Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

After much work putting the finishing touches to the house over the last few weeks, we finally get to christen it by having friends over for Christmas dinner. Jan & Alex, Brian & Gill and Peter & Martine grace us with their presence. My job is to try to keep Harry from sweeping champagne glasses from the tables with his perpetually wagging tail, keep said glasses topped up, select and open the wine, and flame the Christmas pud - Lynne does everything else.

Following an amazing amount of preparation she turns out a dozen incredibly delicious canapes, including quails eggs and capers in pastry cases, bloody mary jello shots, marinated prawns, prawn and scallop cevice, chile scones with cream cheese, parma ham and parmesan pastry things..... too many to remember, but none of which would disgrace a top restaurant. Brina and Gill kindly bring all the ingredients for various champagne cocktails.... pretty smashed by the time we sit down to eat.


Starter is a medley of salmon dishes. Main course is boeuf en croute with baby potatoes roasted in duck fat and various veggies. Dessert is a choice of christmas pud (of course), mini chocolate mousses, orange segments in something sweet and alcoholic... probably forgotten something but WAY too smashed to remember much by this time. So smashed, in fact, that I overdo the brandy on the pud and nearly set fire to the curtains. Ho hum....

Wonderful day - thank you to you guys for coming and making it so great, and to everyone else, a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Spent Up

Busy day today, since there is a close-up show, lectures and also a dealer day. Luckily none of the dealers take credit cards, so since I can only be bothered to make one trip to the cash machine I don't spend nearly as much as I might have otherwise! Got some great DVDs and a couple of nice old tricks. Missed out on a wonderful German-engineered rising card mechanism from the 1920's which worked by clockwork - it's a wonder they ever got away with the trick given the noise this thing made but I would have loved to have it for historical interest.

The Close Up Gala kicked off with John Lovick. We saw him on Friday as his alter ego "Handsome Jack", but today was plain Lovick, and his routine was excellent. He worked a prediction routine with an audience member where he pretended they were estranged lovers and the patter was based around him "quietly" trying to work through his issues with her on stage, ending with the predictions being part of a break-up song lyric in the sealed envelope. Hilariously done.He also did the best ring vanish I have ever seen anywhere, which was way too complicated to describe, but involved two rings, and two spectators, with one spectator ending up with the other's ring before everything was resolved. Despite knowing exactly how the "standard" version of this trick is performed, this version had me baffled for a while. Extremely clever routine.

Peter Samelson did more of his wonderful story-based magic, the highlight for me being the production of coins in a glass from cigarette smoke.

Denis Behr form Germany did some clever stuff with cards which left me cold, personally, though I can appreciate the skill involved.

Andrew Goldenhersh did some more of his wonderfully controlled slow-motion magic, turning an origami butterly into a real one and a wonderful coin matrix. The only trick of his I was not keen on was the terminally boring and repetitive needles-on-thread-from-mouth trick.

Goldenhersh also did an excellent lecture which involved no magic at all, but was all about character development and training unused muscles in hands and fingers. Check out www.handhealth.com - it is pretty amazing stuff if you stick at it! Peter Samelson's lecture was also excellent. Denis Behr's was, predictably (for me at least) boring, given his total concentration on card work.

The close of the event is traditionally the award of the Berglas Foundation Services to Magic Award. This year, chairman David Berglas informed an astonished audience that the award was going to none other than "magician's favourite" (not!) Uri Geller. Despite coming across as very confident and charming, Geller continues to contradict himself at every turn.

He hints that his early work was indeed trickery, that he has no real powers, and yet he claims to have made his money not from magic, but from payment from South American oil and gas companies for finding new drilling sites for them simply by flying overhead in a helicopter and "feeling" them.

Then went on to say that because he does not claim genuine talents he would never offer his services to the police and families searching for missing children. This despite the fact that in the next breath he claims to have helped in such cases early in his career. Fortunately the person asking the question persisted and pressed him on why, if he believes he genuinely helped before, he would not offer to help now, even on the slight off-chance he could do something useful.

"Interesting question", replied Geller. "I have no answer to that"....

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Magic Weekend

The first full day of the conference kicks off with the 25th annual close-up competition.

I sat in the wrong place for this, obviously, wanting to get a decent view of the proceedings. Unfortunately, my excellent seat meant I was picked on four times to "assist" - mom, I'm nearly famous. You have to feel sorry for these guys - up close and personal you can see just how nervous they are. Shaking hands, shaking voices, fluffed moves flashing things they would rather you didn't see. Some of them pulled it off better than others, and I did pick the eventual winner from his outstanding, and very confident and amusing, performance. Congratulations to Canada's Shawn Farquhar - well worth seeing should you ever have the chance.

The afternoon lectures were fascinating, Richard Turner kicking off with an hour expanding on his one-man show from yesterday, showing us exactly how he did all of his moves. Once again, even as he slows it down and tries to make it obvious, I still cannot see him actually false deal any of the cards. Amazing. David Kaplan and John Lovick also give us a number of excellent insights into their acts from the previous evening - an amazing afternoon.

Saturday night is the one we picked for the evening gala show. Compered by the very funny Noel Britten, it kicked off with Soma, from Hungary. A complex series of manipulations of mobile phones and coins to a driving musical accompaniment was interesting to watch for a while, but quickly got old, despite the technical skill in evidence. Just like those interminable card manipulation acts where fan after fan of cards are produced from thin air before being deposited in the top hat, there are only so many times you can watch the production of a fistful of mobile phones before you are willing the next act to appear.

Next up was David Kaplan from the US. This was more of a traditional "variety show" act, with some comedy magic and juggling, and was not Lynne's cup of tea. Whilst I prefer the "serious stuff" myself too, I could appreciate the skill in this act and the light relief was welcome after the very serious Soma.

Peter Samelson, from the US, did a wonderful performance. Very skillful, and with each trick presented as a story there was nothing quick-fire about this one, but it held interest right to the end.

Rafael, from Belguim, was up next. His act had left me a little cold the previous evening, and this one - the first of three appearances tonight, was worse. I hate quick change acts unless they are done VERY well, and this one was not done well, or even that quickly, at all. Glad to get that one out of the way.

The second half opened with another act that left me a little cold - but for a very different reason. Robert & Emiel (Netherlands) present a ’second sight’ act which portrays Robert as a ‘boy trapped in a mans body, having a special gift to see.’. The on-stage portrayal of the mentally challenged young man was disturbing for all the wrong reasons and made it hard to appreciate the content of the act.

This sort of act - with objects in the audience selected by the associate and named by the blindfolded person on-stage - I find very dull. They obviously rely on some form of hidden communication or code, and it is not something I find particularly clever. However, even I had to admire the skill of this pair as the pace picked up to an unbelievable level and still almost all the objects were named correctly, finishing with a driving licence description and correctly naming the serial number on a audience members £20 note. Shame about the "mentally challenged" angle, which made me uncomfortable throughout.

The organisers juxtaposed the acts superbly tonight, and after the unsettling mentalism act we were treated to an hilarious comedy juggling routine from the UK's Rob Lavar. Five ping pong balls from the mouth playing tunes on empty gin bottles - say no more.....

Andrew Goldenhersh (US) presented an extremely polished routine of some truly excellent magic. He produced a live butterfly from a tattoo on his arm, worked a wonderful misers dream routine with a very small and dangerously curious boy from the audience, and finished with an extremely slow and controlled straight jacket escape, producing unbroken eggs and a live chicken from the jacket as the finale.

Rafael appeared twice more, and completely redeemed himself. With the only "big stage" magic in evidence (i.e big props and multiple assistants) he had a lot resting on his shoulders, but his first routine - the animated woman - was amazing, After producing himself from a large box, he animated a body-less head, which then apparently floated over to a headless body on the other side of the stage before the body was then animated and walked around the stage.

Red Hat was a late addition to the show, performing a reasonably skillful, if somewhat tedious, mask manipulation act. Like Soma's mobile phones, there are only so many times you can produce a fist full of face masks before the audience (or at least this particular audience member) starts yawning. This has been done - and done better - by Jeff McBride, and I would not rush to see this guy again.

The third appearance from Rafael closed the show, and was a fitting finale. An assistant was placed in a clear box, and swords were pushed through slots trapping her in place. An almost instantaneous switch behind a cloth revealed he had apparently changed places with his assistant in the box, but as the swords were removed and he was released, it turned out to be the MC Noel Britten, Rafael eventually appearing in the audience.

A truly excellent show, and a great first day, made even better with the finding - and trying - of a really excellent (and cheap!) sushi restaurant right around the corner from our hotel.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Welsh Wales

After such a long day traveling yesterday I sleep the sleep of the dead, waking up to a wet Welsh morning.

Over breakfast we watch the local speed cop setting up outside my parents home trying to catch the people speeding up the hill, not knowing that my dad has erected a big sign "Warning! Pigs R Here!" on his roof. Mum takes him a cup of tea on the off-chance that the guy will let my dad off next time he gets caught speeding. My dad gets more speeding tickets than I do!

Tania and Jon - my youngest sister and her hubby - pop round for lunch on the pretext of seeing me, but it probably has more to do with a home cooked lunch. Unfortunately, nieces and nephews are at school today, which is a real shame since I will have to head off without getting to see them.

After lunch I have to catch the train back to London to attend the first night of the magic convention. It's my first time, and I have no idea what to expect, but I am not prepared for the amazing quality of the acts we get to see.

It kicks off with a one man show by Richard Turner, billed as the "Card Cheat". I am no fan of card magic, but this guy is amazing. He can control the deck completely no matter how many times he shuffles, dealing cards seamlessly and invisibly from the top, bottom or middle of the deck to allow him to deal any hand he likes to any one of the players around the table.

An hour whizzes by, and at the end of it, we realise that not only can he do all of this stuff without us seeing, but he is actually blind! He gets a well deserved standing ovation. During the interview which follows, he demonstrates some of his techniques, and yet even when he places a card face up on top of the deck and then proceeds to deal five hands from different parts of the deck without ever disturbing the top card and you STILL can't see him do it, I realise that there is not much point in ever taking up card magic, 'cos I'll never be that good in a million years. Even so, I splash out of his DVDs afterwards, just so I can remind myself of the brilliance of his work later.

The evening closes with a comedy show, hosted by Phil Butler, and featuring some very funny performance by Rafael, Handsome Jack (AKA John Lovick) and David Kaplan. A wide variety of magic is on show and all of the acts are very funny to boot.

Phil Butler is an excellent host, and if you ever get the chance to see him on the comedy circuit I recommend you take it. He closes with an outrageous routine whereby he makes speaking Fisher Price kiddie learning toys say some pretty disgusting things by manipulating the keys - extremely childish and very vulgar, and totally hilarious!

Bodes well for the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

To London We Go

Hating England as much as I do - and London in particular - it has to be something special which drags me up there to the frozen north these days.

The prospect of visiting my parents followed by 3 days of the International Magic Convention just about fits the bill, so we pack our biggest winter woollies, brush up on basic eastern European vocabulary so we can at least make basic conversation with the natives, and off we go. Not before dropping Harry off at kennels, however. This will be his first time in kennels on his own, now Benson has gone, and when we arrive he is the only one in the place. Hope he will be OK.

The decision to take the later train is the first bad one of the trip. Normally we go for one around 7am, but we decide to have a lie in and go for the one an hour later. Big mistake, as we arrive just in time for the train only to find the station car park is full. We have to make a mad dash to the Arenes, followed by an even madder dash down to the station dragging our luggage. We make the train - puffing and panting - with only 2 minutes to spare.

We decided to go via Lille rather than Paris, since we intend to do lots of shopping and are anticipating heavy cases on the return journey. The problem is that the winter schedule makes the connections a little tighter than we would like. We make the Lille connection and check in with only 5 minutes to spare.

As usual, the contrast between the luxury of the TGV and the spartan prison van atmosphere of the Eurostar is marked, and the journey from Lille to London is not much fun.

We are staying in the Travel Inn at Euston, chosen for being just around the corner from St Pancras, and right opposite the Shaw Theatre where the convention is being held. Chosen for convenience alone, then, this one is a bit of a gamble. This is our first time staying in this part of London, and we are expecting to have to fight our way through drug dealers and prostitutes on the way to the hotel.

We are amazed to find nothing of the sort - Pizza Express, Pret a Manger, Starbucks and Costa Coffee are all in evidence, the sure sign of an area about to undergo massive redevelopment and increase in house prices. There is a huge, rather posh looking, Novotel, the British Library, Indian, Chinese and sushi restaurants, and the hotel itself is pretty good (as good as a Travel Inn is ever likely to be, anyway) and a bargain at 90 quid a night.

The bane of the Travel Inn - the check-in process - is as slow as ever, and it leaves me with only 15 minutes to catch my train from Paddington to Swansea. Hailing a cab and fighting through the afternoon traffic, I make the train at a run with only 2 minutes to go. This has been a day of near misses for the trains, and I shudder to think what would have been the results of missing any one of them.

The journey to Swansea is uneventful, despite the border tax of two sheep and a leek being somewhat extortionate, though is still amazes me that it can take longer to get from London to Swansea than it does from Nimes to Paris! Mum and dad are there to meet me at the station - it has been an absolute age since I have seen them and we have lots to catch up on on the way home and over a wonderful home cooked meal. Great to see them again, though I slip right back into bad habits by eating most of the lemon cheesecake on offer!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No More Slice?

I just cured my slice!

That phrase should drive more traffic to my blog than any other I have written to date. Apart from "Angelina Jolie ballet dances naked before steamy sex session with Olla Jordan". There, that should wrap up most of the internet traffic for this week.....

Anyway, back to the slice thing. Those of you who know me and have put up with my endless moaning about my terrible incurable golf slice over the last few months - or even worse, have had to play a round with me and spent half of it looking for my ball in the right rough! - will be pleased and amazed that I have finally got to grips with it (no pun intended). When I use phrases like "got to grips" and "cured", of course, I use these in the loosest golf-related sense. In that whatever we do this week to cure the ills of our golf swing seems to manage to miraculously reverse itself the week after. Right now, however, I will take a week of decent golf and solve the next problem when it appears.

Today I shoot 95 and go from hitting 5 fairways/greens in total last week to hitting 9 out of 14 fairways and 3 out of four of the par-3 greens. Shame my putting has gone to hell at the same time otherwise I could have broken 90, but you can't have everything at the same time in golf, can you? Otherwise it wouldn't be golf.

For those of you remotely interested in my amateur musings over my golf swing, I reckon that the "epiphany" came about by suddenly realising that as I moved my weight from left to right leg on the downswing, I also shifted my entire upper body to the left at the same time. Head, hands - hell, everything - was ahead of the ball at impact and there was only one way the ball was ever going to go.

By keeping my head and upper spine fixed as close as I can just behind the ball throughout the downswing I seem to be able to hit much straighter. I have also cut my backswing in half in order to try and keep more control. Ironically, although my swing is shortened, I am getting more distance off the tee, thanks to the straighter ball flight. I hit 230 metres today, which is pretty good for me. Once I can get some consistency in this new swing I can probably start to dial back up the power with a bigger backswing - right now I'm just happy to keep more than half my tee shots on the short stuff!

And there you have it. Next week I will probably be bemoaning some new, suddenly-appeared, bad aspect of my new swing, but right now I am happy as a pig in shit.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Vatel

Wonderful lunch today with Ian, Sylvia, Clive and Fabienne at the Vatel in Nimes. This is the local cookery school, and thus you have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth in terms of both service and food quality given that it is students who are doing the cooking and serving. In addition, it is often a challenge placing an order since French is the first language of neither the customer nor the waiter/waitress in many cases!

Lynne and I have eaten a few times at the Vatel and never been particularly impressed, to be honest, so we weren't looking forward to the meal, although the company was certainly worth the trip under any circumstances. And in the end we were more than pleasantly surprised. The cold buffet of entrees is always good, the poached salmon being consistently excellent, but this time the main courses were superb too. Definitely the best meal we have had there, and good enough that we will be going again!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Berfday Boy

It's my birthday today - more grey hairs, more sagging flesh, more aches and pains. You know you are getting old when all these things no longer wait a year to appear, but rather accumulate on a weekly basis.

I don't even get a lie in! WIth dance classes on a Thursday night, we need to get up at oh-dark-thirty in order to fit in 18 holes of golf and give us enough time to recover before dancing. In fact, it is SO dark when we get up that we can't even see where the balls are going on the practice range. Complete waste of time that is! Because the practice is a wash-out, we are freezing by the time we get to the first tee and it takes us 4-5 holes to warm up. I shoot an abysmal 51 on the front 9, but make up for it partially with a back 9 of 47. For some reason my putting has gone to hell in a hand-basket.

At least the ridiculously early start sees us back home before lunch time, just in time to take Harry for a proper walk (way too dark for him to walk this morning - his decision, not ours!). Golf then dog walk - now I am really knackered. DId I mention I was getting old?

Dance lessons tonight focus on the tango again - my favourite - and afterwards we dine in style at le Cheval Blanc, overlooking les Arenes in Nimes. This is rapidly becoming our favourite haunt - the wine list is great, they sell it by the glass, and now we discover the food is fantastic as well. Best steak I have ever eaten in France, and the seafood is superb. Well worth a visit - even Alex should be able to find this one (right opposite that huge place where they used to feed gladiators to lions, Alex....)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Berfday Girl

It's Lynne's birthday today and we decide a trip to the beach with Harry is in order. We decide on Grande Mottes because it has dog friendly beaches and it is so close, and we have a wonderful long walk along the nearly deserted beach.

It is a strange experience because we tend to still compare Harry with Benson at certain points, and a trip to the beach is one such obvious comparison point. Whereas Benson would have gone hurtling up and down, in and out (but mainly in) the water fetching everything in sight, Harry is content to plod along beside us, or occasionally ahead of us if another dog comes over to investigate, and will only go in the sea if he gets particularly hot. Anything we throw for him is usually met with a very gallic shrug and an expression that clearly says "you threw it, YOU fetch it!". As a retriever, Harry makes a good door stop.....

We decide there is no point continuing to compare the two of them - Harry is a completely different dog. The very traits which occasionally frustrate us - his unwillingness to get excited about a trip to the beach, for example - are also those which we often find the most appealing. Benson, for example, would get SO excited about a trip out that he would stand in the back of the car panting all the way, would not sit quietly in a restaurant, and would usually crap in the most embarrassing places in his excitement.

Harry, on the other hand, is simply happy to be out and about with us. The car trip itself is wonderful, the walk is wonderful (as long as he gets to walk with us) and time spent with us in a restaurant is wonderful. If he is not home alone, then it is a massive treat for him, and this makes him extremely easy to take out and about with us.

The short of it is - Harry is not Benson.

We have the most wonderful meal in a restaurant directly opposite the marina, which appears to have some complex name like "When The Lighthouse Flashes Over Something Or Other". Sorry Alex - I know you like names, addresses and phone numbers but I am usually too pissed to remember.....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

AGF Competition

It's the AGF-sponsored competition today and I am in a 3-some with Lauren and Michel. The weather is fantastic and the game is great.

Just shows how nervous I must have been yesterday. Despite the fact that this is a competition I feel much more relaxed having got the championship stuff out of the way, and I shoot 45 out and 47 back for a total of 92. This is enough to win today's competition both brut and net - yay!

There are prizes to be had, but the biggest thing is that my handicap falls from 27.4 to 23.2, and this is enough to move me from the 3me serie to the 2me serie. This is the biggest division, and of course in one fell swoop I have gone from having one of the lowest handicaps in a small division to one of the biggest handicaps in a large division. Methinks the prizes will be few and far between next year!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Final

Today is the final of the golf club championship, and this means yet another ridiculously early rise to get there in time to practice before my tee time. Another 18 holes of match play, this time against Andel, one of the guys who I played with in my qualifying group last Saturday. A week ago I went round in more than 10 under his score - I am not expecting him to make life so easy for me today.

And he doesn't disappoint! This is another extremely tight game, with neither of us ever managing to pull more than two holes ahead before the other claws back the difference, and most of the game there is only one hole in it.

I start to pull ahead again on the back 9 and Andel gets slightly rattled. I am thinking "this is it", but then nerves get the better of me. Last week was easy because I never expected to progress past the qualifiers, never mind the final stages. Today things are different, and I start to make stupid mistakes with my short putts. I throw a couple of holes away missing the simplest of putts and we go to the 18th all square.

I have a great drive, and then fluff my second shot. We both get on the green in 3, but each with a 30 foot putt. We both miss our fourth shot, leaving around 3ft to go. He keeps his nerve better than me and drops it in the hole for 5 - I take 6. It is disappointing, but it was a great game - very exciting.

And I take comfort in the fact that I have come a long way in less than a year since I got my license - promotion from 4th to 3rd division, finals of the club championships, top 3 finish in 3 of the four summer competitions I entered, and halving my handicap from 54 to 27.

Tomorrow is another day - literally - I am signed up for the AGF competition!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Paso Doble

I am sure it is not coincidence that if you say "Paso Doble" real fast it can sound a lot like "Dance So Poorly"

I have trouble getting my head round the new steps tonight, especially as it switches between 6 counts and 8 counts depending on what part of the dance you are at. I have huge new respect for the participants in Strictly Come Dancing - even John Sergeant! In fact, I have even higher respect for the men because I am beginning to realise just how hard it is not only to remember your own steps, but also LEAD the woman. Apparently women are incapable of remembering which way to go on a dance floor and need to be steered around by the man - a bit like life, really... Only kidding... honest!

Anyhow, seems grossly unfair that I should not only be expected to remember where to put my own feet and which direction to turn, but also to push and pull my partner around at the appropriate moments. In fact it is so unfair that I decide not to do it for most of the night. That's my story, anyway.

Switching partners during the dance adds another level of stress, although one lady makes a bee-line for me for a second dance telling me that she much prefers dancing with me because her husband is useless. I sneak a look around the dance floor trying to spot the only guy in the room who must obviously be a double amputee, on crutches or in a wheel chair, but he must have stepped out for a while.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Semi Finals

I play Joseph in the semi finals of the club championship today, another 18 holes of match play.

Having had a REALLY bad practice game yesterday, I am not too confident, in addition to being really tired having now played Saturday, Sunday, Monday and faced with another game today. This was not helped by the fact that tee times are really early and I had forgotten to set my alarm clock back an hour last month (duh!), so I ended up dragging myself out of bed at 6am this morning - early enough by any standards - and was half way showered before Lynne told me it was actually 5am and I was an idiot!

Today, however, it all came together. At least it did after the first few holes. I have played Joseph before, and we are very equal in terms of our golfing prowess (if, indeed, prowess is a word which can be used to describe what I do with a golf ball), so this developed into a really tough game, nip and tuck. As we rounded the front 9 I had battled back from my early troubles to snatch a 1 hole lead, and I took the next 3 holes to make life a little more comfortable. I lost the 13th and we drew the next 3 leaving me 3 holes up with only 2 to play. Game over.

A nice par on the 18th rounded off a great game (51 out, 49 back for a total of 100), and Joseph was a very gracious loser. Indeed, the whole game was characterised by a very relaxed attitude, fair play, laughing and joking, and genuine cheering on of one another's better shots and dismay at some of the terrible misses, making it a real pleasure. Completely the opposite to the game I played the other day where the guy was severely stressed out and seemed to think it was unfair that I should win some of the holes to which he was clearly entitled.

I get to play Andel, one of the guys who was in my qualifying group on Saturday, in the finals on Saturday morning. WIsh me luck!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Quarter Finals

So it's up at the crack of dawn today to get to the club early enough to practice before my 8.30 tee time.

Today it is 18 holes of match play between myself and one of the other 7 who made it through from yesterday - no handicap is taken into account - this is mano a mano. Match play (where your total score is not recorded, but only used to determine the winner of each hole) is a new format for me, and I love it.

Although my instructor told me to ignore what the other player is doing and just play my own game, this ignores the strategy component of match play. For example, if your opponent is in the hole in 4 and you are on the green in 3 then you know there is no point in lagging the putt - you gotta go for it. If, however, your opponent takes 5 to get on the green and you are on in 3, then you know you can lag the putt and take 2 and still win the hole. It is tremendously liberating to know that you have no choice but to go for a risky shot or a long putt, and it is amazing how often these shots come off!

My opponent has a similar handicap to myself and, to be honest, I am not expecting to progress any further than today - I was happy to just get through the qualifiers. As if to underline this, I play like a complete muppet for the first 9 holes, recording a dreadful 56. However, miraculously, I score when it counts and go into the back 9 with a 6 hole to 2 lead, sharing only one hole between us,

This seems to rattle my opponent, but not as much as the fact that he plays perfect approach shots for the next hole while I end up in the rough. He puts his third shot on the green, and I put my third 2 feet from the pin. Another hole to me.

The next hole is a long par 5, and he is on the green in 3. I spend the first three shots languishing in the rough and hacking my way back onto the fairway and he is feeling pretty confident. This is where the strategy thing comes in - I have nothing to lose at this point. I am 120 yards from the green with a downhill lie, and I stick the ball three feet from the pin. We end up halving the hole and my opponent has a fit! "How am I supposed to win?" he asks, in all seriousness. "I play perfect approach shots and you stick it next to the pin from back there! How am I supposed to win a hole if you keep doing that?"

At first I laugh, but then realise he is not joking. He was not too unhappy about losing holes where he played badly, but clearly believes that when he plays a good hole I m not allowed to upset the apple cart. I don't really know how to respond to this one - as far as I am aware, golf is about sticking the ball in the hole in the fewest shots possible. Isn't it?

Two holes later and it is all over - he cannot win, and the rest of the game we are playing for fun. At least I am. He is still complaining that he is fed up with golf and is going to give it up. If it gets him this heated, perhaps he should.

Anyhow, having played out all the holes I win 11.5 to 6.5 and I am through to the semi-finals on Tuesday! Yay me! Just as important is the fact I manage to record a 47 on the back 9 to go some way towards balancing out the abysmal 56 I scored on the way out, only barely shooting to my new handicap.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Qualifying Round

The Vacquerolles golf club championship starts today. There are three mens divisions, one ladies and one mixed/beginners division, and your assignment to a division is determined by your current handicap. Right now, I am languishing in division 3 following promotion from the mixed in August, with a handicap of 30.

There is no championship for the mixed division, leaving three for the mens and one for the ladies. The qualifying round is today, with everyone playing a round of stroke play and the best 8 going through to the quarter finals tomorrow. This is pretty scary stuff for me, golf-wise, but I have a great day, recording a 47 out and 51 back, for a total of 98.

Amazingly, this puts me top of the table for division 3, so I get to come back tomorrow! My handicap also drops to 27 - only another 3 to go and I get bumped up to division 2 (where life suddenly gets a whole lot more difficult!)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Strictly Bum Dancing

Last night we had our first dancing lesson, an individual one to try and get us up to speed because tonight we join the group course which has been running for over 6 weeks already.

I am terrified. You are talking about someone with two left feet having to learn enough dance to catch up with a group who has six weeks of lessons under their belts. After an hour covering the basics of the tango and paso doble, I can barely keep anything more than the most basic steps in my head and I am more terrified than ever.

Fast forward to tonight, and after four hours of golf (terrible - 50 out and 53 back with some shocking play) my feet are killing me and I realise I have already forgotten everything I learned last night. To make matters worse, there are always more women than men at these things, so you have to brave the myriad pairs of eyes following you round the room, just waiting for Lynne to make a slip or get demoted so they can pounce.

Naturally, with my boyish good looks and raw sexuality, not to mention obvious dance talent, I am the focus of attention. Then Lynne pinches me to tell me I have just missed five minutes of instruction, and I wake up....

Anyway, it's a hoot. We spend the hour doing the tango, covering the stuff we did last night plus a few new steps, and it all starts to stick. I find myself already looking forward to the next opportunity to show off my amazing skills, and we sign up for the rest of the year in the ballroom class.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Good Sense Prevails

Let's face it, Obama wasn't running against McCain and Palin, he was running against Bush. And at this point in history, an illiterate gay black atheist would have had more chance of winning the presidential race than a Republican.

But credit where credit is due, it only took $600 million and we have America's First Black President. Have you noticed that in every news item you listen to you can actually hear those capital letters? Why, in this day and age, is it such a big issue? Would the British press make such a big deal out of Britain's First Black Prime Minster? Or Britain's First German Royal Family? No, of course not.

Hilary Rodham must be spitting feathers right now, though. Even she could have won against Mc Cain and Palin!

All kidding aside, this was the smart choice. I worry that too much will be expected of him, despite the fact that he didn't really give much away in terms of how he was going to tackle the major issues, and I hope he really does try to make a difference. My fear is that his advisors will try and have him campaigning for a second term as soon as he sets foot in the oval office, and that his presidency will be characterised by astounding mediocrity. This will do a huge disservice to those who took a leap of faith and gave him the biggest majority the Democrats have seen in a long time.

I hope instead that he gets his head around the fact that his will be a one-term presidency - no way will he get elected again. That way he can consider himself free to upset whomever he likes on his way to enacting some real legislation and making a real difference.

And if he can do THAT, you never know what could happen in four years time....

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Garbage

Just rented the remake of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth starring Brendan Fraser from iTunes. Was expecting good things. Was not expecting it to be such total, utter garbage. Avoid at all costs.

Also watched 10,000BC - not sure what I was expecting from this one, but if you want to give it a go I would definitely recommend renting rather than buying - not worth the price of a DVD.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Swing Change

We take advantage of a break in the lousy weather to play some golf - warm enough to play in a t-shirt today, if not shorts!

Continuing to tweak my swing to try and get some consistency in length and stop taking these huge divots. Some light at the end of the tunnel today, although there have been numerous occasions in the past when I have made a "breakthrough", only to find myself digging holes in the fairway next time out.

But today felt good, swing-wise and, let down only by some sketchy driving, I manage 49 out and 49 back - 98 total. Hoping this is good enough, since I have just signed up for the club championship this coming weekend. Gulp!

I know I am not going to progress past the first round, but I do quite enjoy playing in the competitions, and it is the only way you can have your scores recorded to reduce your handicap in France, so they are a bit of a necessary evil. As long as I can shoot around 100 I should be OK.... probably just jinxed myself right there!

We finish the day by watching The Return Of The King, the final installment of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Peter Jackson did two amazing things with this trilogy. Firstly, he managed to avoid disappointing the real fans of the books (apart from those morons who thought that Tom Bombadil should actually have been included in the film!). There was not one single moment throughout where I thought "Hmmmmm that's not how I imagined it". And that is pretty impressive! I would have liked to have seen the ending remain truer to the books, but that was never going to make is past Hollywood's Mushy Ending Enforcers, was it?

Secondly, he managed to engage people like Lynne, who actively disliked the Tolkein books. Some will probably just enjoy the films. Otheres, like Lynne, will be inspired to go back and re-read the books. That is also pretty impressive.

44th Time Lucky

US citizens are on notice.

Sane people think it is about time that you got it right. Two fuck-ups in the last eight years - two too many. Get it wrong this time and we will have to call off this whole independence experiment thing.

You will have to go back to speaking and writing Proper English, stop waging war willy nilly, ditch the whole republic idea, and get yourself a proper health service.

And despite all the possible benefits, just think about the fact that if you think it has been bad under George Bush, just wait 'til you have to contend with that wanker Gordon Brown as your new leader!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Weather-Induced Slobbery

Two more days of poor weather see us taking things rather easy.

We walk Harry before the rain sets in, have a leisurely breakfast, and an even more leisurely lunch while settling down to watch the Lord Of The Rings films.

Fellowship of the Ring yesterday, Two Towers today. I had forgotten just what an excellent job Peter Jackson had done with these films. Looking forward to the final installment.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Sexist But Funny....

Just like me....



This one I quite liked too, possibly because the situation is so familiar...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bottled It

We set off to play golf early this morning, but by the time we get to the club it has started drizzling. I want to give up and go back home at that point, but Lynne casts doubts on my manhood and suggests I need to toughen up and stick it out.

I have my doubts, but spurred on by her good-natured challenge I get my gear out of the locker, pull on a wind-proof top followed by body warmer, don a hat and, wishing I had another glove for my right hand, wend my way to the first tee - by which time it is pissing down.

Ironically I hit a great tee shot, followed by excellent 2nd and third shots to get me on the green in regulation on this difficult par 5 before deciding that if I wanted to play golf in these conditions I would have stayed in England!

I am home in front of a nice fire before the guys in front of us hit the third tee.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Brief Respite

The brief respite to which I refer is in the rain - again! And I make the most of it by grabbing a game of golf.

It is hard to imagine today that only a week ago I was playing in shorts and t-shirt. Today I have on long pants, long-sleeved short and wind-proof top. The French are horrified - they know that winter has truly arrived when the English start wearing long pants!

Not a great game - too inconsistent, too much wind and too much waiting once we get past the sixth hole. I manage to scrape a 47 on the front 9, but crash to 53 on the back 9 thanks to some woeful mid-iron play. Ironically, short irons and putting are on fire today, making one-putts on most holes (and -given the score - demonstrating just how poor my approach play is!)

Once I get home the heating is on, and I even crank it up a degree or two. Yes, winter has arrived....

Monday, October 27, 2008

Winter Is Here

I finally get around to taking the cover off the pool and cleaning it ready for the winter chemicals.

Even today the temperature is hovering above 20 degrees - just a week ago it was 22 degrees overnight, rising to 23-24 during the sunniest days. Still usable, therefore, by hardy souls.

Not us, though, especially once the weather turned. Which is why it is now officially closed. Which means winter is officially here. Bum!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Home On The Range

Yippee.

Unpacking out of the way and some decent weather means that Harry gets a good long walk (here he is by the Roman fountain/bath which has plenty of water in it after the recent rain storms) and we get to play golf for the first time in what seems like ages.

Not too bad today. 47 out and a disappointing 53 back, shooting an abysmal 3 over par and 4 over par on the final two holes (including one amazing shot from bunker to bunker followed by two attempts to get out of the second bunker on the 18th).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Feeling Virtuous

The rain set in big time the middle of this week, so we used the opportunity to attack some more of the huge mountain of cartons which still occupy most rooms of the house over 18 months after we supposedly moved in!

Three days of back-breaking work later and we are feeling pretty proud of ourselves. Both of our studies are now completely unpacked, all of our clothes (at the moment mine are just bundled into various wardrobes in heaps, but at least they are out of the cartons!), and a lot of the household stuff from the veranda. We can now get in and out of the veranda room at least, and can see the light at the end of the tunnel there. The mazet is still pretty full, but that will be the next job.

The good thing is that all the rooms in the main house are now pretty much unpacked and - whilst still messy - at least liveable. Poor old Harry mean-time is feeling pretty confused. He just keeps his head down, hoping we aren't moving house yet again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Waiting Game

Some things don't change when you move from England to France.

One of those is the amount of time you spend waiting for plumbers who promise to turn up at 6.45am, then ring at 8.30 to say they will be there at 11.30 (WTF - I had to set an alarm to get up for no reason!), then ring at 14.00 to say they will be there at the end of the afternoon, then don't turn up at all. After two days with no hot water and no central heating and a downturn in the weather forecast, I decide to have a go at fixing the boiler myself.

Ten minutes with the manual and five minutes of wielding a spanner later and we have both heating and hot water. All I need now is the special pair of jeans that show off my butt-crack and I'm ready to go into business.

We also spend all afternoon waiting for our delivery of wood, promised for 14.00. He finally turns up at 19.00 just as it is getting dark, and Lynne and I spend a back-breaking hour stacking the wood on the terrace. Just as well we do, because it pisses it down all night.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ashes To Ashes

We recently collected Benson's ashes from the vet - a very sad day.

We have been agonising over what to do with them, and have decided that Benson should have the opportunity to be laid to rest in all the places he loved best. We thought long and hard, and came up with the following list:

1. The woods just outside Yielden, Beds - this is where we lived when we acquired Benson, and is where he took most of his walks for the first four years of his life. This is where he put up his first pheasant, caught his first pigeon, faced down his first hare (before running away - those things are a damn site bigger close up than they are from the other side of a field!), swam his first stream, disappeared completely in his first snow drift, marked his first territorial boundaries (probably still smells!), and generally got muddier and wetter on a regular basis than you would ever think possible by a single dog.

2. Southwold beach - we have always made a point of having at least one "dog holiday" per year, to assuage the guilt of putting him in kennels when we went on our own holiday.

We took him variously to Hunstanton, Wales, and the Lake District, but Southwold is the English seaside town that I think we still associate most strongly with Benny. We would walk for about 5 miles along the beach before turning back, and he would swim every single step of the way! It was always a battle to get him out of the sea, he loved the water so much.

3. Laroque - when we moved to France we lived alongside the Rioutourd river which, much to Benson's eternal disgust, only had water in it when there was severe flood-inducing rainfall. For a few glorious days there was a real weir effect under the small footbridge and we used to watch him get washed away in the general direction of Ganges as he chased sticks, only to turn round and swim against the current, eventually climbing out over the weir to present us with his stick.

Unfortunately, this state of affairs would make it difficult to scatter his ashes in water there, but the Rioutourd flows into the Herault, and his other favourite place was the weir at Laroque, with the ducks, swans, canoeists and the small rock beaches where he could fetch sticks and stones and, in summer, annoy tourists and locals alike as he shook himself dry as they attempted to sunbathe.

4. Palavas - If Southwold was the beach we associate with Benson in England, Palavas is the equivalent in France. This is where we used to take him in the first years after we moved to France, where we used to play football in the sand and throw stuff for hours into the sea for him to fetch. He would never get tired, even in his later years when the arthritis started to bother him - for a few glorious hours the pain was always forgotten and we would indulge him and then fill him full of anti-inflammatories when we got home.

This is where we got chased off the beach by indignant people with a beach towel and picnic basket full of sand after Benson had passed through on his way to fetching a football. If I could find those people today I would sprinkle some of his ashes on their sandwiches - he would like that!

5. Doucy-Combelouviere woods - If there was one thing that Benson loved as much as - if not more than - water, it was snow. Once we moved to France we had the opportunity of taking him skiing with us at least once a year. Doucy-Combelouviere - in the Savoie near Valmorel - was an extremely dog-friendly environment.

They loved him in the restaurants there, and every day we would walk him through the woods where he could disappear over his head in snow drifts and chase anything that moved. Even in his final years, he would always overcome the discomfort of his arthritis and hip dysplasia and an over-eager Harry to become, once again, a bouncing chaotic bundle of energy, the Benson that we had always known, an idiotic puppy who never really grew up.

6. The garden at Nages - This one is easy. While ever we live at this house I would like to think Benson is out there in the garden with us.

This is where he hurtled round the pool begging to be let in, chased balls, had mock fights with Harry, barked at the neighbours, worked the table at each and every barbeque and - more and more, in recent months - just crashed out on the lawn to alternate between baking in the sun and resting in the shade of the palm trees.



7. The Oppidum de Nages - another easy one. Wherever we end up in France, this will be the place we can always come back to visit with Benson. Despite the tortuous climb that often left Lynne, myself and that waster Harry gasping for breath, Benson would lead the way on this, his favourite walk.

There are not many game birds to be found in this part of France, but Benson would always find the few that there were. Long after we were convinced he had gone completely deaf he would amaze us - and Harry - by disappearing into the undergrowth to flush out small grouse-like birds, one time apparently disappearing over the edge of a cliff, only to reappear a couple of hundred yards further along the track looking extremely satisfied with himself. He loved this walk, and no matter what the weather, would pester us each and every day until we would take him - right up to the very last day when we had to take him to the vet! Even before he let us know it was finally time to go, he made sure he got in one last walk!

He was always a very happy dog, and everyone who knew him loved him. Harry is still missing him. Lynne and I are definitely missing him. When I look back over the list of places that he loved, I can't help thinking that he had a pretty good life. I hope he agrees.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

More Lunch

We meet up for lunch with Peter and Martine, Axel, Wendy, Alicia and Eloise, and Steven, Sarah and Pippa - along with Harry - at le Palais des Roses in Lunel. Count 'em - that's 8 adults, 2 four-year-olds, one new-born and one 3-year-old Labrador around one table in a restaurant - no surprise then that he has us out in a tented annex on our own!

Eating Indian (or, indeed, and non-French) food in France is usually a disappointing experience - the French don't do spicy. The best we have found so far was a restaurant in Paris - this turns out to be the second best, and streets ahead of any others we have tried locally.

Everyone opts for the thali, a sort of "tasting menu" of meat curries, nan, rice and bhajis. Washed down with some genuine imported Indian beer, the food turns out to be excellent. We will definitely be going back.

After lunch, it is back to Steven and Sarah's place to see how the renovation work is coming along (they have my sympathies - the dust level is about where we were not 3 months ago!) and for Harry to have a romp with Molly. The afternoon is whiled away in a very pleasant manner gossiping, drinking tea, making "helpful" DIY suggestions and walking the dogs.

The more observant amongst you will notice that, once again, an entire blog entry - and an entire day - is pretty much taken up with lunch!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Big Mystery

We meet up with Clive on our way to meet Ian and Sylvia for lunch, which starts at Ian and Sylvia's with some very large Pimms.

Lunch is at a place which provides such amazing food for such a ridiculously low price that it is not easy to get into, especially since they stopped opening on any other lunch time except Friday. In fact, the food is SO good, the price SO low and the difficulty of acquiring a reservation SO great that I'm not actually going to tell you where it is!

Suffice to say that by the time we finish, drive back to Clive's for a cup of tea and finally get home, it is nearly time for dinner. Such is the hard life of the ex-pat in the south of France that an entire blog entry covering an entire day is taken up with just lunch! Well, someone has to do it.....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Life On The Ocean Waves

OK, so it's not the ocean exactly, just the Med. But either way, it is up at the crack of dawn this morning (can the crack of dawn be any other time than in the morning? And who is this Dawn bint, anyway?) so we can be on the water early enough to get us to les Santes Maries de la Mer in time for lunch. Yes, that is how Peter - for 'tis his boat on which we are sailing - plans his voyages. No matter where he is going, the kick off time is less to do with tides and weather and currents and all that nautical stuff, and more about where exactly we will be at midday given whatever start time we pick. Sounds sensible to me.

So off we set - Peter, Jacques, Axel, Lynne and myself - suitably provisioned with beer, shortbread biscuits, beer, Penguin biscuits, beer, tea biscuits, tea, beer and bacon butties. Luckily, the French contingent has only just had its breakfast, which means all the more bacon butties for the English contingent.

Fact is, the English contingent has also only just had its breakfast, but nothing stands in the way of an Englishman (or woman) and his (or her) bacon butty - so we down two apiece with a mug of tea while the French contingent - Axel and Jacques - man the tiller. Or whatever that steering wheel type thingy is called. I guess you can already see how much help I am going to be on this particular sailing expedition....

Not that we are doing much actual sailing. In fact, if it wasn't for the motor we wouldn't be leaving Port Camargue at all. Despite the sunny start, we soon run into some fog and just enough wind to be cold whilst not enough to fill the sails. Pretty soon Axel and I are wishing we had gone for something a little more substantial than shorts. Despite Axels' best efforts - he turns out to be something of a wizard sailor - we have to rely on the engine all the way to our destination. Still, the wind is supposed to pick up behind us on the way back....

Lunch in Santes Maries - where we meet up with Wendy and new-born Eloise - is excellent, with a distinctly fishy theme, and we set off back after most of the rose wine in the restaurant has been drunk. At least most of us do. Lynne feels she has overdone it on the Penguin biscuits, shortbread biscuits, bacon butties and beer, not to mention what she polished off for lunch, and so heads back home in the car with Wendy, leaving the rest of us to brave the wild and windy ocean. Ok, sea....

This turns out to be a stroke of genius on her part. For some reason completely unrelated to bacon butties, beer, heavy lunches and rose wine I retire to the forward cabin and promptly fall asleep. Turns out Peter has a similar plan for the aft cabin (see how quickly I become a master sailor with all these nautical terms?), once again leaving the French contingent to steer and do whatever other nautical things need doing.

I am woken with a start after and hour or two as the roof of the cabin comes down sharply to meet my head. The boat is bouncing up and down - hooray, wind and waves at last. I dash upstairs (above decks?) to find that not only did the promised wind not materialise behind us, but it is now blowing right in our faces. And bringing with it some rain. So we have to rely on the engine all the way home too. At least I get to finish off the Penguin biscuits.

All in all a great day (at least when measured in amount of bacon butties, biscuits and alcohol consumed, if not the amount of actual sailing achieved) - huge thanks to Peter for the invite. Next time, can you arrange some wind please?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

GPS Fun

I came across a nice little app for the iPhone called Trailguru. This uses the GPS capability of the iPhone to record a walk or bike ride, following which you can post the track to their Web site, at which point they pull out some interesting facts about the walk (average speed, distance, elevation, and so on) and overlay the track on a Google Earth map.

Check out today's dog walk here (or follow the links on the map above), if you really have nothing better to do. The default display appears to be the "terrain" map, showing the topography of the terrain, but you can click on the "satellite" or "hybrid" buttons to get a good view of where we walked. Click on the "Replay Track" button for an indication of how quickly we did the walk :o)

We intentionally cut the walk short today because the technician is supposed to be arriving at 11am to service the water softener. Quelle surprise - he doesn't turn up.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dodgy 3-Putts

Despite some appalling putting resulting in some very dodgy 3-putts today, I still manage to record my best score ever. 46 out and 46 back with 6 pars gave me a 92 total.

A good day!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Credit Crunch

Interesting take here on one possible approach to the current banking crisis

Friday, October 10, 2008

Busy Day

On the golf course, that is.

We join up with Lynne's friend Giselle, and the foursome is made up with David, a Swiss tourist who speaks passable English but the girl on reception admonishes him to speak French only with us. Ironically, for once, I think my French was actually better than his, and we actually have to resort to English to help him out on occasion.

Anyway, the first 9 goes swimmingly, with 3 pars (including both the par 3's) and a total of 46. Rather spoiled by some wayward driving and some tired fairway shots on the back 9, coming home in 52 for a total of 98.

The day is finished off with a very pleasant meal in Caveirac with Doug and Pam, and I finally get to see some of Doug's photos in the flesh. Check out http://www.dougcurrie.co.uk for yourself - they look even better in real life. And no, he doesn't use Photoshop - all the effects you see are done in the camera at the time the picture is taken. Excellent stuff.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Good Round

Trying my best to marshall all of the many tips Manu has been giving me over the last 5 weeks, I finally manage to shoot the same score on the back nine as on the front - it is usually much higher (probably due more to my advancing years and general fatigue than anything else!)

So today's symmetry of 48 out and 48 back gives me a nice 96 total, thank you very much. 13 fairways hit, 4 greens in reg and a par is a pretty decent haul for me at the moment. Only some poor putting (two or three 3 putts this week) keeps me from shaving another few strokes.

Unfortunately, a late tee time means we finish just in time to catch the pizza van in Calvisson. And pizza means wine....

Jumping On The Bandwagon

Since everyone else is having a go at Palin (quite right, too), I though I would share this

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Bad Day

One of those days I wish I hadn't bothered getting out of bed.

First I managed to upset our neighbour by blasting away with the compressor through Sunday lunch time. Got a right telling off. Still - fair play. I was being an inconsiderate prick, after all.

Then I managed to drop a blender from a great height onto the ceramic hob, smashing it (the hob, not the bloody blender) in the process of "helping" Lynne in the kitchen. So now I am a clumsy, inconsiderate prick.

Given the amount of time it has taken to finish off these renovations and the fact that the kitchen itself was only finally put to bed last week, I found this more than a little upsetting. In fact I was more upset about it than Lynne, who took it pretty well considering she probably felt more like smashing the blender over my head.

Me, I gave up and had a beer.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Harry Does Sommieres

It's been a while since we have been to Sommieres market on a Saturday, so we decide to take Harry along for a bit of a trip out.

Trips to the local market are always a battle between Harry's desire to mark everything in sight - be it lamp post, market stall, basket of shopping, or small stationary child - and my desire not to get thumped. Today I do pretty well I think - I counted 10 preventions to one "slip up" and I managed to get away from that one before we were spotted.

We come to rest at Elies' as usual, and pass a pleasant hour or two with Brian and Peter drinking beer and eating delicious Lebanese galettes while Harry sprawls across the main thoroughfare causing havoc for waters and customers alike. He is a hit, though, as testified by the fact that numerous passers by come back to feed him tidbits.

One point of note - today is the first day I have had to wear long pants since March. I guess Autumn has arrived....

Friday, October 03, 2008

Tip

By now the terrace beside the garage is full of rubbish sorted out from the big clean up and we decide to take a few runs to the local tip (dechetterie) to get rid of it.

These guys have a sweet racket going. Everything you unload is picked over carefully and anything remotely valuable is hauled off to one side to be - presumably - sold off via car boot sales or the local scrap metal dealer. My apologies to all dechetterie employees if this is not the case, but it is amazing how the level of politeness and help received with unloading increases in direct proportion to the value of the goods being unloaded!

On the third trip, the guy even has the balls to ask me if we could locate the mirror to go with the chest of drawers we brought down on the previous trip! Points for effort! I guess these guys are the modern day equivalent of the much missed rag and bone men of my youth, only without the horse and cart, and without needing to leave their yard!

Anyhow, after four trips the terrace is looking pretty clear, and we continue cleaning off stuff and moving it back into the garage. This is taking longer than we thought it would....

Thursday, October 02, 2008

New Arrivals

We take a day off sorting out the garage to visit Wendy in hospital in Montpellier with new arrival Eloise.

Mum and baby both doing fine, and hopefully coming home tomorrow.

Still amazes me every time I visit a French hospital how efficient and clean they are compared with English ones. This is definitely the place to be sick or have babies!

Lunch is the same place down by the river we went last time we were in Montpellier. I really must look up the name so I can warn you not to have any of the a la carte fish there - was very dodgy indeed.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

More dust

Another day of cleaning dusty objects, unpacking, and finding a new home either in the house or back in the garage.

Light at the end of the tunnel now.

More wine with dinner.....

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Something Constructive

I am sure that those who have never owned dogs will not understand in the least - hopefully other dog lovers will sympathise with the fact that today we are completely fed up. I could burst into tears at the drop of a hat, and I should really stop looking at old photos and videos of Benson 'cos it's not helping at all.

We decide that the only way to pull ourselves out of this funk is to do something "constructive". We decide to tackle the job which we have been putting off since the builders left in May - The Garage. The Garage is deserving of Capital Letters because it is one of those jobs which I would gladly pay someone else to do. It is not just that it is full of cartons which need to be unpacked, but the state of everything within is totally disgusting.

See, the thing is, when the builders arrived back in February, we moved most of our belongings into storage, and we moved ourselves into rented accommodation. However, there were a number of things which were too bulky to put into storage, or would be required during our stay in the rental, and those we left in the garage, the one room in the house which require little ro no work. The idea was that the door between garage and house would be closed, covered in plastic and taped up. Imagine our horror when we arrived on site on day one to find the disc cutters in full flow in the concrete floors, and - for some bizarre reason - the garage door wide open. Despite my flying off the handle at the time, this did not turn out to be an isolated incident, either. The result is a garage full of belongings which are completely impregnated with cement dust.

After making myself totally light-headed on several occasions as I tried to clean this stuff off, my solution was to buy a compressor to tackle the job. This turned out to be one of those "best money I have ever spent" things. Still, the whole job is made that much more unpleasant - as well as lengthy - by the need to move everything out of the garage, vacuum the garage as best we can (sweeping just caused clouds of dust which settled back on everything half an hour later), and then clean the stuff off before we can unpack it or put it back.

After a day, we have the garage empty and clean, and a whole bunch of kitchen stuff unpacked. Tiring, but we're feeling very virtuous. However, despite our best intentions, it's wine with dinner again!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hic.....

Well, plan C went about as well as could be expected, I suppose....

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sad

We were supposed to be playing in a golf competition today but don't seem to be able to generate any enthusiasm for it so we cancel.

Backup plan was to clean out the garage and unpack some cartons, but we seem to be able to generate even less enthusiasm for that.

Backup backup plan is to drink more than is good for me.... will let you know how that one goes

Friday, September 26, 2008

Benson 1995-2008

Benson was born April 26, 1995 and was named after the Butler in the 70's US sitcom Soap. The original idea was to have two dogs, so we could have Benson and Hedges, but I guess it wasn't to be. We quickly realised that one was more than enough!

It wasn't that he was a disobedient dog - he wasn't. Quite the opposite, in fact. Just about anything you wanted to teach him you only needed to show him once or twice and he had it down pat. And most of the time he would do it too. But he was willful, and knew just how far he could push us, and he loved to test those boundaries whenever he could.

He learned from Colin the cat too, who had Benson house trained within a matter of days of his arrival. Colin showed Benson the cat flap. Colin showed Benson how it was impolite to crap in your own garden - you should always do it in a neighbour's. Colin taught Benson that to err is human, but to mark territory, that's down to us baby..... In fact, the only thing Benson seemed incapable of picking up quickly was that whenever Colin rolled over on his back and beckoned Benson in for a game - "no, honest, THIS time I just want to play" - he was walking into a world of hurt. Oh well.

Needless to say, the house training didn't exactly stick, either. We returned home one day when Benson was about 16 weeks old to find him wearing the cat flap, on the outside of the door, wondering how on earth he was supposed to get back in. If cats could shake their heads and roll their eyes, Colin would have been sat there shaking and rolling his. Benson looked sheepish, and promptly started to pee indoors now he could no longer get through the flap. Once he figured it out again, though, Colin's lessons stayed with him for life - Benson would NEVER do anything in the garden, let alone the house. When we moved to Wennington and had a garden with a gate which was permanently open and a grass verge right outside, Benson would sit by the gate crossing his legs until we would take him out to pee.


Unlike most dogs he loved loud noises. November 5th held no fears for Benson - he was the dog you see on TV who loves the fireworks so much he grabs the roman candle out of the ground and runs round the garden with it in his mouth while everyone else dives for cover. If Benson heard a gun, he would look up, waiting for the bird to fall. No bird was ever safe in the undergrowth along his walk. He had gun dog in his genes.

And footballer! He was a demon with a football, with lightning reflexes and amazing ball control skills. If you kept the ball on the floor or dog height, there was no way you could get it past him - why England didn't have him playing in goal was always beyond me.
When he was about a year old, I was foolish enough to take him with me to my Sunday morning 7-a-side football game to give Lynne a break. I thought we could tire him out by letting him join in the practice session first - there were about 6 of us all passing the ball between us with Benson in the middle. We couldn't keep it from him for more than 2 or 3 passes at a time. So one bright spark had the idea that there would be no way he could get to the ball if we kicked it high enough in the air over his head. He was right, of course. But what he failed to take into account was that, in the time it took for the ball to travel its increased trajectory, there was more than enough time for Benson to make sure he was at the point it was going to land. The poor lad had to sit out the first five minutes of the game nursing his clobbered shins.

Practice over, I secured Benson's heavy leather lead to a concrete fence post and left him to play. He never made a sound. No fuss. He just quietly set about chewing through his 30 quid leather lead before rushing onto the pitch and taking the ball. It took us all of five minutes to get it back from the little bugger.

He loved the water too. Sea, river, swimming pool, puddle - the deeper and faster flowing the better, but any old wetness would do. He carried an injury all his adult life due to shattered cartilege in his elbow, an injury sustained when he tried to jump from a rock into the sea when he was 6 months old, not realising the wave was on its way out leaving him to land hard. Many's the time we thought we had lost him in rivers swollen with flood water, only to watch him body surf happily through the rocks and emerge 50 yards further down stream with his precious stick in his mouth ready to go again. I think he inherited some of Colin's nine lives, actually!

He was the friendliest dog you could ever meet, and as willful as he could be at home, he was always impeccably behaved when we left him with anyone else. This made it very easy to find him lodgings when we went away, and even the kennel owners used to love him because they knew he would not only never pee or poo in his bed, but nor would he do it in his own little compound. The fact he was so good off the lead meant he would often get several walks a day as he was left to roam whilst other dogs were walked on their leads. In one kennel we turned up to pick him up and could not see him anywhere in the cages. The owner emerged from the house with his own two lab bitches, closely followed by a very contented Benson! Turned out he was so good that the owner had him living in the house with his own dogs! Yes we could leave him anywhere, with anyone - except in a room with a plate of prunes wrapped in bacon on a low coffee table, as we found to our cost one evening as we gave a dinner party.

And yet, as gentle as he was, he was a tough nut too. Never one to start a fight with any dog, I never saw him lose one after the first couple of times he got beat up by the local bully when he was 6 months old. Ask Jan and alex about the time the neighbouring German shepherd was intent on causing trouble with their dog, Max. Despite having a few kilos advantage on Benson, there was no way he was letting that dog put his towel on Max's sun bed. With Max looking on from behind, Benson saw it off in fine English style.

In his final years, the early injury and some bad breeding led to some severe arthritis and hip dysplasia problems, leaving him looking like he had only one good paw out of four. Even then, he was always the one who insisted on his daily walk, even when Harry (and we!) would have preferred to stay at home. Cancer added to his problems, and he had several tumours removed. The last one tested as malignant, and we knew it was a matter of time. We look back at those days when he had the first tumours removed and, fearing that he was on borrowed time, we went out and bought Harry to learn from the master and keep him company in his final days. That was over three years ago!

Recently, he had started to lose control of his rear end, leading to some messy accidents in the house. For a dog who was not even used to messing in the garden, you can imagine how mortified he was each morning when we came down to find it, despite our reassurances. Then he stopped eating, and his weight - always at around 35Kg at his peak - fell from 30Kg to just 27Kg in the last few weeks. Something was clearly wrong, and yet the little bugger was as bright and lively as ever, as keen as ever on his walk (even if it did take half an hour longer these days) and would still always manage to force a little pizza down even when he couldn't manage his own dinner!

We agonised over whether we should make the decision to take him to the vet for the last time. We didn't want him to suffer, and so we wanted to pre-empt the point where he had a major episode of some description. And yet he was still Benson - bright eyed and bushy tailed in almost all respects. The decision was impossible to make. Others told us we would "know when it was time".

And we did. This morning we came down to find he had not only crapped, but peed himself as well. He was mortified. He was subdued on his walk. Afterwards, he refused to eat yet again and he continually patrolled the perimeter of the garden, apparently looking for somewhere quiet to hide himself. Or maybe a way out so he could go away and.... who knows what?

If there were any lingering doubts about this, the most difficult decision we have ever had to make, then they were dispelled when we reached the vet.

Benson, never a big fan of vets and their painful and/or undignified procedures (expelling his anal glands probably ranking as his least favourite!) usually frets, drools and pants his way through the visit. This time he was calm, accepting, simply lying on the floor even when we took him into the examination room.

The vet was very good. There was no stress, no suffering. I held him tight in my arms as he passed, and I cried like a baby.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Build 'em up.... knock 'em down...

It's a sad fact that we like to build up our heroes as much as we can in Britain just so we can knock them down hard later on. The tabloid press, in particular, is guilty of this.

Whilst captain of the Ryder Cup team is not exactly as high profile as the England football manager, you could predict the sort of reception Nick Faldo was going to get if he didn't bring the cup home from Kentucky. He has come in for a lot of stick, but how wrong did he get it? The points system picks the team for him - he only gets two "captain's picks". He picked Ian Poulter and Paul Casey, both of whom acquitted themselves magnificently. It was the so called "stars" who let us down in the end.

Sergio Garcia simply imploded against Anthony Kim in the singles on Sunday. Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington and Miguel Angel Jimenez were simply ordinary. Robert Karlsson started off on the Friday playing like a donkey but became magnificent on Sunday. Rose, Poulter, McDowell, Casey, Stenson, Hansen, Wilson - all played out of their skins.

What, then, is Faldo supposed to have done wrong? Captain's picks? No way. Now if we could have substituted Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood for Colin Montgomery and Rory McIlroy then I think we would have brought the cup home - but he did not have that luxury. Order of play on Sunday? Maybe he was a little at fault there - it would have been better for morale if we could have seen more blue on the scoreboard early on. But if this had come down to the last hole in the last match, as many of us were expecting it to, then wouldn't YOU have wanted the guy making the final winning putt to be Padraig Harrington?

At the end of the day, the Americans just wanted it more than we did. And on the day, they were better. Not by a lot - but by just enough. Their incredible putts dropped, as did their chips from the "rough" around the greens - ours stayed on the lip of the hole. We lost by millimetres at times.

The course was set up in the American's favour, as you would expect, but I think they made it a little TOO easy for the big hitters (of which they had a couple!) to just whack it and hope from the tee. The crowd were fantastic too, but, unfortunately, appeared to cross the line on occasion. We don't REALLY want golf crowds to go the way of football do we?

Whatever - time to put it behind us now and look forward to 2010 in Wales. But PLEASE, before we get there, can the powers that be impose an all out ban on morons shouting "Get in the hole!" after every single shot! Maybe it was funny the first time we all heard it... many many years ago. But it just ain't big and it just ain't clever anymore. OK?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Slooooowly Does It....

We meet up with a friend for golf today, and are joined on the tee by a fourth person in need of an immediate tee-off.

Not quite sure what went wrong, to be honest, 'cos no one was playing particularly badly, but just short of 5 hours for a round of golf is pushing the bounds of reasonableness, unless, of course, you are a professional playing on the PGA/LPGA tour and you have to use your caddy to help you line up all your shots

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Day In Montpellier

Off into Montpellier to the Musee Fabre for the Courbet exhibition today.

Much of it was not to my taste - not keen on hunting scenes or seascapes of any description, and his landscapes were decidedly dull in terms of subject matter choice - but his portraits were generally very good. Particularly liked Desperate Man (right) and Beautiful Irish Woman.

A nice salad and pasta lunch to follow down by the river, and then to the Royal cinema to see Mama Mia. Hmmmmmmm! Pearce might make a good James Bond but not sure about his future in musicals. In fact, given the fact that the soundtrack to this particular musical was always going to be a winner, I am not sure it wouldn't have worked better if they had cast some unknowns who could really sing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Something Finally Clicks

Another golf lesson this morning. Manu is an excellent teacher and has an excellent sense of humour, despite the fact he is French ;o)

The hour just flies by every time, and I always come away having learned something useful. The problem is that my brain seems capable of only holding so much useful info at any given time, so once I am on the course I find that I have forgotten how to do something else. Must be my age. Or I am just destined to be crap at golf. Or maybe it's my age.

Anyhow, in a fit of optimism that with two more lessons to go before the Societe General competition on Sunday September 28 I have the chance to learn two more useful things, we sign up for it. No doubt we will regret this...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Calvisson oh Calvisson

With apologies to John Denver :o)

Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and the Sunday papers in Calvisson market is one of life's great treats. Calvisson market is every bit as good as, if not better than, Sommieres market on a Saturday, and is a lot less hectic. Lynne has been frequenting for a while, since it is where she buys a lot of her fruit and veg, as well as the excellent roast chickens they have there, but I have only started going recently.

My job is to try and control Harry, who's training seems to go out of the window when faced with hustle and bustle and noise on this scale. He is not frightened, as such, but he is "disturbed" and seems to want to get through it as quickly as possible, usually dragging me along behind vainly crying "heel, Harry, heel" to the amusement of passers by. And he wants to pee everywhere. Which is difficult to control given that this is technically "outdoors" and he is "on a walk". But I do need to try and stop him cocking his leg on stationary shopping baskets full of bread, stall-holder displays and blackboards with prices and product details on them, all of which seem to be fair game in his little brain.

I notice for the first time this week that Elie, he of Sommieres bar and galette fame, is also in attendance selling his excellent savoury galettes, which improves the prospects for next week's breakfast no end!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Busy Day

We had planned to go to Sommieres market today for a boozy time now all the tourists have gone home, but by the time we got out of bed and walked the dogs it was too late. A very slothful morning then.

As penance, we spent the afternoon cleaning the house, cleaning the pool, cutting the lawn and tidying up the garden. Too productive by far. I need pizza and beer to finish off on a high note!

How true....

Friday, September 12, 2008

Frustration Abounds

Up early today to go see an apartment on the front line at Vacquerolles golf club with a friend, who wants a second opinion. Very interesting development, and it is hard to argue against the fact that this is one view you know no one is ever going to build on! Definitely a good investment, whichever way you look at it.

Since we are there, we decide to play a round, and this is one of those hateful days when you regret ever having taken up the game. Although my score is not TOO bad (108) it does not reflect the fact that I generally played like an ass, the score only being saved by occasional good shots peppering the mass of mediocrity.

Looking forward to my next lesson on Monday!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mad Dogs And Englishmen

Even the mad dogs and Englishmen stay out of the midday sun in summer over here, so the BritsNimes walking group was mothballed through the worst of the summer heat.

Clearly everyone was feeling guilty about lazing around all summer eating and drinking to excess and doing absolutely no exercise ("Wot, me guvnor?") since there was a record turnout for the first walk of the new season, a charming stroll around the river, woods and vineyards of Salinelles. And a couple of new dogs for Harry to annoy.

What I don't understand, however, is why people continue to insist on turning up for these things in white trousers when they know there is a brain-addled black Labrador retriever in attendance who makes a bee-line for the first body of water he sees (no matter how muddy or stagnant) and then emerges, refreshed and revitalised and ready to re-make friends with everyone.

Despite all that, Daniel and Ina were kind enough to invite us all back for a drink or three afterwards. Very civilised...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nages Fete Votive 2008

A few more photos from the weekend's celebrations in our village. You should see this as a slide show - simply hover your cursor over the pictures and you can pause, move forward or backward, or view the Picasaweb library behind it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Apero Mousse

No, we didn't know what it was either last year, which is why we missed out. This year we made sure we were there.

The apero mousse is the highlight of the fĂȘte votive de Nages. Now I may be biased. But I have been to a few of these annual village celebrations around this region now and I genuinely think ours is one of the best.

The abrivados (bull running) are always exciting and full of incident, the encieros (basically shutting idiots in a cage with various bulls) are equally exciting, especially since they are held in the evenings after everyone has been drinking and are therefore more likely to get into a cage with a very sober and very playful bull, and on the last day is the apero mousse.

A barrier made from plastic sheet is placed across the street and a huge blower device starts pumping foam - the sort you get on top of your bath or washing up water when you put too much detergent in it - into the street. The area between the barriers quickly fills to over head height before spilling over into the street, and the DJ starts to play raucous dance music. The general population of the village then jumps into the foam and starts to dance, and this goes on for 2-3 hours.

All very silly. All very messy. All tremendous fun. Looking forward to next year already!