Saturday, March 31, 2007

A new hypnotic drug

I hate not finishing a book. But I have just given up on one, when exactly half way through. A book so tedious and difficult to read that I kept falling asleep. In fact what I suggest is that doctors stop prescribing sleeping pills and dish out this book instead. The major benefit being that you won't be stuffing yourself with chemicals, it would help prevent suicide attempts (although that's arguable) and it would save the health service a fortune. At £6.99 or $13 US it could be used over and over again. This book is such a powerful sleep inducer that I fell asleep on a plane recently whilst reading it. I never fall asleep on planes! OK, so what is this new miracle sleep cure? It's a book called 'Offside' by Manuel Valquez Montalban and translated from the Spanish by Ed Emery. Here's a sentence that caught my eye. 'Some of the journalists were beginning to show impatience with this process of onasmatic accretion............' What the hell does that mean? OK, I'm showing my ignorance (you do it all the time - Ed) but a 'poolside read' shouldn't need the aid of a dictionary in order to understand what's going on. If you have difficulty sleeping at night this the perfect solution. Pick it up, try to read a page and you will be asleep in no time. And, at 275 pages of small print it will last you a long time.


Feeling like a little drink, we went off to the market in Sommieres this morning. The usual suspects were settled outside under the arches at Les Delices du Liban and a jolly good time was had by all. Unfortunately, 'the jolly good time' pretty much wiped out the rest of the day!

Friday, March 30, 2007

As good as it gets

Yesterday started a period of a couple of weeks, that we will spend with only ourselves (and the dogs) for company. We celebrated with a lie in. Poor old Max and Min skulked around the house wondering where James had gone. James has a great rapport with the dogs, taking them for long walks and letting them get onto the sofa with him. We spend hours keeping the dogs under control, and training them, and visitors ruin all the work in a few minutes. Hey ho!


Today was all about two very close sets of tennis where we finished with honours even. Both sets went to a tie-break. Good stuff. After lunch with William, whilst Jan went for lunch with Christine, we went down to the pool area and removed the winter wrapping from the most delicate palms and completed other boring maintenance jobs. The palms had survived the winter well, mostly because it has been fairly mild. Yes, I know, not very interesting but that was as good as it got!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I need meat!

James and Pauline left at lunch time having spent a feverish few days sorting things out for their wedding here in September. They have decided to hold a reception for all their guests on the terrace of the Carre D'Art in Nimes on the Friday evening and then have their wedding reception here on the terrace on the Saturday. It all looks good, with the exception that they only want about 120, of the 170 guests that they have invited, to actually turn up. There's a moral there somewhere! Anyway, the upside of their departure is that I get a break from eating bloody fish and vegetables. All I wanted was a big chunk of meat. So, what did Jan cook for dinner? Kedgeree! Not quite what you would call 'finger on the pulse!'


I braced myself to watch England play Andorra tonight. The last match against Israel was not good to watch and I'm getting close to giving up on them. There was nothing about tonight's performance that gives much hope for the future. The manager, McClaren, defended his group of millionaire wunderkinds as they laboured to beat what was nothing better than a pub team. In fact the group of Andorran part-timers (they only have TWO full-time professional players) outplayed the English team quite comfortably at times. What hope then when they meet a very good side, like my beloved Italy (you fink - Ed).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Tropical Boot Company

It was an interesting day. I was contacted by an old friend, who used to be in a band with me in the 60's, who now lives in Singapore. I knew him from my youth in Harrogate. Not only was (is) he a very nice chap, but we got into a few memorable scrapes together which helped shape my early life. Our group was a forerunner of the band put together for the film The 'Blues Brothers'. We became known as 'The Tropical Boot Company' and had exactly the same line up as the band in the film. We played the same music and had exactly the same singer and instrument lineup. For the record I was one of two singers and I was the short fat Belushi character. Ahhh, those were the days! And, the only major difference - was that we did it all 10 years before the film came out, we were real and relatively unknown and the others were fictional and very famous . However, amongst our claims to fame, we played an all nighter with Georgie Fame at the King Mojo, Pete Stringfellow's club in Sheffield, got called in a short notice to replace Pink Floyd at Leeds Queen's Hall, played support to Aretha Franklin at Reading Uni and played a couple of gigs at the Marquee Club when it was in Wardour Street. Great fun.
Then, a little later and again out of the blue, very nice friends from London wrote to say that they are coming out in May.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mouse balls

It was good to get a little exercise this morning and the 'young ones' came at us (William and I) hard. Frankly, after last night, we were a little jaded (oooh, it's jaded now - Ed) and they took the first set 6-4. The shock of defeat woke us up and we took the second set 6-2. It was only 10.30 so a third set had to decide it. We kicked their ass and beat them 6-2 again. It was very hard work though!


I don't know how they wrote this with a straight face. This was a real memo sent out by IBM to its employees. It went to all field engineers about a computer peripheral problem. The author of this memo was quite genuine.
"If a mouse fails to operate or should it perform erratically, it may need a ball replacement. Mouse balls are now available as FRU (Field Replacement Units). Because of the delicate nature of this procedure, a replacement of mouse balls should only be attempted by properly trained personnel.

Before proceeding, determine the type of mouse balls by examining the underside of the mouse. Domestic balls will be larger and harder than foreign balls. Ball removal procedures differ depending upon the manufacturer of the mouse. Foreign balls can be replaced using the pop off method; domestic balls are replaced by using the twist off method. Mouse balls are not usually static sensitive; however, excessive handling can result in sudden discharge.
Upon completion of ball replacement, the mouse may be used immediately. It is recommended that each person have a pair of spare balls for maintaining optimum customer satisfaction. Any customer missing his balls should contact the local personnel in charge of removing and replacing these necessary items. Please keep in mind that a customer without properly working balls is an unhappy customer."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Tired bunnies

I can't believe that we slept for ten hours last night. We must have been seriously tired. Whilst we have been travelling quite a lot over the last two weeks we were surprised that it had taken such a toll. Maybe we're not superhuman after all. Anyway, we woke to the most beautiful, sunny and warm, windless day. Such a contrast from the weather in England and hopefully the start of summer here.


We had the tennis group for dinner tonight. Jan cooked an Italian meal consisting of a six different antipasti, a porchini mushroom pasta, fried sea bass, and for the meat eaters, pork fillet in a marsala sauce. Cheese and a black forest gateau (offered by Francie) to follow. Most of the party drank champagne, of which I am not a great fan, but I drank a white from Domaine Leyris Maziere and both a red from Domaine de la Prose and my favourite, a Domaine de Baubiac. A good night!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Alice in Wonderland

It was an early start for the flight back to France. We were very sad to leave because Tim and Sue had been fabulous hosts, but France and the dogs beckoned so off we went.
Having passed through airport security this morning we saw two 'characters' from Alice in Wonderland. I've no idea what they were selling but their presence really summed up the continuing fiasco at security. Security at Luton is too tight and, more to the point is a total waste of time if the same type of security restrictions aren't applied in other parts of the world. A recent example were our trips starting in France and Spain. They just play at security. The woman standing next to me, who had just flown in from the States with a large bottle of water, had it confiscated at Luton. This is a nonsense and a huge irrational inconvenience to the English travelling public and it has spurred me on to start writing to people in government. Watch this space.


We knew that my son James and his fiancee were travelling on the same flight so we planned to surprised them at the airport. It didn't work because they spotted us first. Hey ho, the thought was there.
Then it was back home to pick up the dogs who we hadn't seen for two weeks. It was good to have them back, even if they were covered in dust and smelly. Love us, love our smelly dogs.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Jesus Christ Superstar

Last night we arived at Tim and Sue's, as expected, with none of the air turbulence problems of last week. Sue is a great cook and for dinner she knocked up seared fillet of salmon on a stir fry of fennel, dill and noodles with a lemon velouté (velouté - oooh get you - Ed). Excellent, and Jan came away with the recipe. This was all washed down with a Verdicchio. I've never really been a fan of this wine but this was excellent. This was a Moncaro, Verdiccho dei Castelli de Jesi 2005. It featured on television recently and I have to say that it was quite special.
In conversation with Glyn recently we exchanged information about the weather. He complained about the poor weather in England and I mentioned that it was hot, sunny and warm in France. He paused for a moment and then said, "But I'm on my way out for a pint of Directors." He knows that I love a pint or two of Directors beer and he had capped my story in one. Well, ever since that conversation I have promised myself that the minute I land in England I'll find a decent pint. Tim and I nipped out on a hunt and we found a nice pint of Abbot Ale. Not Directors but good nevertheless.


OK, that was last night. Today was set aside for some serious shopping so it was off to Watford and John Lewis. I'll save you the gory details, but we shopped til we dropped and got back in time for Sue's chicken with a mango sauce. Thanks Sue, you spoilt us. No sooner had we finished dinner than we headed off for Emma's school (the real purpose of the trip) and their production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Amazing, how do school children learn this stuff? There was a cast of thousands, the children's ages ranged from 13 to 19 and they put on a seriously good show. Well done all, and in particular Emma (who I managed to get a good shot of, right, during the crucifixion scene.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Off again

Yesterday was mostly spent getting up to date with correspondence and trying to sort out misbehaving computers. Today, on the other hand, was all about popping over to England, because a few weeks back we promised to watch Emma, Jan's niece, in a school play. This was the trip to honour that promise. Yesterday Tenerife, today France and tomorrow England. Bugger carbon emissions.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Simply the best

Back to earth with a bang. Whilst it's good to get back into your own bed, it's blowing a gale and it's cold. In retrospect I think putting up with idiots fighting over pool loungers was infinitely better. As promised Jan made a great Panang curry tonight. We tried Domain Costeplan's 2006 Vermentino to go with it. Excellent, and the curry wasn't bad either.


Sad people that we are, we joined a Beauceron club when we got Max and reading their latest magazine we noticed that Max's parents have both been elevated to Elite A, the highest ranking that a Beauceron can achieve. Both his parents and his grandparents have better pedigrees than me (that's hardly difficult - Ed).

Monday, March 19, 2007

Early birds

So there we were, it was 05.45, we'd checked out and we were sitting in the huge deserted mausoleum they call the lobby, waiting for the taxi. It was eerily quiet, with nothing stirring, when we saw the glass sided lift start to move down from the top floor. Who could possibly be around at this time? Probably some other poor schmucks with a very early start. No, it was some even bigger schmuck, carrying his pool towels. He'd been sent to claim poolside loungers before 6 in the morning. If anyone suggested that I get up at that ridiculous hour to bag a lounger I suspect they'd have a row with me. And, for the record, if I sound a bit grumpy it's cos I am!


We probably had the only taxi driver on the island who had not had kamikaze training. He took us north to Los Rodeos airport. We arrived in good time and the airport was very quiet. You couldn't help but feel that it was still in mourning for the loss of life 30 years ago. Having said that the small inter island planes that did take off kept leaving from alternate ends of the runway. What's all that about?


Our Ryanair flight to Girone was trouble free with one very big exception. We had just passed Barcelona and were on final approach when we hit almighty turbulence, to the extent that we both lifted out of our seats and banged our heads on the lockers above. Anyway, Biggles got the plane under control and took us back out to sea to approach from a different direction. He landed sweet as a nut but I have to say that we were both very frightened.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Los Gigantes

We were invited out for lunch today. Mum's long standing Italian friends live in the next village, Los Gigantes. They have an apartment overlooking the marina which looks out to the spooky cliffs of Los Gigantes. Both she and husband Mario are retired restaurateurs so we expected a feast and that's exactly what we got. We started with a carpaccio of red snapper, caught by Mario, mushroom (porcini picked in the mountains) risotto, and sea bass, again caught by Mario. Just excellent. They were great hosts and we (pictured above) were very fortunate.
It was our last night tonight and mum, who is staying another couple of days, was sad to see us go. In fact, whilst I have just about had enough, ten days is enough for me, I'm also a little sad. I haven't holidayed with mum for a couple of years and we've had a great time. She will head back to England on her own on Tuesday. Not bad for an 82 years old. If I had to come back to Tenerife I would definitely stay at this hotel again. That's the acid test. Talking about an acid test, the taxi comes for us at 06.00 tomorrow morning. See you back in France.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St Patrick's Day

Last night we were invaded by 150 Spanish women from the other side of the island. What a noise! The common denominator – they were all 5 foot 2 inches tall, had very loud voices and big appetites. I subsequently found out that they were on a girls (and I use that term loosely) weekend. Their husbands’ loss was definitely not my gain.


It was cloudy today so we decided to hire a car and get a change of scenery. I can't remember the last time I drove a Mercedes SLR, which didn't really matter because what we hired was a Citroen C3 (my little joke). We were on a mission because Jan needed to buy two smart summer dresses and we also wanted to check out two other hotels in this group. The nearest shops were in Playas de Las Americas. Given that I'm good at shopping, can spot the best shops from 100 yards and don't dither about which dress, I had Jan fixed up, super fast, and cheap, within a half hour of starting to look! Now the downside. Whatever Jan buys, mum has to buy as well but before I could endure a couple of hours of hell we stopped for lunch. This time it was Jan's turn to spot the best place. El Arrozal, Avda Litoral s/n, Playa de Las Americas, 38660 Aron 922 79 02 77, was excellent. We all decided to eat one of my favourites, arroz negra (black rice, coloured with squid ink, with chiporones, baby squid) and to drink a white rioja Marques de Carceres 2005. They made the arroz really well and this, together with the wine, helped fortify me for the hell to come. OK, so we now need to find mum a dress. We spent ages looking for something that would even vaguely fit and ended up in Zara. Now some of you ladies will know that Zara's target market is in the 18-35 age group. It is definitely not in the 80-130 age group. To add weight (pun intended) to my claim, Jan advised that she had never bought clothes to fit in Zara. I explained this to my mother (pictured above, just after she realised the clothes wouldn't fit). Did she listen? I waited outside the shop for about 50 minutes slowly building up a head of steam. Eventually I lost it and stormed into the shop only to see mum walking towards the changing rooms with some clothes. She showed them to me one at a time and said what do you think. I said:

Me: They are very pretty but they won't fit you.

Mum: Yes, but what do you think.

Me: They are very attractive but they wont fit you.

Mum: I'll try them on.

What exactly doesn't a woman understand about 'they won't fit you'? What mysterious language do you need to speak so that something sinks in? We messed about for the best part of two hours and achieved nothing. Having said that, Jan got what she wanted and I had a very good lunch. I suppose two out of three can't be bad? But whatever, I hope you had a better St Patrick's Day than I did.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Man with an appetite

Last night we were in mum’s room picking her up on the way to dinner. She wasn’t wearing her hearing aid. Jan, who was out on the balcony, said to her, “this is a nice flower, what is it? Mum stared at the wall and the flower because she couldn’t hear what Jan was saying and Jan had to repeat her question several times. Getting irritated because there was only one wall and one flower I said:

Me: Mum, why don’t you put your hearing aid in?
Mum: What flower?
Me: Mum please put your hearing aid in.

So she picked it up and put it in her bag. I don’t know why, but she doesn’t like wearing it (I suspect that it over amplifies sound) and when she carries it in her hand or puts it in her handbag it lets out a howling screech, which of course she can’t hear. Anyway, we got in the lift to go downstairs, accompanied by a young couple. Mum’s hearing aid, still in her handbag, is letting out this wild howling screech. The young couple looked around unable to fathom out where the noise was coming from and were getting very nervous. Jan and I could hardly contain our laughter, whilst mum is oblivious to everything. When we got to the ground floor the young couple shot out of the lift and disappeared quickly into the distance. I made mum put the hearing aid in and explained to her that she was frightening people! She was somewhat bemused. It was very, very funny.


We only have three days left and I’m struggling with the food. I approach every meal with a full stomach but I can’t say no. I eat less food and healthier food at each sitting but nothing seems to work. (You could always try eating no food, you dummy – Ed) As a treat Jan has promised me a curry when we get back to France but I still can’t figure out how this is supposed to help. Anyway, I’ll soldier bravely on and buy some bigger pants when I get home. All my good work over winter undone by a few days in a hotel. Bum.


Talking about winter, I got an email, from the weather site that I use, predicting (nay insisting) that strong cold northerly winds, ice and some snow would arrive at home next week. Looks like we chose the wrong week to be away!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Everything on a grand scale

Everything about this hotel is done on a grand scale. I suspect that they've used American architects because it reminds me so much of a hotel I used to stay at in Newport Beach, California and several others in the States as well. The atrium is huge with lots of greenery hanging from each of the seven floors above. I love big beds, big walk in showers, I love (and need - Ed) lots of space. This place has it. Take dinner last night, it was ‘Italian Night’ again. I was hoping that they’d move onto something more esoteric like Korea, where they eat dog, or Australia where they eat the witchety grub. Yum, yum. Anyway, the food here is good. Some things are very good and some things I just pass on. They offer a very wide choice and there is always something for everybody. Through an alcoholic maze, last night, I put together the menu choices which, I'm sure, is not an exhaustive list. For starters they had carpaccio of swordfish, carpaccio of salmon, and my favourite carpacchio of beef. Additionally they had bresaola, mortadella, avocado, fish cocktail and salads. A huge scooped out Parmesan cheese, three soups, melon and pate. For the second course they had, pasta (two sauces), spinach lasagna, ravioli and cannelloni. For the main course, a huge vegetarian selection, a whole baked salmon, fillet steak cooked in front of you, tuna in sauce, hake in sauce, veal escalopes in a Marsala sauce, turkey breast in more bloody sauce, beef stew and for the really adventurous, hamburgers and hot dogs. For pudding a wide selection of fresh fruit, cakes, ice cream, yogurts etc. You name they’ve got it. And to top it all you can go back as often as you like. It's a real challenge, but I soldier manfully on!


OK, a bit more about the hotel guests. Some old gal (Danish I think) had a go at my little old mum for lying on 'her' sunbed yesterday. Pity I wasn't there. That would have been fun. There are a wide variety of guests both young and old and with enough yummy mummies to keep even the most saintly of us interested. Today an elderly German couple came and took beds next to us. She was fully dressed and commanded operations whilst he changed their beds and bedding around. He was wearing camoflage gear (I can only suppose that he wanted to be ready for anything) and followed her instructions to the letter. She then disappeared never to be seen again, probably to plot the next invasion.
As I write this, two dusky maidens (above) have started a fashion show, dressing and undressing in time to some good music. Must go, because they might have something suitable for me. It's a good place this.


Getting fed up watching these two girls prance around I told Jan that I would go and grab a table for lunch. My mistake here was to assume that as soon as the fashion show was over that that would be it. I'd been sitting at the table for twenty minutes and the waiter kept hovering, wanting to take my order. I apologised, rolled my eyes heavenwards and explained that I was waiting for the women in my life and that they were in the process of trying clothes on. He laughed his head off, immediately understood my frustration and told me that he would go and get my wine. He even knew what I wanted. The staff here are good!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A latch key (possibly gypsy) kid

Last night was quite traumatic for me. Jan has this knack of getting my mum to talk about her past life. She finds mum's history interesting. As a 23 years old southern Italian woman in England in 1947, the year of the big freeze, it must have been quite a culture shock and Jan always wants to know more. Anyway, mum is recounting her holiday experiences of two day railway journeys back to Italy with her sister (who also married an Englishman) and me. Jan asked if I was a cute baby (I could have told her the answer to that one) and of course my mother said that I was very beautiful and that all kinds of people came up to her on the beach and offered to take me for a walk. It turns out that she was handing me over to all kinds of strangers who took me off and returned me at mealtimes. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was being given away! How do I know that I'm the same child that was taken away? How do I know that I wasn't substituted for some gypsy child and that I'm not who I think I am? (Go and lie down and take some more of your medication - Ed) It's all very confusing and I had to remind my mother that if this had happened today she would have Social Services knocking at the door. As it happened my mother and father split up when I was four and for the next few years, until mum remarried again, I was brought up in Harrogate as a latch key kid. Life were tough in them days! (It explains a lot - Ed)


It poured with rain today and, being unable to hire a car because we thought about it too late, we took the short walk down to the village. We chose a restaurant (poor choice) for lunch that overlooked the black sand beach. It was a dark and gloomy day with large white waves crashing onto the black rocks (oooh, aren't we the poetic one? - Ed) Believe it or not the picture above was taken in colour.
This guy needs to come and kick some ass in France. I forget the actual figures but something like 25% of the French working population work in the civil service. Kids graduating from university all aim to get into it. Jobs for life, good pensions and little responsibilty. Try to get anything done in France during August. It's a joke. (oooh, and now political comment, who rattled your cage this morning? - Ed)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Nowt stranger than folk

One of the great 'funs' of a hotel/pool holiday is to people watch but, more importantly, to pull people apart and give them nicknames. Looking around here, the first person that springs to mind is 'the aged rocker'. I'm not sure of his nationality but at a guess I'd say English or Dutch. He is quite tall, has a huge beer belly, long, curly, unwashed hair and always wears a black t-shirt with the tour dates of old rock bands on the back. (A younger version is pictured above) Mettalica, Iron Maiden, Led Zepplin and Status Quo at the last count. This guy has seen them all, bless him.
The next irritating twerp is 'hail fellow, well met'. He always wears a bright primary coloured shirt and white trousers with white very pointed shoes that curl up at the front. He darts about greeting his chums in a loud voice and I suspect he is the life and soul of the party. Only trouble is, he is always on his own because I bet that when anyone sees him coming they shoot off in the opposite direction. A smart move I'd say.
Another strange couple is this very tall 40 years old man with earring and goatee beard. I reckon that he is German. He eats alone with a 10 years old girl every night. Nothing wrong with that I hear you say. He's a divorced parent treating his daughter to a holiday together. OK, I agree, but how come she wears a full different national costume every night? The first night she wore a full, scaled down, flamenco dress. The second and third night I didn't see her and last night she wore a full scaled down Mandarin Chinese dress. She is doll like and immaculately coiffured. Kinda spooky I say.
Jan even swore she had seen Sir John Gielgud until I pointed out that he had been dead for 7 years.

Last but not least is this short, fat, hairy guy who always has his laptop with him, like the sad bastard that he is. He also likes to wear primary colours and his missus calls him 'dick head'. (You've got it in one - Ed)

I said spooky above because each night dinner has a different national theme. So far, you guessed it, it has been Spanish, Italian, no theme and last night Chinese. Her parent must have known this but it begs the questions, why and how. These clothes fit her perfectly. There can't be a shop on the island that can cater for this and, more to the point, it must take significant preparation and, why would you want to do it?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tedious reading

I’m reading ‘Imperium’ by Robert Harris at the moment. It’s a very good read, just like his novel ‘Pompeii’. Both highly recommended. Anyway, a line that caught my attention goes like this, "Because, my friend, those were happy years and few subjects make more tedious reading than happiness." On the morning that I read this line, this happened. Read on.

I freely admit that I can be a bit impatient and I'd forgotten how an extended period with my mother can push that to the limit. Mum's a lovely, kind person but, understandably, given that she's 82, a little forgetful. This morning I called to her room to pick her up on the way to breakfast, for her to tell me that she had lost all her medication. I’m not talking about a packet of Aspirins here, but a huge sack of every medicine known to man and some they’re still thinking about. Ok, these things happen so I searched her room top to bottom and then, over breakfast, with Jan, went through all her movements yesterday. The last sight of her pills, that we could all remember, was at breakfast yesterday, after which she had hopped into a taxi, gone to Mass in the next town and then met a friend who lives nearby and spent the day with her. Logic said that the pills were either in the hotel, cruising in a taxi around Puerto de Santiago, in the church or at her friend’s house. I got everyone on the case. First the management at the hotel, then the taxi company, who paged all their drivers who were working on Sunday, the pope to give the church the once over and her friend in the next town to check her house. Everyone got involved. And the result, nothing, a big fat nothing? Ok, so at the final resort we can visit a doctor and get him to write out a prescription, but I held back on this last one basically because I was thoroughly pissed off and had had enough and a visit to the doctor was going to take up the other half of the day.
Having settled the girls down under their umbrellas near the pool, I headed back to the room to pick up the laptop, in order to release some frustration on you, my beloved reader. Then a strange thing happened. I wasn’t looking for the medicine, but I found it, stowed in our wardrobe, just in front of the safe. My opinion of this hotel just got better. They had found the pills and returned them to me for safe keeping. I trotted off downstairs and I returned them to mother, who was still sitting by the pool with Jan. When Jan asked where I had found them, the penny dropped. She suddenly remembered that she had taken them from my mother the day before at breakfast and put them in the wardrobe for safe keeping. Is it any wonder that I get a little impatient at times? (I’m with you on this one bro – Ed).
The sun shone brightly for the rest of the day and we were able to relax, but that’s boring reading isn’t it?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I feel fine thanks

By the miracles of modern science I'm writing this by the pool. The hotel wi-fi network, which is freely available in the lobby, doesn't reach our room but extends out to the pool. Be impressed, be very impressed, or maybe I should just get out more.


Jan is an angel but not overtly affectionate. So yesterday when she passed me a compliment I was tickled pink. She said I reminded her of a cross between Robert de Niro and Jack Nicholson. She added the rider that I was like de Niro in 'Cape Fear' and Nicholson in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest'. Whilst I haven't seen the films I assume that she meant it as a compliment? Wasn't that nice?


I find it very difficult to fault this place but I'm having difficulty coming to terms with the realisation that it is stuffed with old people, and having to admit that, that I'm old as well. I wonder if they look at me and think the same? Look, I know that it's an ageist comment and there is, of course, nothing wrong with old people, it's just that I don't want to be one of them. The big clue was right before my eyes the morning that we checked in. There it was, right next to the check-in desk, a huge, standalone, red and yellow painted jobby, sponsored by Telephonica, who were proud to tell you that if you opened the little door in the front you would find a brand new defibrulator. And, under no circumstances were you to use it but you had to call a trained operative. Bloody hell, they expect their guests to have heart attacks!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

My lovely mum

Whilst we landed yesterday in the early morning, mum arrived late afternoon and, like the dutiful son that I am, I went to the airport to meet her. The indicator board made no sense. It showed her plane as having arrived from both Leeds and Lanzarote. It turned out that the plane made an unscheduled stop in Lanzarote to drop off a part for another, disabled plane. Do we really need to know that? It just causes confusion.

Whilst I’m waiting for her in baggage reclaim (don’t ask how I got in, these airports just play at security), being confused by the arrivals board, not being able to find her and having just realised that her plane had made an unscheduled stop, I came to the conclusion that she might have disembarked on another island. How the hell am I going to find her? Luckily I recognised some Leeds accents from amongst the huge crowd waiting at the carousel. I asked if anyone had disembarked in Lanzarote. The answer was negative. OK, she was there somewhere, but where? Eventually I found her, dressed like she had just arrived from the Arctic and covered in sweat. Bless.
The taxi ride back to the hotel was something else. The driver constantly muttered to himself, kept hitting the horn by mistake (which made me wonder whether he’d stolen the car) and drove like a maniac at 160 kph, 50 centimetres behind the car in front. Anyway, mum who was sitting in the back said something to him which I didn’t catch, but what really surprised me was that he replied. Mum is 82 years old and I’ve known her for a lot of that time but I had absolutely no idea that she spoke Spanish.


We're by the pool and the conversation goes like this:

Me: Mum, you were lucky to be able to fly direct from Leeds.

Mum: What did you say?

Me: Can you put your hearing aid in?

Mum: I can’t hear you.

Me (louder): Where’s your hearing aid?

Mum: Hang on I’ll put my hearing aid in.

Me: Can you hear me now?

Mum: Don’t shout, I can hear you now.

Me (swinging gently by the neck from a palm tree): Aaaaargh.


Breakfast this morning brought the usual problem, what to eat. If you couldn’t find what you wanted, it hadn’t been grown, invented, cooked yet. Just an unbelievable choice. A gluttons paradise (you'll be alright then! - Ed)

It was hot and sunny yesterday and this is exactly what we hoped. Today however was cloudy, not what we wanted, but hey it gave Jan the opportunity to partake of her other great interest, shopping. Fortunately (but not for MasterCard) the shops were hopeless, full of tourist tat, so it was back to the pool to read and build up an appetite for the next meal. This could be a long ten days!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Happy Birthday Jan

It's Jan's birthday today and by way of celebration we got up at 04.30 and flew to Tenerife. I can't say that getting up at that time of the morning is top of my priority list, but there you go.
As we taxied to the end of the runway a plane took off in the same direction that we were travelling in. In other words this plane took off in direction A to B and we were going to take off in direction B to A. Now, I’m no aviation expert, and cannot fly a plane, but this did not seem to be right. Anyway, take off we did and we didn’t hit anything. Our route to the Canary Islands took us over Tangiers, Casablanca and Marrakesh. All very exotic and it added to the holiday feel. I’d forgotten how much I dislike long flights (actually it's only three hours) but more to the point it wasn’t the most comfortable because I hadn’t been able to bag my usual fire exit seat and so had to sit up the back in cattle class. None of this was helped by the fact that I’d forgotten to pack my book, couldn’t get my tray table down because it wouldn’t pass my beer belly (Note to self: must lose weight) and Jan refused to speak to me because she had her nose in a book. There's only so much joy you can get looking out of a plane window for three hours.
Ryanair typically chose Los Rodeos (in the north of the island) to land at in Tenerife. If I remember rightly, two 747’s hit each other whilst taxiing a few years back and killed several hundred people. The cynic in me thinks that Ryanair chose it because the landing fees are a bit cheaper!
The hotel on the other hand is first class. Hotel Playa La Arena is huge but very luxurious. Our room was very spacious and well appointed. It's probably the best vacation hotel that I have ever stayed in. The hotel’s occupants were, however, mostly very old. The minute we walked through the door the average age dropped about 30 years, and we’re hardly spring chickens. Everything about the hotel is done on a large scale, from the enormous atrium lobby with loads of areas to relax in, to the pools and the restaurants. Cosy this is not, but all very, very well done. Particularly noticeable and appreciated was the food and wine. We were booked on a half board basis, breakfast and one other main meal. If you wanted to pay for lunch, they offered a huge buffet of hot and cold everything, including fillet steak, for 15 euros per head, each as much as you like. Amazing value. The only problem to deal with is your greed!

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Yippee! Today we're going on our hols (Isn't everyday a holiday for you? - Ed). I know, I know, living in a temperate Mediterranean climate is hardly unpleasant but on reflection we haven't spent more than three days in the last four and half years on a vacation. My definition of a vacation is a good period of time, minimum one week, in a warm climate (yes? - Ed) not having to do anything you don't want to do (yes? - Ed), being waited on hand and foot (Jan already does that for you! - Ed) and not having to cook (Jan does that as well! - Ed). Well, today we set off for Tenerife. The nearest airport that I could find, for a non-stop flight, was Girona in Spain and, because the flight leaves Girona at 06.35 the following morning, and not fancying having to leave home at 02.00, we decided to stay overnight at the airport.
A good part of the day was spent preparing for the trip including getting the dogs to kennels and figuring out how I could take the laptop within the baggage allowance. Ryanair's policy is all well and good for short trips, but for anything over a week the baggage allowance feels a bit small. Hey ho, the flight was cheap! By the way, the picture above was the first that I came across with regards to holidays in Tenerife. It just seemed er, appropriate!
The journey to Girona was trouble free apart from strong cross winds from Narbonne down. It seems that every time I drive down this road I encounter strong winds. I might be unlucky but it's not an area I would choose to live in without some research on the subject.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Restaurant Alexandre

That's it. This is the place to eat. Restaurant Alexandre, 2 rue Xavier Trone, Garons, (close to the airport outside Nimes) 0466 70 08 99, had been on our hit list for some time and, as we'd seen recently that chef Michel Kayser had just won his second Michelin star and, as we had two birthdays to celebrate (Jan and Harry), we booked ourselves in. Wow, it was good.
Where to start? Menus started at 42 euros, the next being 59 euros. Whilst I'm sure the cheaper ones would have been great, the first menu that really grabbed me was the Menu Degustation at 72 euros (sponsored by WeightWatchers and American Express). In fact that's what we all ordered. If you add in the little extras that they deliver before the main meal we had eight courses in all, all relatively small with exquisite tastes and perfectly cooked. By the end of the meal I felt full but not unpleasantly so. Service was swift, polished, friendly and attentive. The wine list was huge and they offered a good range of local wines at reasonable prices. You need quite deep pockets but Jan rated it as the best meal she has ever had and I agree. The garden to the rear of the restaurant was beautiful and I can't wait to eat there in summer. It was a very memorable occasion and highly recommended.

Monday, March 05, 2007


One of the most 'frightening' aspects of moving to a foreign country is having to deal with a strange bureaucracy in a strange tongue. The lack of a technical vocabulary and having to deal with mundane matters, which you would normally take for granted, can be very frustrating and nerve wracking. Dealing also with a populace, not best known for customer service and who refuse to slow down and talk to you in words of few syllables when they realise that you are a foreigner, is disconcerting to say the least. Well, today I had my revenge. I received a letter the other day telling me to send in my English driving licence (see 'Ouch That Hurt 26th Feb). At this the alarm bells started to ring because I'd heard stories of them losing licences and there was no way that I would easily let it out of my sight. I certainly wasn't going to send it into that 'black hole', known as the French administration system.
So there I was sitting, for an hour, in the Prefecture in Nimes, waiting my turn. The hour had given me plenty of time to practice the French phrases that I would need to argue with the woman behind the glass screen. I say argue because I had to have either my English licence or the French one because I will drive to Spain on Thursday and I wasn't going to leave home without one (as they say). When you arrive you take a ticket and wait your turn. My number was PO 84 and the display counter showed that they were serving customer PO 55. Great, there are only 30 people in front of me. Actually I didn't think 'great' I thought 'bollocks', but my previous visit had taught me something. What happens is that people take their ticket, go round the corner and see the display counter, swear, and then leave. This has the dubious benefit of the disappointment at thinking that there are lots of people in front of you when actually there are probably only half the number.
My turn arrived. I strode briskly to the glass screen (these people obviously get attacked a lot) with a big smile on my face (got to disarm the bastards somehow) and explained myself. I could see from the blank expression on her (pictured above) face that she had switched off' so I redoubled my efforts. Not saying a word she left the counter, rifled through a pile of papers and came back with my shiny new French licence. Without a smile or eye contact she told me that I was speaking so fast that she couldn't understand a word I was saying. BINGO, I had got what I wanted, a shiny new licence, and struck a blow, albeit a small one, for all us 'put upon foreigners'.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Computers, don't you just love 'em?

What is it about computers? Here we are minding our own business, when they start to behave strangely and I have to spend hours fiddling with the damn things. All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, Jan can only get onto the Internet intermittently. She can download email and more often than not access her home page but she fails to get through to other sites. I, on the other hand, have other minor but nonetheless irritating problems. Despite both computers being linked through a network, I can access the Internet and Jan has difficulty. Fortunately we have just bought another all singing and dancing laptop and this is also networked, so Jan can use this. I know, I need to get out more.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A meal fit for the French

We hosted, what turned out for us, to be quite an interesting dinner last night. Feeling guilty about being invited by various French friends to their houses over the last year or so, we decided to return invites to the most pressing three couples. In no particular order, the first couple was Gilles and Odile. We have two very good, Hachette rated, winemakers in the village and he is one of them. His Pouges wines, both red and white, are legendary around here and he also makes a vin de table which he sells at about 20 euros a bottle. Jean Francis and Marie Helene are a lovely couple and have invited us over the years to their annual summer picnic. He runs a very successful terrassement business and, last but not, least Alain and Christian. He is the local village artist. I can't say that we weren't nervous. Whilst we know and like them all, we had no idea whether they liked each other. Ours is a small village and goodness knows what enmities bubble beneath the surface but there was no hint of tension and everyone seemed to get on really well. One man admitted to being an anarchist, another a collector of the most mundane artifacts and the third said very little, but attempted the wine drinking record. He turned out to be fussiest drinker amongst us all. Naturally I served Gilles' wine, not wanting to offend him by serving his competitors and, as the night went on, I brought out some Baubiac from Quissac. This was also well received. It was a good night spoilt only by the fact that they all spoke French. Drinking and concentrating at the same time doesn't half tax the brain!
The French have a bad attitude towards English food (or food cooked by English people), earned no doubt by travelling through the UK as poor students in the 60's and 70's. Anyway, Jan put that right. A smoked fish and spinach starter, couscous with a lamb tagine (who said she can't cook English food?), salad, cheeses and two great puddings got them reassessing their opinions.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mile high service from Quantas

Peter who runs this excellent site sent me the new Quantas logo.