Sunday, April 30, 2006

An apology

I need to put the record straight. The galettes that I thought were free yesterday had in fact been paid for by Bob and Lynne. I apologise unreservedly for this mistake. (You creep. You'll do anything to curry favour - Ed.).


I took a look a the automatic watering today. Half of it appears to be ok but, with water shooting into the air, I'm going to have to repair a section that Minnie has been chewing. The main problem that I foresaw, was that the hard water around here would have blocked some of the bleed holes, but everything seemed to be working fine. So now I'm officially lucky (as well as ugly - Ed.).

Saturday, April 29, 2006

La Fête Médiévale - Sommieres

It was La Fête Médiévale in Sommieres today. As usual it was good fun. Basically it's the normal Saturday market, in the morning, but with the stallholders wearing medieval costumes. After the morning market has packed up and gone home another one sets up selling things with a medieval flavour. We met up with the usual Saturday crowd at the new bar opening outside the old Bar Partropi. The new owner, the chap that runs the Lebanese food stall, was offering his delicious galettes for free and needless to say I had two. We didn't leave until 14.30 because Peter H kept pestering me for a drink. That's it now, he won't get anymore this year.

Friday, April 28, 2006

As if proof was needed

A few images from yesterday's trip to St Maries. In no particular order, Bob, Lynne and me standing outside Chez Ju Ju (just to prove that we got there), Bob practising his Gallic shrug and me listening intently to some of Bob's bullshit. A quick look at my face tells you what I think about what he is saying.


William and Christine came round for dinner tonight and Jan decided to cook 'Italian'. We started with salad caprese, then a little pasta with a mushroom sauce, veal escallops with spinach, a selection of Italian cheeses and to finish an apple and polenta cake.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Chez JuJu

What an excellent day! It all started by agreeing to meet Bob and Lynne in Saintes Maries de la Mer, with the dogs, for a romp on the beach (for the dogs that is). It was a beautiful sunny day and it was Minnie's first real trip out. B&L's dog Harry is an old friend of Max but I was slightly concerned whether they would remember each other after a seven month gap. No problem, the three of them took off and rolled and fought in the sand and in the water. It was excellent to see them having such a good time. A very enlightened council have allocated a small section of the beach for dogs and whilst there were several families on the beach they did not cause any problem (the dogs that is) and a good time was had by all. Having said that, why a family with small children would want to sit on the beach specifically earmarked for dogs, beats me. We all, at various times, had to clear up puke or shit and I wouldn't have taken young children there, but what do I know?


Anyway the next bit of good news was that B&L had booked at their favourite resto on the beach. The Tahiti Plage serves simply and freshly cooked seafood, without messing about with the fish, which is quite unusual in this part of France. Additionally, you can book a sun bed and reserve a table, all at reasonable prices, if you fancy a day by the sea. Excellent. We started with tellines and then I had my current favourite, dorade. All this washed down with an excellent Pic Poul. This is the life. We will definitely go back.


And the final bit of good news? After mentioning to William this morning that we were going to the seaside (yes, I did beat him and restored some English pride), he mentioned that there is a good restaurant in that area and proceeded to tell me roughly where it was. If you have seen Rick Stein's television programme about his culinary trip down the Canal du Midi, he mentions a great restaurant that he ate at, in the Camargue, near the end of his journey. He also refers to the restaurant in his cookbook of the journey (page 89, and the book incorrectly calls it Jou Jou) but always refuses to say where it is. He makes it sound very exotic by mentioning that it is favoured by film stars but that it is in the middle of nowhere and difficult to find. Mission on, mystery to be solved. B&L, foodies themselves, had also heard about this place so we set off in convoy to find it.
The journey turned out to be a real trek. The town that William mentioned proved to be inaccessible, and, just before we were going to head out to sea, Bob pithily said, "We've just made an executive decision, that no matter how good the food is, we won't be eating there anyway." We had already been forewarned by Lynne that she'd seen a sign for the resto a few miles back but ignored her advice. We ploughed on to see what we could find, when we came across flocks of flamingoes in full flight. A little treasure round every corner.
We retraced our steps and found the sign. Thank you Lynne. 'Resto JuJu' is indeed in the middle of nowhere and it was only Lynne's eagle eyes that spotted the name, within the sign for another establishment. God only knows how 'film stars' would get there. You're talking helicopters here! Anyway, we know where it is, and we even have a telephone number. The phone number is available at huge cost to anyone that's interested and, at even huger cost, we will sell you directions as well. That was the good news, the bad news, according to the sign pinned to the gatepost, is that it is closed Wednesday night and all day Thursday. YESTERDAY WAS A BLOODY THURSDAY! We will probably book to go next week, all being well.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Two Jags

For some time now, because of his over indulgence with his personal transport, the left wing, pugnacious Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has been affectionately known as 'two Jags' . Jan told me today that the revelation of a 2 year affair with his secretary has now earned him the nickname of 'two shags'. You can trust the English tabloid press to get it in one.


I noticed that the price of diesel has risen to 1.11 euros today. When we first arrived here in July 2002 it was about 0.70 euros a litre. That's a 58% increase in 4 years, which is crazy in such a very short space of time. Is it the same everywhere?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Toad in the hole in the ground

William and I have started tennis again and at the moment he's 3 - 0 up. For various reasons we didn't play much over winter and I am definitely out of shape. Yesterday he was complaining that he wasn't serving well, and he wasn't, but as the score at the time was 4 games to 2, to him, I didn't feel too sympathetic, and told him so.

Our next door neighbour's house is empty most of the time because it is used, on and off, as a summer home and consequently their pool, which is not covered, has turned into a slimy pond by this time of the year. That in itself doesn't affect us, but the noise that comes from it does. The croaking from the toads makes it sound like there is a wild life park next door. Anyway, out of the blue Willi turned up this evening and told me that he was going to get them out of the pool/pond tomorrow. Jan, not the greatest lover of toads and frogs (she seems to like you - Ed.), was very pleased when I told her. It's just as well that I don't tell her what I fish out of ours! As an aside, the French for toad is crapaud but the French for toad-in-the-hole is, morceaux de saucisse cuit au four dans la pâte à crêpe. Just trips off the tongue!
It was hot today, over 28C at one point, so it's just as well that I'm giving our pool some attention. Jan is eager to get in and as long as the weather stays fair she will get her wish by the end of the month. Not me guv, it's still way too parky!

Monday, April 24, 2006


You'll be pleased to know that I now have another signature dish. Last night, ably assisted by my sous chef (er Jan), I cooked linguine with asparagus, pancetta and lemon. It was good for Jan to be with me in the kitchen so that I could pass on some of my culinary secrets. I decided a long time ago that I would not keep all my kitchen knowledge to myself and I encourage Jan to be near me, in the kitchen, at all times (anymore rubbish like this and they'll take you away - Ed.).


Jan has threatened to burn my old tee shirt (yesterday's post) just in case I retrieve it from the dustbin. What she doesn't know (until she reads this) is that I've found another one, and it's even older. Nobody tells me what to do!


I fixed the pool alarm to the side of the pool this afternoon, with a view to 'installing' it in a day or two. 'Installing it' means completing various tests that I am not yet prepared for. One of the tests is to drop a 6 kilo dummy into the pool to simulate a young child falling in. I asked a neighbour if I could borrow her child but she was very rude in declining, so I now need to go to the supermarket and buy 4 1.5 litre bottles of something and tape them together. The more I think about the practical implications of this law the more stupid it becomes. It was introduced to prevent injury to children up to 5 years old. We may get a visit from a 5 year old, or under, once a year. What about the thousands of families that are never visited by children? Talk about using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. France loves its laws and regulations and this is yet another example of bureaucratic meddling. The State insists that you protect your pool from infants (or is it the other way round?) to prevent a handful of deaths but can't implement a law forbidding smoking in public to prevent thousands of deaths. They're not likely to have riots and strikes over their pool laws but you try and stop people smoking.


As a final note, you may remember that one of my football teams was playing yesterday. Well, against the odds; West Ham beat Middlesborough and have made it to the final of the FA Cup. Well done lads!

Sunday, April 23, 2006


It's with great sadness that I announce the demise of my favorite tee shirt. Jan gets particularly upset when I wear it, mainly because there are more holes than cloth. I think that I bought the tee shirt in June 1996, so at a little under 10 years old, you (men readers) will understand my attachment to this ancient relic. This tee shirt has witnessed 2 general elections, a major international conflict and my divorce. Frankly, there wasn't much difference between the last 2 events. Anyway, please raise your glass (BUT DO NOT SING AULD LANG SYNE) and wish my old friend a happy and peaceful retirement.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A close call

Yesterday, in a moment verging on insanity, I offered to cook a pasta dish that took my fancy in the Sainsbury's Magazine. As an aside, Jan has only 2 publications sent from England, the first is Sainsbury's Magazine and the second Private Eye. I'm not sure what it says about her, but there you go. Anyway, after I had made my offer I got a reality check when I established that there was an important football match, featuring Chelsea and Liverpool on television that was going to seriously overlap with food preparation. So there I was, only minutes after gaining a whole load of brownie points, having to renege. Bum. Anyway, Jan being the lovely soul that she is, offered to take over and I offered to cook on Sunday instead. Phew, that was close!

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Great Escape

It's the Queen's 80th birthday today and inevitably Jan and I got round to discussing the monarchy. Jan, an avowed republican, opposes rule through an accident of birth. It's very difficult, if not impossible, to argue with that opinion, but generally I'm in favour of the monarchy because I think the Queen does a good job. She's been doing the job for over 50 years and is probably set to continue for another 20. That's pretty impressive. The alternative would be some kind of presidency and thinking about it, I can't think of too many presidents, past or present, anywhere in the world, that have impressed me too much. Charles may change all that but that remains to be seen.


Cats disturbed Max again last night and, after he had burrowed his way out of the garden, we had to disappear into the night to find him. Find him we did, but he was so excited that he wouldn't obey commands (not that he does anyway) and so it was a question of leaving gates and doors open so that he could get back home (I suppose expecting him to retrace his steps would be asking too much). Anyway, we spent a large part of this morning trying to figure out how he'd managed to get out and then plugging even more holes. In the normal course of events Max is a home loving dog, but let a cat anywhere near him and he goes potty.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I thought 'irony' was getting the creases out of clothes

Jan bought me this tee shirt the other day and she seemed to find it very amusing. She kept pointing her finger and sniggering. I'm probably a bit thick (for once we agree on something - Ed.), but would somebody explain what all the fuss is about please?


For some time now Jan has been putting a horrible orange/brown coloured towel in one of the downstairs toilets, which was painted white. I hated the towel because it looked so out of place. In order to solve the problem she has now completely repainted the room in a colour that now contrasts with the offending towel. It strikes me that buying a couple of new white towels would have been a whole lot cheaper and less effort than a full paint job. But then I'm a bloke and what do I know?


Max and Min are in escape mode again. To be fair it's a local tom that is caterwauling and is driving Max mad. This morning he opened the gate into the tennis court, by opening the latch on the far side of the gate with his paw, something that he has never done before, to get closer to his object of hate. They then escaped into the garden next door through holes in the neighbour's fence that we thought were adequately blocked off. This is starting to get irritating. We made them serve a short stretch in the 'pen' to cool off.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Mutton dressed as mutton

We have both had a hacking cough for the last couple of weeks now and the same thing has happened for three years in a row. The first time in January, the second in March and this time in April. I wondered whether it was some French bug that surfaces at this time of the year and to which we had not acquired immunity. Knowing how long it went on the first time, about a month, we both went to see different doctors (I hope there's more to this story - Ed.) and what was interesting was that they both treated the problem differently. Jan's gave her antibiotics and mine gave me four different medications and thought that it might be an allergy. I wonder if we are in some secret medical study for this complaint? Who will get better first? Is one doctor curing the problem and one curing the symptoms? The answer to this and other medical matters will be published here or in the British Medical Journal (you're an idiot - Ed.).
Whilst Jan has been wearing shorts around the garden for a couple of weeks now, I've only just let my legs out into the wild. Normally I lead on the shorts front but this year the roles are reversed. It's just possible that I'm going native. When you're out and about and you see a man with shorts he screams 'tourist' at you. Locals will wear trousers up to 45C and beyond that they die so it doesn't matter. Only grockles wear shorts.


Talking about not looking the part, have you seen Paul McCartney's hair recently? I can't take my eyes off it. He dyes it a dark shade of brown which makes him look like he's wearing a rug. He and Heather were fronting a serious programme on television tonight and I just couldn't take him seriously. At the risk of offending somebody here, would you trust a man who dyes his hair? A bit of a case of mutton dressed as mutton. Having said that, if I was a squillionaire I probably wouldn't give a shit either.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Think yourself lucky

I seem to spend a lot of time at the moment spraying the weeds. It's not very gratifying work because you know that you will have missed some, you can just see lots of new growth starting to show, and you just know that you'll be out there again in a months time. Great! Anyway, just before she left for a slap-up lunch with the girls, Jan made me a small, plain sandwich and left me in sole charge of the dogs, so I suppose I should be grateful!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Is it Pepsi or is it Coke?

Ok, so this is the last photo from Saturday night. Ben, as you can see is struggling to blow out his one candle (a candle that plays happy birthday). Paula his wife, sitting behind him was once the face of Pepsi for television adverts in Spain. When she ordered a Coke the other day, in Sommieres, I said "I thought that you would prefer Pepsi." "Can't stand the stuff," she said. So much for brand loyalty!
The house has returned to peace and quiet and Jan is forced to talk to me again (she has my sympathy - Ed.) It's another glorious day so we head for the garden. After a few hours of general maintenance and a dog walk, Jan makes a scrummy lamb curry for dinner. Now that's a good use of leftovers.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Hasta la vista

Peter, he of The Languedoc Page, who we met in Sommieres yesterday, sent me this picture from the adventure park that I mentioned on the 12th. You can see that some of the activity takes place a long way from terra firma.


Jan decided to cook a light lunch, so after a late and lazy lunch of asparagus, followed by roast duck and then strawberries (God knows what a heavy lunch would consist of), Ben, Paula and Ave left for the drive back to Barcelona. They are such good company and we will miss them until the next time.


OK, so that's enough partying for a while, so Jan and I relax and survey the damage, to our health that is! Max and Minnie have had such a good time with all the visitors and will have to get back to amusing themselves.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

You've got to see Harry's face

The lovely Gill (above), looking very smug because she didn't spill too much romesco sauce down her front. Another part of the fun last night was to show your ability to drink wine from a porron without spilling too much. The photo shows Martin having his go, but look at Harry's face in the background (click on the picture to make it bigger). So funny.

We struggled to get up this morning, but up we got only to find that the rest of the house didn't surface for another 2 hours. Bum!

It's Saturday, so Sommieres beckons. The Barcelona mob love oysters (not me guv, I stopped eating snot when I was 2) so at 3.60 euros a dozen, a dozen it has to be. Then back home for a well earned siesta before dinner. Ave cooks sea bass, on a bed of potatoes and onions, in the oven. Delicious.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Revered or reviled

I received my Bruce Cameron email this morning which always makes me smile. If you would like to know more, visit this site and subscribe by clicking on the link in the top right corner.
It was red hot today (26C in the sun) and a bit too warm for working in the garden, but work we did. I had to spend some time improving security on the side gates and Ben had to build an open fire on which to cook 160 calçots, later tonight. The girls meanwhile were doing girly things in the kitchen (that'll rev a few people up! - Ed.) and, amongst other things, made the romesco sauce for tonight. According to the Catalonians in our midst, the key ingredient is the Nyora pepper.

The following makes a sauce for 8:
1 Nyora dried pepper
100g Toasted hazelnuts (not salted)
100g Toasted almonds (not salted)
3 Tomatoes and 1 head garlic (roasted in the oven)
0.5 Clove raw garlic
Olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper .

Roast the tomatoes and head of garlic in the oven.
Grind the nuts finely.
Put the Nyora pepper in the oven for 1 minute.

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. There are lots of recipes for this sauce and I have provided what I believe to be the most authentic. Check to see how this compares to link above. Enjoy.


So there we were having lunch on the terrace and the conversation meanders around to husbands that are revered. Ben very helpfully suggested that maybe I was less revered and more reviled. He may have a point. Anyway, it's his birthday today so I forgive him. Happy birthday Ben.


12 adults and 4 (older) children came for dinner tonight. First, Ben, Paula and Ave, cooked the calçots outside on an open fire, then they cooked 4 different Spanish sausages on the same fire. Eating the calçots is a really messy experience so we spread the table on the kitchen terrace with newspaper and everybody tucked in. Next we moved inside for a couscous and vegetable tagine followed by roast lamb. The Lloyds (Katie and Isabel actually) brought an excellent strawberry pavlova. All this was washed down with bubbly from the cave at Massilargues, white and rosé from Coste Plane and red from Domaine de Baubiac. There was a pudding wine in there somewhere as well. An excellent night and one to remember.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Que tal?

I have mentioned before about poor service that I have experienced from French companies. Well, I have to make a retraction. I have just bought a pool alarm, as required under French law, and I felt happier installing it if I had an English translation of the instructions. I called Aqualarm and asked the lady who answered the phone if she spoke English. She kindly confirmed that she did and when I asked if she could send me a copy she said, "Certainly Mr Hampshire, I'll send it today." You could have knocked me down with a feather, because at no time had I given my name or any other details about myself. By way of explanation, she told me that her computer picks up the number that I am calling from and ties it in to the registration details that I had previously provided when I registered the product. Now that's a cool system. Very impressive.
I took Glyn and Gill to my new best friends at Domaine de Baubiac for a little tasting this afternoon. We have a few people coming for dinner tomorrow (16 in all) and I needed some more supplies. In fact Ben (Jan's eldest), Paula (Ben's Spanish wife) and Ave (pronounced Abe - v's are pronounced as b's in Spanish - Paula's mum) arrived tonight to stay for a couple of days. We always enjoy their company because they are good fun and easy going. They brought some Spanish specialties for the dinner tomorrow and in particular a vegetable called calçots (the link tells you everything you need to know) which is a Spanish specialty and is in season right now. They are cooked over an open fire then eaten with your hands after being dipped in romesco sauce. Delicious but very, very messy. In addition to this they brought various Spanish sausages which are traditionally cooked in the embers of the fire. Something to look forward to!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fly through the air with the greatest of ease

We used the kennel today for the first time. We anticipated a longer than usual trip into Nîmes, so in they went. As it happens we were over 5.5 hours so it was a sensible move. One of my jobs was to pop into the garage and moan about the length of time it was taking to get the car CD changer back from repair. There I was practicing my French phrases with words like 'poor customer service', 'it's been over 5 months', 'can we sort it out now' and other relevant thoughts when the chef d'atelier asked us if we could wait whilst it was fitted. Whilst I've had the upper hand for the last 5 months, I really hated that smug look on his face as he took the wind out of my sails. I hope it goes wrong again so that I can go back and regain the moral highground.

Glyn (next door neighbour who is over until Easter) and I took the children (all 4 of them) to an adventure park called Tyroliane about 20 minutes away. This park covered a few acres of woodland and offers aerial challenges for adults and children of all ages and abilities. A lot of the challenges were quite scary, being high off the ground and involving a lot of courage, but as long as you followed the instructions and used the safety equipment that was provided, you were safe. I got a crick in my neck after 2 hours of looking up at all the activity in the trees above me. Good fun if you are somewhat athletic, but not for me guv.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How to be more appealing to women

So I'm chatting to Jan over breakfast about someone we know (male) and she said that what made him appealing to women (her) was that he really listened to what you (she) was saying. As an aside, I said, "Is that what makes me appealing to you (darling)?", to which she replied, "NO!" So being a modern man, and determined to keep our relationship on track, I spent the next half hour trying to listen intently to what she had to say. The trouble was she was completing a soduko puzzle and didn't actually say anything at all and every time she looked up and saw me leering at her (listening intently) she threatened to slap my face. There's no pleasing some women.


Talking about not pleasing some women, Jan sent me this the other day:

After four long months of winter, we are finally coming up to spring and the BBQ season. Therefore, it is important to refresh your memory on the etiquette of this outdoor cooking ritual, as it's the only type of cooking a real man will do, and then only because there is an element of danger involved.
When a man volunteers to do the BBQ, the following chains of events are put into motion:

1. The woman buys the food.
2. The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.

3. The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill - beer in hand. Here comes the important part:


5. The woman then goes inside to organize the plates and cutlery.
6. The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is burning. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he deals with the situation.


8. The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces and brings them to the table.
9. After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes. And most important of all:
10. Everyone PRAISES THE MAN and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts.
11. The man asks the woman how she enjoyed "her night off" and, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there's just no pleasing some women!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Reds under the bed

If you want to spend a lot of money, the easiest way to do it is to sit on the Champs Elysée, late at night and drink spirits. Here are four experts, Me, Will, Jan and Ginny.


I have often expressed my lack of knowledge and understanding of French attitudes and behaviour and in particular how these attitudes manifest themselves in terms of demonstrations, strikes and their government. This interesting article by Caroline Wyatt goes some way to a better understanding. It is a sensible explanation that has the ring of truth.
The weather was miserable this morning so I got my drill out and fixed a new mirror and shower caddies in our bathroom. They had been sitting there for a few months so I expect Jan will be duly grateful (yea, she might just feed you tonight - Ed.). I hate drilling through wall tiles because the drill bit scoots all over the place, scratching the tiles until it takes hold and I'm always scared that the wall plug will split the tile as I tighten the screw. A life full of tension and excitement!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

For 'macho', read 'stupid'

It was my son James' 30th birthday the other day. I phoned him and said, "Happy Birthday son, I'm calling you from the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris." To which my smartass son replied, "I know where the Arc de Triomphe is dad!" Funny isn't it, I can still remember the time when he didn't know his arc from his elbow!
I include a recent photo. I wonder if he actually ever took off?


Life is full of really pleasant surprises. A very nice lady (I have to say that), that I have never met but with whom I have exchanged emails, has written from Oregon USA and wants to meet up. One side of me is very flattered, and the other side of me remembers the film Fatal Attraction, from whence the phrase "bunny boiler".


The Lloyds (and extended family) arrived to day. The women very sensibly took the plane and got here in less than half a day. The boys did the macho (for 'macho' read 'stupid') thing, set off yesterday morning by car and arrived late this afternoon.
Jan, in her wisdom, invited everybody for aperos at 18.00, to try the 2005 white and rosé from Coste Plane, and the reds from Domaine de Baubiac. The Lloyds, in their kindness, invited us back for dinner. I was very happy with the exchange because Glyn and Martin served up a delicious roast lamb and Jan was going to cook me leftovers.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Conspiracy theories

I love chocolate and these two chocolate rabbits made me smile. And the burning question of the day? Which part of the bunny do you eat first? This bit of nonsense will hopefully act as a little reminder for Jan that, as Easter approaches, I wouldn't object to the odd bit of chocolate.


Jan has a heavy cold so we decide not to invite people to dinner. I only hope it doesn't stop her cooking for me tonight! Last night she cooked Thai, a delicious spicy minced pork dish and vegetarian noodles, very similar to Pad Thai. Both are now on the list of must haves!


The conspiracy theorists are at it again. This article about radio tags was interesting but also made me laugh. Particularly the "nightmare scenario" where you could be innocently involved in some awful crime, because you threw your empty drinks can on the floor. It sounds like a bloody good idea to me. So, if you don't want to be charged with a murder that you didn't commit - DONT THROW YOUR CANS ON THE FLOOR!

Friday, April 07, 2006

A rumble in the jungle

This caught my eye yesterday. Frankly I like Marmite but I'm not sure about most of the rest of the stuff.


We were out with the dogs in the country this afternoon when we came across another couple of dogs on a walk. Max got involved in a fight and received his first bloodied ear. Needless to say I don't want him to fight, but I did feel satisfied that he could take care of himself. It's a boy thing!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

That's so kind

After collecting the dogs, the day was spent mostly sorting things out. We had a nice surprise at 19.00 when Vincent Coste popped round to give us some of his just bottled wine as a thank you for helping with his brochure. Wasn't that kind?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Darling, there's something I must tell you

Will has a fund of interesting stories. He told this true story about a senior executive who had lived a 'very full' life and who was very ill. He was lying on his death bed and he was looking for salvation. He decided to tell his wife all about his misdeeds, including his long running affair with his secretary, and to beg forgiveness. His wife was non too pleased and listened in silence as he unburdened himself. Anyway, it turned out that he wasn't as ill as everyone thought and he actually got better. Surprisingly, his marriage started to go down hill after that!


Today there was a national strike called in France so we had the fun of 'doing our thing', trying to avoid problems. What became quickly apparent was that most things were running normally. Having established that it was open, we headed for the Rodin museum over near the Hotel des Invalides. It doesn't take you long to realise that Rodin was very productive and must have been quite wealthy by the time he died in 1917.
Lunch was at a new, excellent find, Cafe de l'Esplanade (52 rue Fabert, 75007 tel. 0147 05 38 80). Recommended. This place was full of very smart middle aged gentlemen who had very kindly decided to meet their nieces for lunch. It was amazing that so many uncles and nieces had decided to eat lunch together on the same day. I only hope that all my nieces will be just as good looking!
With an hour to spare before Jan and I had to head for the station, we decided to pop into the Hotel des Invalides to see where Napoleon is buried. Boy, do they revere this man. His tomb was very impressive. After a final drink on the Champs Elysée we made our sad farewells and jumped into a taxi.


As the taxi moved off, the driver asked us where we wanted to go and went ballistic when I said Gare de Lyon. The hotel didn't tell him the destination, knowing that he would refuse the fare. GdL was right in the middle of all the demonstrations and a pig to get to. If indeed we could get to it at all. Needless to say we did, after we passed under a viaduct with the demonstrators who were moving off to pastures new. The train left on time, (so much for the strike) and arrived in Nîmes 4 minutes late. Two nights and three days of fun. Excellent.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Dinner with a Bishop

Today was all about new experiences and playing at being tourists. Not being too sure of the impact of any demonstration and/or riots we kept away from potential trouble spots with a visit to Sacré Coeur. The church is of course spectacular but our visit was somewhat spoilt by an officious, lecturing little (male) prat, with the longest pigtail you have ever seen, telling all and sundry to keep quiet. Being reminded to keep the noise down is one thing, which I respect, but being lectured by this slimy little toad was another. Hey ho.
We had a light lunch in Place du Tertre followed by a trip back across town for my first new experience of the day, a trip to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. This gives you great views over Paris and is well worth the climb to the top (284 steps or, if you have the slightest bit of intelligence, the much more sensible lift).


So on to the second new experience of the day. Now I don't think that I have ever spoken to a Bishop, never mind having broken bread with one, but meet up with one we did and a very nice person he was too. Having said that, you'd expect a bishop to be a model of virtue, wouldn't you? Discretion dictates that I do not reveal his identity nor reveal our conversation, but rest assured, there is salvation for all of us!
We ate at Thoumieux (79 rue St Dominique, 75007, tel. 0147 05 49 75) which first opened in 1923 - as you could tell from the age of most of the waiters. This place is an institution, a 'typical', old fashioned, Parisian brasserie, with an atmosphere, decor and cuisine from yesteryear. If you want an old favourite it's probably on the menu. From escargots and oysters to magret de canard and cassoulet, it's all there. The waiters tend to be a bit fussy, a little po faced, with a done it all, seen it all, attitude. The food is good; however the wine list leans heavily on claret and burgundy, which I think is a shame because there is so much good, sensibly priced wine around. The French still have this dated love affair with wine from these two regions, wine which I believe is overpriced and of relatively arguable quality. It was a really interesting evening.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

April in Paris

Up at 06.00 (it was dark for goodness sake) to leave at 07.15 in order to catch the 08.04 TGV to Paris.
As we stood on the platform this double decker monster, oozing power, rumbled into view and with some excitement we entered the cabin. The first impression is one of quiet luxury, carpets, glass, chrome, muted colours (oh, get on with it - Ed.) and a wide gentle staircase up to the upper deck. The seats were wide, very comfortable and they reclined. (When was the last time that you travelled on a train? - Ed.) This is the way to go!
The only stop was at Valence, which threw us slightly because we thought that it would stop at Lyon, so it was just as well that we weren't going there! Whilst you know that you are travelling quickly, it is difficult to judge the speed, that is until you run alongside the motorway and easily pass cars that must be travelling at around 130 kph. The total journey time was 3 hours 1 minute (including 1 stop) for a journey of 719 kilometres. That's an average speed for the journey of 240 kph (150 mph), which means that at times you are travelling considerably faster than that. The train pulled into Gare du Lyon right on time. Very impressive.


We had booked the Hotel Galileo (54 rue Galilee, 75008, tel. 0147 206606), just behind the Champs Elysée and a stone's throw from the Arc de Triomphe. It was a nice little hotel with 26 rooms and reasonably priced, considering it was in an expensive part of town. We would definitely go back.
We needed lunch (now there's a surprise - Ed.) and Jan, searching her books, came up with "the best Lebanese restaurant in Paris," a couple of blocks away.
Noura, (27 avenue Marceau, 75116, tel. 0147 23 02 20) was very good. Jan was sensible and had one dish and a pud but I stuffed myself with an extra dish. The starter, a large plate of mixed hors d'oevres, was more than enough but I also had a mixed grill of lamb, kofta and chicken. Puds were sticky and very sweet. What was particularly surprising was the Lebanese wine (this will please Chris). We polished off an excellent bottle of Rosé du Printemps 2003 from Domaine Wardy from the Bekaa Valley. Light and delicate it was not, but given its location I guess it would have to be fairly robust! Recommended.
The main purpose of the trip was to meet up with Will and Ginny, who were stopping off for a couple of nights in Paris on route between Portugal and Florida. Will was my boss many years ago and was very influential in my early business life. We became friends and I have greatly enjoyed his company ever since. He's a very kind man, with a great sense of humour and a good person to know. Ginny, I haven't forgotten you, but that's enough fawning for one day.
Dinner was at a very atmospheric restaurant,
La Taverne du Sergent Recruteur, 41 rue Saint-Louis (on the Ile Saint-Louis) 75004 tel. 0143 54 75 42. The fixed price menu (39 euros), covers all you can eat and drink and is excellent value. If you're hungry in Paris this is the place to eat.
Will and Ginny were, as ever, excellent company. A fun night.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Go on dip your toe in

We leave for Paris tomorrow and naturally the demonstrations and riots are a consideration. Not that I'm worried about the riots, these things always tend to be exaggerated and localised. The real problem will come with the return train journey. We have non-refundable, non-changeable rail tickets and as there is supposed to be a general strike on Tuesday, I assume that they'll let us travel the next day if the trains don't run. Could be fun!


I had another go at the pool today and it's starting to look just a little inviting. Having said that it is always Jan who goes in first each year, because I don't like pain, but I don't suppose she'll get in until later this month. When we get back from Paris next week, I'll put the solar heating on and see how quickly I can get it up from the present 14 C. It needs to be at least another 10 degrees higher to satisfy yours truly.


Tonight, Jan made her first ever pasta, tagliatelle to be precise. It was very good, indistinguishable from shop bought (you're so smooth - Ed.). Together with a mushroom sauce and a starter of asparagus, I went to bed a happy bunny. Actually it was the Domaine de Baubiac that made happy! Anyway bed early because we need to be at Nîmes railway station at 07.45 tomorrow.