Tuesday 23 December 2008

While shepherds washed their socks by night

Here we are, back in the USSR.... er, no, back in Midlothian for the season to be jolly. Arrived on Sunday after a stopover in York at Uncle D's and Auntie S's. Really enjoyed seeing them. It was also great to be able to break the journey and also to be able to drive all the way in daylight. Especially at this time of year. And when your car is the wrong way round.

Lovely to be home. Missed seeing the Cambuslang crowd, and they are now being shipped to Cairo by KLM. Will see them for New Year though. While I'm on the subject of the Cambuslang crowd, I have a prayer request (or good vibes or pagan moon dances or whatever): for Claire and for the full removal of a malignant tumour and the all clear after her surgery.

Meanwhile, on an altogether happier subject we are pretty much primed for Christmas here. Turkey: in fridge; presents: wrapped; food: also in fridge; tree: er, standing out the back at the moment because we need to sort the sitting room out first! Can I just say how cheap groceries are here. We bought a trolley full of fruit, veg, mince pies, oatcakes, double cream and lots of other things today at Sainsbury's and it all cost... 70 British pounds. The same stuff would easily have cost over 100 French euros from Auchan. And Sainsbury's is hardly the cheapest supermarket. I feel very ripped off living in France at the moment. Best I don't think about it because it winds me up.

So what else is there to report? Not a lot folks. Have been hermit-like since arriving and not seen anyone. But am looking forward to seeing Willie, M&M, Macleod, Jane, Annie, Em...

Aside: there is a creepy man on telly who is actually touching moths. Eugh!!

And talking of the telly... I will tell you this boy, I will tell you this, Rab C. is back! For one night only and that night is tonight. BBC 2, 9pm. And even you lucky folks in England are being treated to his pondering. You might get subtitles if you're lucky ;)

Well I clearly have nothing useful or insightful to say to I'll be off. Tidings of Joy to you all!!

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Re posting: Why cork wine stoppers are best

I'm re-posting this post from last May, which is suddenly a bit topical following a BBC Natural World documentary broadcast last night on the subject of the Iberian cork forests. This unique habitat is home to many rare birds as well as the critically endangered Iberian lynx. If you live in the UK, watch it now on iPlayer. But hurry because you have 6 days and counting.

If you care even a tiny bit, please also join this Facebook group:


Anyone who knows me will already know that I tend to turn my wine snob's nose up at bottles with plastic corks or screw-cap closures. This distaste is has two sources.

1/ As any wine lover will tell you, wine breathes, ages and evolves better in a cork closed bottle. Why is this so? Well, for a wine to continue to mature once it's been bottled, there must be a continuing exchange between the wine in the bottle and the air surrounding the bottle (if you're lucky, this will be the cool and relatively humidity-stable air of a good cave). Plastic corks and screw-caps hermetically seal the wine meaning it cannot age. This is fine if the wine is intended for consumption within... max 2 years after bottling, but it is equivalent to suffocating a Saint Estèphe or a Vosne Romanée.

2/ Environmental issues. A plastic cork is just downright bad for the environment. It's made from petro-chemicals. It doesn't biodegrade and probably most plastic corks end up in the household rubbish bin with no hope of being recycled.
A traditional cork, however, is good from beginning to end. Natural cork is harvested from cork oaks (Quercus suber), with the largest production areas to be found in Spain and Portugal. The cork oak forests are ancient mixed-farming areas, combining forest and grazing pasture. Because the harvesting of the bark is done using traditional methods and involves no mechanical techniques, the habitat is preserved. Animals such as the endangered Iberian lynx and Spanish eagle rely on these forests and suffer from their conversion to intensively-farmed agricultural land.

To help preserve these essential habitats, and ensure a future for cork oak farmers in Europe and elsewhere around the Mediterranean, you can make a difference by choosing to buy wine with a natural cork stopper and steering clear of plastic and screw-caps. Some UK retailers are now indicating the type of closure used on their wines either in their online catalogues or in store. But they are also applying pressure to their wholesalers and suppliers to provide wine with plastic or screw-cap closures. You can help by just not buying these wines, writing to the supermarkets and retailers, and writing directly to suppliers to give your views. Consumer pressure does make a difference.

And the biggest thing you can do to help is boycott all wine from Morrison's. Or better still, boycott their stores altogether. This is because Liz Robertson, former head of wine for Safeway (now Morrison's), is stupid. She said "We think that plastic stoppers are good for the environment because they relieve pressure on the cork groves and prevent over-harvesting.” Clearly, she has NO IDEA at all. Cork oak farming is probably the only form of farming in Europe today that doesn't involve over-harvesting. And yes, something made from hydrocarbons and that doesn't bio-degrade and isn't recycled is obviously good for the environment. Of course.

Some links to find out more:
Newsmonster article
RSPB articles article
Real Cork campaign
Environmental news service article
WWF Mediterranean Cork Oak conservation project

Monday 1 December 2008

Possibly the worst postal service in the world

Let me tell you a story. Last weekend I ordered a whole pile of Christmas gifts. I ordered them all on off the interweb, feeling smug as I went. All items but one were purchased from UK-based sites and have all since been delivered to my parents' address.

One item was ordered from Logically, I had it sent here to our house. I received confirmation of despatch on Monday. So today, a week later, I thought I'd have a wee look on the parcel tracking to find out what was what. And to my indignant disgust (but, tellingly, not to my surprise), I find that the useless f**king incompetent wasters at La Poste seem to think they knocked on our door on Thursday. They say we weren't in and they left a wee note to say we had a parcel. I say they are lying f**king wasters. They also claim that the parcel is now awaiting collection in "Bureau de Poste - Villeneuve d'Ascq" and that I have been advised of its presence there. I say again that they are no-good f**king shitfaces. I never received the wee note advising of a parcel. And there are 4 (count 'em) post offices in Villeneuve d'Ascq. You'd think that La Poste would know that. But clearly we are dealing with a crowd of utter morons who cannot tell their collective arse from their collective elbow, so we can't expect too much now can we?

I shall be visiting my wrath upon La Poste tomorrow. I shall visit my wrath upon them by telephone first, in the vain hope that if I give their complaints department (I hope they have plenty staff, probably very busy in this department) the tracking number, they'll be able to identify which bureau de poste has my parcel.

Maybe this is what has happened to the other 3 parcels we've been waiting for since the beginning of November? The brainless shitbags probably buggered up delivering them also.

And what pisses me off even more is that, while the lobotomised dimwits have been fannying around with *my* stuff, they somehow managed to get their collective finger out and safely deliver a massive parcel to Hubby. I see, national preference is it?

I'm sick of living in a third world country. Harrumph.

Sunday 30 November 2008

Mirror in the bathroom

Here it is at last, our microscopic bathroom and its new chocolate & cream look.

Bathroom. Nearly done!

Almost there! Just a wee bit of tiling to finish but I'm waiting for Hubby to fix a wee leak. As you can see, our bathroom truly is tiny, but the new colours do make the space seem bigger. And we're loving our towel ladder radiator, especially with the cold weather! I just need some chocolate coloured towels. John Lewis clearance, here I come!!

Monday 24 November 2008

Let's get behind the wheel

Our house is just off the main street through the village. Just at the end of the main street before a left-hand/right-hand double bend (we call it the chicane, because it goes left then right, like a chicane strangely enough).

You can't miss the bend. As you can see on the stunning illustration to the left (please excuse the rather crappy Paint-job here!), it's a pretty sharp turn. As you approach, there is a raised speed-hump-traffic calming thing, and they have surfaced the road with that beige "super grip" stuff. There are also big blue and white arrow signs stuck on the barriers on the curb (they put the barriers up after one time when a car actually ended up in the front door of the house on the corner (I'm seriously not joking)). But every week (again, I'm not joking) a car manages to miss the corner completely and carry on up onto the pavement.

It's just happened how, as it goes. The second in as many days. Yesterday someone kerbed quite badly in the snow. Any how, that's what gave me the idea for this post just now. We heard a screech and a bang. Like the busybodies we are, we tore upstairs to have a good ogle out the windows. Looks like a Clio. And it must be well and truly stuck because the chap hasn't followed usual procedure of just reversing off the pavement and carrying on.

I just don't get it. The chicane is in a 30 kmph (20 mph) zone. They put down super grip road surfacing (a sure sign of the need to go slow). There is a massive speed bump hump thing just before it. And still they come. I don't know if it's because people are going way too fast, they aren't paying attention, or what. Too fast I think. But I still don't get it.

It would be funny if it weren't that the poor folk who stay in the house right on the corner have had to have their front door replaced and part of their front wall rebuilt. They now have concrete blocks in their front garden to slow any out-of-control vehicles. And another chap who lives next door but one to that house got rear-ended by a driver who managed to miss the barriers but rode up the pavement and slammed into the parked cars. And then left the scene. Plus every time the barriers get knocked down, whose cooncil tax do you think it is funding their replacement?

Like I say, it would be funny.

Down here it's just winners and losers

On Friday the Parti Socialiste, the erstwhile main left-wing political force in France, voted for a new First Secretary (party leader, but not necessarily automatic presidential candidate). The run off was between two women: Ségolène Royal (didn't they learn when she lost the presidential to the Gnome?) and Martine Aubry (mayor of Lille, best known in France for masterminding the 35-hour working week).

That in itself isn't very newsworthy, but what does incite comment is the bitter argument now raging between the rivals' camps on who actually won. Initially Royal was proclaimed victorious (some would say unusually early into vote-counting), before the party leadership was finally bestowed to Aubry. Since Saturday both women and their lieutenants have been bickering, crying foul and generally disputing any result that says they lost. Royal's camp even demanded a re-vote, if you can believe it. A somewhat foolish suggestion, as people won't vote any differently. Re-count all you like, but demanding a second vote is just desperation.

The party's governing council is supposed to be re-checking all the results and confirming the result today. The main news bulletin is on now, but no news from the bigwigs thus far. And as you can imagine, the longer this infighting drags on, the bigger the smug smile on the faces of right-wing UMP Sarko-groupies. Any political movement that can't stop fighting amongst themselves is doomed to electoral failure. See the horrid Tories all through the 90s.

While I can't suppress a bemused smile at this débâcle, the sad fact is that the biggest loser here is France. As the Socialists, the most mainstream and biggest left-wing party, hurtles towards implosion and oblivion, France is left without an electorally-viable choice on the left of the political divide. Which means more Gaulist and righty governments and presidents. You'd better get used to it, French people, because the Socialists risk leaving the country with no choice.


Wednesday 19 November 2008

What do you mean when you say?

One of my bug-bears with the French, or more with common French expressions, is the (mis)use of the words "next" and "last" in a temporal context.

That sounds confusing. Let me explain... In English, or at least British English, we use next and last as follows:

"There's a great film on TV next Friday"
Said on Saturday or Sunday, means Friday in six days' time
Said on any other day, means Friday the following week. If it's Monday and you want to say there's a great film on TV in four days, say "this Friday".

"There was a great film on TV on Friday"
Let's say Friday was the 1st day of the month. This statement works until Saturday the 9th tops. Thereafter, you have to swap "on" for "last".

When the French tell you there's a great film on TV next Friday, they will probably mean Friday this week. Seriously. Today is Wednesday. A French person could say "next Friday" today, and actually mean the day after tomorrow. Weird!

I could concede that, taking the meanings of "next" and "last" at their most pure, the French use is correct. But I'm not letting that get in the way of a good semantics argument.

I had the perfect opportunity to grouse about this linguistic stupidity this very morning. I caught the end of the weather forecast (read "vague guess") and the bimbo presenter (French weather bulletins not presented by actual real live meteorologists) announced that we'd be in for some jolly cold weather next weekend. Bloody amazing!, I thought. Météo France are frequently unable to accurately predict what the weather will be doing in 24 hours' time, and now here they are forecasting a whole ten days ahead! Stunning.


Any other expats out there want to let off steam about the linguistic idiosyncrasies of their host country?

Monday 17 November 2008

Nobody does it better

Dear Zhu in Canada recently posted a wee list of French activities/customs/products that the Canadians have just never adopted and maybe never will. I did smile on seeing "demos" at the top of the list, Zhu!

Prompted by this, here is a wee list of my own. These maybe aren't the things I miss the most from Blighty, but I do think there's little chance of the spreading to France any time soon!

Cheap, industrial chocolate
I know, I know. It's full of vegetable fat and hardly any cocoa solids, but I'm a true Brit and I love my Cadbury's Dairy Milk (and Fruit & Nut, and Twirls, and Crunchies, and …). The French all like dark chocolate, consumed mostly in the form of tiny miniatures that come with the espresso (or express as the French say) coffee taken after a meal. Yuck. Double yuck in fact. Dark chocolate and coffee. Yuck yuck.

Cheap paperbacks (and hardbacks, for that matter)
I love books and I love to read. My favourite bookseller in the UK is Waterstones. I want to know when Waterstones shops will start providing trolleys so I can really shop! I especially love their ubiquitous 3 for 2 offers. A very clever marketing tool, as you always end up with four books you want, so you shop around for another 2, naturally. When you consider all the offers, probably the average cost per book works out at around £4-5 for a nice paperback, or £10-12 for a lovely hardback. (Aside: who else loves the smell of a brand new hardback? Ooooh, new book smell.)

In France, there is actually a law forbidding retailers to sell books below cost. They can sell them net of VAT (one of the best known bookselling chains, Fnac, does just this), but not below cost. It's something to do with protecting the cultural literary linguistic heritage. Or maybe it's more to do with lining publishers' pockets. Whatever. I reckon your average "nice" paperback (equivalent to a UK paperback, not those scratty poche books) will set you back around €8-9, and a hardback (they call them broché - basically a paperback printed in big typeface and bound with slightly stiffer card-like paper) comes in at about €21. That's nearly £18!

Yes, you do have to wonder at the long-term logic of stores like Tesco selling the latest chicklit paperback for £1.50 (though maybe a lot of these chicklit things are only worth a quid). But I don't care about long-term logic. I just need the books, man. Gimme the books. I couldn't give a stuff about any literary cultural claptrap. I just want cheap books to feed my habit.

Chips from the chippy. With salt & vinegar
What do you crave most when you have consumed maybe slightly more booze than you should have over the course of an evening? What must you have, immediately and right now? It can't wait until you get home can't this craving. You must have thick-cut, fatty chips. Hot from the bubbling oil, nestling in their paper wrapping (which the steam and fat eventually weaken so much that it rips and you risk losing your precious chips). A bag of chips from the chippy. Oh yes. The Scots like them with salt n' saus (salt and sauce to you, pal). The English prefer salt and vinegar. I have to say my English lineage dominates on this matter. But whatever, we're talking artery-encrusting quantities of sat fats plus blood pressure-rocketing volumes of salt.

Now that I'm past-it and mortgaged, I don't much go out on the razz any more. So I don't have these slightly inebriated cravings. But I do miss chippies.

Here in the Nord the locals love chips (is it the proximity to Belgium maybe? Or because main-crop potatoes are one of the main crops grown round here?). And I mean proper chips. Not those silly, skinny French fries. Chips. Thick slices of deep-fried potato. They even have chippies! They are often in the form of little outside catering vans (you know the sort that sell burgers outside football grounds?). But they still look at you funny when you ask for vinegar.

The Brits love to queue. We adore standing in line. We also love automated queuing systems. You'll notice these in post offices, and in some supermarkets (M&S food) or stores (Boots). Everyone stands in the same line, and an LED number board (sometimes accompanied by a disembodied voice) flashes up the number of the free cashier or till. And the corresponding till also has an LED number, which also flashes. So each customer is served in turn. There are also more sophisticated automated queuing systems in places like railway ticketing offices (you will wait for hours in these places, so the queuing process has to be adapted). A machine distributes numbered tickets to all comers, and you can sit (you'll need to sit) and wait for your number to come up. The older, basic systems just gave you a number. More recent evolutions offer a choice of which service you want (buy a ticket, change a ticket, make a journey enquiry), and you are placed in the appropriate queue accordingly.

And best of all are bus queues. People may sometimes loiter around the bus stop in no particular structured queue. But when the bus comes, there is no desperate surge forward. If there was no orderly line to begin with, the passengers all stand around looking at each other, wondering who was there first, and motioning "no, after you".

The French don't know how to queue. It's an internationally accepted truth. At bus stops, in subway stations and on railway platforms they, too, loiter in a disorganised group. Yet when the bus or train arrives, they form a ruck around the doors, jostling for position and trying desperately to be the first on. It's not so bad on the buses, as most of them have at least two sets of doors. You must get on the bus at the front, so passengers alighting can do so at the other doors and avoid the scrum.

The train is another matter altogether. Especially the TGV. One of the reasons the TGV timetables are so (reasonably) reliable is the strict station stopping times. Before the train arrives in the station, the guard announces how long it will stop for. And you can bet if they said 2 minutes, it's 2 minutes and not 2 minutes 03 seconds! The result is passengers scrambling to get off the train, and more passengers scrambling to get on. Sometimes they don't even let you descend before trying to push on. It's stressful!

The French also like to stand right up close behind you while you conduct your business at the post office, or at the supermarket checkout. I mean close. I mean boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife close. Now, in most banks and post offices, there is a red line on the floor, and customers are asked to wait behind it until a teller is free. This is a step in the right direction.

As well as loving books, I also love a nice cup of tea. Like most Brits, I like a simple cuppa: black tea, made with boiling water. I take mine quite strong and milky. You can pretty much get a decent cup of tea anywhere in Britain. I mean, it's hardly rocket science is it? Boil some water. Pour it over a a teabag. Leave to brew. Fish teabag out of cup. Add milk and sugar to taste. Use a teapot if you can be bothered.

The French drink coffee. Some of them drink tea. But they like poncy, arty-farty tea like green tea and white tea and herb tea. Made with tepid warm water. When plain old black tea is on offer it's more often than not something called Lipton Yellow Label. I think that this is some sort of phoney tea brand sold the world over as British tea. The world over, that is, apart from in Britain (where we aren't fobbed off by this pale imitation). When I first came to France this stuff made tea that looked like dishwater (and tasted like one would imagine dishwater to taste). Foul. I think it is now a bit of a stronger blend, but still. It's really hard to find satisfying tea in France. I always stock up on plenty fairtrade teabags when back in Scotland. I just wish I could import some nice, soft Scottish water to make it with ;)

I, too, have in mind a couple of expats I'd be interested to hear from one this one:
  • Confused Vicky: life in Switzerland for a confused Brit.
  • Sugar: another Brit in France, but I bet she'll do a good list

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast

Wtf?! It's Monday again already. How on earth?! The last few days have whizzed by at an unnatural pace.

It was a strange week to start with, Tuesday 11th being a public holiday. Normally I would have had a looonnnng weekend, but Mum & Dad were coming over, so I worked the Monday and took Friday off instead. So I worked Monday, off on Tuesday, back on Wednesday and Thursday morning then weekend again. But enough about work.

I managed to give myself food poisoning from raw milk. Note to self: next time you buy raw milk, go straight home and put it in the fridge. Do not stop for a three-hour lunch. That was quite unpleasant. Have beaten it into submission with some tablets.

Mum & Dad came over. Hurray! That's always a good thing. Unfortunately they had a bit of an eventful trip here. Somebody driving a Jag northbound on the M11 managed to lose control and skid into the crash barrier, spraying up mud, stones and debris at just the exact moment Mum & Dad were overtaking a lorry southbound. Aforementioned debris rendered their car undriveable (is that a word?) by smashing the headlight, ripping the bumper, smashing part of the wing and so on. Poor Mum & Dad! At least my Dad had the sang-froid to keep driving straight ahead. I fear I would have tried to swerve left. Into the lorry. And thank the Lord, and the Highways Agency, for crash barriers. They keep out-of-control Jaguars on the other side of the road.

So anyway, poor red car was rescued off the hard shoulder and Mum & Dad carried on in a hire car. I think poor red car has been stretchered home to Embra for cosmetic surgery. Mum & Dad are now headed back home, in another hire car. It's a bit of a long story so I'll not bore you any further.

The main reason for Mum & Dad visiting this weekend was to go to the wine fair. This is held every year on the 3rd weekend in November in Lille. Hundreds of wine growers from all over France come to peddle their grapey wares. It's very useful for people who like to drink good wine, because you can get quality stuff at a reasonable price and you don't have to do a tour de France to get your mitts on it. We practically only buy wine at the wine fair now, and on holiday. No more supermarket buying for us. We're such wine snobs. So anyway, we did that and spent money but not too much and have some yummy wine to drink.

Because of 1/ shit weather; 2/ Lis having food poisoning we didn't really do a whole lot else, but we had a lovely time even so. I will admit to snivelling to myself as I drove to work this morning, having just waved goodbye to my parents as they left for Calais. Poor Mum & Dad, they are still on the sodding M11! Maybe by now they'll have made it to the A14 perhaps. The thieving insurance company were supposed to provide them with a courtesy car to go back to Scotland in, but then they cancelled it because apparently "the other party hasn't admitted liability" (that'll be the plonker in the Jag). Who gives a stuff? He probably doesn't even know he nearly hit another car. The insurance companies can fight it out later, but my parents need to get home! Then they drove around all of Cambridgeshire trying to find where to return hire car #1.

Anyway, I did say I wouldn't go into that.

So, my point was: crikey where has the weekend gone? Where did last week go? Now I'm home alone (with Doggy of course). Hubby at meeting in Paris. Parents on m'way somewhere. House is quiet and empty. Lis feels quiet and empty. I guess I'll be able to catch up on the 54 unread items on my reader this evening.

Image credit: Hero Dog Blog

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Lest we forget

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Especially for you...

... Alex Salmond, this one's for you.

It pleases me somewhat to think that this is in some way retribution for this. It's not, it's because the SNP-controlled local council is widely reviled. In a bizarre parochial way, I'm more delighted by this Fife by-election result than I am with the US election result.

Of course, the American peoples' choice is a big event. Mr Obama is a young man and is fairly new to the political scene (certainly here in Europe probably not many people had heard of him 18 months ago). And there's the obvious question of his ethnicity. If I was a big cynic, I'd say the financial crisis helped a long way into getting the Democrats' nominee elected. But whatever, let's just wish the President-elect well and hope he can live up to at least some of the weight expectations now on his shoulders.

But more importantly, let's get back to gloating at the Labour hold in Glenrothes. Normally that result wouldn't be news. Labour retains safe seat in former mining community. And? But after Glasgow East, a seemingly impossibly safe Labour seat, fell to the Nats in the summer, the Glenrothes campaign suddenly looked much more interesting (more so because it's bang next door to Gordon Brown's Kirkcaldy patch).

Well guess what Alex, some Labour seats still are safe. Looks like you still have some lessons to learn in politics. Is the honeymoon now over? Was there ever any honeymoon? In case you hadn't already guessed, I'm no big fan of the Nats. Don't go assuming that I'm a Labour die-hard though, because you'd be mistaken. The previous two Holyrood governments had their faults. But the current administration is busily 'cking up the whole wee country.

[Now Lis gets on her soapbox]

Let's look at their massively unclever but amusingly populist measure of freezing council tax. Yes, great move, well done. So what has happened since the Nats froze council tax? Households all over Scotland are paying the same council tax they did 18 months ago. OK, good. But councils all over Scotland are faced with huge budget shortfalls. My home council is £20m short this year. That means in order to balance the books, they are cutting services left, right and centre. Grants to voluntary organisations, often the providers of essential services that go a long way to "top-up" anything the council lays on, have been wiped. This means important services to the local population are or will be withdrawn or severely restricted. And folks' jobs are very much in the balance. Great work, Alex.

And I just cannot believe they approved the Trump golf course. 'ckers.

Sunday 2 November 2008

Something tells me...

... we'll be eating lots of soup here at Franco-British HQ!


Who needs a veggie box when you live next door to Jean-Pierre?! Which is handy, as they don't do veggie boxes in these parts.


Who says you can't be happy all the time?

For the next ten (12?) weeks, you can certainly be happy on Sunday evenings providing you have BBC2. Yes indeedy, the "men with the best jobs in TV" are back. [Lis beams with glee]

Thursday 30 October 2008

It's a sin

Grrr. My day got off to a pretty bad start today when my mobile chirped "beep-beep". A text :) From the bank :( Something along the lines of "Dear Lis of the North. Did you know you're overdrawn by nearly a grand?". Wtf?!!

Let's now rewind to four weeks ago. I went to the bank and instructed them to cash in part of my life insurance policy. I wanted the money to pay for our bathroom (nearly done). And some other stuff. That's not the point. So the guy typed away at his keyboard and presented me with a thing to sign, which I signed, and that was that. Job done.

Having concluded this life insurance business, I then proceeded with withdrawals from my current account, calculating that I had X amount salary less Y amount mortgage + various bills plus Z amount life insurance. Loadsa money. You can imagine my surprise and growing horror when I got that text this morning. I even feared for a terrible moment that someone had somehow got access to my account and was cleaning me out (wouldn't take long).

But no. I checked internet banking and the useless crowd of wasters still haven't carried out the instruction I gave them four weeks ago to transfer three pots of gold from my life insurance to my current account. So I rang the call centre, reminding myself to try not to be rude to the customer advisor. And apparently "it's perfectly normal, madam". Is it?! "Didn't the bank teller mention that it can take up to 30 days for the instruction to go through?" Er, no. And why the hell does it take up to 30 days? I know it's the credit crunch and all that, but surely the bank doesn't need my miserly few euros to shore up its capital?

I'm part annoyed with myself because really I should have checked my account before now. But more to the point the half-brained oik at the branch should have told me it would take a whole month before I got my readies. And it shouldn't take a whole month for me to get my readies.

This is the third time the incompetents have messed up transactions on my account this year. Had enough. Will be opening an account with a proper bank providing proper customer service* very shortly. I figure that, given that I have no choice in paying bank charges (yes, here in the third world "free banking" is a completely unknown concept - a bit like "lane discipline"), I may as well get my money's worth.

*NB: may I had the caveat that this counting house only qualifies for such praise because so far I have been satisfied with its measly efforts.

Sunday 26 October 2008

Baby it's cold outside

And yesterday, in the north of Britain, it was absolutely peeing it down and raging a gale. So not the best weather to embark on a 24-hour adventure fell race methinks. So when the news broke yesterday afternoon that hundreds of fell runners were stranded on Honister Pass and elsewhere on the Borrowdale Fells, my reaction wasn't very sympathetic.

Many summers of my childhood were spent at High House in at Seathwaite so I have more than a passing acquaintance with the area. And when it's blowing a gale and veritable curtains of rain are rolling down the valley, even the hardy FellFarers only don their Berghaus jackets and boots if the planned walk ends in the pub. No sane person would want to embark on an endurance race. (There is some debate as to whether endurance race competitors can be classed as sane in any case, of course ;) )

Some reports are making it sound as if the 700 or so still out in the hills are definitively stranded and rescue teams are being scrambled as I type. This may not be the case. Probably most of them will get back down by themselves because we're dealing with experienced adventure race participants here. But a few may well need rescue assistance. And this touches on a subject I have my own particular views on: should practitioners of extreme sports take out insurance to cover the costs of any rescue they may require in the course of their sport?

Already in France, authorities can demand payment towards search & rescue costs. There is no distinction made between pure dumb luck leading to an accident, and reckless or rash behaviour meaning one ends up in a fankle. Everyone is liable.

Disclaimer: I'm not dissing endurance racing or adventure racing. Most people who organise and take part in such events are fully appraised of what races involve and they know what they're doing. Being fully aware myself of my own abilities, I would never have even considered so much as a stroll in yesterday's conditions in Cumbria. Nae chance. But I just feel that if you go out in crap weather, knowing that it will be difficult, tiring and dangerous then you should pay for any rescue you might require if you get cold and wet and stuck. Because you knew the risk and took it anyway.

And let's make another thing clear: anyone who requires medical assistance because they have tripped/slipped/fallen/taken ill should be evacuated as soon as is safely possible. I've fallen in the hills, I still have the scar to remind me. It hurt. I managed down by myself with no damage done, so lucky me. My dear Mum tripped and fell face first onto a rock. She was lucky she also made her own way down off the mountain and only required one stitch to her forehead. Phew.

So what do you think? Search & rescue is costly, and can be very dangerous in mountainous regions where the weather can change fast. Should the "customers" of these services participate in the cost? And under which terms? Anyone rescued, no matter what the circumstances? Or limited to those who are considered to have behaved rashly? If you're struck down by acute appendicitis when up a mountain, should you pay for medical evacuation at the same rate and under the same terms as someone who left their tent at home to keep their kit light, and finds themselves without shelter on a shitty, wet and windy night? Or should rescue remain fully free for everyone, no matter what the circumstances?

The 12 mountain rescue teams in the Lake District National Park cost around £500,000 a year to keep them going. That's just their kit, and doesn't include the additional cost of helicopters (which are actually rarely scrambled). MR teams are charities, manned by volunteers (my Dad was once of their number!) and are funded almost entirely through public donations (not unlike the RNLI).

Is it time to adopt the approach used in France, Switzerland and elsewhere? Should hikers and paragliders and windsurfers and dinghy sailors take out insurance to cover potential rescue costs if they end up in a spot of bother?

Please note that the event taking place this weekend is not to be confused with the Borrowdale Fell Race, a half-marathon that takes place on the first Saturday in August at which a jolly good time is had by all. Especially the checkpoint crews.

Monday 20 October 2008

I could be wholesome, I could be loathsome

Was pleased to see a post from Sugar007 when I checked Google Reader the other day. Was even pleaseder when I realised I could pilfer her excellent post idea.

So here's the drill: use your blog as a therapeutic platform through which you can fess up to your biggest and ugliest and most wartiest personality traits. I have no idea if airing your dirty linen on the virtual washing line in such a manner goes any way to helping you curb your worst excesses, but I do believe it's probably a good exercise in honesty.

These are the things about me that I like to pretend aren't real:
  • I'm terribly selfish. I'm awful at sharing. Not so much material things, but I'm dire at sharing people. Don't know if that makes senses, but I understand me.
  • I would love to be tidy. I like my house when I have just finished cleaning and tidying. I wish I was more disciplined and I could make it stay that way.
  • I'm a bit of a perfectionist. And a bit of a megalomaniac too. I'm learning to control this. I'm learning to be satisfied with something just being "done", and not necessarily "done brilliantly" or (and here is the rub) "done my way to my standards".
  • I am organisationally-challenged. I'm truly useless at organising so much as a birthday card. Lots of birthday cards that I send arrive about two weeks' late. It's pathetic.
  • If I suspect I'll make a hash of something, or not be able to do it in an astoundingly perfect manner, I might just duck out of doing it at all.
  • I'm argumentative.
  • I'm the world's most impatient driver. I hate people who don't indicate on roundabouts with a deep and rather ugly passion. If I had a James Bond car, I'd blow them up with my missiles. I mean, I really truly hate these people.
  • I can be judgemental and I really hate it. Really, really, really.
  • I'm a rather lapsed Christian. I'd like to have more faith in my Faith.
  • I sulk.
  • I'm crap at managing my money. I have internet banking and everything, but I only have a vague idea of how much of my salary is left in my account at any time. I'm shit at budgeting. I'm sure if I learned to save and manage my cash I could pay my credit card off pretty quickly. And not use it.
But on the positive side, when I say I'm sorry I truly mean it.

There! I don't know if I feel better having picked out all the ugly bits of me, but I'm not editing the list or tweeking it. I'm just gonna hit the publish post button.

But I would walk 500 miles

Well, I wouldn't walk 500 miles to walk my dog, but we did take a two hour drive yesterday just to take her to the beach at Fort-Mahon! What can I say, she likes that beach. And incidentally we stopped in to see Stéphan who was there for the weekend.

Enjoyed a bracing walk, watched learner kitesurfers

Kitesurfers learning

Went out for dinner just in time to catch the sunset

Fort Mahon sunset

Had moules frites (mussels and chips) for dinner, then whizzed home and aahed at a lovely waning hunter's moon on the way.


Saturday 27 September 2008

Each day is Valentine’s Day

Well, it certainly is when I'm using my cordless screwdriver :) Hubby gave me my lovely power screwdriver for Valentine's Day a couple of years ago. We were "doing" the kitchen at the time. I think it's one of the best Valentine's gifts I've ever received. You, dear reader, may conclude that I've never been given any really wonderful Valentine's gifts. But I'd retort that every girl needs a power screwdriver. It's the mutt's nuts, it really is. I don't like power tools especially. I had to drill some holes today. I didn't really like it. But once I'd drilled the holes, I got to fix screws in them with my cordless screwdriver. That was more fun.

Maybe the fumes from the tile paint and the tile cement really have gone to my head. Why else would I be writing a eulogy to my power screwdriver?! As you may have already guessed, the bathroom still isn't finished, but we're on the home straight. We hardly did anything through the week, but we need to get it all finished for next weekend because Sunday is the local braderie and we'll have a house full. So I need an operational bathroom. And for the dining room not to be a building site annexe. Photos soon, I promise!

That screwdriver really is excellent you know.

Sunday 21 September 2008

I remember when I lost my mind

I haven't really lost my mind it just feels that way. I think it's the paint fumes. Anyway just thought I'd pop in and say hello to anyone who's out there.

Am enjoying everyone's blogs but I'm too lazy to comment. Well, that's not entirely true. Last week Dad was here and so we were in full-on bathroom mode. I'm hoping that by next weekend my normal routine of slothing around will be restored.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Coming, colours in the air

That's it we've got the bathroom paint. We're having sort of dirty white and sort of dirty. No actually the colour scheme is called "Exotic Spice" and we ended up choosing the colour mixing option because it definitely matched better to the bathroom cupboard doors.

So I'm pretty pleased about that and looking forward to painting that on. Also have special durable tile paint for the shower enclosure. Yay.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

It might as well rain until September

Well it pretty much did rain all the way through August until September. But what can you do?

Here at the house of horrors we've been busy with the bathroom project. Of course as fate would have it on what was easily the loveliest weekend weather-wise all month, we spent our time trudging from one DIY store to the other, looking at tiles and tile glue and particle board and thermostatic radiator valves. Then finished stripping off that awful vinyl wallpaper, sanded the wallpaper glue off the tiles (with the scary sander - I'm semi-mesmerised by it and keep thinking how easily I could just veer it off the wall and onto sanding my forearms instead. Power tools are scary) and cleaned them with acetone. Hubby wisely invested in some rather expensive dust/vapour masks and they work a treat. Worth every penny.

So once the tiles were stripped bare and I'd sanded all the grouting down to what could be considered a reasonable level (seriously, whoever tiled our bathroom must have used three times more grout than necessary - see left), I was looking forward to painting on the primer. Painting is my favourite part of DIY. I don't really like all the "big" stuff involving power tools and what have you. I like tiling and painting. So I eagerly dug out the tin of primer and my brand new paintbrush (specific glycero-based type paintbrush). And was struck by a sudden moment of wisdom so I read the label before popping off the lid. It's a good thing I did but I wished I hadn't! It says to apply the finish coat at least 24 hours but no more than 72 hours later to guarantee adherence. Bugger! I couldn't paint because I haven't got my emulsion yet have I? I was a bit gutted.

Still, on Monday Hubby got busy with the jigsaw and fitted the wall panels (because, ah yes, when we ripped out all the old panelling we were delighted to find the walls are only tiled half way down!), which I got to tile after work. I like tiling. That pretty much made up for the primer disappointment. I haven't done it all but I'm waiting for me Dad to get here with his tile saw because some cutting is required.

Yesterday not much happened in the bathroom. Hubby went to the Comet-type store (called Boulanger - as in a baker's - but they sell home electricals! I know ...) and set up a 3-month's interest-free credit thing for the TV we bought on Saturday. Because our telly converted itself to a radio (as in sound but no picture) on Saturday. Thank heavens for 3-month's interest-free credit is all I can say because that's how everything gets bought!

Today the bathroom bits were delivered! As I type, Hubby is busily fitting the shower. The shower tray is in place, he's fitting the glass door things now. I'm staying well away unless he asks for help because he likes a security cordon of about 100m around him when he's DIYing.

[long pause while Lis is called away to hold things and get drilled into]

Right I think it's bedtime. Will finish this post with photos tomorrow. Nighty-night all xx

Monday 18 August 2008

The latch on the bathroom door is broke

My idle mind might not quite be the devil's workshop but it's definitely a never-ending source of "how about we do this?" ideas. And would you believe it I actually managed to gain approval when I submitted the latest one to the committee of the Hubby? Well I did. And what is my latest hair-brained scheme? A new bathroom. Ta-dah!

We bought this house 6½ years ago. The year following purchase we got someone in to do a quote for a new bathroom. They quoted us over €3,000 for a new everything. You might think "ah, not bad", but our bathroom measures 2.5 sq m and we weren't having the floor re-tiled (just the walls). The plan to re-do the bathroom quietly died.

So anyway, I got this idea in my head that if I bought some tile paint & primer, I could paint the wall tiles and update the room a bit. And then when I went of my way while I was on the way to the DIY store to buy salt for our water softening thing, I stopped at the bathrooms & kitchens store and picked up a catalogue. And when I got home I took out my tape measure and got a pencil and bit of paper. And you know where this is heading.

Being that we have a microscopic bathroom, I flicked past the pages with walk-in showers big enough to host a cocktail party in and the fetching double-basin consoles to seek out the "compact" lines. So whaddya think? Except we like the mocha laquer finish and a gloss white countertop. Also I'm wondering about the wisdom of a glass basin. Won't I be wiping it down all the time? So we'd like one of those, a matching wall cupboard, and a new shower. A proper shower with a ceramic shower tray and glass shower doors. And a nice cream & coffee colour scheme going on with the walls.

We went at lunchtime to have it all priced properly (because of course, they sell you a tap for €155, but the flexi pipes to link it to your hot & cold water cost extra!!). And we asked them to quote for fitting while we were at it. It would seem Hubby and I have made a major career-choice error. We should be bathroom fitters. Going on their quote, it's a nice little earner so it is. Which means probably I'll just plead (shouldn't take much) with me Dad to come and help us.

Now I'm really excited about having a new bathroom. Hubby will probably announce we won't be getting a new bathroom until January by which time I won't want one anymore. Hope not. Can't wait!

And it will all cost less than one euro grand.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Fat bottomed girls you make the rockin world go round

I'll tell you the only decent thing about having a couple of extra kilos being fat: bosoms.

Genetics did not bless me with an especially generous chest, but I have made up for that by becoming tubby. Now when I cast my gaze downwards I can actually look down my top and not just at my toes! My 36B cups are full to the brim. Maybe I could even splash out on some C cups, but I still like to delude myself into thinking I can trick the 7 extra kg into melting away. Also I like the effect of the brimming B cup. Still a novelty, sort of.

Of course Hubby also enjoys this side effect of too much champagne and not enough exercise. But as a wise man once said, "more than a handful is a waste".

Saturday 9 August 2008

Champers alright for you, Pats?

Fabulous darling. Because I wasn't organised yesterday, I got the champagne in the fridge too late, and we couldn't celebrate thank Crunchie it's Friday. So we're celebrating Saturday instead. Cheers!

Saturday 2 August 2008

What a way to make a livin'

At work I regularly receive graphics files for translation. These are product communication materials (POS, catalogues etc). It's great being able to work directly on the native format (rather than send the translation to the execution agency in a Word document), because it saves a huge amount of time on two fronts: I no longer have to convert PDF files to text, the graphic execution agency no longer has to copy that text into the native file. We reckon it saves about two days. And it practically eradicates errors.

But it's not all roses. This week I received 80 product signs. They happened to be for bikes. The file format is indd (InDesign). Now we work with a translation memory package (essential tool for any translator). It supports InDesign files, but not the standard .indd format. I have to export the text content in a sort of xml file (.inx format). Then I can translate the text, save the translation as an indd file, and the only DTP required is to update image links and check the fonts. Great isn't it?

Only exporting the .inx file can't (to my knowledge) be done as a batch, it has to be done file by file. So I took my bikes signs, double-clicked each file to open them, clicked OK on the message in InDesign that tells me I don't have the latest modules, clicked again on OK at the message that tells me I don't have all the fonts in the file installed on my system, and clicked Don't repair at the message that asks me if I want to update links to missing graphics files. Then I hit Ctrl E to open the Export dialog. The default file type is pdf, so I opened the drop-down list and chose InDesign Interchange. Then I clicked Save. And I did this 80 times. I don't know how many clicks that adds up to. But it's a LOT.

Once I'd finished exporting it was time to create the translation projects. The translation memory software operates with projects. You create a project, import your source files (basically, extract the text), translate in a specific interface, then export the files (a process which recreates the original file with all attendant formatting etc.). So I created my projects. For 80 files. And sometimes, if the source file size is quite big, it doesn't import properly on the first go. So I reimported quite a few times.

So. Now I have my translation projects and I can get cracking. Except that I can't just yet. Translation memories work on the basis of "segments". The translations they save are not single words, but segment entries. A segment is usually a sentence, but most memories will also segment when they detect a line break in a text. Makes sense. Except that in my graphics files some text boxes are on quite narrow columns which means one sentence can have four line breaks in it. The translation memory duly segments the sentence into 4 lines. Only, in the memory database, the translation is saved as one line, not four! Fortunately, I can join together segments before translation, to stick together the sentence and thus obtain a match from the memory. So before running a pretranslate on my files, I joined up the segmented catchlines on 80 product signs.

Can you possibly imagine a collection of tasks with any less added-value than that?

Finally, after probably the best part of an hour mindlessly clicking, I was ready to pretranslate. And that made it all worth while. Because out of just short of 25,000 words, only 3,200 or so remained to translate. So an hour of brain-dulling, wrist-numbing and finger-fatiguing click-clicking is a good trade-off really. Because if I had to translate all that without the memory, it would easily take four days. Now it will only take four or five hours.

That's why the translation memory is such an excellent thing, especially for product communication. Because, with bikes for example, we don't bring out a whole new range every season. So POS and other materials don't radically change every 6 months. There might be a new size added, or a limited edition colour. But the bike still has an SRAM X7 drivetrain and a RockShox fork with remote lockout. And the marvellous translation memory has it all stored in its database.

Sorry for this lengthy and boring insight into my daily routine! Just thought I'd share the highs and lows as it were. But I did exaggerate somewhat about the number of bikes files. There were only 79 really.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Sing from a book you were reading in bed

Thank goodness for my fellow bloggers is all I can say. I have yet again been saved from finding inspiration by pilfering a great post idea from sugar007. So here goes.

The reasoning goes that your average adult has only read 6 out of the top 100 books published.. by one publisher, by any publisher... it is unclear but in any case here's the deal.

1) Read through the list and mark the book's you've read in bold
2) Italicise any you started but didn't finish
3) Underline the ones you loved.
4) Publish the list on your blog. Then we can gang together and track down the people who've read 6 or fewer and force classic reads on them.

1. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
2. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
3. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
4. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
5. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
6. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
7. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
8. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
9. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
10. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
11. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
12. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
13. His Dark Materials (trilogy) - Philip Pullman
14. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
15. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
16. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
17. Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
18. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
19. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
20. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
21. Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
22. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
23. Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
24. Animal Farm - George Orwell
25. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
26. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
27. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
28. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
29. Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
30. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
31. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
32. Complete Works of Shakespeare
33. Ulysses - James Joyce
34. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
35. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
36. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
37. The Bible
38. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
39. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
40. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
41. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
42. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
45. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
46. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
47. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
48. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
49. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
50. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
51. Little Women - Louisa M. Alcott
52. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
53. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
54. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
55. Middlemarch - George Eliot
56. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
57. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
58. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
59. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
60. Emma - Jane Austen
61. Persuasion - Jane Austen
62. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
63. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
64. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
65. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
66. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
67. Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
68. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
69. Atonement - Ian McEwan
70. Dune - Frank Herbert
71. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
72. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
73. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
74. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
75. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
76. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
77. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
78. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
79. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
80. Bridget Jones’ Diary - Helen Fielding
81. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
82. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
83. Dracula - Bram Stoker
84. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
85. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
86. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
87. Germinal - Emile Zola
88. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
89. Possession - A.S. Byatt
90. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
91. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
92. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
93. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
94. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
95. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
96. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
97. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
98. Watership Down – Richard Adams
99. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
100. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas

So there you have it. I for one have some way to go if I want to complete this particular top 100 list. I marked in green books I have but haven't started yet. Reading the list again, I cringe at a couple of them (well, at #64 actually). That's a few hours of my life I won't get back. And as for #54, that's a few hours of my life I saved from oblivion by not carrying on with it!

Of course, that's what I think. What do you think? Which ones have you read or abandoned part-way through?

Sunday 13 July 2008

I can't get no sleep....

Oh, if I could only get some sleep. Actually it's not *that* bad but I really could do with a decent 8-hour stretch.

On the up side, not sleeping means I have plenty of time to read my book. Currently on the go is Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker. It is a Wall Street trader's memoir about the early to mid-80s, and in particular about the creation and massive expansion of the mortgage bond market. Even though it covers events from more than twenty years ago, it is eerily resonant in today's unpredictable times, in particular with the latest news from the US property markets. There is quite a lot (the technical bits) that I don't understand, but I'm getting enough to know that people on the money markets make money out of literally nothing. I see it as a bit like a dog chasing its tail. I can't really explain it, but so much of the finance industry is built around entirely intangible commodities. It has inspired to find out a bit more about how the whole crazy world of the markets works.

In other news:
Doggy has a flea. Or maybe even two. Damn and blast. She will have to be subjected to the flea-annihilating spray. Lucky doggy.
Yesterday was Marianne's birthday. Happy Birthday!
Last Wednesday was Bro's birthday. Happy Birthday!
Hubby bought a new suit.

Er, that's about all I have to say about that.

Saturday 5 July 2008

All my pictures of you

As if I don't already spend enough time faffing about online. I've started a sort of a photoblog. Sort of. Ish. So I'm on the lookout for other people doing photoblogs so I can link to them. So that if people land on my photoblog and think it's boring, at least they can out-click to something more exciting.

Sunday 22 June 2008

Tonight I did have myself a real good time

Series 11 of Top Gear got off to a fantastically funny start. Hope this is a good omen for the rest of the season. [GRIN].

There's something happening somewhere

Finally we may have a breakthrough in Hubby's quest for a new (and interesting and challenging) job. He has been offered a 3-month secondment in London to work on the roll-out of WiMax projects. More details will be forthcoming. Suffice to say we are all mightily pleased and hope that it will be a fulfilling experience for him, whatever it may lead to.

No more working for a week or two

Actually that's not strictly true, as it's back to the slave-caves tomorrow as it happens. Still rewind a fortnight and it fits just nicely.

So here I am back from two blissful weeks in the Ardèche. Sunshine, kayaking, hiking, local markets, swimming and general lounging around for two weeks sounds like a decent holiday in my book. And that's what we got.

I don't know where to start or what to tell. We hired a car, hoping for a Scenic as we've had in the past, but instead Avis fobbed us off with a cheap and nasty Citroën Picasso. Disclaimer: no offence intended to Citroën owners. Now, Citroën make cheap and nasty cars made by and for people who's brains are in the wrong way round. Still, ripping the piss out of the car did pass the time in Paris traffic jams.

We stopped overnight at Hubby's Dad's. C made an absolutely lovely meal all of local produce (asparagus grown on the neighbouring farm, boar shot by JP this winter, local cheese and salad from the garden, and strawberries again from the neighbouring farm). It doesn't get much better than that! C's cooking is always a delight, even her 'just everyday' meals. Even though we were still quite full from a big lunch, we all took second helpings. I guess holidays are no time for watching your weight anyway!!

The next morning we had a walk round the farm with JP, and he showed us a foxes' den. It must not have been in use as Doggy didn't seem to pick up a scent. As JP said, if any animals had been there recently, even our "townie" dog would have noticed. It was lovely to walk round the farm and chat with JP. We were even lucky enough to spot a couple of red deer near a copse of woods.

Temperature was cold and sky was grey on arrival, but it soon got better and we enjoyed visits to local markets, mini-hikes, kayaking, swimming and lazing around in the sun. We did have one day of rain, but we managed to make that go by fairly painlessly by simply faffing around so expertly it took us all morning to leave the gîte and all afternoon to have lunch. How about that.

I love going to the Ardèche. I love the ace weather, the walks (we went on walks for wimps, as it was too hot for us to attempt the interesting-looking mountains in the distance - maybe one year we'll conquer them in October when it's cool!!), the markets, the fresh local food, the scenery... It's all jolly fab. So if you're looking for a fairly active holiday in France, go to the Ardèche. I have even added the gîtes to my links list so you already have somewhere to stay!!

Anyway I wanted to tell you all about it in great detail but I can't recall it all/be bothered to structure it all. Pics on Flickr.

And so they're back

No prizes for guessing where I'll be at 20:00 GMT+1 tonight. Slap bang in front of the telly, goggle-eyed in front of the new series of Top Gear! Perfect timing to keep away any end-of-holiday blues.

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Relax, take it easy

Following Mika's orders to the letter down here in sunny Ardeche. Hubby and I are so definitively addicted to thei nterweb, we have sought out a McDonald's and have scoffed a muffin and pulled out the laptops. Read laptops, Hubby's using mine and I have swiped Mum's. QWERTY keyboard is requiring some acclimatisation after so many years in France!

Anyway, Hubby at least has an excuse. He has a phone interview Friday am, and needs to get the job spec off his email. I just can't stay away from the interweb!! Thought I'd grab the chance to say a big blog hello. Holidays are very much fun though no kayaking has been done thus far. Will tell all on my return.

Slobbery cyber kisses to you all. xx

Monday 2 June 2008

Making excuses for idiocy

Oooooh I'm so mad! Today a horrible accident happened in the Alps. A coach full of school kids was struck on a level crossing by a train travelling at about 60 mph. Six (?) children were killed. It's awful.

Witnesses say the coach drove on to the level crossing after the lights started flashing and one of the barriers was already down. So the driver will hopefully be charged with manslaughter (I doubt it though). Because only a fool/suicidal maniac/psychopathic murderer drives onto a level crossing when the lights are flashing and the barrier is coming down.

But apparently the "journalists" on the payroll at France 2 think that the real cause of the accident is because of the adverse camber of the tracks, making it difficult for buses and HGVs to clear the crossing. And the fact that the crossing is there at all. The regional highways department should build a bridge, they say.

So, a tragic afternoon for six families and a harrowing time for many other parents until they knew their children were OK. And not because some complete fucking twat of a coach driver thought he could just nip through before the train arrived. But because there is a camber on the tracks. Great.

Why can't they take the opportunity to do a public service and remind the un-clever masses that when the lights are flashing and the barriers are coming down, the level crossing is the last place you want to be. Don't make excuses for the utterly negligent behaviour of that driver!!
Or are they afraid of being sued if they hint that maybe he might have made an error of judgement.

Ach! This post is just a jumble of incoherent indignation. I guess I'm annoyed that the first fifteen minutes of tonight's main news bulletin was spent sensationalising the apparent danger of level crossings, instead of focussing on the facts: man drove bus onto crossing, ignoring flashing lights and barrier, resulting in six deaths.

It's not helping with my level crossing phobia, either!

And I'm all angry at life because today I heard of the death of a colleague's 12-year old son, following a long battle with brain cancer. I know that he is better now, and he isn't suffering any longer. But it's still shit.

Sunday 25 May 2008

Inspired history

SG and Brennig, I'm loving you guys!

Inspiration (and, if I'm honest, time and inclination) being thin on the ground on these parts, I was delighted when I checked my TB feed this morning and found a highly acceptable idea for a post that I could pilfer from SG and Brennig.

Here goes, in no particular order:

4 things going on in my world 10 years ago (1998)
1. Finished my year abroad, left Bloke (later to become Hubby) and returned to Salford for 3rd year of degree
2. Lived in a student house with 11 other girls, then shared a flat in Bramall Court with Dickie and Tony
3. Had 3 different parties to celebrate my 21st birthday in November
4. Chose to write my final year dissertation on French voting behaviour and the far-right as a protest vote

4 things going on in my world 5 years ago (2003)
1. Had an awful job teaching English. I stuck it out for nearly six months, amazingly
2. Got my current job (back to translating, what I do best)
3. Went to Maui for Jeni & Andreas' wedding. Wow
4. Adopted Doggy!

4 things I did yesterday
1. Went to Ikea on a Saturday afternoon (am I mad?). Surprisingly few people. That's because the French are all feeling very skint
2. Walked the dog
3. Went to Stéph and Anthony's for dinner (celebrating Anthony's 30th)
4. Had a right laugh playing bowling with Anthony's birthday present (a Wii). Girls beat the boys

4 TV programmes I love/like to watch
1. Top Gear
2. The Apprentice
Actually, the above are the only two programmes I really adore
3. EastEnders (yes, I know)
4. There's a thing on at the mo' called Wild China and it's no bad

4 things I love to do
1. Play/cuddle/walk with the dog
2. Laugh with Hubby
3. Be with family and/or friends
4. Read

5 things in my bag
See here

5 favourite things in my room
1. Bed
2. Books
3. Hubby
4. My cropped jeans
5. My Maui hard rock café t-shirt

5 things I've always wanted to do
1. Get my pilot's licence
2. Have time to read all the books in my "to read" pile
3. See the Eiger (not climb it, of course!)
4. Visit the Eurasian steppe in Mongolia/Kazakhstan/etc and ride with the native horsemen
5. Learn more than 6 words of Spanish

5 things I'm currently in to
1. My vegetable plot (can you qualify two rows of carrots and some celery as a vegetable plot?)
2. Photography
3. Reading (I'm always into this)
4. Looking for a job for Hubby
5. Trying to be green

So if you too have been short on inspiration lately, please share your 4/5 lists.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Toady of Toad Hall


Spotted this chap in the garden today. He was happily nestling in the weeds (of which there are many ) when I nearly ripped him up with the hoe. Instead I popped him in the birdbath, where he had a swim around, then moved him to under the hedge well away from garden implements. I wonder what he was doing in our garden. I mean, it's not like we have a pond or anything. What do toads eat anyway?

Monday 5 May 2008

Books of mountains

Been re-reading some books. The Beckoning Silence by Joe Simpson is one of my favourite books. Mountaineer Simpson, after twenty years on the mountains dodging death, decides it's time to pack it all in before fate catches up with him. The book is a memorial to friends lost to the mountains, to last climbs, and to The Eiger and the stunning achievements of those who struggled to put up a route on the formidable North Face in the "Golden Years" of Alpine mountaineering, in the 1930s. Simpson and Ray Delaney made their own attempt at the famous 1938 route up the face but retreated after the weather turned and a party climbing above them fell to their deaths.

This book fascinates me. Is it Simpson's fascination with the Eiger that infects me also? Maybe so. I mean, I've read Harrer's The White Spider, supposedly the last word in mountaineering and Eiger literature. But while it is a gripping tale of epic feats, I never read and re-read its passages in my mind for days after like I do with Simpson's book.

Joe Simpson is possibly best known by the general reading public for Touching the Void, the story of how he survived several days in the high Peruvian Andes, with a shattered knee and left for dead by his climbing companion, struggling out of a crevasse and across a glacier to make it back to their camp and to safety. It's a fabulous book and a truly gripping story. You really do wonder if he's going to make it out alive, somehow forgetting that of course he did otherwise you wouldn't be reading his account. But I like The Beckoning Silence more.

Go on, have a read.

Sunday 4 May 2008


Yesterday we had a grand day out in London. I managed to get up jolly early and off we sailed (with Cocotte, Doggy and Hubby) for the white cliffs of Dover, zoomed up the M25 and parked for free at Lakeside. Yes, it's not especially central I know, but I ain't paying 30 quid for parking. Plus we got dirt cheap day returns with unlimited zone 1-6 travel so it was a double bargain. Yay.

We went to Tower Bridge:

Tower Bridge

We saw the huge queues for tickets to the Tower of London:

Queues for the Tower of London

Lucky we hadn't thought "hmm, let's visit the Tower of London", eh?

We spent rather a lot of time on the Tube:

"Mind the gap"

We stopped off at some little-known monuments:

Big Ben

And I spent ... not very much money at all. I went in Selfridges (Pink shirt) and Next (linen trousers and a top). Who'd have thought. And I didn't even set foot in Waterstone's (always a good way to avoid book-buying, because if I go in, I buy). But I bought two books on the boat. I couldn't help it. I was sort of overcome.

Doggy was absolutely the most best-behaved (and, naturally, beautiful) ever seen on the Tube. She was even allowed to come shopping in Selfridges where all the assistants swooned over her (she has that effect on everyone). She really was such a good dog.

We didn't get home until half past midnight (having risen at 5.30am Sat morning) so we were all pretty knackered but we had a fab day out. I don't know why we don't do it more often. Oh yes I do: requires 1 tank of petrol; requires dog-sitter or trip to vet (to be charged to give her the same worming tablet we give her at home); high-risk of retail spending; requires getting up stupidly early. Still, it was indeed a grand day out!

PS - we didn't go on Eurostar because Cocotte is quite claustrophobic and that much time in a tunnel, under the sea would just have been too much. Plus they don't allow dogs. And we hadn't arranged for a dog-sitter.

Creativity-free zone

The lovely Princesse, like me, is a Flickr-er recently started a 365 project. I thought the concept sounded fun. For one year, you take one self-portrait a day, and post it to a Flickr group to share with many thousands of people doing the same thing. The full "rules" are here. I can do that, I thought. So I somewhat ambitiously signed up for this self-portrait malarkey. Thus far I have posted pics of my hands, my feet, my hands, my feet ... my ear (?). Dear readers, surely you must be more creative than I. Any fun ideas for self-portraits??

Friday 25 April 2008


Have shamelessly pilfered the idea from this post from Stratford Girl, who I do believe was inspired by a chap by the name of Brennig. Anyway, thought I'd give it a go in a slightly modified version using received texts, because my phone is set up to only store the last 20 sent messages (has to be, otherwise the memory would explode I think!). So I fired up Nokia PC Suite and copy-pasted like a champ.

From: Mum; Date: 22/04/08; Time: 12:23:16
Sorry dont have no any more. Thought i did but not on phone or palm
[I was looking for a phone number I can't lay my hands on]

From: Willie; Date: 17/04/08; Time: 02:19:00
Postcard time - whats your address?

From: Hubby; Date: 11/04/08; Time: 11:43:28
Thanks nat, phil & you!
[He had caught my cold. That I caught off Dad. That he caught off supernephew]

From: Mum; Date: 07/04/08; Time: 11:27:12
Arrived Dover sunny and cold
[Mum and Dad heading home after a weekend visiting]

From: Dad; Date: 03/04/08; Time: 17:53:41
On board due to sail in 10 mins
[Mum and Dad on the way to visit]

From: Hubby; Date: 01/04/08; Time: 16:51:15
Pick up?
[Somebody had had enough of work for the day!]

From: Dad; Date: 20/03/08; Time: 19:11:10
Carlisle services is [hubby] at home
[This looks like I only ever get texts from my parents but it's the luck of the draw!! Dad enquiring as to Hubby's progress after his wisdom tooth op. They were heading off for a weekend in the Lake District]

From: Stef B; Date: 14/03/08; Time: 10:43:00
Tatie garcon paul
[Colleague from work just became an auntie. Little boy]

From: Cocotte; Date: 11/03/08; Time: 19:49:16
Cocotte! T'es barricadée chez toi avec Toutoune? Y refait plein de vent! Comment ça va? Bisous ma poule!
[Cocotte checking Doggy and I were safely tucked away indoors on a windy night]

From: Cocotte; Date: 08/03/08; Time: 18:08:25
Youhouh! Génial! Bravo!
[Scotland having just won the Calcutta Cup...]

From: Mum; Date: 06/03/08; Time: 11:27:13
Are you on way home yet? How feeling? X
[Mum enquiring if I had been discharged after my tooth op]

From: Mum; Date: 24/02/08; Time: 21:26:25
Parcel arrived am keeping til next sunday to open but ta for nice message am sure will love it lots of love x x x
[Mother's day gift arrived a few days early]

From: Mum; Date: 10/01/08; Time: 10:42:5
Happy birthday to Cléo! How about that, I remembered!
[Dear Mum remembering Doggy's birthday :)]

From: Jane; Date: 01/01/08; Time: 12:31:25
Hey toots! Happy new year! How are you, and your car? Jx
[Blasted car. Lovely Jane]

From: Matt; Date: 25/12/07; Time: 17:25:03
Bon noel! All our love m & m
[Christmas greetings. Obvious really]

From: Andrew; Date: 24/02/08; Time: 21:26:25
Merry christmas. May all your stockings be suspended and all [hubby]'s dreams come true. Andy
[No comment]

How many texts?! I only got this phone at the end of last year, and I've certainly deleted half as many again.