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!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Picasso Rocks

The Unknown Soldier

More Culture

The trip to London out of the way, we settle down to our last day in Paris. It rains. Hard Nothing gay about Paree when it's pissing it down, let me tell you. We decide to head back to the Pompidou centre to finish off our tour of the modern art museum, and are thoroughly glad we did.

The upper floor is far more interesting than the lower one we toured on our first day here. This is clearly the adult section, with no paintings from 6 year olds or lame dogs allowed. Much more satisfying. Though I'm still not sure what people see in Matisse, there are enough outstanding works from Picasso, Braques (new to me), Chagall and Dali to make this a wonderful experience. Highly recommended for your next rainy day in Paris. Wonderful meal (if a tad expensive) I'm the 6th floor restaurant too, with fantastic views over the city.

After lunch we decide to while away an hour or two in the cinema, as much to give our feet a rest as anything else. We end up seeing the first English-language film that is showing, which turns out to be "Happy Go Lucky", a delightfully quirky British made film that, whilst not spectacular in any way, makes for a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours on a rainy afternoon.

After the film we set off in search of the National Photography Museum. We trek all the way out to the 8th arrondissement, only to be told on our arrival that the exhibitions have been moved to a wonderful new location.... back in the 4th! Not more than a few minutes from where we spent our morning, apparently. Bum! Too late to make our way back now and still have time to see anything, so we decide to save this one for our next trip. Double bum!

Since we are on the Champs Elysees we pop in to the cinema there to see what is on in VO and end up seeing Hancock. This one is hilarious and far better than I was expecting it to be. Recommended!

We finish off with a superb meal at Mood, just off the main drag, and after way too much wonderful food decide to spend an hour walking back to the hotel.

Would be sorry we were leaving if it wasn't for the fact that the pillows in this place are like sleeping on a sack of bricks.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

You Ate What? Again?!

Yes. I'm ashamed to say we have been in Paris for two nights and for the second day running we have indulged in Indian food. Maybe we miss it more than we think. Maybe we will do it again tomorrow....

The Lengths To Which Harry Will Go For A Biscuit

Waiting For A Train

If It's Thursday, This Must Be London!

Just a week after getting back from Austin, I'm on the move again. Not as far this time - Paris first, then London for a few hours, before returning to Paris and then home. Why? I need to go to London for a check up with my eye surgeon (had laser surgery a few months back -best money I ever spent!) and Lynne and I have become more than a little tired of paying through the nose for cramped London accomodation and crap London food.

So now we spend a few days in Paris - much cleaner and more civilized than London (though more English people!) and much cheaper accomodation and food.

Then I hop on a Eurostar which gets me into London for my 9am appointment, and another which gets me back to Paris in time for tea. Very civilized, and about as much of London as I want to see these days.

Yesterday in Paris we had an excellent Indian meal for lunch, visited the modern art museum, went to see Dark Knight and finished off with an excellent sushi supper. I do miss "forrin food" where we live - those southerners wouldn't know a chilli if it bit them on the arse. Nice to get my fix here once in a while.

Dark Knight was excellent if you are a fan of the original "darker" Batman stories. I am. Great story, lots of violence - the 2hrs 32mins flew by.

Mixed reviews for the modern art. The museum itself is fantastic, and we only got to see a fraction of it. Some of the artwork was stunning, and I would dearly love to have it in my home. But SO much of it is complete crap.

I'm sorry, but IMHO it does not count as "art" if a) I could do it (the pile of rocks with a man hole cover thrown on top, for example), b) a 5 year old could do it (so whilst I am a huge fan of Pollack, simply throwing paint on a canvas and then stamping on it does NOT count - so "Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus" (see above - two splodges of red paint on an otherwise blank canvas!) and, indeed, anything by Cy Twombly just rates as pants as far as I'm concerned), or c) Harry could do it (this includes the two examples of blank canvas - no, really! One blue, and a tryptic of white! - and the thing which resembled a pile of dog shit, which it may have been for all I know).

Monday, September 01, 2008

Sad Farewells

I didn't know David Chapman as well as Lynne, nor as well as I would have liked. A thoroughly nice chap, he seemed to inspire and be supportive of even his most recalcitrant art students. Very sad today, and my heartfelt sympathies to Pat and all of David's family.

RIP David Chapman, 1933-2008

Keeping Up With The Blogses

I've started using this LifeCast software which lets me edit and post directly from my iPhone. Will be interesting to see if this helps me get back into more regular blogging practices given that this is the first mobile phone I actually carry around with me. Need to figure out how to post pics that don't fill the entire page yet, but should be fun getting there.

Back to school on the gold course todaybwith the first of 5 lessons with Manu. He spots my faults immediately (swing-wise, that is, I use Lynne for spotting all my other faults ;-) and points me in the right direction.

Needless to say I play like complete pants for the rest of the day!