Random thoughts of a rapidly ageing Englshman who wishes he was retired and living in Fance

Monday, 30 March 2009

Street Art

I was leafing through (if thats what you do on a computer) some oldish photos and was reminded of the gite we had 3 years running in Avoine. Its an odd place for a gite in some ways - not that much of a tourist spot, just a neat village on a rather busy road. Thing is its between Chinon and Bourgueil, just by Savigny and Beaumont en Veron. All of which are rather well known for producing excellent wine. Whats more you hardly notice the nuclear power station.

The Gite was quirky in a way but comfortable, private, comfy and very quiet, despite being only yards from the road round the back of the tabac. Anyway its surprising what you find in these places.

Avoine has a lovely park on a musical theme which is lit up at night.....the pictures don't really do it justice...

We also drove through Avoine at Christmas (wine shopping again) and just had to stop and admire this lot...

And then there's the trendy south coast.....we found this blockhead in Nice....

You just never know what to expect, do you?

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Snap Happy

Being an up to date, happening, 21st century kind of guy - I mean I even blog a bit - I've long since abandoned that ancient media...film. Yep, I'm all digital these days, I'm on my second digital camera, a super little thing a quarter of the size of my last one.

Jean however has been lagging behind. She got her first digital a year or so after me and I've just upgraded her to a mega thingy (i.e. smaller one). Its actually very nearly the same as mine, except being a year newer its much better.
Its pink.
Anyway the thing is, they take great photos.....of houses, fields, even the odd flower, like this one of a distant view of Hardwick Hall

which has been there for hundreds of years and doesn't move very much.......

But not dogs!!!!
Here's Lulu at puppy school doing her 1 minute sit still.....

And why is it you get a pause between pushing the button and it actually taking a picture? How long am I expected to hold the camera still?
Lulu sitting looking cute in the doorway of her den........

And why does it make a little annoying tinkly sound when you switch the thing on? All it does is wake the dog up and tell her to move from her oh so perfect pose........

Here's Lulu asleep with her paws crossed.......

Ho hummmm!

Still, at least you don't have to get all the duff ones printed out, and suffer the knowing look and the "that was a waste of money" smile from the assistant when you go and pick them up......

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Where's your telly?

One of the great joys of the prospect of retiring to France is the entertainment we'll get from just being there.
In less civilised countries you might for example expect on receiving your demand for payment of a TV licence, to be able to simply advise that as you have no TV, you don't need a licence. Not so in La Belle France.
First you fill in the council tax form and send them the dosh (minus the TV licence fee of course) plus a polite letter advising that we haven't got a TV so don't need a licence.
Next we get a letter asking us to advise if we've got a TV. No problem, we still haven't so write off in our best Googlaise to say no! So...we then get a letter to say, Oh well in that case, forget it, we won't charge you. Yippee, jobs a good un.......as we say.

Well almost.

So last week another rather scrappy note arrived with a tear off bit at the bottom asking us to tick a box to say we've no telly (or to be precise had no telly on the all important 1st an 2009). As with all official communications I duly took the letter for a second (and perhaps more learned) opinion form a colleague who due to the accident of birth just happens to actually be French, even if he's not lived there for some time. Anyway it turns out all I need to do is tick the box and send it back, unless of course I have got a telly in which case...I should not send anything back.

Now this is where it gets difficult.

You see I put the letter on the kitchen worktop next to the box of miscellaneous post waiting filing ready for Jean who knows how to print an envelope to organise. There it stayed for a couple of days, then poomph, it disappeared.

We've looked everywhere, even been through the recycling and can't find it. Which only leaves one suspect......


(this is Lulu's idea of training)

Which brings me to the point of the blog, does anybody know the french for, "I'm sorry but our dog ate your form, please could you send me another one?"

Sunday, 22 March 2009

My Back Aches

What is it about springtime that makes your back ache? Could it be sniffing daffodils? Or collecting your home grown saffron?

Nah..of course not, its the digging, clipping, mowing and general getting ready for the glorious summer that we know we're going to have this year.

So thanks to the BBQ induced springtime euphoria, I've mown the lawns...well whats left of them thanks to Lulu's toilet training, hacked/pruned some rather prickly roses and pyrocanthia (most things in our garden are prickly) and weeded and rotivated most of the veg patch ready for Jean's seedlings. Phew!

Its been so dry and sunny recently the lawn almost looks summerish!
You can also just about see the temporary keep Lulu ff the Veg patch fence. More of that to come....!
I've even bought some rather cunning "bio-degradable grass seed impregnated paper" to mend Lulu's zillions of brown patches. It sounds like a good idea - we'll see how it works.

All this makes me even more excited about our next trip to LGP. We planted loads of bulbs last October and Nicole and Alex have been working hard to create something other than a rather neglected patch of weeds around the wonderful shiny new terrace they've installed. I can't wait to see what it looks like.

And we've even got our first Camellia out, how good is that?

It'll probably snow tomorrow.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Where's my Shorts?

Forget cuckoos, the real sign of spring is that primeval kitchen, the BBQ.

Yes, its true. We've been enjoying some unseasonably good weather in Blighty this last week or so, sunshine, 12 - 14 degrees C, it even doesn't get dark till 18:30, and I'm beginning to feel distinctly spring like. We've even got some tulips out......

On Friday Jean had a day off and mid afternoon rang me to say, "its another lovely day lets make the most of it, how about a BBQ?" Now bearing in mind its dark and cold within half an hour of my getting home, you might think the answer would be ......are you mad?

However...you forget.......I am!

And there's the Championship Internationale du Monde to consider as well.....more of that later.

So Friday 20th March saw our first full on, oudoors evening barbeque of the year and just another new experience for Lulu, who helped out with the rushing around.

Jean made 3 fish kebabs. Confusingly there were 5 of them. Tuna, salmon and I think cod with an interesting lemon and olive rub, plus a few assorted tomatoes, courgettes and mushrooms. She even found some sweetcorn from somewhere and a couple of toasted shallots topped it off. These were to be followed by some lovely goats cheese and washed down with Chablis (appero) and a Pinot Noir from somewhere down south.

So I fired up the Weber (definitely Mans Work) and the Chiminera (ditto) and.....we had the best evening ever...or at least for a while. There's something very special about sitting around a fire in the dark with a few candles going and the stars out above. Plus of course the twinkly lights and the rattle of the waterfall on the pond.
For the cheffy reader(s) I also cut a sprig of sage and one of rosemary and chucked them on the coals then cooked the fish with the lid on. Yummy.

Dining in style is important and being outdoors in the dark is no excuse for an exception! It might have only been 5 degrees, but it felt like .... well like every camping holiday I can remember, and yes Jean had her woolly hat on.

Anyway after the goats cheese and brie and a Lavazza espresso it was time for the next round of The Championship.

For those of you that are not sports fans, The Championship Internationale du Monde is a bit like the World Series, in that its played outdoors. And cricket in that its a series of games played all over the place but nobdy really uderstands why. What is this olympean sport you cy....well Scrabble of course!

Now I wouldn't describe us as Scrabble fans or addicts or anything, but we do like a game outdoors by candlelight, and preferably away from home. Strangely having the handicap of being a bloke and therefore 10,000 words a day short of the average woman doesn't seem to have to much bearing on the outcome.

So it was that after 3 hours of play I was able to lift the prestigeous Brass Monkey Challenge Cup as winner of the first game of the year. Superb!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Ring My Bell

I have to admit to an ever so slight interest in things campanological. It all started long ago when I read The Nine Tailors (Daphne du Maurier). An excellent tale of triple bobs and murder in the fens.

Now for those of you who's education tended more towards the Comprehensive than Ecclesiastical and are wondering what the old fool is on about this time, its BELLs and (for once) I don't mean of the alcoholic whiskey variety!

Years ago I used to be a (fairly bad) bell-ringer...and even earned 50p per wedding which was the price of a good 3 pints back then. Its not easy you know, you don't just yank the rope and it all happens, you actually do speed it up and slow it down, and you have to be able to follow the number patterns as well, and pull hard enough to make sure your bell stays up, but not so hard it bounces, at the right time......its all very technical stuff.

These days my bell ringing is a bit more mainstream. I stick to doorbells.

When we bought our Grand Pressigny Chateau, or at least looked round it, it had a lovely old bell, with a chain and proper handle.......

But this mysteriously disappeared with all the contents before we got our hands on the place. Which is a real pity cos it was one of the very few things I really hoped would remain. So our first French purchase for our new home was, that symbol of welcome, a doorbell.
Then I cut down the rampant hydrangeas so you could actually get to it!

Its not quite as intricate as the original and is no doubt a modern cast thing, but it has a lovely light note that always gets you attention. And visitors find the string easy to operate!

We've even added an outside light to help them find it.

Friday, 13 March 2009

How hard is this?

The problem with all this technology is..its all a bit too mystifying.

I mean why don't you get the little pictures by the commenter's comment?
And why doesn't Jean's picture appear next to her comments when she makes them? After all, they do when I make them!!!

Not only that but every other blog I've looked at (well both of them) has images and even a hit counter. Why hasn't mine?

Trouble is She Who Must Be Obeyed has asked and we all know what that means!!!

How hard can it be? Eveyrone must want the little pictures so you'd expect them to appear. Mr Google didn't get where he is without giving folk what they want, so how hard an it be?

I've used the default settings, and I bet everyone else does too. I've even got the box on the settings menu comments tab "show profile images" ticked as YES , (which is the default), but... don't get the little profile images.

It must be in the settings - what else is there? I've played with them or at least looked at them but no, I can't see it.


Obviously I'm looking at the wrong thing.

So why is it?

Of course the answer is simple.....

It doesn't work.

Now I could spend (more) hours researching and trying different things, but we all know the result will be the same.

What you really need is black magic, smoke, mirrors, wet string and ....... a teenager.

Oh look, its time to polish the bike ....

Monday, 9 March 2009

What am I doing here

I've been feeling a little strange of late, especially at work. Its nothing to do with the new girl in the test team, I mean that's not strange, although with luck she might be.

No its more a sort of am I really here and why are all these idiots so worked up and can I be bothered to think about this stuff type of thing. I suppose its a sort of pre-occupied, there's something 'd rather be doing, somewhere I'd rather be sort of feeling. I mean I used to enjoy it, well it kept me sort of entertained, or at least awake most of the time.

You see years ago, well until quite recently I suppose, I liked the idea of having a holiday home, a pied a terre in La Bellle France. I'd look in the estate agents windows and oooh and aahhh, but really I didn't want one, it was just a case of well it would be nice I suppose but I'd rather not be tied, type of thing. I wouldn't want to spend all of my meagre holidays in just one place, looking after it.

No you see I've got those itchy feet. I'm not a big fan of aeroplanes. To me travel is exactly that, the process of getting there, the journey, the exprience of finding you way, the changing landscape, people, language and food, not a few hours in a plane and getting out somewhere hot and smelly after just a few hours discomfort. Its all about the transition, the experience, seeing the slow change, the ..... journey.

That's probaby why I like camping so much. It frees you to go anywhere, any day. When you've seen it you move on. If the weather's bad or whatever, just pack up and go. Perhaps I've gypsy blood (although it'd have to be a long way back).

Actually I like to think of myself as a true Englishman with the sea in his veins, destined to explore and find new lands. Yes for me camping at sea was the ultimate experience..........true its difficult to get the pegs to stay in, but well you can compromise and caravan, which is really what sailing is all about. Anyway I digress.

The thing is, it seems like a lifetine since we were at the cottage. In truth its just 3 weeks, since our long weekend in paradise. Trouble is it seems like a long time till Easter when we next go, and frankly it is.

Anyway what I'm inching towards saying is I've sort of changed, from a don't want to be tied to one place sceptic to a just want to be there believer. The thing is that I quite like having a bolt hole, a little place I can dream about, look forard to being at and maybe one day live. Yes I still want to bungy a tent to my helmet and ride off to discover Wales or Switzerland or some other foresaken land, but....well what I really want is to go to Le Grand Pressigny and decorate the bath(shower)room, wire up the kitchen lights and walk, fish the Claise, shop on the village market, BBQ, even watch the village football team.

Now if I could just arrange that small lottery win and not need to work for another 5 years 8 months and 2 days......

Friday, 6 March 2009

All Roads Lead.......

Have you tried to get anywhere recently? Of course you have and you'll have come across at least one of the zillions of sets of temporary traffic lights that blight this sceptered isle, this demi paradise...sorry had a Shakespearian moment.

But its true isn't it? Everywhere you go there are roadworks - widening, modifying and building new ones. You'd think we'd be used to it by now, but we never seem to be. Somehow we're conditioned not to expect them or at least grumble about them.

Did you know that in Napoleon's day a whole fifth of Finnistere was actually roadway? Well muddy track for the most part but definitely used for getting from A to B.
A fifth. Imagine that. We could have 20 lane motoways. I suppose some modern housing estates might come close, but a whole departement the size of an English county? Wow.

I bet this road hasn't changed much since Napoleon's day.
And apart form the tarmac perhaps this one hasn't either.....what a way to go to work!

There were so many roads from Beauvais to Ameins that 6 of them are still in existance. Apparantly you could shout from one to the next - who says dual carridgeways are a 20th century thing? I expect the traffic moved about as fast as that on the M25 as well.
Still you get rush hour everyhere - even Le Grand Pressigny!!!!!

Has anyone seen my tea?

One of these days I'll find it, first time, without even having to think about it. It'll just be there where I left it waiting for me to need it, and what's more I'll rmember where that is.

Now wouldn't that be nice?
Am I getting old? For that matter is it an age thing? I mean do you know where your MOT certificate is? Or the paper bit of your driving licence? Those are the easy ones! How about the receipt for the last pair of shoes you bought? The dogs vaccination certificate. My vaccination certificate. The instructions for setting the clock on the microwave. My grade 1 violin certificate. We need a huge house and a filing clerk just to look after it all.

If only the digital age had started a good 55 years or so earlier, perhaps I'd have all those millons of bits of paper I can never find on a memory stick.

Which I'd loose.
Or Lulu would eat it.

Ho Hum.

Now where did I put my cuppa....?

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Its 5 o'clock ..... somewhere

What is it about citron vert? Is it the smell, the flavour or the zing factor?

I've staggered home from an oh so loooonnnggggggg day with the Orientals, the Arabs, the Indians and Mexicans.

Did I say Mexicans? What does that remind me of?

Limes and home made Fruit Cordial.

Or possibly one of the most refreshing drinks known to man/woman.

Put 8 or so ice cubes in a cocktail shaker (go buy one - a cheap stainless steel one is perfect - you won't regret it)
Take 2 limes and cut a slice from one, setting it aside.
Squeeeeze the limes over the ice in the shaker. A few juicy bits if lime won't hurt so don't filter it.
Add 2 shots of Gold Tequila, taking care when you sniff the cork.
Then a good half shot of White Tequila
And a half of Tripple Sec........
and a half of Grand Marnier (the French invented it just for this purpose)
and then one and a bit of Roses Lime Cordial (or if in France any lime cordial you can find - it ain't easy).

Now lid and shake for 30 seconds. Feel good while you are doing it. Think about the lime, the zing, shorts, sunshine, a beach........

Pour into a couple of glasses (salt or sugar the rims if you like), add some more ice, halve the slice of lime and perch on the rim, a couple of straws and.....


You just made


One of life's great pleasures and sure to leave you chilled and taste buds twinkling for quite some time.

(With special thanks to Jimmy Buffett for inspiration and the recipie).

Sunday, 1 March 2009


I suppose its a man thing. A sort of hunter gatherer instinct.
Stalking, trapping, binging home a dead dinosaur for dinner. Lighting the fire and listening to the gentle crackle, watching the patterns in the flames and catching a whiff of woodsmoke. It brought a cave to life, made it a home, somewhere good and happy and relaxed. Everything you'd want.

Of course these days with shops and deep feezers and stuff, we generally don't do and don't need to do the chasse bit, but the fireplace is still the heart of the home.
So whenever I see an old fireplace there's a second look...or third and fourth...
That must be why French estate agents are so keen to show you their piece de resistance....
La Cheminee. It'll sell the house no problem....like these....

Of course they weren't all that bad....this one looked almost practical...note the modern fitted kitchen -
Strange thing is, the agents are right....ooooh a real fire.......how lovely, we can sit and toast our toes, maybe even a crumpet or two.
I think I read somewhere that the French are the biggest users of wood burning stoves. Which probably explains why there's so much woodland in France, until you think again and wonder why there's any left...!!!
Which reminds me. We have a Cave, or to be strictly accurate, a bit of the house where the floor (earth) is a couple of foot (sorry it can't be in France) numpteen centi thingies - below everything else. Its where I put the wood which is dumped elgantly by Michele and his tractor in the courtyard, all cut into the correct sized pieces for the poele which he dutifully inspects each time we order some wood. Interestingly you buy it by the "stair" which seems to be about a cubic metre. Unforuntately there's an upstairs to the cave (although there aren't any stairs, or even a floor) and frankly the beams for the ceiling are a bit low in the entrance. Which is why I knocked myself out stacking wood. Ouch!

I'm developing a twitch.....

One of the great pleasures in life is sitting up in bed on a Sat/Sun mornng looking out of the window at the garden and fields beyond. To add a little extra something I hung a bird feeder from the snowy mespilus and hey presto - we've got great and blue tits. Well it is cold.

Then we noticed the neighbour had peanuts.

So we've got peanuts.

Then the other neighbour had thistle seeds.

So now, we've got bird seed, sunflowers, thistle seeds, fat balls, peanuts and a ground feeder! Talk about competitive bird feeding - we're in the olympics. Worthwhile though - some of the birds we regularly see in our Derbyshire garden are:
  • Blue, great, coal/marsh and long tailed tits
  • chaffinch, gold finch, green finch , bull finch
  • siskins
  • nuthatch
  • redpolls
  • robins
  • sparrows and dunnocks
  • wrens
  • blackbids and song thrushes
  • pheasants
  • pidgeons, collarded doves
  • greater spotted woodpecker
  • pied and yellow wagtail
  • And we've even see a kingfisher, coot and 2 ducks on the pond!

Who says birdseed isn't worth it?