haven't spent years hating my "Smogbrod" table, my "Rebecca" chairs and my "Bjorn" tallboy for nothing!
Fortunately Ikea is so often visited by deluded Bon Viveur Dreamers that there are big "Rocade" signs, and by going against the Itineraire Conseillé signs and going over the Aquitaine bridge instead of via Merignac I was soon on the A62, where the cloud disappeared at the 33/47 border and the temperature shot up to 23°C.
So all in all I had a good trip, but if you meet anyone who's been to Ikea and saw a lunatic in a red Yaris with a bog roll stuffed up his hooter looking lost in the car park, you don't know a thing, right?
My maths master once called a boy an "Insoluble Chloride" not because he wanted to describe the offending boy as a product of inorganic chemistry, but because the phrase sounded like a real insult. So words can have an attraction in their own right, quite apart from what they mean.
In French, several words are really lovely: for instance "cacahouète” sounds so much more Latin and vibrant than the humble peanut. Until recently my favourite was "moissonneuse-batteuse"; it even sounds like a combine harvester, although it's actually a portmanteau phrase combining the words for reaper and thresher.
However there's now a new contender. I'd been trying to find a way of stopping one of the big new shutters on our bedroom window from swinging open while I close the other one - a big shutter can be whipped out of your hand by a gust of wind, and with a big shutter it's hard to stretch. So I needed some sort of catch, like a garden gate latch. I searched the brico shelves - it had to be the brico supermarket because I didn’t know the English for what I wanted, let alone the French!
Eventually I found just the fellow: a “loquetau cocotte”.
Isn't that a lovely phrase - you can wrap your tongue around the onomatopoeic "loquetau" - a latch, and it's followed by the syncopated sound of "cocotte", which normally means a tart of the female variety, but here it alludes to an origami bird with a sticking-up tail. Indeed the latch has a little tail that you can operate and release the latch. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Loquetau Cocotte" as mot du jour!
was in the
Today has been a 100% shorts day - it was 22°C at breakfast time, it's still 22°C at 23:00 and it was nudging 30°C during the day. I sat on the patio this evening, immersed in stereo birdsong, washing my Raynal de Roqueloure Tinned Cassoulet (3 mins in the micro-onde) down with some Roche Mazet Cab Sauv 2004, with a lovely blue sky above and the last rays of the setting sun painting the treetops. The only thing I lacked is arriving tomorrow night by Ryanair from Stansted!
Our UK Free-to-Air service via the Astra satellites has been
dodgy for some time; around 17:00 it usually started popping and pixellating on
some channels, usually the ones that the boss was watching. So some extreme and
continuous pressure was applied to the money provider/bricoleur/French speaker
(sort of) to "do something about it".
I thought that since it popped and banged with all three digiboxes, that only the channels received with horizontal polarisation were dodgy, that the signal level seemed OK on all three, that there was a problem with the LNB (the sticky-out bit on the parabole) which switches between horizontal and vertical polarisation.
So I got a man in to look at it - genial Christof from Massou Frères arrived promptly this morning.
Yes, it was the LNB - it was replaced and the picture is perfect. One happy wife! Non-pixellating East Enders!
While he was here I asked his advice about receiving French telly; for ages I've felt how stupid it is that we can't receive it in the salon. We discussed receiving the analogue SECAM pictures, or a twin-block LNB and a new parabole and new digital receiver to get the half dozen FTA French satellite channels. But the chosen solution was the TNT "freeview" system - digital terrestrial TV. He measured the signal strength and then and there erected the "rateau" (French = "rake" = the conventional toast-rack antenna). A quick trip back to base for the receiver, and we've now got a good picture on 16 French digital channels beamed to us from the high power transmitter atop the Pic du Midi in the Pyrénées
All on a UK (PAL) TV!
I've just got the facture for the half day the TV guy spent at our house, replacing the LNB on the satellite dish and additionally erecting a French terrestrial digital antenna and installing and setting up the digital receiver.
If I'd done it myself, I'd have had to pay full TVA at 19.6% on all the materials; since a tradesman did the work and it's considered to be refurbishing an old property, I only paid TVA at 5.5% for most of the bill.
As a result it only cost me about 60 euros extra to have the job done, and it would have taken me much longer, too!
It's hardly worth getting the ladder out, even including the pourboire!
It seems to me that this VAT concession is beneficial to both tradesman and consumer - long may it continue!
At about 1am last night I achieved a functional wi-fi
network, so that the laptop (Henrietta) can send stuff to print on the printer
attached to the desktop (Charles), also both Henrietta and Charles can browse,
open and modify each other's shared documents!
It's strange that I found it amazing that a document I created could float across the aether and be printed on another computer!
I bought some Pervenche de Madagascar last year and was amazed how well it did with little watering in full sun. It amazes all the more because it's a cinqfoil like impatiens, which it strongly resembles in appearance; however its characteristics are quite different - impatiens would fry where pervenche thrives.
The dictionary says pervenche is a periwinkle, but it looks nothing like the little blue periwinkle. Its Latin name is Cataranthus roseus or vinca rosea.
It's also got medical properties:
"Les malgaches utilisaient la pervenche pour ses propriétés «coupe faim», mais aussi curatives :
vermifuge, capacité à soigner les piqûres de guêpe, à désinfecter les plaies, action antipaludique et diurétique en infusion. Après des travaux canadiens en 1920, c'est en 1957 que Noble (Canada) et Svoboda (Etats-Unis) ont mis en évidence l'effet anti-leucémique. "
I'm having to learn gardening all over again, I think the key is watering; I've seen things that I've watered regularly gradually subside, only to be rejuvenated by a soaking shower of proper rain. Drought resistant things like pervenche are just the ticket for me!
Just done a tour of the damage - c'est pas grave - lots of trees lost branches, leaves all over the place, no need for the chainsaw this time. The wind was very strong, though: it picked a heavy pot of geraniums up from the patio and dropped it on the prom. Pot now needs extensive refurbishing and is probably a write-off!
The Flybe flight to Southampton used an HS146, which was comfortable, leather seats and plenty of legroom. Southampton Eastleigh airport is a pleasant, small airport with modern facilities and only a short walk to the Avis Park where we picked up a diesel Fiesta for our journey to Wells.
Autoroute 2003 thought it should take us 1hr 50 m, but the stop-start motoring around Salisbury took ages and the continuous speed limits and speed cameras conspired to make it over 2 1/2 hours before we pulled into our internet-booked hotel at North Wooton. I'd forgotten how awful motoring in the UK could be!
North Wooton is a charming stone-built Mendip village, ruined by its hotel. The Crossway Hotel should have been called the "Crossroads Motel" - its architecture followed the Billy Butlin School of converted barrack block and the plumbing was Neolithic.
That evening, my friend Nick, father of the groom, came round with his second and probably last wife. We searched for a more salubrious eatery and chanced upon "The Pound Inn", which should be prosecuted under the Trades Description Act - even the bitter cost £2.50! The food, however, was good pub food - I had a steak that was so much better than the un-hung, uneatable gristle that Leclerc and Auchan foist on us as grilling steak.
Saturday morning, being "at leisure" was filled by a visit to Glastonbury and an interesting tour around the ruined abbey, plus a walk up the main street, which itself was interesting; Glastonbury shoppers consist largely of Morticia-like goths and hairy wierdos with beards, ponytails and sandals, all visiting spiritual shops full of Yin, Yang and crystal.
The wedding was held in St Cuthbert's Church in Wells; the bride was 15 minutes late but a jolly vicar full of bonhomie made up for it. The time taken for the wedding was considerably exceeded by the time for taking the photographs - a professional photographer had been employed.
The bride also had two sets of parents, so the reception at the Coxley Vineyard was further delayed as representatives of all families were mustered and photographed. It was early evening before people sat down to dinner and there were sonorous rumbles from tummies that had not been topped up since breakfast.
The reception gave way to the traditional disco which included some 60s music, featuring doddery jiving by a lubricated geriatric.
A crack-of-sparrows 07:00 start from the hotel next morning precluded breakfast; this time the early hour and the fact that it was Sunday helped the journey through cold rain and fog to Southampton, where we were in time to break our fasts with bacon, egg and sausage, before a pleasant flight to a sunny Bergerac, simmering in the afternoon sun at about 30°C.
Over dinner on the patio that evening, I reflected that going back to the UK is a little like banging one's head against the wall. It's very nice when it's over!
Our Bastille Day included an accident too - we had lunch
with friends on the opposite side of our valley; like us they're on the edge of
a steep slope with a spectacular view. We moved the table into the shade of an
old walnut tree - maybe a little too near to the edge. Mine host was sitting on
a plastic chair, which gave way; he did a spectacular back-flip-and-roll down
Fortunately he sustained only minor contusions and was able to take more medicinal alcohol, orally of course!
Of course I didn't have the video camera switched on, and he ungraciously refused to do it again for the record.
I did have the camera for the Villeneuve fireworks - we went up to Pujols hill and the night time panorama with the feu d'artifices being let off from the bridge at Villeneuve was spectacular.
I've long thought that I should try and construct a standard
louvered enclosure for the thermometers, or at least for the sensors of my thermometers.
I've just had a look at the various thermometers I've got;
Porcherie 27.5 28.6
Kitchen 26.9 26.7
Bedroom 26.6 27.2
This indicates that the night-time temperature at midnight is about 27°C.
However, during the day they can be quite different; the sensor for the kitchen outside reading is under the gutter outside the east-facing window, and gets a false reading in the early morning when the sun shines on it. The terrasse thermometer is a max/min mercury sort and its reading is affected because, although it is never in the sun, it's surrounded by gravel drive baking in the sun - it registered a maximum of 39°C today. The bedroom outside sensor is fixed to a tree in radio line of sight of the receiver, but is about 4m up the tree.
So I think it's very difficult to say with accuracy what the shade temperature actually is - it's absolutely no use saying "it was 30°C under the tree today".
My readings also show that it's been hot enough for long enough for the old stone house to warm up - at least 26°C is blissfully cool when it's over 30°C outside.
OK, it's an engineer thing to measure everything!
Well, almost everything!
One of the penalties of buying more boys' toys is that you also buy more problems, too.
My new HDD video camera I found delightfully easy to use, but, of course, there comes the problem of the editing, production and the creation of DVDs to play on the domestic player.
I'd tried this with some success for a short film using Video CD.
However I spent a day tinkering with the process of burning a DVD for a more substantial quantity of video - amazing myself at the size of the files involved and the time taken for all the steps of DVD authoring.
Then I found that the disk I'd produced wouldn't play on the salon DVD player.
Much head scratching followed and ended in the conclusion that my PC was producing DVD+R disks and the DVD player (a 40 euro cheapie from Auchan) would only read DVD-R disks.
So I had to bite the bullet - fortunately Leclerc's sale had an DVD+R compatible player by LG going cheap.
On getting it home and reading the instructions I found the specification said that it may or may not play some DVD+R disks - so it was with some trepidation that I loaded the disk I'd produced.
A sigh of relief greeted the display of the first film by Tessel Bas Studios!
(and fortunately Peter can use the old player!).
I often pass the Chateau de Madaillan on the back road down to Agen, but had never stopped to see it.
Yesterday we braved the heat and melting tar to take the babies to see it.
Owned and lived in by Jacques & Chantal Aurin, the XIIIème siècle chateau is a mediaeval military fortress, which saw real action. Jacques is also the guide and his love and enthusiasm for the property spills over into his lively presentation.
It's been open to the public for a decade and restoration is ongoing; it receives no public money and is self-funding.
Jacques lively description of the holding of the chateau by 50 Protestants against an army of 3000 catholic men and two cannon launching 35-pound cannonballs was delivered in good, slow French to enable me to translate a little for the children.
I recommend it - as much for the old-fashioned charm of the owner as for the chateau itself!
Chez nous we're staggering around with seriously full
tummies after a grande bouffe at the Ferme
de Selles . Periodically this place puts on a huge meal with wine included
for silly money; it's a real farm set in lovely countryside and about 120
people sat down at two big trestle tables for an example of duck-based cooking
at its best. I was duty driver, as there was an "i" in the day
(mercredi), which was a pity with some lovely vin en vrac sloshing about, but
at least I won't have a hangover!
Enquiries about "what's for dinner" are being firmly repulsed by Christine!
The website is quite good but there is an English option with some execrable English. "Ferme Auberge de Selles" is translated as "Firm Inn of Saddles". As the farm is at a place called "Celles", I'm sure there is one of those scatological puns that the French love in there somewhere ("selles" is also a word for poo!).
I went walking, yesterday, with the Groupe du Randonneurs du Villeneuvois. I didn't know anyone, but they were a very friendly and welcoming bunch.
It was a beautiful day, fortunately with a slow start so it stayed below 30°C.
The bouclé walk was in the wonderful rolling countryside of the Haut Agenais between Montclar, Montastruc and St Pasteur, starting at the tiny village of St Pierre de Caubel.
The walkers were mainly local French, needing a careful ear for the local patois. One who wasn't so hard to understand was an architect from Shrewsbury called David, with his French wife Martine, who have just moved into north Villeneuve - I gave him the URL of LVeF, of course!
The walkers set a reasonable pace, stopping regularly but completing the undulating walk of some 13 km in about 3 hours. Certain aged people found the last few km a little hard, with a steep, stony descent (I find it less tiring to climb rather than descend!) followed by a long stretch of long grass.
However the new boots were marvellous; the most comfortable I've ever owned. The bones in the feet still ache, though - I don't think I'm ready, yet, for the traditional 36 km Pujols to Agen Pays du Serres walk!
I had finally mustered all the documentation together for
exchanging our British driving licences. According to the Sous-Prefecture at Villeneuve-sur-Lot,
using what appears to be a local replacement of form Cerfa no 11247*01, this
- Permis de conduire étranger et sa traduction officielle en langue Francais
I has the translation done by a local "traductrice assermentée"; I had established that "assermenté" and "expert-juré" amounted to the same thing. The pink plastic licence and the green counterpart were both translated; I had supplied the traductrice with the meaning of the categories obtained from the UK government site http://tinyurl.com/b3tse - I was anxious to retain the licence to ride a motorbike (A) and tow a caravan (UK = B + E, French = E(B)). I also had translated the codes that modify the categories, such as Code 119 (weight category does not apply).
- cheque bancaire ou Mandat Cash de 52 Euros, établi à l'ordre du Regisseur des Recettes
This seems a bit steep to those who paid something like 10s 6d for their first licence! However the current fee in the UK is £38, which is about the same. It had to be two cheques, of course!
- 2 photographies de bonne qualité et réglementaires
I've had digital prints refused before, so I decided to get some from the booth outside Auchan. Failure! It was "indisponible". So I went to Leclerc, found that I could get 4 prints for 4 Euros at the booth, or four for 3.90 at the print shop, taken by a nice young lady, so I went for the latter, of course!
- Document établi par le Consulat ou l'Ambassade de France du pays d'origine, attestant que le demandeur à bien résidé plus de 6 mois sur le territoire.
This seemingly nonsensical requirement applies only to French people who have been abroad and are exchanging a foreign licence for a French one. This requirement appears on the French version of the requirements http://www.code-route.com/echange.htm#ue but not in the English version at http://www.code-route.com/echange_en.htm - beware of translations, even on official sites!
- Carte de Séjour ou livret de famille ou passport
We used our Cartes de Séjour - always useful as a replacement for the passport.
- Justificatif de domicile
Not as easy as you might think; the EDF bills, etc. only had my name on them, so I used the latest Taxe Fonciéres demand, which has the married and maiden names of my époux spelled out.
So with the two prepared dossiers I went in to the sous-prefecture - luckily I didn't get the miserable old sod I got last time, but a semi-miserable lady. All documents were accepted without comment, photocopied and originals returned, except for the UK licence, which is retained. No mention was made of the medical for category E(b); A copy of our UK licenses was stamped with the sous-pref stamp and returned to us in case we are stopped by the gendarmerie. Now all we have to do is wait three weeks for the licenses!
Bolstered by this apparent success, we went into the Poêle shop and signed the Bon de Commande for the new foyer and its installation; As predicted, the 14.1% saved on TVA 19.6% - 5.5% for all the materials almost covered the installation labour, so had I done it myself, I would have had all the aggro for virtually no saving and the knowledge that any fire caused wouldn't be covered by my insurance.
Then we went to "faire les courses" back in Auchan! Phew, this retirement business is all go!
I'm chuffed to bits with the grapevine on my pergola; with the hot evenings we've been having it's been delightful to pick a bunch of grapes to eat as dessert. Under the big, harvest moon it's quite romantic!
“Faire chabrot” is an old French custom of swilling out the soup plate with a dash of red wine, then drinking it down from the plate.
I didn't realise that "chabrol" was an alternative
spelling; which sent me Googling again. It seems that "chabro" is
also a valid spelling. And in patois charentais (saintongeais), "faire
godaille" is used instead or "faire chabro/chabrot/chabrol".
"Godaille" is also the leftover fish that is given to the deck hands.
It seems to me that there must be more behind this - why is it a common practice and why is it dignified with a special word?
I also found "Mijet"
"Le mijet est un plat rustique saisonnier, équivalent estival du pain perdu, de la région Poitou-Charentes. On lui donne le nom de soupine en Anjou, et de miettée en Beauce.
Il se prépare à partir de pain sec, découpé en dés, d’autant plus petits que le pain est sec. On l’arrose ensuite d’un peu d’eau, on le sucre légèrement et on le met au frais. Dans les campagnes, on le mettait au puits quelques heures afin de le rafraîchir. Les hommes le consommaient additionné de vin (on dit qu'ils faisaient chabrot).
On peut remplacer l’eau et le vin par du lait, et ajouter quelques fraises des bois, dont le parfum délicat n’ôte rien à la simplicité du plat."
Clearly this is a good way of using up dry bread in a nourishing way.
At school my French teacher taught us as much younger kids, using nursery rhymes. One I remember (mainly for the alliteration of "Nous^irons dimanche, A la maison blanche" and the SWF emphasis on the final "e") is another "dunking" tune, instilled in the young at a tender age, as follows:
Marie, trempe ton pain (bis)
Marie, trempe ton pain dans la sauce
Marie, trempe ton pain (bis)
Marie, trempe ton pain dans le vin
Nous irons dimanche
À la maison blanche
Toi en nankin*, moi en bazin*
Tous les deux en escarpins*
Marie, trempe ton pain (bis)
Marie, trempe ton pain dans la sauce
Marie, trempe ton pain (bis)
Marie, trempe ton pain dans le vin
* nankin= yellow cotton material from Nanking
* bazin ou basin= damask
* escarpins = dancing pumps
I remember thinking that French children couldn't be very well brought up if they did that sort of thing!
Today's job was sorting out the electrics in the grenier.
There's a junction box in my grenier, where each of the three phases and neutral are distributed around the house. It started as four robust terminals with a cover, but as people kept adding extra circuits it grew, the cover was dispensed with, and it ended up looking not so much like a birds nest but more like a woolly mammoth having a bad hair day.
Since the grenier is typically French and has no sarking felt it naturally gets the occasional spray of rain or snow, combined with the attentions of loirs, lerots and other rodents; So I thought it needed sorting out.
So I bought a large plastic boite de dérivation and several barrettes de dominos.
Most of today has been spent unravelling the copper knitting, removing the old terminal blocks, installing a new box and wiring over 50 connections, ensuring they remained connected to the same electrical places.
I worked out a way, in which 'er indoors could retain some power while I was doing this, then launched myself into the land of cobwebs and mummified rodents. Of course the sun came out, too, so the roof space got nicely hot.
Walking along the grenier is difficult - in some areas it's better to walk à quatre pattes - whatever you do, the beams keep leaping down and banging one on the head, and the dust and fibreglass and the cobwebs and the skeletal rodents all add to a really disgusting experience!
At last I'd finished, I'd identified, marked, removed and reconnected over 50 connections, adding a useful plug socket next to the junction box for a lead light in the future.
In the meantime the tempus was fugiting rapidly, and I was worried that I wouldn't finish before dark - however I just made it.
I switched on, praying that the breaker wouldn't trip because I'd misconnected something - it didn't!
So I've had a welcome and much-needed shower and 'er indoors is glued to the long-lost telly.
But my limbs are aching!
(Tongue-in-cheek account of the ESWF visit to Montpellier).
It was with not a small amount of excitement that we reached Montpellier. OK, so meeting all the cloud and threatening rain as we drove between Toulouse and Carcassonne was a little depressing. Likewise the “jobsworth” Madame who told us that we couldn't park in the park and ride at the Tram terminus at Odysseum, at least, not if we weren't returning until Monday. Pshaw, I snorted, parking in a cavalier fashion in a lovely car park nearby, with thousands of spare places.
On the tram ride into central Montpellier we thought, with mounting anticipation, of all the gastronomic delicacies that awaited us? At last, the Gastronome Project was nearing completion; cataloguing those last, few, elusive and esoteric restaurants that had previously escaped attention.
The Hotel Ibis loomed above us, strange, featureless, and cheap. Confidently I quoted our reservation, nervously I received the rejection. "Maybe we're booked in at the other Ibis?" I queried, this time with a more positive reaction. So we walked 100 metres to another Accor hotel, the Mercure, where we asked if they were the standby Ibis. "Non monsieur", they said, somewhat huffily,"C'est tout près, la bas!".
At last we were able to relax in our spacious room; there were at least six inches of generous, spare space around the bed.
So we were ready to start the restaurant evaluation; tonight's target was the Brasserie du Thèatre, an old stamping ground as it was next to the Hotel du Midi, where we've stayed before. Christine's smoked salmon starter was every bit as large as my tomatoe and mozarella salad, and both were at least as large as a typical lunch at Tessel Bas. So it was really difficult to force down the superb, melt-in-the-mouth, saignant filet steak, and white flags were raised when the question of pudding arose.
And so to bed (there was nowhere else to stand in the room!).
As a little divertissement, while we were waiting for lunch on Saturday, we went to the Abbé de Valmagne . With an entertaining conjunction of Jesus and Bacchus, the nave of an enormous gothic abbey was filled with several 400-hectolitre tonneaux for wine.
Lunch arrived at last; it was at Bouzigues, overlooking the oyster beds in the Etang de Thau. A superb lunch, predictably fishy, amuse bouche, fish cannelloni, fish and lentils, dessert, coffee, bottomless wine bottles ....
To while away the time before dinner we all went on a guided walking tour of old Montpellier.
Dinner was a formal affair, at the Ibis hotel, but they did us proud; the beef and cèpes were particularly good. More bottomless wine carafes, with the carousing somewhat interrupted by people making long and boring speeches.
Sunday dawned, still dim, grey and somewhat hung over. Off we went to look at the existing Tramway 1, including the "mission control" area, then the "work-in-progress" on Tramway 2 and a presentation on Tramway 3. We took time out to climb to the top of the Corum opera house to view the intersection of Tramways 1 & 2.
At last it was time for lunch; this time at the "Hirondelle" restaurant - amuse bouche, foie gras-stuffed chicken breast on veal, special, home grown beef reared on the proprietor's family farm, cheese and salad and a selection of desserts, all washed down with the proprietor's own wine, selected to complement the beef - a gastronomic tour de force!
Burping quietly we bade the ladies farewell as they went to use their free tickets on the tramway, and we whiled away the afternoon looking at the new rugby stadium, in the course of construction and which will be ready for a match against Australia next June, 35-hour week and big lunches permitting! It will seat 12,000 bottoms and it is costing over 50 M€.
Le soir, few people had any room for more food; so we went down to the restaurants aux rives du Lez, where the odd salad starter was toyed with, washed down with more plonko rosso.
Lundi matin had some excitement - we took the tram to the terminus, arriving at about 10 o'clock; crossing fingers that the car wouldn't be sitting on blocks with no wheels. It was OK, but the car park (which turned out to be the Gaumont cinema carpark) was well and truly locked, opening at 13:00 hours. So I reckoned the alternatives were a) find a way out, b) find someone to let us out, c) wait until 13:00 hrs. So I toured the park, finally finding a spot where a wee Yaris could just squeeze out between a pair of bollards. Phew!
Predictably the horrid Languedocien weather petered out between Carcassonne and Toulouse, the sun came out, the temperature soared to an unseasonal 29°C and the pussycats were very grateful to be picked up from the cattery!
(Christine was in the UK on yet another Granny visit).
Magic has been in another Garbo-esque "I want to be
alone" mood, not eating, occasionally vomiting frothy mucus and lurking
under a bush in the garden; it has been going on for four or five days, so she
was scheduled for a visit to the vet this morning. But this morning Henri IV
was also looking very glum and tatty and refused his breakfast.
So I took both to the vet.
Magic had a yellowish colouration of the white of the eyes and the gums, indicative of liver problems and jaundice, and was very constipated. Henri IV was also slightly yellowish.
I left both at the vet so they could test for feline hepatitis and take a blood test and treat Magic's constipation.
They've just rung to say that the hepatitis was thankfully negative for both cats and there was no peritonitis (Feline Infectious Peritonitis is a killer), however Magic was very anaemic and Henri IV was slightly anaemic. They've dosed them up with antibiotics and anti-parasitics and are keeping them in until Sunday, when I can go and see them between 11 and 12 and maybe bring them home. The vet isn't certain what the problem is, but has excluded the more dangerous possibilities.
Gaby fortunately has no adverse symptoms and is taking advantage of no competition in the race to the food bowl or to daddy's lap.
The vet rang this morning to say that both cats had had a hearty breakfast and I could pick them up at 11am.
Apart from some unfashionable fur clipped from the fore paws where they had their drips, they are both in fine fettle and Magic got her face stuck into a big bowl of Sheba, to make up for lost meals.
The vet's diagnosis was "Hemobartonelle": the internet says - "Hemobartonella felis is a gram-negative, non-acid-fast mycoplasma that lives on the surface of the red blood cell. Measuring between 0.5 and 1.5 µm in diameter or length, this blood parasite exists as paired cocci, short rods, or small rings on the red blood cell plasma membrane. H. felis infections are relatively common in cats in North America and produce extravascular hemolytic anemia.”
"The agent of what has traditionally been called "feline infectious anemia" is an organism called (until recently) "Hemobartonella felis." This creature is technically a bacterium but is a member of a special group of bacteria called "Mycoplasmas." Mycoplasmas are different from other bacteria because they do not have a cell wall surrounding and protecting their microscopic bodies. They cannot be cultured in the lab like normal bacteria because they require living hosts."
"Blood sucking parasites such as fleas, ticks, lice, and mosquitoes are the leading candidates for spread of the organism. Bites, scratches and oral transmission are also possible"
Both cats were anaemic with low red blood cell and high white cell counts. The treatment is just an antibiotic - but it'll be fun giving two cats a pill on my own!
The bill was 260€ - but they're worth it!
I've been putting off this change ever since we've been here. The problem with three phase 9KVA is that the house is effectively fed in three chunks; you can draw up to 45 Amps total but if any one chunk tries to draw more than 15 Amps - which is only 3 1/2 KW - the main breaker trips and the whole house is plunged into darkness. This always seems to happen when visitors are here - people using hair dryers etc., and at embarrassing times - oven, microwave and dishwasher on together during meal preparation.
The reason I put off the change is that I was scared that some jobsworth would refuse to connect to the system as it stands - no tableau électrique, incorrect colours used for wiring, disjoncteur is near a sink in the sous-sol etc., etc. An additional reason is that I've got a three-phase motor on an irrigation pump.
I wanted to put in a tableau électrique with individual breakers and a 30mA ELCB for safety but couldn't see a way of doing that at three phase and then changing to monophase without wasting money and effort on stuff I wouldn't need.
So on Monday this week I asked EDF to change me to single phase and, while they're at it, to remove the Heures Creuses relay - Heures Creuses costs about 70€ more in rental and since I don't use the electric chauffe-eau any more I wasn't saving enough on the low tariff to compensate for it.
This morning - two days later - the EDF man rang up to ask if he could come early, was smart, friendly and polite, took about 20 minutes to make the changes - and he didn't say a word about the state of my electrical system. Collapse of stout, worried party!
Now I can take 45 Amps before the breaker trips – but a tableau électrique is now essential to protect the wiring.
It's our wedding anniversary approaching, so in celebration
I've booked a holiday on the spur of the moment - for next Tuesday - touring the
coast and the desert of Morocco, flying in and out of Bordeaux.
Morocco is a Muslim country. It has seen terrorist activity. The FCO website is not encouraging.
Should be exciting!
PS Google's translation of the trip is below - hilarious! "To dine and harms" is its stab at translating "diner et nuit" - it thought the "nuit" came from "se nuire" - to harm oneself. I hope it's not prophetic!
1st day: AGADIR FRANCE
Assistance with the formalities of recording and loading bound for Agadir. Services on board according to schedules' of flight. Reception by our correspondent, transfer to the hotel and night.
2nd day: AGADIR
Morning devoted to the visit of Agadir. Discovered port, the first port sardine boat of Morocco, with its sale by auction, then of the kasbah, which dominates all the city and whose ramparts are the only vestiges of old Agadir. Continuation by the modern city and its rich craft industry. Departure for Inezgane, a small commercial city with its souk, most important of the plain of Sousse. Return in Agadir and lunch.
Free afternoon. To dine and harms.
3rd day: AGADIR - TAROUDANT - OUARZAZATE AND KASBAHS
Departure for Ouarzazate, the door of the Great South, via Taroudant. Visit city, one of oldest of Morocco, which knew to preserve intact the character of its past. Continuation towards Ouarzazate and arrival for the lunch. Tower of the city then departure for the visit of the kasbahs of Ouarzazate: Taourirt, Aït Ben Haddou and photo stop with Tiffoultout. To dine and harms.
4th day: OUARZAZATE - ZAGORA - OUARZAZATE
Departure towards Zagora, by the valley of Draa, which comprises one of the vastest palm plantations of the Moroccan south. After the lunch, of Tamgrout then escapade visits towards the dunes of Tinfou. Return to Ouarzazate. To dine and harms.
5th day: OUARZAZATE - TINERHIR - OUARZAZATE
Departure for Tinerhir by the valley of Dadès, called the road of the “Thousand Kasbahs” and visit of its palm plantation. Continuation towards the throats of Todra, natural site to high rock cliffs. To lunch and spare time before the return to Ouarzazate. To dine and harms.
6th day: OUARZAZATE - MARRAKECH
Departure for Marrakech, while crossing the mountainous chain of the High Atlas by the collar of Tizin-Tichka, highest of the country. To lunch, then visit of Marrakech, old founded imperial city in 1062: the garden of Ménara, the majestic silhouette of Koutoubia which dominates the red houses, the tombs saâdiens and the palate of Bahia. Walk in the souks and discovered place Jemaa el Fna, C? ur living city. To dine and harms.
7th day: MARRAKECH - ESSAOUIRA - AGADIR
Departure for Essaouira, tempting harbour city, old Mogador of the Portuguese. Discovered city with its old fishing port and its craft industry of quality. To lunch and continuation towards Agadir. To dine and harms.
8th day: AGADIR - FRANCE
According to the schedules of flight, transfer to the airport. Assistance with the formalities of recording and take-off bound for France.
(The story of our short November holiday in Morocco, to mark our wedding anniversary.)
I guessed that they were up to something; all the individual tables had been pushed into one; we were shepherded into the centre of the larger table, knowing looks and whispers were exchanged.....
That lunchtime, on our anniversary day, I'd betrayed my hand by subverting the sommelier and picking up the booze tab.
Now it was payback time! We weren't allowed to buy wine, and
pudding was whisked away before we could eat it. "Perhaps we'd join
everyone in the bar tonight?" it was suggested.
Like lambs to the slaughter we were led in to the bar and a large cake, decorated in our honour, was produced. Some hilarious attempts at singing "'Appy Anniversary to you" ensued and there was dancing and much hilarity, encouraged by the bandleader.
This was the principal, and totally unexpected, benefit of our holiday in Morocco; joining a group of lovely, friendly French people, of all ages, all trying to make us happy. And in French, too, few people spoke any English, the official languages of Morocco are effectively Arabic and French; the only English we heard was that we used between us. These 7 days of deep immersion did wonders for our fluency.
Our little party was the trigger; thereafter all dining was done at a large communal table, and everyone loved it.
Our guide, Abdul, was a well-read and very right wing Berber - he loved Maroc and was very proud of it. He thoroughly approved of the constitutional monarchy with the young King Hassan II as leader of both the State and the Church, and the way in which the King has strongly expressed his views; everyone must have certain basic fundamental rights - shelter, a water supply, electricity, education and emancipation of women. All these being linked; e.g. if girls aren't required to spend half the day fetching water then they can attend the school which is built within walking distance, or if not, then bicycles are provided free. Strong evidence of the achievement of these aims was everywhere; new schools, aqueducts and electricity pylons marching across the desert.
Our guide led us efficiently to and from our hotels, in the rich, warm and humid coastal plain around Agadir, over the moyen Atlas mountains to Quarzazate, lapped by the Sahara, and over the High Atlas at 2260m to the exotic city of Marrakesh. Each hotel was a base from which we could strike out radially to take in the area. Each morning a wake-up call at just the right time magically sounded, ensuring we never missed the 'bus.
When booking the trip I was apprehensive; it is predominantly a Muslim country and there was thus a potential for resentment, hostility or worse - there have been terrorist attacks in Morocco.
I need not have worried - the society is multi-cultural, moving towards a secular status and has comfortably accommodated minorities such as Jews for centuries. I wore long trousers for the first day but, when I realised that there was no problem, reverted to shorts for the rest of the time. At no time did either of us have any fears, or were we threatened in any way. Little children asking for bonbons were occasionally a problem, and Xine got her bum felt once, which just shows that the locals have good taste!
There was a strong and very obvious police presence everywhere; tourist police in the souks and gendarmes at every major intersection with random "stop and check" points. Clearly those with the radar guns could combine their traffic speed policing with the monitoring of the movement of any radical elements upset by policies such as female emancipation. Some might find this oppressive, frankly I found it comforting and I wish some of the no-go zones in ethnic areas of the UK were similarly well policed.
Alcohol was freely available and cheap - at one restaurant the most expensive bottle of wine was 30 Dirhams, about 3 Euro!
The food was Moroccan but dumbed-down for French tastes - an extra few dollops of harassa paste in the cous-cous would have gone down a treat.
We drank only bottled water but it was difficult to avoid salads; we thought we'd got away without tummy problems but the dreaded Timbuktu Trots hit us on the last day - fortunately the waiting areas and the plane had toilets!
The weather was hot (upper 20s) and humid North of the Atlas range on the coastal plain, but fresh and dry and cool at night near the desert.
Now is a good time to go, to avoid the extreme heat of summer.
What did we like the most? Definitely the "Team
Building Course" with the French, certainly the desert and the mountains
and their myriad different colours and especially the little snippets from the
guide, e.g. some of the ceilings are made from palm-trunk beams combined with a
layer of interlaced oleander (laurier rose) - this means that the toxic oleander
keeps the termites away from the palm wood. The souks, a riot of colours,
smells, tastes and sounds, where you could buy anything and get anything
repaired were a continuous source of fascination The flight from Bordeaux was
short and efficient on modern, clean Boeing 737-400s and the car park at
Bordeaux was only 29.50 Euro for 8 days!
What didn't we like? Not a lot; sometimes it was almost too busy - there were many early starts (e.g. 6 am departures in the coach) - I took a book to read and didn't open it!
And it was so cheap! - we had 7 days of full board with accommodation and long coach trips each day for about 500 Euro per person.
Would I go again? Yes, but to somewhere else, say
Would I recommend the trip to others? Certainly, but you will have to be prepared for a saturation French course!
My DIY project over the last few days has been planning and
preparing for the installation of a new "tableau électrique". I've
now got most of the easily separable "tails" of wiring extended or
rewired as appropriate and terminating in a big temporary junction box near the
position of the new consumer unit. I've bought the RCCB and the individual MCBs
and allocated them to appropriately rated circuits. This afternoon I've sunk a
new earth spike and wired it up with 10mm2 cable.
So tomorrow I've arranged for Xine to go out and play while I wire up the new tableau, since the mains will be off for most of the day. I've wired up an emergency socket to give me light and power for small tools such as a hair dryer for heat-shrink sleeving.
If I were to do this all again, I'd do the rewiring earlier and preferably while the house is unoccupied. Lashing up temporary circuits to enable one to have lights, etc. at night and generally carry on living is a real pain!
PS The rewiring went well, without incident.
Big problem with the new wood burner; it chucks out too much
Tonight was a bit damp and miserable outside, so I thought I'd light the thing, for only the second time since we had it installed.
Lovely cheery blaze, but even with the thermostat thingy on its lowest setting the room was sweltering in no time flat.
Clearly it's best suited to sub-zero temperatures!
Yesterday remained foggy all day and didn't rise above 7°C.
The overnight temperatures dropped to just over 2°C - no frost yet but it won't
be long. Last night was warmer at 4°C but a cooling wind made it seem colder. Today
is about 10°C so far.
At last Gordon the Godin could be used in his proper role - he's built up a nice bed of ash, so he ticks over very well, staying alight overnight. I notice he produces very little ash and what there is has a very fine consistency - presumably because of the more complete combustion. Why is it that all wood-burners like a bed of ash?
In the Porcherie an electric convector keeps me warm but the feet were chilly so I broke out the grandad slippers. The laptop was fired up, its battery conditioned by a few charge/discharge cycles, the latest Windows updates, AVG and Zone Alarm updates, and IE7 were downloaded. Now I can operate sitting near the fire if it gets too cold!
Il était une fois.....
A benevolent Uncle, who lives in the shadow of Beth Chatto Gardens, donated to the Tessel Bas Charitable Trust a pair of mains-powered, linked, battery-backed smoke alarms. These couldn't be obtained in France, since French houses do not normally have smoke alarms because French housewives look forward eagerly to visits by hunky pompiers, while their husbands are away selling onions from their bicycles, taking a pastis or six at the local estaminet or gorging on hunks of roast sanglier at the repas de chasse.
The grateful recipient of this gift looked forward to being able to sleep soundly, safe in the knowledge that should one of the computers in the porcherie experience spontaneous auto-combustion, then the linked fire alarm in the house would sound.
However the aforesaid grateful recipient was not a little daunted by the task that would have been trivial in a conventional house but which was quite complex for Tessel Bas, and despite repeated bons de commande, no Round Tuit was delivered to ease the task.
But at last the guilt overcame the reticence and he got around to it; so a low-power supply protected by a 2A disjoncteur was fed from the grenier Boite de Dérivation, enabling the same supply to be used for the bathroom and toilet extraction fans and the bedroom ventilation fan.
A length of exterior quality U 1000 R2V was run between house and porcherie to link the alarm mains and control signals, using flexible conduit gaines pre-installed for the eventuality.
Finally a pair of surface-mounting patress boxes were lovingly crafted from a fine piece of Landaise pine and the alarms installed and wired up. Project System Test produced a robust noise at both alarms when either one was triggered.
Today's job took advantage of the fact that "elle
dedans" had disappeared to her French class, so I could switch the mains
off without disturbing Radio 4.
One of the problems in changing from Three to Single-Phase supply is that you really have to watch out for an overloaded neutral wire; with a balanced load on three-phase, the neutral currents combine and cancel; however, after conversion to single-phase the currents are additive.
So whereas a system fed by 15 Amps per phase might, for a
balanced full load condition, have a current of virtually zero in the neutral
(blue) wire with three-phase working, for single-phase x 3 with a common
neutral, the neutral wire is taking 45 Amps, which is more than conductors
commonly used for power distribution in the home can stand without getting hot
or bursting into flames.
I'd fed one particular circuit, divided into three à l'ancienne, with a 20A breaker. However there were far too many things in this group, and the fan-out was fed by good solid 4mm2 copper. So I divided it into three 16A circuits at the Tableau Electrique, using three extra 16A MCBs.
Now the loads and the lights are shared into three and I stand a lesser chance of being plunged into total darkness when I plug in the fan heater!
Xine decided that it was high time that the mess that is the
result of four years of cutting my own hair was sorted out ready for Christmas.
I was far too nervous to go in by myself; who knows what strange and unfamiliar procedures would confront me; do you leave a tip, what's the French for "Something for the Weekend, sir?", would the old copies of "Readers' Digest" be in English?
So she took me into her posh, uni-sex place, asking "Est-ce que tu peux faire quelque chose avec çelui?". They looked doubtful, but a nice lady volunteered to take on the challenge.
We were both sat down together with our backs to some basins, and the hair wash girl started on Christine. "Do I have to have my hair washed too" I whispered to Christine. "Yes" she replied, to which I responded "...but I only wanted a haircut!". "Sit quietly and do what you're told" she said, so I did (I love dominant women).
Actually having my hair washed and scalp massaged was quite pleasant and I almost drifted off to sleep, when I was suddenly directed to the Operating Chair. The nice lady snipped away, only using clippers towards the end of the operation; soon it was all over, it didn't hurt, either, at least not until the paying bit, but at 15€ it seemed reasonable compared with what I remember of UK prices four years ago. Perhaps I got a discount for the bald areas?
Christine says I look very smart now; well she would, wouldn't she?
Maybe women will start smiling at me instead of laughing as usual?
Thank you for your esteemed order for Round Tuits. I can
assure you that our Round Tuits are the best on the market, they are perfectly
round and hand-crafted from ancient oak and timeless stone in ancient workshops
nestling in the hills of rural France, with all the loving skill and care that
only several generations of tuit crafters can engender.
There may, however, be a slight delay in the delivery of your order; unfortunately we neglected to keep one from the last batch in our office. As a result we should have placed a fabrication requisition on our workshops, but haven't yet got a round tuit.
Assuring you of our best attention at all times,
Ebenezer Gillis ARTIFARTI (Association for Round Tuit Item Fabrication And Real-Time Installation)
Last year I couldn't face going back to the UK for my old
boys' pre-Christmas booze-up, and regretted it, because they are all of an age
where some of the faces may be missing next year. So this year I made the effort
- but it was quite an effort!
Bergerac was its normal busy but quaint self; sadly the controversial café was shut. The flight was short and uneventful but Stansted was very busy and the queue to the car rental desk was long, the staff were thin-lipped and miserable and I had to wait while they scratched around trying to find my pre-booked car. Eventually I got a Ford Focus which was somewhat better than the Ford Ka I'd ordered and ventured out in to the traffic of South-East England, which is quite a culture shock to those who have been used to rural France.
Stepson Simon was in the process of moving house so there was no way they could accommodate us so we booked into a nearby hotel.
On Tuesday Christine went to her Line-Dancing class party - I did some shopping, worshipped at the altar of B&Q Warehouse and bought some paintbrushes. We dined in the pub next to the hotel; one of those new buildings in the old style, built with reclaimed beams and dressed bricks; you had to look hard to see the boxed-in rolled steel joists!
I enjoyed the old boys' booze-up - it was held in the Orange Tree pub in Chelmsford where we used to spend lunchtime while at work. Fortunately all had survived the year, although one wasn't present due to cancer treatment in hospital. I'd shaved my beard off on the spur of the moment; inevitably no one noticed! I didn't enjoy trying to get a taxi to take me from the hotel - the receptionist took an hour before she could raise a taxi firm.
The weather was mild but cloudy; it was a great relief to take off from Stansted after the usual security queues (where my pork pie and slab of Olde English Cheddar had to pass the Semtex test!) and then to see the cloud clear as the sun stayed awake to welcome us to a bright and crisp Bergerac.
I was once more shaken by how busy the South East of England has become, and how expensive everything is. I took the opportunity to compare the prices of some things I'd bought recently in France; UK prices in Pounds were the same numbers as French prices in Euros.
With Flight, Car Rental, Hotel, Cattery charges and Taxis my four nights cost well in excess of £600. I'll really have to think about next year!
" Aînés " is one word where getting the accents
and spelling right is important; "Anes" would mean donkeys and
"aines" would mean "groins". "Aînés " means
"the elders", but it's not an "old folks' meal" in the
patronising way the Brits would do it; it's a meal for the elders but the whole
commune, including children, is invited, the only difference is that those over
65 don't have to pay.
Last year I was at home while Xine was in the UK, so I went on my own. This year she could come with me, and she was a little apprehensive.
There was no need for concern; everyone was delighted that we had joined in again and the organising couple and the maire took us under their wings and ensured that we were well looked after and were seated in a place where we could chat to others.
I tried hard to pay but they wouldn't accept money for either of us, which was extra nice as the lunch was of an excellent quality, prepared by the same traiteur who had prepared the wedding breakfast for Simon & Sara.
We were seated next to two lovely ladies of a certain age and the organising couple and had long talks with everyone, which was very good for our French. We were entertained by accordion music from an 83-year old and several others got up to do their party piece, sing a song or tell a joke. We didn't understand any of the jokes but laughed anyway!
On our return home there was just time to walk the pussy cats and reflect on how happy we are here and how glad we are that we moved to this lovely country.
As there are only three little piggies here, we're not into the big turkey league or we'd be eating turkey rissoles through to the Spring.
So we're having our usual "small but beautifully marked" menus and we're having a conventional late lunch on Christmas Day (after The Queen of course!) and are celebrating
Boxing Day too, as opposed to the big blow-out on the Veille de Noël that the French have.
Les Huitres Kilpatrick
Canette Rôtie farcie de Figues et Foie Gras avec sauce Périgueux truffé
Salade Vert et Le Fromage (Basque bleu et Tomme Savoyard)
Le Christmas Pudding aux M&S avec Beurre au Cognac et Crème Epaissé
Sancerre (Domaine de Chotard) 2K3
Fleurie (Cuvée Presidente Marguerite)1995 (bought in 1996 in Fleurie and since transported all over Europe without obvious deterioration!)
Foie Gras d'Oie sur toasts
Cerf-Biche rôtie avec sauce au poivre vert
Salade Vert et Le Fromage
Les Mince Pies à l'Anglaise, noyés sous encore du Beurre au Cognac et Crème!
Sauternes (Chateau Baboye) 2K4
Saint Emilion (Chateau Cap de Mourlin) Grand Cru Classé 1996
Christmas Day in the Lot & Garonne is icy cold outside;
not a breath of wind, misty and -5°C.
Inside it's toasty warm, so the pussycats don't spend much time outside.
It was -4°C and on the way down at about 17:00. I don't think I've seen it so cold at that time before. I wonder if tonight we'll beat the record of -9°C, set in 2K3.
We went for a pre-lunch walk this morning; everything was covered with glittering, crystalline rime after two days of sub-zero temperatures. Some of the frost had that quite rare spiky appearance.
Still very cold; -5°C overnight, still misty but it looks like
it could lift later.
Our Christmas Day was quiet and warm - we all enjoyed the morning walk in the winter wonderland of rime-encrusted trees and the vin chaud to warm us up afterwards.
Christmas lunch was almost dinner by the time we sat down to it; the Isle d'Oleron oysters Kilpatrick were superb, lightly grilled with Worcester sauce and some Woodland Pork bacon. The stuffed canette was pleasant; I made a figgy sauce au jus to go with it, the only problem was that some of it fell apart, despite using the electric knife to slice it.
The only serious problem was that the Fleurie was corked - musty and acid with mould under the foil. It was consigned to the drain in favour of the St Emilion, which had fortunately been taken out of the cave to warm up a little. I've got another bottle of Fleurie out of the cave for today - fingers crossed! Another small wine-related disaster occurred when Xine was washing the big wobbly-bottomed hand-blown carafe - the water must have been a little too warm and with a "ping" the bottom fell off!
Henri IV, petite bête rousse, worried us all by disappearing for most of the latter half of the day, in very cold temperatures. He finally appeared at bedtime, probably after having slept in front of someone else's fire!
I've been taking advantage of having a strong son to help me
with some lumber jacking; we've felled, bucked and logged an ash tree which had
split in the gales and two pine trees which look like Douglas firs.
The latter were quite handsome trees some 30 m tall but both had died; I assumed because of the sècheresse. However, when I felled them they were both riddled with Capricorne holes. I tried to find out whether Capricornes affected live trees, but most of the data understandably deals with the damage they do to seasoned timber. Apparently there are variants of the species which affect oak or resinous woods. I wonder whether the infestation caused their death or whether it occurred post mortem - they've been dead for over a year.
Needless to say that's one lot of wood that is stacked outside and not in the barn!
My other problem is a large visiting pig, which has started reducing parts of the lawn in my park to the appearance of a ploughed field. I chase it off whenever I see it but it keeps returning, using its snout to dig under the grass around the trees. The perimeter of my property is mainly laurel hedge but with large gaps; to fence it properly would be expensive; in any case I like an open aspect. The only solution I can think of would be to buy an electric fence; even that wouldn't be cheap, with the supports and several hundred yards of wire. I'd whinge at the owner if I knew where it came from.
We went to the usual village hop at Ste Colombe de
Villeneuve - umpteen courses, the usual disco with lots of French polka
thingies we can't dance to and lots of rather addled cover versions of US/UK
rock - including "Ere we go, Ere we go, Ere we go" again, just like
There was a nice atmosphere - Peter enjoyed himself but we couldn't get him fixed up with a French bird!
We didn't stay until coffee but got away earlier than you - about 3 am.
I did think it was a bit pricey though; it's gone up to 52 euros a head - it was done by a professional traiteur but the service was by the équipe du foyer rurale.
I spent sometime yesterday afternoon filling in the porcine
opencast truffle mines that that dratted pig has dug in the grass of my park.
Yesterday morning there was a loud squealing from the direction of the neighbouring farm that was strongly indicative of a stuck pig.
Once more my Evil Eye has ensured the downfall of forces hostile to Tessel Bas!