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.....