Monday 17 December 2018

As stable as a bipolar polar bear

    What ho, everyone. Happy Festivities etc. Well, by the time this goes to print they will probably be over but hopefully you enjoyed and still are enjoying yourselves and staying optimistic about the year ahead, despite the fact that the economy is about as stable as a bipolar polar bear!
    Also, by the time this gets to hard copy, we will have moved into yet another new house, in time for Christmas. It seems to be becoming something of a habit, as that will be five Scottish houses - in five years - that we have renovated and then lived in, if only temporarily. However, this is the one we have been working towards, the one right on the beach in Cellardyke, with just seagulls and waves for company. The plan was always to be in by December but a few curve balls have held up proceedings, not least Scottish Power, a company about as useful as a chocolate colander. Finally, after digging up most of the surrounding roads and pathways, we do have mains electric into the house, but no supply yet, and are still relying on a highly dodgy extension cable from next door - our previous abode. But we do now have heating, and nice views, although as yet a little bit sparse on furniture, as all of ours is now being rented out. Of course, this house is not quite finished, as we start on a quite technical extension in the January, adding a further bedroom and south facing terrace out to the sea wall, but it is homely and air tight. Meanwhile, our two dogs are as confused as a Brexit deal, as we let them out through one door and they then sit outside the wrong house waiting to get back in. For the ‘dog of little brain’ this involves much barking to boot. At least we don’t currently have a house polluted by herds of cats, as they are all back in France, being spoilt rotten by our house sitters, who keep posting photos of them on social media sitting by the fire or enjoying a 3-course meal.
    I have spent much of the last month clearing up what was a building site, which involves trips to that place of despair, the local tip. For reasons better known to themselves, the council have changed it from an open-all-hours base to one with a strict timetable which seems to revolve every week, and hence I have to make every journey at least three times. For example, today their website says they are open but when I arrive? Nope. A sign on the gate informs me that not only is it closed, but will remain so for the next two days. On investigation, a knowledgeable man in the pub informs me that this is due to the fact that we had a frost this morning so it may be a bit icy underfoot and the power-crazed fat lazy ba*stard who works there might slip while waddling from his warm office to berate punters who put their plastic in with the cardboard. Couldn’t he put down some salt, maybe? Nope. Cut backs on salt. Cut backs on hours. Cut backs on everything. Except my council tax bill. You see, last decade’s eco-mentalist ideals have simply just imploded as the cost of recycling every ounce of household waste has spiralled so high it is no longer sustainable without a hand-out from Europe? Wasn’t it Descartes who said, ‘you cant sweep it under the carpet forever’? Well, I believe there is a simple answer? Bring back brazziers and bonfires. Or is that brasiers? I get confused.
    Carrying on with the subject of cutting back, a visit to the opticians raises yet another of my eyebrows as I am no longer allowed an eye test until I have gone completely blind. Even then, if I arrive with a white stick and Labrador I will be sent packing unless a full 2 years has gone by since my last check-up… if I haven’t walked out in front of a bus by then!
    On the good news front, we have managed to be successful in a ballot to get tickets to see Scotland playing Russia at rugby, in Japan, next October. Now I know this might sound a bit odd, especially as few folks will know that the old USSR actually play the game at national level but, you see, this is a World Cup, so anyone can join in. However, their qualification was, as is often the case with the Ruskies, surrounded with controversy as their rivals, namely Spain, Romania and Belgium, all accidentally got reported for cheating. The accusation was that a few of their players were not actually residents in their said country, thus breaking a rule which is, at best, open to interpretation, and one that has been continually ignored by home nations for a generation. Is there no stunt Putin wont pull? One has to question how he manages to sleep at night? Rumours that all the referees and linesmen are all named Karchopsky are, as yet, unfounded!
    Finally, I would like to offer some seasonal advice to Santa to bring him into the next decade. Get yourself a 3D printer, pal. They are brilliant! It can make toys, furniture, motorbikes, even houses, just at the flick of the keyboard while you sit with your size tens on the coffee table with a pint of stout. Or better still, give everybody one as a present, so we can all churn out our own stuff at will. Win win. Please, can mine be big enough knock out a small private jet so I never have to suffer the indignity of Ryanair ever again?

Suicidal rodents

     This month I pen this column from both sides of the channel. At present we are frantically packing our things into the car, in order to head north for the winter, as usual. And, as usual, new house-sitters are arriving any minute, the house is getting its annual clean, and a year's worth of junk gets tidied away. This, of course, takes far longer than it should: because for 'junk' read 'things that we didn’t want to throwaway until we had studied them in more detail'. 3 days later, old photos, letters, brochures and tax bills have all found a place, primarily in the bin but it did make for an interesting time, apart from the tax bill which I had hidden from myself in an out sight, out of pocket, sort of way. And now, it's all panic stations.
     Also causing minor stress-balls was a new mobile phone, after dropping mine in the toilet a few weeks back. This new spangly one actually came direct from China at a reasonable price, on recommendation from a friend. Except, it didn’t, as we got a message saying our package contained explosive goods or liquids such as, and I quote, a “lithium battery”. Hmm, yes, it's a phone, and they do.  So, delivery re-routed via sea and land, it arrived, today. And now I need to set it up, which is a job for experts, not numpty technophobes such as I.
     Another simple task which also needed undertaking prior to winter is the usual vermin control, despite us having a house full of useless cats. But this year, it appears the wee timorous beasties have taken it upon themselves to form a suicide pact, as my box of poison in the cupboard was completely empty. A tell-tale hole in the bottom led us to the fact that this stuff must be really really tasty, as they had actually helped themselves. Result!
    Anyway, car loaded up with wine, dogs and wife, we are off, hoping to exit France before the militants takeover, enforcing road blocks throughout the country. The exact reason for this month’s solidarity is a little unclear, but word on the street is that it is in protest of the latest tax imposed on garlic and other basic French necessities. My my, UK thought it has problems with a few minor squabbles in its ranks of power? Incidentally, does anyone else find it quite uncanny that it was actually the prime minister who put the Gove in Government, and possibly the May in maybe we’re all  f++ked?
     So, an over night ferry later and we are back on mainland Britain again, just in time to board a another ferry, this time to the Isle of Wight in time for a fine lobster  lunch. It has been thirty-odd years since I was last on this island and I have to admit it has changed somewhat. Gone is the quaint and ancientness of a by gone seafront era and, in its place, pure unadulterated shameless opulence, yacht optional.  
     The visit is only flying one, by sea, to catch up with some good buddies who have moved here from France to pursue their passion for sailing. Then its on the road again, this time to see yet another old friend, one who goes back much further. A few of you may remember the rotund figure of a young chap named Milo, as we frequented the Rock Cross and other establishments in our late teens. Our adventures back then were rarely without incident and often involved trips to casualty for one reason or another. I am not only going to reunite with my old school pal but with the school itself. 41 years have passed since I left Lucton boarding school for boys, aged just 15. My years there were not all happy ones but life improved a little when they – heaven forbid – allowed girls into the fray. They didn’t play rugger with us lads, obviously, but some of the pioneering ones did make games a bit more exciting. Now we are all more or less grown up, it will be great to review all those memories we all hold from way back when, if only to establish if they were factually correct. Did Milo really eat 100 pickled eggs and then throw up all over matron? Or one of the prefects run off with the French mistress 5 years his senior? A few stories have recently made the press, sadly involving my housemaster and despicable acts. And another declaring that one of my classmates was actually the son of Pablo Escabar, the worlds most notorious drug dealer. The only thing I can really guarantee as true is one spotty youth still has his initials carved on the sandstone archway by the main door in 1977.
     Next up, yet more nostalgia, this time of a bovine source. Exactly 42 years ago I walked through the doors into Bingley Hall, Stafford, towing an unwieldy Friesian steer behind me. My father had phoned my headmaster suggesting that a couple of days at a cattle show would be marginally more beneficial to my education than double maths and getting the stuffing kicked out of me on the rugby pitch. And so it was, that night sleeping on a straw bed amongst those well groomed beasts, that set me off on a career in cattle and sheep showing that spanned over 3 decades. For much of that time I enjoyed the pinnacle of success, hauling in the silverware as well as meeting some clever and capable people, many of whom I still consider as friends. So after a 15 year absence it was nice to once again wander amongst the familiar surroundings, watching and chatting. The cattle seemed much the same, although some of the older  handlers may have spent a bit too much time at the feed trough, this author included!

Friday 12 October 2018

The Last Commute

Sometimes, often during the middle of the night, a sequence of rhyme comes into my head. The below poem came from nowhere, but I think encapsulates the daily grind of the London underground.


I'm not sure how I'd be in space,
Where air is thin, no human race,
D'you think that I would miss this place,
Where people turn away? 

A mountain lodge with snow outside
The sort of place where I could hide,
From seas of faces far and wide,
Where people turn away 

Shadows flicker from the sun,
A leafy path where I would run,
That leads away from this old town,
Where people turn away 

But here I sit or stand and squeeze 
When all I want is to feel breeze,
Not huddled up with folks like these,
Where people turn away 

And so it's time to make a stand,
A cottage row or foreign land,
A blowy beach with golden sand,
Where I can turn away

It sounds so easy, just to say,
That I'd be welcomed far away,
But I believe there'll be the day,
When people smile my way.

Andy Frazier - October 2018

Driverless drivers

OK, that's it, summer's over. Or is it? It certainly has been a season of extremes: wettest winter, longest summer, warmest autumn. My guess is that all of these will add up to a record of some description, and that the French wine of 2018 will be extraordinary - either good or bad. Of course the local producers will tell us the former but then, they are not going to say 'monsieur, this year's wine is merde!' are they?
Currently we are back in France after our 3-week Spanish trip, and the grass still hasn’t started growing. Thankfully, as indicated a few months ago, we have sold our entire flock of ewes, who all went off on a lorry to pastures new a few weeks ago, to start a new breeding life in the South West.  This was with the exception of Daisy Death-wish who is now nearly 7 years old, and having a few months holiday staying with a friend. That just leaves us with 5 ewe lambs and a fat pet 6 year-old, Skippy, who will also be off to spend the wet months somewhere else. Then, for the first time in a couple of decades, the whole farm will be ploughed up in the next few weeks and planted with wheat for the winter. No, we are not going into arable farming, just that the land needs a rest for a year. Next autumn it will get replanted with new grass and we should be back in the sheep business the year after, with all the renewed headaches that it brings.
Meanwhile it will soon be time for our winter exodus back to the East of Scotland. With one project completed and another nearly done we are sitting back a little and relying on a house sale or two this year. My plan is to play a bit more golf, watch some international rugby or even put my feet up now and again on the rainy days. Of course, there is still a bathroom and kitchen to tile, electricity mains to install, a holiday flat to decorate, a house to furnish, extension to build, that sort of thing, but I won't be rushing quite so fast this term, as I try and get a bit more balance in my hectic lifestyle. There's something I don’t write very often!
  Of course, before we get to that, there's the 2000-mile journey by road, something that starts out nice and easy on French motorways and gradually decays in the tarmac chaos that is Britain's road network. Around the world there is currently a debate raging about the introduction of driverless cars. Many of you will have seen that Google, Uber, Tesla and a few other conglomerates are piling the money into researching these things and every week we hear of their breakthroughs, rather than breakdowns.  So how far are we really from me being able to sit in the back of my vehicle, with my family, and let it drive me from Bordeaux to Edinburgh whilst I have a nap? On looking closer at this development I come across a bloke called Stan, from Manchester who, with only a handful of employees believes he is leading the race toward the empty driver's seat finish line. 'British brains are better than American and Chinese cash,' he quotes on BBC news, continuing with: 'yes, it's a gamble and a number of bets have to come off for it to work..!'   With his project called Five AI, whilst the others are still testing their machines on salt flats or minor roads, his prototypes are already careering around the streets of London masquerading as taxis, and that is something, on the face of it, I find quite disturbing.  I mean, Mr Boland may be an entrepreneur and all that, but does he really have authority to do this? And if he does, who else is out there having a go? Will we see Alan Sugar, for instance, sending his numpty apprentices down Clapham high street with remote control double-deckers? Is James Dyson working on a cordless motorbike whilst I speak? Or perhaps I could have a go, getting my dog to drive me home from the pub. Let's face it, she is probably a tad more intelligent than half of the idiots that I have encountered on the M6. You see, all she has to do is drive at the same speed as everyone else, stay in one lane, keep her distance, and motorways become a very simple thing to negotiate. So why is it that every f++king imbecile in an Audi insists on overtaking every other imbecile and then standing on the breaks so we all have coronaries! Well, here is my solution. If you want to make the roads safer, forget making cars more intelligent and start with the drivers?
A consistent problem I seem to meet with this time of year is that of prolonged sneezing fits, some of which can last 30 minutes or more. Normally I put it down to a common cold or change of weather but, realistically something must be attributed to the fact that we decant indoors, spend evenings on the sofa in front of the TV instead of out on the terrace with the sunset, and sleep under a duvet rather than just a cotton sheet. So, this year, prompted by advice from others, I have succumbed to the fact that I may just be allergic to something. Reluctantly I turn to the internet for guidance. Thank you the good old NHS for the following nugget: "The best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the substance that you're allergic to...!" Is it any wonder the whole system is more bankrupt than a Greek builder?
After some sleuthing of my own, my deduction is that it may be feathers. So as well as burning the sofa, I might have to keep away from the birds for a while!

Friday 7 September 2018

Libby's Spanish Odysey - week 1

Day 1 of Libby's Spanish road trip. 
Still in France, near St  Cyrien, With the med and Pyrenees as a back drop. A bit cloudy though. Good day for kite surfing....if only I was 30kgs lighter!

Day 2, Libby's Spanish Odyssey
I suppose I should explain that Libby (Sunday name: LMC Libery) is our 18 year old campervan. We bought her to see if it was a holiday lifestyle we would enjoy and, two years later, believe it is. We had even considered trading her in for a newer model but find that the solid German build of this machine is mostly superior to the newer lighter models on sale today, so she stays, for another year or so at least. 
So, we have embarked on a 3 week tour around the coast of Spain, my wife, 2 dogs and I, and this is now day 2.
Last night we stayed in Argeles, on the Mediterranean coast just north of the Spanish border in France. Although our mission is to mainly park in remote areas, known to many as 'wild camping' for the 1st couple of nights it was easier to settle into a campsite, park up and hook up, and relax a while. The spot we chose was right near the beach, so we could walk the dogs, Pooper and Louis on the sand, and then fire up the bbq. Before dinner we ventured to the bar to find it was just about to launch one of its dreadful 'entertainment evenings', something which campers, especially the French, seem to enjoy. Well not I. I am not good in company at best of times, and definitely not amongst French pop music.
Anyway, after a previous evenings party till the small hours before we left our parish in Lot et Garonne, it had been a tiring drive of nearly 4 hours so, after a deliciousl meal of bbq pork, an early night was called for, complete with earplugs to drown out the offensive.
This morning I dusted off my bike, a rusty affair which is even older than the camper, and took to the path alongside the beach for  few miles, avoiding the numerous athletes running the same course. What is it with folks that, even when they are on hols, feel the need to go running everyday? Beats me. I mention the age of the bike and suppose I have to come clean here and admit it is one I stole from an Indian, be it many moons ago. To explain further would only dig a deeper hole in the sand but suffice to say it was left lying around in an office I had been working in, so one day I rode it home without sufficient permission from the owner, one Shrikant Kanteti, a guy I knew and liked. I do keep in touch with him on social media, so SK, if you get to read this... I have your bike, sorry pal. It is alive and well and, for sure, nobody will steal it from me as it cant be worth more than 50p!
From Argeles it is a short trip across the border to Barcelona, which brings me back to the present, another campsite, this time in Casteldefels, about 10kms from the city. I have to admit that, so far, it isnt great but we will make the most of another night amongst socalled civilisation before we drop anchor somewhere more rural. Tomorrow a trip into the city is planned, by bus, as my wife wishes to show me the sights of a place she has frequented, but one that is new to me. I am not great with cities, either, but will view with an open mid and open lens. The remainder of today will be spent in a bar, on the beach, as is the remit of holidays the world over. See you tomorrow campers.
PS, my new laptop does not have any software on it, so writing this in notepad. Pls excuse the spelling, I will tidy it up, one day.

Day 3 - Libby goes au naturale..
I have never been in Barcelona airport, yet today I feel like I have lived there for a month! On the runway, in a tent!  Nowhere in the brochure for this hellhole of a campsite did it mention that it was positioned right under the main flightpath, with planes arriving every 30 seconds, delivering more hoards of tourists to pollute the area further. Couple that with enough feral children to keep the Fagin in business for a few years, except these ones all ride on brand new bikes, probably all stolen, while their trailer bound parents sit around smoking Camel and ignoring them - til one oclock in the morning. Add in a decibellia of yapping dogs and you have a situation even the industrial strength ear plugs I packed for the journey fail to negate. To top it all, stifling heat, still air, and then cacophonous thunderstorms add to the hopefully forgetable experience of this place. At least we didnt need an alarm clock to wake us at first light, so we could rapidly vacate. Asta la vista, Castelldefels, we wont be back!
Just a few kms down the road, we dropped into the massive harbour at Port Ginesta, where our friends Mike and Jane have just bought a boat. Well, to call it a boat is like calling a stretched limmo a family car; so huge is this vessel. They hadnt got the keys to it yet, so we couldnt take it for a spin, not that I would know what to do with a 57 foot yatch, although the gangplank was down and I was temped to step aboard and and at least try out the furniture.
After our poor experience in Barcelona's suburbs, with its gypsy ghettos and overhead traffic, we decided to leave the place behind us, and visit it another day in a more civilised manor, possibly by air or sea, and certainly stay more centrally in a 5 star lux.
So now, 5 hours later, we have our 1st thousand clicks behind us and are stationed up in a forest somewhere near Valencia. It took a bit of navigating to, this gravel patch in the Sierra Caldrona, part of a Parc National, but apart from a distant hum of a motorway, the only other sound is that of the crickets and the occasional cork popping. Tonights dinner is a pork tenderloin marinated in mango salsa on the bbq, with some fresh veg and cool water melon. Sadly the stream we are parked next to has long dried up through the summer months, so no outdoor bathing tonight, but have all other equipment onboard. And, of course, the doors will be firmly locked, such is the isolation of the venue. If this blog ends here, you will know we have been either eaten by bears or wolves, or kidnapped by yiks and condemned to dance and squeal to the tune of a banjo for the remainder of our days!

Day 4. Nothing to declare
What it says above. Arrived here in the midst of nowhere yesterday afternoon after 1000 kms journey. Intentions of going into Valencia market this morning evaporated after a poor nights sleep blighted by intense heat and mozzies, all of which were far more concentrated inside a campervan. A naked sortie outside at 3am did cool things a wee bit but I think the additional heat may have contributed to my wife's nasal issues, which transpired into a snuffling sound that even mother nature would have been scared to tackle around here. It May have kept me awake but certainly kept the coyotes away! Anyway, after a late breakfast, and a long walk in the mountains with 2 tired dogs, we decided that an oeuf was an oeuf  (French joke) and stayed put, spending the afternoon playing scrabble, connect 4, and a few other games that I narrowly managed to win. So a day without my bum behind the wheel has been well received.
Tonight I am gourmeting (Good scrabble word) sweetcorn with chicken in a whisky sauce, with intentions of drinking the latter later! Well, it is a bottle of Scapa, DB Clem

Day 5 - life's a beach
I have often scoffed at folks who go on holiday then sit on the beach for 2 weeks, next to thousands doing the same. Well, today we join them. Except there aren't that many around here. It is obvious we are travelling further south as we are starting to hear more british voices, but our spot here in Oliva, just north of Denia  is very quiet and, dare I say it, has a touch more class.
We never did get the market in Valencia, not for the want if trying.  For nearly an hour we manourvered Libby through its charming but clogged up streets looking for a place to park for an hour, but no cigar. Note to self...come back again, by air; Valencia looks beautiful.  
I have and never will own a caravan but, for insurance purposes only, we joined their club and am thus a card carrying member, much to my embarrassment. However it has its uses as we not only discovered this place through their website but it affords us a discount. Compared to a few other gypsy ghettos we have looked at, the campsite here at Kikoport is clean, upmarket and secure. It is so close the beach that by the time Wendy has unpacked her underwear I was already in the med, cooling my bits. A lunch of garlic prawns and various fried fish, and its a bottle of chilled blanco in a beach bar wondering but not caring what day it is.
They even let dogs on the beach, although possibly not ones who bark for hours and want to fight with the locals! Tonight I might even hoy the gas barbie down to the beach and rustle up a fishy treat, if I can be arsed.  Or even sleep there myself. 
What day was it again? Or yes, it's couldnt-give-a-f*ck day!

Basking in the sun

OK, at last a month of being in one place, the first for quite a while. Our trip to Scotland last month was a good one and it was nice to be there in mid-summer and even get a dip in the Firth of Forth on a couple of occasions. The weather was superb and our trip to the golf Open an exceedingly memorable one. Since then I have been cooling my heels in the pool in France, in insufferable temperatures which make it nigh on impossible to do any work at all. Even mowing the lawn becomes a marathon as the sweat pours. Well it did. Only now the grass has been replaced with a brown desert that has become a considerable fire risk and with this comes the problem of keeping the sheep in fodder. Thankfully we have reduced our numbers as some have been sent to that big freezer in the sky and a few more sold for breeding but we still have upwards of 20 hungry mouths to keep full. After over a month without it, the rain did eventually arrive in a spectacular fashion last Tuesday, spurring the mother of all thunderstorms and a deluge of a couple of inches of water, all of which was swiftly swallowed up by the 3-inch cracks in the ground. But at least it has cooled down enough that we can actually venture outside without the risk of sunstroke and char-burns. Currently we have family here, some of whom are muttering about not bringing their jumpers, but for once we are not having to treat 3rd degree burns each evening!
So, with the weather this week not quite perfect for sun-bathing for these youngsters, out have come the board games and boy do we have lots of them in the attic. As well as Trivial Pursuits, Monopoly and Rummikub, we have gone through Buccaneer, Mousetrap and a host of others I had not played since my childhood. With most of these exhausted in 24 hours, and many of the obscure ones far too complicated, eventually we bring out the good old playing cards. Except I find that the likes of Whist and Strip Jack Naked have now been superseded with all sorts baffling new games with names like Uno, Spoons, War and the aptly titled Bullsh*t, none of which I can understand, let alone win! So, eventually, I decided to come up with my own game. The concept is simple. You all live on an island together where you spend the first half of the game trying to annoy the hell out of all your neighbouring countries. Then you take a vote, with no idea what you are voting for, which is followed by hours of internal squabbling. Finally you now have to convince the same neighbouring countries to buy your produce. Oh, wait a minute….that’s for real!
Later this week sees the annual Oyster festival in the local town of Eymet, something we have religiously attended over the past 10 years. Except now it is now longer a few producteurs selling their freshly delivered catch of crustaceans but instead has evolved into a full-blown food fest with stalls purveying everything from horse’s entrails to raging hot Moroccan dishes full of unrecognisable ingredients. Eymet being in the heart of Dodogneshire, many of the revellers are of the ‘shuffling brit’ origin so now there are also pop-up fish’n’chip stalls on every corner to fulfil their insular requirements. Hence their snaking queues clutter up the otherwise pretty town, with their Brexit-berating chatter and ridiculous headgear, and we are forced to hide our embarrassing Britishness behind in a large plate of escargot in a secluded corner! 
By the end of the month it will be goodbye Brits in France and hello Brits in Spain as we take to the road again, this time working our way down the Med coast to see a friend near Malaga. I have to say we have both quite taken to life in a campervan so we have extended the trip to circumnavigate the whole country, working our way back up the Atlantic coast, taking in a wee sortie into Portugal en-route. This, of course, does flag up a few linguistical challenges as neither of us has more than a smattering of Spanish and zero Portuguese. Until recently I believe we could have happily got by in our native tongue but, apparently, we have done no deals with them yet over the legal use of our language, post-brexit, so English has been instantly removed from their curriculum! Oops, that’s 3 times I’ve mentioned the ‘B’ word this month. Reign it in Fraz, lets change the record!
I mentioned earlier that I recently took a dip in the North sea but I am not sure if I would have been quite so hasty to do so had I read a recent news article that suggested those very waters may well be shark infested. I was aware we had seals, dolphins and even the odd whale. But sharks, really? Yes, you read it here first, whole colonies of sharks have been spotted swimming, or more specifically basking off the coast of Scotland earlier this year. Although mainly confined to the West coast, seemingly basking sharks have migrated north for a spot of mating and, according to the article, have taken up parallel swimming, nose to tailing and going round in circles as part of their courtship rituals. Rumours that they learnt all these moves after a night out in a Fife nightclub are unfounded but one local swears he spotted a couple of them heading to the kebab shop at midnight asking for deep fried plankton!  

Open bee season

Tennis, golf, football – these are just a few things which I have replaced my busy working day with for a month or two. Obviously there is still gardening, cooking, shepherding etc keeping me on my feet but it is nice to find some time to watch a bit more sport on TV. However, one cannot help noticing the surprising lack of youngsters reaching the top of their sport, as we see Nadal, Federer and Djokavich still sharing the limelight, after 70 year olds Higgins and Williams dominating the snooker earlier in the year. At least the England football team fielded a few enthusiastic new kids on the block and, I believe, conducted themselves rather well in a sport generally polluted by money and prima donnas.
Speaking of which, the morning after England's exit from the World Cup, I popped down to the village bakery for a loaf. Now Wendy has a sporty wee drop-head car so I thought I would take it for a spin, tops-off. Well anyone who has seen me lately wouldn’t help but notice it has been quite some time since I last sat in front of a barber and thus my curly locks flow across my eyes in an open-top ride. I am not usually one for baseball caps, which I believe should be confined to the under twenties and Americans but, in this instance this headgear does come in handy. Remembering there was one in my golf bag, I grabbed it and put it to good use. It wasn’t until I saw myself in the mirror in the shop that I realised it was none other than the cap I had bought in Croatia 6 weeks ago whilst on a speedboat trip. And here I was, an Englishman, now supporting the very team that France was to face in the final! No wonder the chap behind the counter spat on my croissants!
Anyway, here in France the summer has certainly turned up at last, although the vista is as green as I have ever seen it for the time of year and the lake still nearly full. Of course, with it come all the usual accompaniments: flies, sunburnt guests, hay fever, bloody wasps. I mention the latter as, over the last few years, those stripy creatures seem have taken a personal liking to me. I swear, in a crowded area it will always be me getting stung and shrieking out, being offered like some sort of human shield to protect everyone else. I only wish I was so attractive to women! Biggest problem is that I am completely allergic to them - wasps that is, not women - and come out in itchy black blotches that last for weeks, despite my veins swishing with cocktails of antihistamine.
On the subject of Women, I seem to have a house full just now, as a number of Wendy's Edinburgh friends are staying this week and piling on the sun-tan lotion. As she is still working during the day it is my designated job to sit by the pool and entertain these ladies, as well as feeding and watering them by night. I have to admit, there are worse jobs in life. Amongst this highly intelligent throng, conversations have waged from the usual Trump and Brexit, through to Love Island and Bee rescue. The latter subject did cause a slight stir after one admitted that she regularly picked up exhausted bees, took them home and fed them sugar from a spoon, as advised by Sir David Blue Planet himself. On questioning this method, Google soon found it out to be a hoax posted on social media by pranksters, for reasons better known to themselves. Seemingly, although bees are essential to the survival of our species, they are not quite suffering from hypoglycaemia yet.  
The downside of this crowded house, does mean that all the bedrooms are occupied, nobly confining me to sleep a couple of nights in the camper in the garden. I have no objection to this; in fact I quite enjoy it. That is until 6am when the damn pigeons start up with their stupid inane calling to each other from the treetops. Do these critters still have a function in society? I mean, since we replaced their messenger skills with mobile phones, what other purpose could they possibly serve, apart from spoiling crops and making the odd pie? For the last 2 days there has been an irresistible temptation to get out the 4-10 at dawn and fell them all from the branches. However, I am not sure this would have met the approval of our international bee rescuer in the household, especially if she looked out of the window to see a strange angry man wondering around in his undies with a loaded gun!
Anyway, today we are heading north once again, back to sunny Scotland for a spot of renovation work, as my new kitchen has arrived at last. The centrepiece of our week will be two days at the British Open Golf tournament at Carnoustie, which is not a million miles from our Fife home. Watch out for this hairy guy on TV, he'll be the one in the Croatia hat!

Tuesday 12 June 2018

Boozy travels

Sunshine, at last. Everywhere, it seems. I know that, as I seem to have been ‘everywhere’ this month. When I last wrote, we were heading from Scotland to Croatia for some down-time, which was very relaxing, apart from my taking to the high seas in a speedboat. Well, I wasn’t to know how an anchor worked, was I? As we dropped it down in a secluded cove of impossibly blue water and dived in for a swim, one really assumed that the vessel would still be there when I returned, not half way round the coast. Maybe I should have read the manual? Well, we caught up with it eventually, after some frantic doggy-paddling, as it drifted merrily along on the current, dragging its somewhat ineffective piece of metal and rope along the sea bed.

Anyway, back home in France, the sheep are thriving, vegetables in the ground and surviving, lawns and hedges under control and pool almost warm enough for a morning dip. So after a couple of weeks, we took to the road in the camper, on a ‘dry run’ as it had been in mothballs all winter. In the main this was successful as we spent a night by a lake, our dogs disturbing the fishermen, near the town of (giggles) Condom. With a sirloin on the barbie, camp-fire to ward off the mozzies, yet more peace was had. Then, on the way home, we spent the night in the well-known wine region of Buzet (pronounced Boozy). And it was!
With the wheels barely stilled, a trip to the Midlands was next, to attend to urgent family matters. After a for-once on-time Flybe hop, we found ourselves in the lovely village of Henley-in-Arden, staying in a quaint pub for a couple of nights and what delight it was. Compared to the stark bars in Europe, and the lager culture in Scotland, a pint and a pie was very much a novelty I almost forgot existed. And one thing I had forgotten had ever been, was suddenly back and calling my thirst. Yes, of course, I am talking about Brew XI. Many of you won’t even remember this weak golden ale, and those that do may wrinkle up a top-lip, but it was the stuff I was weaned on, many years ago. Marketed as a beer for ‘The Men of the Midlands’, back then to a spotty 15 year-old, after a few pints I really believed I was one of them. Maybe I still am, in spirit anyway. Anyway, it’s back! Get some in yer!
I also encountered something else new – well new to me -  in this village: an ORGANIC hairdressers. What in hells name is one of those, you may ask? Unfortunately it was closed so I couldn’t go and get a reasonable explanation. Having considered a few theories, including one from the Italian barber across the road who suggested that maybe they just set fire to your dead hair instead of sending it to be re-cycled, I drew an absolute blank on this one. ‘Has the world gone mad?’ is a phrase I frequently use in this column. I fear this time I am surely right? 
And then it’s off to Spain for a weekend of rugby. It is a long time since I was in Bilbao but I am sure, back then, I never realised what a wonderful city it is. The narrow streets of the old town oozed with bars and the craic, as the Irish were in town to take on the French on neutral territory in the European finals. A few jars were had, as well as pickings of tapas, at prices that would embarrass even the poorest nation, let alone the extortions of the UK. After the Dublin team prevailed, securing their umpteenth title in the event, we revelled into the small hours on what felt like small change. Unlike France, who have lights-out at 10pm, the city stayed so vibrant it felt almost rude to go to bed before 2am. Needless to say, a shabby morning followed but eventually we wended our way back north, taking in a night in Biarritz, parking the camper by the Bay of Biscay during one of its frequent storms. As they say, ‘the caravan was a-rockin’ that night!
Sadly the weather back home had taken a downturn, just as the lawn had taken an upturn, but a mere 15 hours there saw me rush around doing my best to contain nature, including blight control, worm control (for the sheep), pruning, tying-up and sweeping down before the now familiar mobile home was once again loaded up with flagons, as we continued north back towards the channel and my mother beyond. With passports stamped, the dogs in the rather lush cabin (not allowed to stay in the vehicle on this boat), I can just about hear Louis barking as I end this story from the bar on a fairly meagre Brittany ferry.  I say all our passports stamped, but actually we are also harbouring a few stowaways who hitched a ride from somewhere in Spain, headed for the spoils of England. No, these are not of the human trafficking kind but a colony of 6-legged creatures who have built a nest somewhere in the overhead bed of our camper. One could possibly refer to them as illegal immigr-ANTS!
After requesting an extended deadline from the editor to add to this piece, I have to regretfully announce that my mother passed away, just hours before our arrival back in the midlands. Her end was peaceful and she appeared ready to go. Val brought a lot of fun to the village of Rock and far beyond during her 88 years, and I am sure she will be missed by many.

101 Dalmations

At last, my steel toe-caps have been hidden out of sight and mind, physically and metaphorically under the stairs, as we down tools and I take a well deserved holiday. It has been another tough month at the Fife coalface but I firmly believe we are winning the fight. Plans are passed, project number one done and dusted, hangover from housewarming party been and gone. Project number 2 is now in the hands of a few talented professionals - people capable of independent decision making, while I cool my hardened heels in the Dalmatian sea, obliviously out of contact with the real-world.  Actually, as I desperately try to make the editors deadline, I am once again writing in the skies, something that seems to have become a habit of late. Only this time it is with the comfort of British Airways, with my darling wife dozing by my side, happily reunited after 4 weeks apart. Although I have been there many years ago, I refresh my geography from the in-flight magazine to see exactly where our destination, the walled city of Dubrovnik, is, particularly in relation to Syria, a place that may or may not still exist by time this goes to print! Hopefully there is enough land and sea between us and it and, since Mr Macaroon has jumped on the anti-warfare jet-fighter, it may even be safer than being in France? Talking of which, Wendy reports that torrential rain has continued back home during my absence, bogging down the sheep, much the same as it has been in Scotland. I am not sure who the professionals blame for this diabolical spring but surely it will let up soon, and resume the status quo.
Last time I was there, Croatia had only just settled from its own conflicts and the break-up of Yugoslavia, when corruption was rife and your pound went a very long way. I would like to hope it has moved on somewhat since then, albeit more expensive. Dubrovnik certainly boasts seems to boast some fine places to dine these days. Once I can clear my mind of business, I am quite looking forward to studying the history of this place, which has suffered under invasion by everyone from the Romans, French, British, German and more recently Russian influences. Not being exactly a city-centre person, we are staying out on a peninsula to the south of the town - hopefully the peaceful end - with just a cool beer, an octopus and the setting sun for company.
One could be forgiven in thinking that the neck tie, or cravat, was invented by the French? But, in fact, it comes from the word ‘hrvat’, meaning Croat, which was adopted by the Napoleonic army who just happened to be in the market for more stylish neck-wear to go with their boring uniforms at the time of their occupation. Apart from former Wimbledon winner, Goran Inyourfaceabit, a few footballers, and Cruella Deville, the Dalmatians haven't really made it to the realms of fame. Although Marco Polo, discoverer of all things including the mint with a hole in it, claims to have been born here. Aside from exports of virgin olive oil, seafood and the odd spotted dog, tourism is the main breadwinner of the Croatian economy.
However, there is another lesser known output from this wee corner of Europe: wine. For those of you not in the know, the quality of Croatian wine is a well kept secret, particularly Traminac, which is set to be served at the up-coming wedding of Prince Harold the younger and Angela Merkel. Is Harry really marrying the German Prime Minister, or did I get slightly mixed up there? Current affairs never was my interest.
Anyway, guess what? Our visit just happens to coincide with the Dubrovnik wine festival. Trust my wife to seek out the perfect holiday. 
See you on the other side. Hic.

Leave me a message

So, here we go again, once more traversing the continent, this time not so much jet-setting, more chugging along to the monotonous drone of propellers, a stone’s throw above the clouds. At least we are airborne now, having had the usual 2-hour delay that gets Fly-Maybe its’ well-appointed nickname. A drop into Southampton and a rearranged transfer flight won’t quite see me into Fife by nightfall. And there it was, that month of sleepless nights all done and dusted in the name of lambing. 18 new lives later, the poor creatures must wonder why they are born into a swamp, such has been the endurance of daily downpours. Maybe, were they blessed with enough intelligence, they would pin it on global warming, taking up their placards and following one another angrily in single-file towards the powers-that-be in their floral wellingtons. Thankfully sheep don’t all have a university education to bias their outlook on life into a blame and claim culture, unlike their human counterparts who are stealthily conditioned into the sheep-like mentality of complaint. They don’t have wellingtons either, sadly.
Anyway, it’s goodbye mud and wool, hello to brick-dust and the woolly-minded. It seems that our little project in East Fife has put an unwanted expandable ski-pole into the spokes of regression in these parts. Not content with having a superb and well equipped museum telling us all about the hey-days of the defunct fishing industry which was so prevalent in East Scotland, East Fife, and Cellardyke in particular, now wishes to revert the whole town back into the 19th century. Despite my reminders to faceless objectors that ‘nostalgia really is a thing of the past’, I anticipate my arrival back to the seaside will be met with pitchforks and banners demanding my head on a spike, because I dare to use modern materials in my renovation project instead of wattle-and-daub and barrel-tar. Honestly, I even have to keep the fire-place a certain size so a small child can be sent up it in case of an emergency blockage. Meanwhile, once the locals have swept down the cart-tracks, lit up the gas-lamps, retired to their plague-ridden hovels and donned their nightgowns, the irony of their hanging out flags of independence in a hope to become part of a progressive Europe passes comically over their historically blinkered heads. But I love them all the same - it is this very quaintness that attracts the likes of us bombastic outsiders, bringing with us our filthy lucre to dilute their wanton poverty.
Arrgh, I’m in Manchester. How did that happen? And, more importantly, how do I get out? Seemingly Flybe are sky-diving to new lows, diverting us weary travellers to nightmare destinations, and then leaving us there. As I write, after 3 delayed/cancelled flights, the smug departures board suggests that I will still make it to Edinburgh before eleven, but its recent track record isn’t great, so its booking-dot-com at the ready. Were I not so tired I would gracefully accept my defeat on this trip and make the most of it, perhaps fitting in a trip to the Trocadero for some late night dancing - is it still open, or was it burned down decades ago? I have to admit, this is a city I have deliberately avoided for 30 years, so I am not au fait with its recent geography nor its customs – but I believe it may be a hot contender for ‘tattoo central’ of UK. Eventually I reach Edinburgh at 30 minutes past midnight and check into a hotel, after an 11 hour journey. Not exactly the leisurely sort of Sunday I was looking for, and certainly not a scheduled overnight stop I had planned for in the underwear department!
And so, on my last leg of this epic adventure, I am now crossing the iconic Forth Bridge and entering the Kingdom by rail, backwards. A brief bit of business sorted out and a few moments to ponder, and I might still be on site by lunchtime, only a day late. And here’s what I am pondering. Why don’t people change their mobile phone messages from the generic, to a simple, ‘Hi, this is me, leave a message.’ Instead we get a patronising voice saying: ‘Welcome to Blahblah network mobile phone messaging service. The person you have called is not available to take your call at the moment (you don’t say?). Please leave a message and don’t forget to hang up afterwards as you obviously are a technically challenged numpty who hasn’t quite grasped the concept of mobile technology, despite it being around since the eighties.’ And then we get: ‘Or press hash for more options.’ More options? What other bl**dy options are there? I just phoned someone up to speak to them! Has anyone ever pressed hash for more options? Does option one send a fax, per chance, or order a pizza or dial the fire-brigade? Please folks, this is a plea, if you can’t be bothered to answer your phone, at least let people hear your voice so they know that it is really you that is ignoring them!


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?