Wednesday, 31 December 2008

And finally...

Yarmouth borough council are threatening one of their residents with legal action because he allows noisy cockerels to roost in his tree - and they're not his birds!

I wonder - am I missing something here?

New Year's Eve

The last day of 2008. I suppose I should be musing on what has happened during the past twelve months. Either that or on what will happen during the next. Or both.

I have no crystal ball so will leave the forecast to others. Likewise I will leave to others more eloquent than I the musings about world affairs, such as the continuing problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli/Arab situation, the American presidential election result, the financial crisis, climate change, the abysmal record of the British Government, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Darfur. There is such a lot of suffering right across the world.

I'm not sure that anything momentous has happened in our household or family this year; most of it happened in 2007. One thing that has happened is that we have gone back to having our milk delivered. Towards the end of November we had a salesman call to tell us that his dairy was starting a new delivery round. Although the milk was going to be more expensive than in a supermarket, we signed up and we now have milk delivered to our kitchen door on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And it's in the old fashioned one-pint glass bottles. That means that there is a bit on the top which, while not exactly cream, is markedly thicker than the rest and this bit certainly tastes good on my morning cereal.

And I suppose that just about sums up 2008!

A cunning plan

The manufacturers of the washing-up liquid that is used in our house have devised a sneaky way to increase their sales - and presumably therefore their profits. They have not reduced the quantity of liquid in the bottles (at least, as far as I am aware), nor have they increased the price. They increased the size of the hole the liquid squirts from (OK - from which the liquid squirts - I've read yesterday's blog on Rants & Musings). It's only a very little bit bigger, but the result is that a gentle squeeze on the bottle ejects almost 50% more liquid than before. Even when I try very hard, I get about a third as much again. So, a bottle that would last say, four weeks, now lasts only three. Crafty, eh?

Frustration - again!

I spent ages yesterday trying to format the bit about my local council. Each time I clicked 'publish post' it came out different, and never the way I wanted. I tried using the compose mode, I tried manually editing the html, I tried throwing things at the computer screen, but not of it worked, so I just gave up.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008


No-one with common sense need apply

That could easily be the text of a sits vac ad for my local authority. I quote from a piece in yesterday's Daily Telegraph:

A care home for elderly Christians has had its council funding withdrawn after residents refused to disclose whether they were homosexual or bisexual.

The pensioners claimed that the questionnaire from Brighton & Hove city council - as part of its "fair access and diversity" policy - was intrusive. After they refused to disclose their sexuality, the council accused the charity that runs the home of being closed to homosexuals and cut its £13,000 grant.
Pilgrim Homes, which runs 10 projects for elderly Christians across Britain, is suing the coucil for religious discrimination. [Name], the charity's chief executive, said: "The council has taken overzealousness to the extreme. People in their nineties are very vulnerable and shouldn't be treated in this way."

Last year, the council introduced new rules to comply with the Equality Act 2006 and Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. Under the rules, it issued the questionnaire to the [home], where 39 Christians aged over 80 live.

A spokesman for the council said: "We have never expected any residents to answer questions about their sexuality if they preferred not to do so. The Government specifically states the home must be open to the gay and lesbian community and that it must demonstrate this to qualify for funding. In the absence of any willingness to do this, the funding has been withdrawn."

I actually like living in Brighton, but I do wish my local council and its officials would use a modicum of common sense.

I'm a little worried about my daughter.

No, worried is the wrong word. Puzzled would be better. She seems to exert some kind of malign influence on things electrical and/or mechanical in our house. It was some years ago that we first noticed this. She had borrowed her mother's car and when she came in after parking it she announced that all the warning lights – the little pictograms of a battery, an oil can etc – had come alight after she had switched off the ignition and removed the key. I went to look, and it happened to me as well. After Karen had left to go back home, the problem disappeared. Yesterday, she left mid-morning. Soon afterwards, I noticed a knock in the water pipes whenever the hot tap in the kitchen was turned on. It had disappeared by the evening, but returned briefly this morning. There must be something about that girl.

Another bright, crisp day, slightly warmer than yesterday. This afternoon I walked up through Stanmer woods and across the fields towards Ditchling Beacon. Absolutely beautiful. I managed to spend half an hour in the garden during the morning, pruning the passion flower and ... Botheration!! Another senior moment. The name of that plant is on the tip of my tongue. I know it starts with a T - at least, I think it does. Oh well, no matter, I suppose.

Got it! Tamerisk.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Corfu voted off

Corfu is off the list – mainly beach and disco holidays, which is not what we want. Madam then suggested we consider Cyprus, but Karen was there back in August and didn't think much of the island. It looks like it could be Amalfi/Sorrento.


I was very tempted to write to the newspaper today, something I have never done. A reader wrote that if stores could offer a discount of 70% and still make a profit, he would boycott those stores in future. I had to wonder where he has been for the last few weeks. Stores are offering huge discounts, yes, but that doesn't mean that they make a profit on the discounted goods. There can be so many reasons for the discounts, from needing cash to pay rents and salaries, to having to get rid of stock that will soon become unsaleable because fashions change or electronic goods become obsolete, to simply having to match a discount offered by a competitor.

But I can't be bothered. I expect somebody else will put him right.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Where shall we go?

Internet search engines are useful tools. We were talking about holidays yesterday evening and Madam was humming and hahing about Corfu, the Amalfi coast and Provence. This morning I have been researching weather, especially temperatures, in the three places and what there is to do on Corfu or in the Amalfi/Sorrento area. I already know a bit about Provence. Now all I have to do is wait for the decision to be made for me.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Boxing Days past

Having all the grandchildren with us yesterday afternoon reminded me of Boxing Days when I was a child. My brother and I, along with our mother (and father, if he was not at sea), and our six local cousins and their parents (except Uncle John when he was at sea, both he and my father being in the Navy), would go to Nan and Pop's house, they being my maternal grandparents. This house was a Victorian terraced house with a large front room (only used for special occasions like Christmas), a morning room, a breakfast room (which Nan and Pop used as a living room and called the kitchen) and a kitchen (which Nan and Pop called the scullery). Pop would have used some sort of adaptor in the central light in the ‘kitchen' to run fairy lights across the room. It must have been horribly dangerous, but there were never any accidents. There was no way we could all sit at the table for tea but I can't remember what we did. I do recall that at some stage in the afternoon/evening we would all gather in the front room where Nan would play the piano while we all sang carols. Each of the children had to perform a party piece before being given his/her Christmas present from Nan and Pop.

I do remember being very scared on one occasion. Two of my uncles are only ten or twelve years older than me and they loved to play tricks on their nephews and nieces. The year I have in mind was the one when they decided we would play aeroplanes. This involved each child being blindfolded in turn and led into the morning room where the uncles were waiting. The child would be seated on a chair, which the uncles proceeded to lift into the air and wobble about slightly. When our heads hit the ‘ceiling' we were told the plane was crashing and we had to jump. Of course, we were only about three inches from the floor really, but we thought we really had hit the ceiling. On another occasion we were allowed to feel ‘Nelson's eye'. The story was that an ancestor was serving with Nelson when he lost one of his eyes. Our ancestor picked it up and kept it. It had to be kept in complete darkness in a bag to prevent it from rotting, but as a treat we could put our hands into the bag and feel the eye - a peeled grape!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Boxing Day

A bright day, but with a very cold east wind. Karen (daughter) is due to arrive here in time for lunch, then Ian (son) will bring Ben and Max (grandsons) in the afternoon and Neil (son), Wendy (d-in-law) and Emily (granddaughter) will join us all for tea. In England, this is Boxing Day and still Christmas, although I know that in many other countries Christmas is just a one-day holiday. Today has become the traditional day for shops to start their sales, but this year so many are struggling to get cash to pay salaries and rent that the sales started weeks ago. In some cases there have been discounts of as much as 70% in an attempt to get people to part with their cash.

I didn't make a note that earlier this week I dropped off a disc with the text of ‘Lavenders Blue' at a vanity publisher's. I hope to get the books in mid-January. Of course, as soon as I got home I thought of some alterations I would have liked to make, but by then it was too late. I have always thought it rather infra dig to use a vanity publisher, but so many people seem to have enjoyed the first few chapters of the book that I thought ‘What the heck. If I'm being vain, that's just tough.'

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

I really can't imagine that I will be bothering to 'blog' tomorrow, so:




Did I hear that right?

Tom Cruise has spent $6,000 on wrapping paper? I'm sure that's what was reported on our local radio station.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

I still can't quite believe it

I go to the Argus office to place the Lions book fair ad in the Leader for 1 January and the Argus for 2 January. I explain that I want to re-run the ad with this reference, but that the date in the ad will need to be changed to Saturday, 3rd January. I ask if there will be a Leader printed next week as the usual publication day is a bank holiday.

‘No,' the lady tells me, ‘because it's a bank holiday.'

‘In that case, we'll just have the ad in the Argus on the Friday.'

‘You want me to take out the Leader?'

‘If you're not printing the Leader, I can't advertise in it.'

‘That will be £24.05.'

‘But we normally pay £16.08.'

‘Yes, but that's for a package in both the Leader and the Argus.'

‘You mean it's cheaper to buy two ads than just one?'

‘Yes, because that's a package which includes the Leader.'

‘But if you are not printing the Leader, I can't advertise in it.'

She goes away to make a phone call. Two minutes later:
‘There is a Leader next week and it's been printed in it.'

‘You mean you've printed our ad in next week's Leader?'

‘No, the deadline for ads was brought forward and that was printed in the Leader.'

I refrain from pointing out again that no Leader has been delivered to us for several weeks. The loose inserts have been, but not the paper itself.

‘I tell you what,' I say, ‘let's compromise. I'll book the ad in next week's Leader even though you can't print it because we've past the deadline.'

‘That'll be £10.65.'

I don't argue, but when I get home I see on the receipt that our ad will be in the Argus on 2 January and the Leader on 8 January.

Pass me that bottle of Scotch – I need a drink!

Another sign of spring

I was beginning to think that everybody had left town when I went for a walk this morning. I met nobody on the way to the park and nobody as I walked down through the woods, but there were just four or five people walking dogs when I emerged onto the grass. It was a delight to hear a blackbird singing, although it sounded as though he was just practising little bits of his song at first. Later, he sang away pretty well.

Yesterday evening I noticed an odd thing. The dishwasher has changed colour, and the washing machine is starting to do the same. They were both white when we bought them, and the top of the dishwasher still is white, but the sides and door (apart from the control panel at the top, which is still as white as when we bought the machine) have turned cream, a definite cream. And it's not a trick of the light or a reflection of the very pale yellow walls. What's more, the sides and front of the washing machine have started to go the same colour. Weird.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Signs of spring

Yesterday being the shortest day, we should now begin to see the evenings drawing out again, although it will be a little while yet before we really notice it. The daffodils are starting to come up in the front garden and I noticed that Kay's snowdrops are in bud, so much so that the first will be in full bloom in a day or two, but there's no sign of any in the park as yet. I still think of them as Kay's snowdrops even though she has been dead for two or three years and the bungalow sold.

I now have a date for my driving test – 5th January – so I must keep up the good habits for another couple of weeks.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Exchange rates and other things

The value of the pound seems to be sinking ever lower. We thought, when we last visited the USA just over two years ago, we had done well by getting something like 1.75 dollars to the pound. It later went to two dollars, but has now sunk to about 1.5. That is better than the euro. Some years ago a pound would have bought about 1.75 euros, and even when we bought our French retreat we got 1.53 euros to the pound. Now the pound and the euro are just about on a par. The official rate might be 1.06 or so, but tourists don't get as much as that, and by the time exchange commission is charged by the bank, the poor tourist gets less than one euro for his pound. I do marginally better as I send a reasonably significant sum from my English bank account to my French, for which the English bank charges just £9. It rather annoys me that the French bank also charges me sometimes. It might be three euros, or it might be 13 – it varies. Anyway, if the rates had been back in 2002/3 what they are now, our house would have cost £10,000 more and there would have been no way we could have afforded it. Of course, if we were selling the house now, we would be looking to make a killing on the move in exchange rates. But we aren't, and even if we were I doubt we would find a buyer. The property market in France is about as dead as that in England.

Chris asked me last night if there are any jobs in France that he can help me with. He understands that there is now no way I can go over with him for a week, leaving Sheila at home on her own, but there is a chance that Chris and Mrs Chris could come over with both of us in March. The problem with that would be getting all the tools in the car as well as clothes, bedding etc. But I'm sure we will manage it when the time comes. And there are a couple of jobs I have in mind - but more about those later.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

I forgot to mention that

the cellist's wife is also called Sheila, and the other Sheila (that's Mrs Chris) has a cousin Sheila who might well be there tonight. It gets a might complicated at times, what with my Sheila as well.

Christmas starts here

I might not have had the fun and games that I was looking forward to (?) with the outside lights, but we put up the Christmas tree yesterday evening and I was allowed to play with the lights on that. In some ways, this evening will be the real start of the Christmas season for me. Sheila's friend Sheila – pay attention now, this gets complicated – is married to my friend Chris (of Les Lavandes fame). But let's start at the beginning.

I had got to know Chris and his wife Gill through Scouts and had become very friendly with them. Gill unfortunately fell down the stairs and died of her injuries, leaving Chris with four children to bring up, ranging in age from 16 or so down to about 9.

Sheila had been at school and in the Guides and was running a cub pack with another Sheila. The ‘other' Sheila's husband had gone off with another woman and she was by then divorced with two children. In time, Chris persuaded me to arrange for him to meet Sheila – and the rest is history. In fact, we all had a riotous time on their honeymoon. There were Chris and Sheila and the four youngest children, Sheila and I and our three, plus another couple and their only son. We almost took over the holiday camp for the week.

Now Mrs Chris (it's less to type that "the ‘other' Sheila"), having been an infant-school teacher, can play the piano, a friend (another teacher) plays both flute and guitar, and another friend plays the cello. The three form a trio and invite other friends round one evening just before Christmas. Chris prints off copies of the words of carols and Christmas songs and we all have a jolly evening with mince pies, sausage rolls, mulled wine etc.

Friday, 19 December 2008


The OB wasn't able to buy any more replacement bulbs so I have been spared the frustration of having to get the lights working once more – even if only for a day or two. BUT ... I am being frustrated by my computer. I have been trying to convert a WordPerfect file into a PDF, but all I manage to get is up to 31 pages of 180 or so. I've tried restoring the computer to a different date, re-installing WordPerfect, but all to no avail. I am one of those people (I assume there might be a few more) who use Microsoft products as little as possible. It's not that I have anything against Microsoft products particularly, but when I first bought a computer there was no word processing or spreadsheet package pre-installed. On investigation, I decided on WordPerfect for WP and Lotus 123 for spreadsheets. I have since decided that WordPerfect is a better programme (when it works!) than Word in that I have greater control over formatting. And I don't use Internet explorer, preferring Mozilla Firefox, or the Microsoft e-mail package (can't remember what that's called). I just read my e-mails off my ISPs web site.

The Indian rope trick

Well, I did get the outside decorations out of the loft and the ladder out of the garage and put up some of the decorations. There is just one still to go – the icicles. I knew when I took them down last year that there were a few bulbs gone, in fact a complete section had failed, but when I tested them yesterday, three sections out of four were not working. I replaced a few bulbs here and there and managed to get two sections working, but just doing that used all my spare bulbs. So I gave up. The Old Bat is going shopping today and has threatened – no, she promised – to buy more so I can have more fun later today. If I ever do get the wretched thing to light properly I have devised a way of putting it up without using a ladder. It involves dangling a length of string from the bedroom window and pulling the lights up with that. A bit like the Indian rope trick, I suppose. I just hope it works out.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

OK, where do we go from here?

No-one would claim that Princess Row was the best street in town. Situated as it was between Queen's Road up the hill to the west, Marlborough Place down the hill to the east, Trafalgar Road to the north and, paradoxically, North Road to the south (towards the sea), it was in the heart of what had become known as the North Laine. North Laine lacked the feeling of spaciousness one had in, say, Dyke Road Avenue, and it had none of the grandeur of the Regency terraces and squares of Kemp Town in their uniform of cream rendering with shiny black doors and Juliet balconies. But despite these shortcomings, or maybe because of them, it had developed into the arty, some would say bohemian, part of the town with its specialist shops and funny little back alleys.

And if no-one would claim Princess Row as the best street in town, likewise no-one would claim number 2 as the best house in Princess Row. It was virtually indistinguishable from its neighbours, number 1 on the left and number 3 on the right. Of course, mused its current owner and sole occupier, whether number 1 was on the left and number 3 on the right or vice versa depended entirely upon one's point of view. If one stood in the street and looked towards the houses, number 3 was on the left. On the other hand, if one stood in the house and looked towards the street, number 3 was on the right.

This was a deeply philosophical thought for Tom Finch. Tom was not a man given to much philosophical thought, or indeed much thought of any sort. Ask any person to describe the average man and the description would fit Tom to a T. He was perhaps fifty-something, of average height and average build. His hair, which was starting to thin a little on the top, was a mid-brown, and his eyes were an indeterminate colour, sometimes grey, sometimes blue, sometimes even seeming to be almost but not quite brown.

Tom had lived at number 2 Princess Row all his life. Well, nearly all his life, he would say. The first week of his life had been spent in the old maternity hospital in Buckingham Place, but after his mother had been discharged and had proudly brought him back to Princess Row he had lived nowhere else. If he thought about it, which he never did, he would realise that he had no wish to live anywhere else. Princess Row suited him very well. What need did he have of more than two bedrooms, a front room and a kitchen? Most people would find it inconvenient to have the bathroom situated on the ground floor beyond the kitchen, but this didn't bother Tom at all; he was used to it, and had been for all his fifty-something years. If he cast his mind back, he had vague memories of baths with a clockwork submarine and his mother wrapping him in a large towel before he could get cold.

His mother had always been very proud of Tom. At least, she had always said she was, although she often felt there was something niggling away at the back of her mind telling her that her pride was possibly just a little misplaced. She always felt, when reading Tom's school reports, that he could do better if only he could be bothered to use his mind. She felt, when he received the very mediocre results of his GCE examinations, that those results could have been better. She felt, when he found a job in the caretakers' department of the Polytechnic, that perhaps, if she had encouraged him to use his mind a little more while at school, he could have done better for himself.

But Tom was, if not happy, at least not unhappy with his life as it was. To tell the truth, he never bothered to wonder if he was happy or not. Life was as it was and there was no point bothering about being happy or unhappy. He rose at six o'clock every morning, had a cup of tea and walked down the hill to St Peter's church, buying his daily paper on the way. He had always read the Daily Mirror because that was the paper his father had bought, and which his mother had continued to buy after her husband's death. At St Peter's, he caught a bus along the Lewes Road to the poly, as he had done now for more than thirty years. Here he performed his duties methodically, even conscientiously, but never imaginatively. Tom was not blessed, or cursed, with much imagination.

On the same day that Tom had his deeply philosophical thought about whether number 3 Princess Row was to the left or right of number 2, his neighbour at number 3 was thinking about Tom.

Thumb-twiddling time

I wonder what I will do with myself now? I have actually finished writing the story of Les Lavandes, which has been given the title ‘Lavenders Blue'. It runs to just over 170 pages, some 53,000 words. I've found it quite an enjoyable experience, but whether I could ever knuckle down to being a full-time writer, I very much doubt. For a start, I don't have enough imagination to conceive a suitable plot, let alone the skill to write believable characters, and I don't have the knowledge to write non-fiction.

On the other hand, maybe if I start with a paragraph or two the storyline will just take over and lead me on. It might be worth trying.

Of course, I could get on with the work in garden, or put up the Christmas decorations, or ...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

I'm amazed

In fact, my flabber is well and truly gasted.

We went out this morning to look for the new flooring for the bathroom, something which I expected to take all morning without any particular success at the end. Our intention was to order a vinyl flooring and, expecting it to come in four-metre widths, I was hoping to find one that would suit both the bathroom and the toilet, both floors needing pieces just under two metres by one.

As we walked across to the vinyl flooring section of the first showroom, we saw exactly what we wanted for the shower room, the very top sample in the folder. Unfortunately, this would not do for the toilet, but there was another in the same pattern but a different colour which would do for the toilet and would be OK in the bathroom. Then I noticed that it came in two-metre, three-metre and four-metre widths. We ordered one metre of each in two-metre widths. It can't be delivered until the New Year, but at least we are on our way.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

What use is average?

Can there be a word more meaningless than ‘average'? Yes, I know that ‘average' can be defined, but what use is an average?

I started musing along these lines when I read a report in the paper (repeated on the late night weather forecast) that this year has seen the coldest start to a winter since 1977. Apparently, meteorologists count 1st December as the first day of winter, and the average temperature over the first ten days of this month was lower than it has been for 31 years. But how is that average calculated? Do ‘they' (whoever ‘they' are) add up the ten highest and ten lowest temperatures and divide by 20? Or do they take the average temperature for each day, add those and divide by ten? Would the answer be any different anyway?

And where is the temperature measured? Is it in just one place, or is an average (that word again!) calculated from measurements from several places?

But does it matter anyway? OK, so it's been cold, we know that.

Whatever happened to global warming?

Monday, 15 December 2008

Now there's a thing

There was something I was going to sound off about on Saturday, but I decided to put it off for a day. Yesterday I decided again to defer my rant - and today I've forgotten what it was!

It reminds me of one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given. It was the manager of one of the bank branches at which I worked who told me that if he received a letter from a customer which really wound him up, he would dictate his reply and have it typed up, but would then put it in his desk drawer until the following day. If he still felt the same then, he would sign it, but otherwise he had a chance to rethink.

Another curious comment

I was surprised to receive e-mail notification that a comment had been added to a post I made on my Les Lavandes blog, a post I made a month ago, on 15 November! I had written about making a window shutter, and I presume that the company that commented had surfed the net for the word 'shutter'. They kindly informed me that external shutters, drapes and blinds all let in light and that what I needed was internal shutters, which they would be happy to make. Since I live in England, the house is in France, and they are in Virginia USA, I think it hardly likely that I will be taking up their offer.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Weather again

The weather has improved enormously today - neither wind nor rain - although it was reported on the news last night that the heavy rain had caused flooding in parts of Devon and Somerset. Flooding is just about the last thing likely to happen at our house, living as we do pretty much at the top of a hill.

Given the better weather, I really should crawl into the loft to retrieve the outside decorations, but I think I might get away with it for a few more days. I have a strong dislike of climbing ladders and always put off hanging the outside lights as long as I can.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A very wet and windy morning and I cut the walk short today. Funny how there are always fewer dogs in the park on mornings like this. Sheila was still doing her exercises when I got home and it occurred to me that she is beginning to spend so much time trying to fight off the effects of CBD that she is in danger of having no time to actually live. Every time she has a physiotherapy session she seems to be given more exercises to do, and then there is her weekly tai chi session, plus the weekly oxygen treatment. The last two take an hour each and involve driving half an hour each way, but they do at least get her out of the house and meeting people. Frankly, I'm not sure that any of it is doing any good as I'm sure I have seen a deterioration over the last few months. Her co-ordination is, I think, worse and she more frequently drops things, and her spacial awareness seems to be dropping off in that she needs more room to walk. But she keeps cheerful.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Read all about it

Despite my last posting, there is a little story I could tell.

I drove over to Westdene this morning to post off a packet for Pam and Graham. The queue was so long that I waited twenty minutes to be served, but despite the pressure, the lady behind the counter kept smiling and chatting to the customers. What a difference from our local post office. This is just round the corner and I can walk there and back in less than five minutes, but instead I get the car out and drive for five minutes to Westdene. The reason is that I have been banned from the local post office. No, that's not quite right: I have banned myself. I am an usually even-tempered person, but the last time I was in the shop I came within an ace of punching the obnoxious little twit who owns it.

For nearly forty years we had our newspapers delivered from that shop. It was OK for nearly all those forty years, but about two years ago, the then owners sold up. We thought little of it, but after a while our paper delivery became less and less reliable, reaching the stage where at least once a week the paper was not delivered and I would have to go round to collect it. No great deal, perhaps, but (a) I like to look at the paper while I eat my breakfast and (b) we were paying for delivery and weren't being credited for the days when I collected the paper. The last time this happened the newsagent more or less blamed me, in very rude terms, for the fact that the paper hadn't been delivered and told me he was losing money by supplying me. Backed up by his wife, he went on to say that he would be happy if I got my newspapers elsewhere.

I quickly made alternative arrangements and have never been in the shop since.

And if, as has happened on rare occasions, the new shop fails to deliver, we ring them up and they bring a paper round.
Funny how some days there seems to be nothing worth commenting on.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A start for 2009 at Les Lavandes

Yesterday evening we got our first booking for 2009 - a week in high season at that. I was very doubtful about the enquiry coming to anything as I realised that the phone number was American. However, I e-mailed and pointed out that we don't supply bed linen etc and she replied, assuring me that she was aware of that. She promptly went to our web site and booked, paying the deposit through PayPal.
Last night, one of the mainstream TV channels here in the UK screened a programme about assisted suicide. They included a piece of film showing a man in the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland as he used a switch to take the killer drugs and his subsequent death. Surely this must be about the height (or depth) of bad taste: one of the last things I would want to watch on TV is somebody killing himself.

It has also been reported that a 70-year-old woman in India has given birth after IVF treatment. Is she selfish or just plain mad?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

I've learnt how to delete comments

My post about mental gymnastics had somehow attracted a comment from somebody who was trying to sell a book she had written. I rather take exception to being used in that way, so I have deleted her comment.

Yah boo, sucks to you!

What a bore

(Watch for the pun later.)

Rather late posting today, partly because I was out to lunch and partly because it has taken so long to write it!

One evening during our week in France turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. We had gone to our favourite restaurant for a meal. This restaurant has a distinctly dismal appearance from the outside, a sort of downcast look which is not helped by its situation at possibly the busiest crossroads, next to one of only three sets of traffic lights in town. One opens the door and is immediately pitched headlong down three steep steps into the bar. French bars are completely different from English pubs. There is no warm, welcoming feeling to them; they are plasticy and usually have rectangular, formica topped tables lined up in neat rows, with hard chairs to sit on. Granted, this bar is not quite as bad as that, but an English country pub it is not. The restaurant is through a narrow arch and down another step.

Once in the restaurant, one could be forgiven for thinking that one had passed through a time warp and was back in the 1970s - or even 1950s. At first glance, the floor appears to be tiled, but it is actually covered in lino. The bottom half of the walls is covered in wainscotting stained a deep brown, the upper half of the walls having been painted in what is now a rather dirty-looking cream. Or is it magnolia? The window frames and a door into the street are painted dark brown. (That door, by the way, is permanently locked and duct tape has been placed over the edges to prevent draughts coming through.) The windows have net curtains at the bottom half, and I'm not at all sure those curtains have been washed in the six years or so that I have been eating there. The ceiling has beams - also stained a dark brown. Hanging from the walls and some of the beams is a collection of ancient woodworking tools and, somewhat incongruously, a wooden coffee grinder. Also decorating the walls are a number of pictures, including a rather dark landscape, an old photo of somebody's great grandparents, a pin-and-cotton spider's web on black felt and a mock horse's collar complete with plastic flowers. There are pots of artificial flowers on each windowsill and a five-foot tall artificial laburnum in full flower. Goodness knows how they all get dusted – or even if they ever do. Standing against one wall is an ornate upright piano, and just beside the entrance is a large charcoal grill on which the meat and fish is cooked.

The tablecloths are bright yellow with bright blue tulips – a garish combination – and the napkins are a pale blue, a colour that manages to clash with both the yellow and the blue of the tablecloths. None of the colours actually seems right in this setting. And on each table is another pot of artificial flowers.

The restaurant is owned and run by two very nice gentlemen who would be quite at home in Brighton. One is in charge of the front of house, while the other is in charge of the kitchen and cooks the meat. They both greet us effusively when we arrive, with kisses for Mrs S and handshakes for me. The first time the kisses started I backed up against a handy pillar, but I needn't have worried: I'm obviously not their type. All joking aside, they are always very pleasant and we usually manage to crack a feeble joke somewhere in the conversation. It has to be a feeble joke as neither of them speak as much English as I do French, which is little enough.

Despite the ambience, we always enjoy eating there as the meat is the best we have ever had in France. Starters will usually be tartar of crab or ham, warm goat's cheese salad or terrine of scallops in lobster sauce. Snails are also on the menu but I avoid these as this restaurant only serves six whereas I get a dozen at the village restaurant. The main course might be a thick steak or a thinner one served with shallots, or turkey escalope served with a mushroom sauce, or salmon, or a fish called panga which I have never seen anywhere else. As I said, the meat and fish is cooked on the charcoal grill and is served just the way I like it cooked. With the fish one gets a serving of rice but there is a portion of chips with the meat. With all dishes one is served seasonal vegetables and a jacket potato. This potato is the restaurant's signature dish and is prepared in a way that nobody who has eaten there with us has been able to work out. One day we might be bold enough to ask how they do it! Desserts include creme caramel, a chocolate cake, ice cream etc. With wine and coffee this costs just over fifty euros and in my opinion represents very good value.

But we were disappointed last week. To start with, our favourite waitress no longer works there. Aged about nineteen or twenty, she is a sweetie – not especially good-looking but with a delightful smile. She had got to know us and was not beyond having the occasional dig at an English couple in a most charming way. Then it was Michel's night off, Michel being the chef, and neither Max (front of house who was meat chef for the night) nor the waiter nor the woman who cooks the vegetables could get the charcoal to light. Out meat ended up being cooked in the oven and it was just not the same. But we ate there again a few days later and all was back to normal, except that mademoiselle had not returned.

What did make the first evening memorable was the sight of a wild boar on the verge as we drove back through the lanes, the first either of us had ever seen.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Can't think of a title

A most relaxing week in France with just a little work done to keep things up to scratch. Leaves seemed to be nearly knee-deep across the courtyard, which is normal at this time of the year. We had borrowed Neil's garden vacuum cleaner and that did make the job of clearing a little easier but it took a while to get the hang of emptying it into a black sack. I eventually took six sacks of leaves to the tip and nearly filled another afterwards. The geraniums in the tubs were about finished, so we took them out and planted primulas and pansies in their place. I made a start on redecorating the downstairs bedroom. The ceiling and walls have been painted, but the gloss paint that I had over there had separated too much for me to be able to use it. I'll have to buy more and finish the job next time we go over.

Christmas trees are much cheaper in France, so we brought one back with us, although I suspect it will have shed most of its needles before Christmas.

I managed a lot of reading: The Unknown Soldier (Gerald Seymour), Atonement (Ian McEwan), A Spot of Bother (Mark Haddon) – all for the first time – and I re-read Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks). It was a long time since I had first read this and I had forgotten just what a harrowing read it is. Having finished that lot, I've started re-reading Playing for Pizza (John Grisham). It really is so different from his usual setting: no courtrooms, only one lawyer, and American football – in Italy!

Skip has posted a comment on his blog saying that somebody should buy a laptop and take it wherever they go. I hope I'm not being big-headed when I suggest that might be a dig at me. In case it is, I would reply that one of the benefits of being incommunicado for a week is that the batteries can be recharged (my batteries, that is) ready to post some more!