Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Your Mum is the tooth fairy

     Welcome to the nursery. Yes, it’s that time again when I roll up my sleeves to bring some newborns into the world. And a cold world it is, too, here in South West France. With a sharp frost and an even sharper east wind this morning, the ewes will be glad of their new house which I laboured for a few months to build last autumn. Except that, true to form, they are all lying around outside shivering! I’m not complaining: it’s their choice. My father was always a great one for shutting animals inside during the winter months but that isn’t my way. I would much rather see them out in the fresh air, if that’s what they prefer. To be fair, we actually don’t have any lambs yet but they are due this week. Sod’s law we hot-wheeled it down from Scotland to be here for the due date when, quick as a flash, nothing happened. Of course, were we delayed, which we nearly were when the turbos exploded on the car, then they would have all lambed in a puddle and given me the blame. So it’s over to middle-night excursions around the field in dressing-gown and wellies for a few weeks, until we reach the required number of deposits, before I head back north for some more graft. Call it a ‘Shepherd’s holiday’ – a bit like a bus-man’s holiday, only without the timetable delays and disgruntled passengers!
      Did I mention turbos? Ouch, sore point. I never knew we even had 2 turbos on one car but seemingly we did until they both seized and ceased in an unassuming bang. Thankfully we now have two more and all is well, except for the bank account, as those things cost the price of a small house. That wasn’t the only trauma on our journey down here either. After we traversed the Scottish borders on well gritted roads, admiring picturesque snow covered fields, we assumed we had said goodbye to the white stuff. How wrong we were. Following a few stop-offs to see family our ferry docked in Calais and we continued on the last 10 hour leg of the journey with intentions of being home by closing time. What we hadn’t reckoned on was yet more bad weather, this time of the blizzard variety, somewhere north of Le Mans. No problem, we have a four wheel drive with two recently discovered turbos, so we should get through. However, there is one fundamental difference in winter-driving between these two countries, in that the French do not have– or cannot afford - any salt to put on the roads. Not only that but, maybe because they don’t see much of the stuff, they haven’t a clue what to do when they encounter it. Well, they have a theory and that is to drive as fast as you can and hope to stay in a straight line. Beside the change of underpants, this inevitably this leads to multiple crashes and, presumably, premature death; hence the motorway gets closed, so we get diverted through deep forests in near-blind conditions. With the aid of a sketchy satnav and some googling, thankfully we happened across a local chateau displaying a welcoming sign, where we pitched up for the night on cotton sheets. Yes, an expensive trip was had by all.
     Anyway, here we are awaiting multiple births with log-burner ablaze. The winter house-sitters will be eternally on our Christmas card list since they must have spent the whole 3 months cleaning the place while we were away. Honestly, I have never seen the house so clean - they have left it like a show-home. Not to worry, a few days with the dogs moulting everywhere and some sheep-poo on the doormat and it will soon be back to normal.  Besides filing accounts, ordering materials, arguing with utility suppliers and pestering my toiling workers by phone, this does give me a bit more time to relax and take in a little of what’s happening on TV and in the news while my blood pressure recovers to something approaching normal.  Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you? For anyone else it would – but for some reason I seem to see through the transparency of mundane, straight into the world of bizarreness. More often than not this is to do with everyone and their dog trying to save the world. To start with, where did all these bloody vegans come from? I only heard of the word about 10 years ago, and now they have taken over our government, TV, newspapers, schools and social media. It’s a common fact that you are now never more than 10 feet away from a vegan, and they’re closing in. Even the rats are running from them in case they bore them to death about health food.  Did anyone pick up on the fact that the latest Peppa Pig stage theatre production has been banned from selling sausages in its canteen in case children realise that sausages come from pigs! Yes kids, you heard it here first, Santa is your Dad, your Mum is the tooth fairy, Boris Johnson is an ambassador for Britain and, ever since time began, we humans eat other animals - because we are born carnivores! Not only that, but every third person seems to have developed an intolerance to something, be it gluten, wheat, lactose, sodium, fructose, Jeremy Vine or the Bible. It’s true – every restaurant you go into, someone is always demanding special treatment, perhaps so they can sit there being piously smug while others dine on mere ordinary meals that actually taste of something. Where did all this come from? Call me mister picky but, 40 odd years ago, if I didn’t eat my school dinners – or my mother’s ghastly cooking for that matter – I was made to stand in a corridor with a kitchen fork sticking out of my ear. My parents and grandparents would eat anything and everything, such was the hunger of their era. And I am pretty sure those meals contained enough wheat and milk to feed a sty full of sows, but we didn’t have to take 2 days off work with stomach upsets if we so much as glimpsed a carton of yogurt.  So how did we evolve into a race of finicky whiners during just one generation? Have we really been brainwashed by the trash we see on our screens and papers, or hear on BBC phone-ins? Or have a third of the nation just developed enough bravery to step out of the closet after all these years and admit that they never actually enjoyed boiled brawn and rice pudding in the first place?  

Youth is wasted on the young

     Smokies for lunch and dinner? Ah yes, we are in Arbroath, their ancestral home, and very nice they are too. It seems quite strange that this small unassuming coastal town could produce such a world famous delicious product, hailed globally by chefs as one of life’s real treats. Apart from fish merchants on every corner around the harbour area, Arbroth doesn’t really have a lot going for it, but we happened upon a charming cosy little pub which serves excellent meals – and is dog friendly. Travelling with two pooches sometimes poses its problems, especially as Louis is prone to rolling in rancid dead animals on the beach, surrounding himself in an unbearable odour – well unbearable to everyone else but him, that is. This weekend is a special treat for me, after 7 weeks of heavy graft, which have included demolition, erecting walls, stairs, kitchens and bathrooms, and then days on my knees putting up tiles. All that while enduring a vicious bout of the Aussie flu, which has certainly taken the stuffing out of me. However, the project in Cellardyke is still on track and will be more or less finished by the time we head home for France in a few weeks, to coincide with the beginning of lambing. After 4 weeks of that, I will travel back over again, to start on project number 2, the beach-side end of the cottages. I must say I am relishing the idea of opening up the whole gable-end of the house, replacing it with curtain-glass and a sheltered balcony where we can sit and breathe in the stunning view out to the Isle of May from a first floor elevation, should the planners and local objecters allow. It will be a huge job, but one that hopefully will be fruitful in the long run, as we intend to spend much more time in this cosy friendly village, despite the close proximity of those who publicly label me as a money grabbing, unsympathetic amateur. 
    Anyway, enough of work, this is my weekend off. Soon we will be heading into the restaurant. Except we won’t for a while, as it has just been taken over by no less than 60 young farmers. Yes, the Angus chapter of the YFC have invaded the town to hold their annual Cabaret competition, and need a pre-match drink or two to warm the vocal chords. Just how they all intend to fit into a small public house is as yet unknown but this is an organisation not without skills when it comes to drinking in confined spaces. I should know, as I was once in the Cleobury Mortimer club and boy did we do some crazy things back then. Things, I hasten to add, not to be tried by kids at home, which included regularly getting nine of us (3 in the front, 4 in the back, 2 in the boot) in my Mums mini, and then donutting it around the Clee Hill car park. As well as stock judging and building carnival floats, we also used to make annual excursions to Blackpool and other exotic places, to mingle with other like-minded idiots in the name of junior agricultural solidarity. I recall one time, myself, Bernie Birch and a few Notts and Whitemans spending a barmy weekend on the Isle of Man, when the 3,000 strong cargo on the old ‘Steam Packet’ managed to drink the boat dry, before it even left the docks. I also think our same crew may still hold the record, of getting 22 lads into the back of a Blackpool taxi, much to the cabby’s distain. Of course, the straining machine was forced to stop at every pub on the ‘strip’, just to top-up the thirst en-route to the Winter Garden dance! Sadly now, when I do step into the bar to join these youngsters, I will probably know all their fathers – or even grandparents! Meanwhile, I will just let them think they invented ‘blind-man’s spoof’ or ‘sell-the-donkey-a-snotball’! Head-ache tablets, anyone?

Thermal lobster

     A very happy New Year everyone, which it should be by the time this gets to print. Currently I am still in the old one, chasing my tail to clear up stuff before taking a winter break. It certainly has been a hectic year, from what I can remember of it. After just over a month of heavy work, the new house is taking shape, with walls, ceilings and floors reinstalled above a few thousand pounds worth of insulation.  Although most of the innards of the house was carted away on half a dozen skips, we did hang on to some of the dry timber, having a bonfire on the beach on a couple of colder mornings to warm the hands. However, every small community has its busy-bodies - I know Rock hosts its share – and one particular lady decided that burning wood in a secluded spot was not eco-friendly enough, and hence reported us to the authorities. Regular readers of this column will know my views on eco-mentalism, and I have already had a heated argument with the man at our local tip this month, who is convinced I am dealing in nuclear waste every time we rock-up with a few rubbish bags. But does having a bonfire on the beach really contravene any eco-laws? Will some light wood-smoke poison local wildlife? Or maybe a small fish might burn its nose? The upshot of this is that we were sternly requested to down-tools until the problem had been investigated by some very important men from the council in hi-viz clothing. Thankfully I talked the way clear so we could resume construction but I am now convinced we are constantly being watched through field-glasses in case we pollute the entire North Sea fish stocks.
     Meanwhile, it is also the council that we are battling against to gain simple planning permission to replace a couple of doors with windows. Firstly, we find that as the some of the house has ancient sash and case windows which we need to replace like for like, getting them hand-made to Victorian spec at a squillion quid each. But for the new door-replacement ones, we can get away with sash and case lookalikes, saving a fair sum, and getting better heat-retention in the process. Except we can’t, because we have to have fire exit windows. Okay, no problem? Yes, problem. Because a fire exit window has to open outwards, and these are on the ground floor, and a footpath to the beach goes right by the door. Can’t open a window outwards in case a blind person walks past and – well, car-crash, basically.  OK, we’ll just brick up the window. Can’t do that, as there is a bedroom on the ground floor, so has to have an emergency exit. Um, are we heading up a blind alley here – pardon the pun – just to appease some lunatic rule-maker? Here’s a compromise, says I. We put up a sign saying – and here’s the simple bit – ‘In case of fire, leave by the kitchen door, its five blo0dy yards away, dipsh1t!’..  ‘and then walk calmly to the beach and get a bucket of sea water to put the fire out?’ And don’t worry, that nosey bitch neighbour will have already reported it to the council!
     One thing about living near the sea is that we get plenty of fresh fish. No less than 80 vans leave the neighbouring village of Pittenweem’s famous fish market every morning, delivering freshly caught sea life all the way to the west coast, over a hundred miles away. Funny though, watching out of the window, I don’t see many fishing vessels. Well, as I have just discovered, Fife used to have a vibrant fishing industry but now it all arrives from Aberdeenshire, 80 miles away, by truck! But, what we do have here in East Fife is that king of beasts, the Lobster – they love it here. In fact, one young lad I have on our team used to put his creel (a small netted box, to those uninitiated in the ways of the crustacean catchment) just outside our back door and catch a couple per week. Bingo. So, Christmas dinner this year will begin, and maybe end, with home caught lobo! As a backstop, as apparently they aren’t too keen at getting snared during the festive season, I asked my fish-guy to drop me one in next week. But, sadly, he cannot as he had his stolen.  Yes, stolen. Apparently he keeps a ‘pen’ of them under lock and key somewhere out past the harbour and some local yardies broke the lock and had them away in the dead of night, scooping a fair haul. So, if anyone offers you a hot lobster in the next few weeks, call Mev-the-axe, he would be highly interested in the lobster source.
Ah yes, Lobster sauce. Must get back in the kitchen to get the lunch on. Toodle pip.

Smuggling up

     And we’re off. A quick 3 day transition and it’s goodbye sunshine hello – err – snow? Who ordered that in November? Well it’s not exactly snow here on the East Fife coast but it is a bit white up on the nearby mountains. Anyway, the last few weeks have been no less eventful, as we tidied up and packed away our stuff for winter in France, rugging up the vehicles and putting the final touches to my last building project. A last minute trip to the local tip was once again steeped in ridicule as we discover we now have to apply to the council before we can be admitted through their sacred gates. Yes, in the space of a decade the French government has evolved its encouragement from stockpiling rubbish until bonfire night to become card-carrying recyclists. Although not quite yet on an equal with UK on the environmentalist stakes, the smug grin of self importance is certainly starting to show beneath the whiskers of the French bearded classes as they deliver a couple of empty jam jars or a bag of leylandi cuttings to its eco resting place, in an effort to grant them a good night’s sleep. Of course, as with most other countries, as soon as their backs are turned, all the rubbish gets lumped back together again and hoyed into a massive hole in the ground, but they aren’t to know that, are they, bless them. I suppose it is what you believe that makes you a model citizen, not what you achieve?
    Anyway, after our exit, the responsibility of our sheep and cats is now charged to the capable hands of a hairdresser and her husband from Yorkshire, who fancied a winter in the cold climate of South West France. This is something we take an annual chance on, trusting our house to strangers. My wife takes great pride in making sure the place is spick and span before their arrival. They even receive preferential treatment, with her purchasing items of bedroom furniture especially for them, despite the fact I have hung my clothes up on the floor for the last 10 years. They both seem fun and vibrant but for all I know they could already have Skippy the sheep in a pot ready for Christmas!
     So, after a brief stopover in Rock to see my mother and a few other familiar faces, we have now settled into our newly refurbished house in Cellardyke, which we have recently put on the market. Living in a house that is for sale actually makes for quite good discipline, as one is obliged to keep it tidy at all times in case a prospector knocks on the door for a look-see. As we also have the dogs with us, keeping it perennially clean is something of a challenge but, to pre-empt this, I have shaven the dog’s legs and undercarriages to prevent them dragging half of the beach with them back on to the carpets. I have to admit they do look a bit silly so it’s no wonder Pooper takes to snarling at any dog that so much as gives her sideways glance.
      This morning we have all the tools and labour lined up ready for our next adventure. Soon hammers and crowbars will be whirring as we set about gutting two cottages, fetching it all back to the original stonework. Demolition can be quite a therapeutic exercise, despite its messiness. However, as so often with these old houses, it is the excitement of what you might discover that gives me the thrill. Will there be hidden Roman coins, Victorian trinkets or bars of gold stuffed behind the chimney breast? Who knows? But I highly doubt it. This place was an old fishing town, and these two cottages were actually four, so it’s highly unlikely they had anything more than a pot to p*ss in, let alone a Ming vase for orchids. But then again, it is right on the beach so maybe the odd smuggler might have hauled some booty up through a trapdoor into the kitchen many years ago. A glass of 200 year old rum, anyone?

In the shelter

    Ah, the pleasures of Bristol airport. Now newly rebuilt, with even more glitzy shops and possibly the ghastliest restaurant in England – it still amazes me how companies stay afloat when they employ such dreadful staff.  Named ‘Brunel’s Bar and Grill’, I would imagine old Isambard would turn in his grave if he knew what slops were being served in his honour. Thankfully this is not an airport I use frequently and the only reason we are here is that dodgy Ryanair cancelled our forty quid flight earlier this week, offering a refund but with the only other flight option being the next day for a chivalrous £240. So we had to opt for Sleazy-jet instead, which includes a 3 hour stop in this hell-hole and the probability of a week of diarrhoea ahead.
    The trip to Scotland was most enjoyable, passing a few days watching professionals and celebrities ply their trade on the golf course in St Andrews. We even got to speak to a few, including Rory McIlroy and that legend of a rugby player, Paul O’Connell, from whose handshake my knuckles are still recovering. On the subject of broken bones, I carelessly managed to slip in the brand-new shiny-floored bathroom that I recently built and crack a rib, a pain many folks will know nags away for up to six weeks, particularly during bouts of laughter. So once again, I am off games with a note from matron, as we return to a million chores back home in France. Earlier in the month I started building a new house for the sheep, laying 500 concrete blocks in the week before we left. Unfortunately there are still a few hundred more to put down before the roof can go on, so I may now need to canvass a little help on that front. To be honest, I find it hard to justify the expense and effort just to keep the sun and a few showers off the creatures, when there are perfectly good trees to shelter under, but my wife has other ideas. In fact she recently threatened that if they didn’t get a roof over their head this winter, Skippy and Daisy would be moved into my bed and it would be I sitting out under that tree waiting for windfalls!
    Anyway, the next few weeks will give me a bit of time to relax in France before we head back to Fife for the winter to start on my next project. It will probably take me that long to read the Saturday newspaper I just picked up, which is about 3000 pages thick. As well as the daily gossip about world politics and prospective nuclear war, I can learn all about ‘My Money’ (or lack of it), holidays I can’t afford, properties I can’t afford, football players who can afford all of it and a crossword so huge and difficult it would  keep a team of eggheads awake for a year. Do people really get time to churn through all this rubbish in just one lazy weekend? I certainly don’t, what with all the household and outside chores, I rarely even get chance to watch the TV. Maybe I am doing something wrong in my life?
    I will admit that even to someone as blasé about world news as me, that bad hairdo in the Whitehouse does scare the carp out of me, as he systematically picks fights with every nation in the world. How long before France gets in the firing line, I wonder? Will he soon take umbrage with Monsieur Macaroon about the price of wine and garlic and aim his nukes at chez nous? Or maybe he might wipe out all 50 golf courses in Fife, just so he brings more trade into his Aberdeenshire enterprises? Is anywhere safe? It’s not just him either, as the whole of Europe seems to be giving more and more support to the loonies on the far right, with the uprising Nazis showing the way. I find it rather disturbing how short the human memory is on such matters. I don’t believe I am paranoid but if I was I would be wondering if, before we have chance to say Lee Harvey Oswald, the sky overhead could be criss-crossed with atomic vapour trails as 100 million of us scramble desperately to squeeze into one fallout shelter. I wonder if my wine cave is atom-proof?

Arrgh, I just went get a coffee to calm my troubled mind and find my money is no longer valid. Firstly the dim-waiter refuses to accept a Scottish tenner, fobbing me off that it is not legal tender in England – which is it, and will be until Nicola says otherwise. Unperturbed, I go to pay him with a pocket full of change I found in a jar in the house in Fife, only to have all my pound coins rejected also. Then he wouldn’t accept euros because of bloody Brexit! It’s blatant discrimination, if you ask me! Not only racist, but ageist as well. Does that mean all those pound notes stuffed under my mattress are out of date too? Next thing they’ll be telling me we are in the 21st century. Or maybe I have just been in East Fife too long?

Friday, 15 September 2017

Carry-on Camping-car

Well this makes a change. Here I am writing from a small bench beside the Atlantic ocean, somewhere in Southern Brittany. The sun is shining and all is, for once, well in the world. Our small and near ancient camping car has behaved relatively well so far on our 2000 mile journey up to UK and back. A glass of Pouilly Fume has been poured and a magret de canard is awaiting its fate on the bbq, as I frantically hit these keys to appease the R&DN editor with a few words of monthly ranting, hopefully before the grape juice takes its merry toll. And thus it should be easy, with so much time on my hands. Sadly, said hands are strapped in bandages, after an altercation with a wine glass a few days ago, which I managed to crush beneath my steely grip whilst boarding the ferry in Poole, slashing holes into my palm and fingers, extracting enough blood to scare a Tarantino movie in the process. Not content with maiming my digits, yesterday I went out cycling on a wet road, only to collide with the kerb and tumble onto the tarmac in quite spectacular fashion, nearly plummeting through a bar window, much to the amusement of its revellers. Inexplicably, on both occasions I was stone cold sober – and therein stands a warrant that sobriety is excessively over rated.
Our trip to UK was expectedly frantic, which included a wedding in Alveley near Bridgnorth, at the splendidly reconstructed Mill Barns, now a purpose built wedding venue. And what a great spot it was. There is a rumour about whose matches put paid to the old place but I don’t think anybody has been fingered for the insurance crime.  I have no idea who did the carpentry for its replacement but suspect he used skills passed down all the way from Joseph of Nazareth, such was the intricate lattice in its splendid vaulted ceilings. From there, via a trip to visit my Ma in Rock, we hot-wheeled it down to Cornwall for a couple of nights in Polpero, a sleepy fishing village on the south coast near St Austell. I have to say it is a magical place, like stepping back in a time warp into the 1970s. Sadly the restaurant that we chose was also stuck in this space-time continuum, complete with swirly carpets, dreary elevator music and a menu straight out of Abigails Party, which included prawn cocktails and Blue Nun. The Madame who ran the place was a relic from 60s Polish aristocracy, who appeared to have managed to salvage all her furniture prior to the revolution. In fact the only thing that had been modernised were the prices, which would have made a Swiss banker blush. From there we headed to St Ives, one of my favourite haunts of old. A meal in the Porthminster Café, right on the beach made up for the previous night’s terror, so fabulous was its food, décor and staff. Despite gentle drizzle, a few hours meandering among the local art galleries the next day also added to the bonhomie. I even tracked down an artist from whom I purchased an original painting some 20 years ago, which hangs in pride of place in our hallway in France. One doesn’t wish to inflict mortality on anyone but I was rather hoping she may have passed on and the value of her art gone stratospheric. Needless to say this wasn’t the case but her fame has spread widely and she is now a fellow of the Royal Society so there is hope yet for this piece. I certainly couldn’t afford to buy another of hers, such was my wanton, as some of the exhibits were the price of a small family car.
And so, to Brittany, or Bretagne, once a home land of the English. To be fair, this part of France appears to be much more like Scotland, or even Wales, such is its terrain. One part called Ty Gwenn felt like we were in Clwydd, for a moment, hence we left with great haste for fear of being chased out with pitchforks for our British number-plates and sheep mentality. In fact the whole area sports such interesting place names, many beginning with the word Plough, a reference I imagine to the settlers who turned the first soil in the area. Were it not an ancient land, one could almost vision the English chuckling as they came up with names such as Brest, Quimper and Pornic, all of which wouldn’t look out of place in a 60s risqué sitcom. Yes, I could just image Sid James scripted with enough innuendo one-liners to fill 2 hours of Carry-on up your Coq-au-campervan!
Anyway, with the rain subsided, one assumed a backlash of Hurricane Irma, we have a few more days R&R before arriving back home to the chores and impending winter we left behind. By mid October it will be all hands (assuming mine have mended by then) back to the pump as we embark on yet another winter project in Scotland. I may have mentioned a few months ago that we had an eye on a couple of fishermen’s cottages in Fife, which we now own. Subsequently we will be back to battling with lawyers, bankers and planners, in an attempt to put a modern spin on a wee 19th century house overlooking the Firth of Forth, so we can one day call it home. I have to admit, I am excited with the prospect that at last, after 50+ years, the chance of owning a beach house is now a reality, albeit a shale beach, in one of UKs poorer climes. But, none the less, by this time next year, we may have seals for neighbours, as well as Glaswegian grockles gnawing on fish and chips, of course. We’ll still remain residents in France though, so I can keep fit mowing the lawn every 3 day and maintain the inhalation of garlic.
So, as the season approaches of unavoidable Strictly-Cum-Master-Factor, tonight I have the ocean as a TV and waves as the soundtrack, while I take few moments to peruse through the adverts of ‘What-beard’ magazine, (the publication of choice for the caravan community). Ahead, the distant future remains just a small dot at the far end of an ever extending tunnel – although, inevitably, it will turn out to be a rapidly approaching train before morning!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Assuming she was a virgin

Did I mention that we were expecting this summer to be a little quieter on the visitor front, so Wendy and I could relax for a few days by the pool? How foolish of me. This one has been madder than ever, in fact our place has been more crowded than a North Korean nuclear shelter, such are the comings and goings. On the sole weekend we had no guests, when perhaps we should have been resting, we headed off to UK to see family and surprise my son at his 30th birthday party. This entailed a night in a rather expensive country house in middle England, dressed in our best fineries. The effort was worth it just to see his reaction as we walked into the panelled library where evening drinks were being served. The poor lad’s first words were, “that fat old bloke over there looks just like my Dad!” After a solid evening of revelry, we then hot-footed it back home, after enduring a 24 airport delay, just in time to get the pan on again! Couple all the cooking, washing and cleaning with our small property business having its busiest month ever and I must say that we are both looking forward to a long awaited holiday in September. The current plan includes a further trip back to UK in the campervan for another family visit and a wedding near Bridgnorth, followed by a few days on the Cornish coast and a few more in Brittany, if the weather holds.
Today is yet another bank holiday in France, as it is in another few European countries, as they celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, although it remains unclear what she was assuming.  The fact that the 15th August falls on a Tuesday this year gives the French chance to utilise a Pont (Bridge) day, sneaking Monday off as well so they can extend their weekend, as they are prone to do. The main soiree around these parts is a large Oyster Festival in the town of Eymet, an event we rarely miss. Despite me not being overly partial to the salty little blighters, the gourmet stalls do extend to any amount of other crustaceans include moules, crevettes and bulots (the latter being a barely edible sea snail) all washed down with some rather fine Bergerac wines.  Duck, pork and a variety of other grilled meats make up the main courses, the combination of which spans about 12 hours in 2 sittings.  Then comes the issue of getting home, as of course all buses and taxis also take the day off, but the police do not! Fortunately, my long suffering wife drew the short straw this time allowing me to drink my own bodyweight while she stayed sober. Tomorrow I may pay.
On the subject of vehicles , for 5 weeks now a stationary four-wheel drive has been parked on our drive, masquerading as one of Frances largest and possibly most expensive garden ornaments. I would ask the owner to remove it but sadly I cannot, as it is my own. Yes, it was the day after the Tour de France that we realised that we had misplaced the key to the Range-rover, something which sparked a treasure hunt of military precision, but unfortunately to no avail. Needless to say, we have no spare. Since that date we have had willing detectives, bounty hunters and engineers all helping with our plight but still the thing just sits there. I have ordered a new key, at extortionate cost, but it appears they cannot provide this yet, for reasons I have yet to fathom. And even when they do, all the key will do is to unlock the door so we can check if the original may be inside. If not, which I suspect may be the case, the whole vehicle then has to be uplifted and delivered to the local dealership to be re-programmed at yet more cost. Oh well, at least our fuel bill will be a bit lower this month!
Meanwhile I am still trying to juggle tradesmen in East Scotland from afar – no easy task, as each tends to blame the other for just about everything including the weather. It appears to have been raining there for nearly a month, and the leak in our kitchen has now become a water feature, something which is about as welcome as a Belgian omelette just now. So it looks like I may have to grab a flight and don my sou’wester and gum-boots and head north again. You know what they say? If you need a job doing properly don’t just ask someone, ask soi-même.