Sunday 29 December 2019


   Happy Hogmanay one and all. It is hard to believe but, as of this month, this column will have spanned three decades, for which I would apologise for my controversial and often insulting words. But I won't!
    We are currently still in Scotland, a place of political turmoil, inherent divide and continual argument - but enough about our household! Actually we are all quite harmonious just now, as neither of us have work to do: my wife by choice, myself by default, as a cock-up in communications has brought the building of our extension to an alarming halt, the knock-on effects of which may unbalance our life well into early summer. But, in the words of Joan Baez, we shall overcome!
    By the end of this month we should be back in France, in time for lambing, albeit our diminished flock of just 6 ewes. That is, of course, if they will let us in after Boris has 'done the deed' in accordance with his promises - one can live in hope. But the upshot of the above is that it looks as though we - well I at least - will return here again to crack the metaphorical whip (the use of a real whip being made unlawful in Fife just a few years ago!) in March. Couple this with Brexit, independence referendums and impeachments of world leaders, it all points towards yet another unsettled year ahead for us.
    As a new year comes in, I took a quick look to find that it is, according to China, the year of the Rat. This would of course give me plenty of material for a political rant, but I will avoid that tediousness for now, as I am sure there will be many more months when I can use it. However, I also came across a 'Sheep' horoscope which, as a lifelong shepherd, intrigued me. It appears to be only relevant to those who were born in the year of the Sheep, which sadly I wasn’t. Thankfully some of my sheep were though, in 2016, so this really only applies to them. According to my sources, they will 'get hot and passionate this year, and may even get married!' I'd better start saving for the occasion then. But no! They will also apparently earn enough money to settle all their expenses: which hopefully includes the mortgage being paid off? Unfortunately, the next year of the sheep - the Fire sheep, to be precise - is not until 2028, so it maybe a while before we get any more lucky ones. Doubtful that Daisy Death-wish will be around to contribute to it either. In fact, I am pretty sure she was born in the year of the Runt!
    I mentioned in this piece some time ago about the 'Internet of things' and how smart objects have become part of everyday life for some. Well, this year we have joined the 'some' as I have wired the place with smart speakers and light switches. It all started when I had to replace our TV after some reasonably innocuous holiday-makers stayed for a weekend in the house, got helplessly drunk and kicked the place up. As well as holes in the walls and smashed furniture and pictures, our 50 inch TV got demolished in their brawling.  Along with its replacement came a free voice-activated gadget that can facilitate just about anything I ask it. As a new decade begins it is comforting to think I now have the aid of something so technically advanced in my armoury, that is, until I take a moment to scrutinize its usefulness. Is it really a saving to get someone else to switch on the radio, lights or telly? Or is it just called being lazy? Let's face it, I can't say 'Hey Google, take the dog for a walk, or dig the garden'. Well I could, but it won't.  In the same way that greed can hide behind religion, I am not really convinced that the involvement of these gadgets in our lives can really conceal our increasing tendency towards inactivity.
    Based on the above, it's time for a jolly good festive walk on the beach for me today, a route which thankfully passes a couple of good local pubs. Unfortunately, or otherwise, the location of said hostelries negates any mobile or internet signal, so I can get a pint of incommunicado in peace. Don't call me, I'll call you - next year!

Swally time

   So here we go again, making things up to pass the 2 hours it takes to fly from France to Edinburgh and typing them into my phone for you to read. Well I don’t exactly fabricate all my paragraphs, consider it more of an embellishment of the day to day mundane, and an exploitation of the bizarre. 
   You will, of course, by the time this hits your doormat, be gearing up for the horrors of Christmas shopping and a general election. And perhaps a little intrepid - or jubilant - that if the communists get into power they will ban all things holy and you will never have to listen to Jingle Bells or Noddy Holder ever again, let alone queue up in Argos for the latest throw-away toy. Were it not that I believe that what masquerades as a labour government would also force everyone to become vegans, I might even be tempted to go along with the anti-Santa idea myself. However, both history and common-sense advocate that extreme leftism is about as practical as a cardboard oven, yet nonetheless it is as close now as it ever was during its halcyon 1970s decade. Of course, extreme rightism is hardly much better, in fact extreme anything only ever satisfies a small minority. But there are a gathering number who are either fed-up with middle-of-the road politics, or really do believe that a man with a white beard and red trousers will bring joy down their chimney.
    It is 10 years to the month since the editor asked me to pen this regular column and, during that time, we have seen a few ups and downs when it comes to political surprises. Back then smiley Mr Blair was promising us all that Britain would be nuclear-power sufficient within a decade, house prices were on an ever upward trend and Donald Trump was a mere TV presenter. I could have quite rightly predicted that these and other certainties of the time would change.  But never in my wildest dreams of cynicism did I predict that a has-been forgotten student activist such as Corbyn had a realistic chance of getting the keys to the country. Clarkson once described him as the “Ebola virus, on a bicycle!” In hindsight, even that was tame!
   Anyway, parking my fears in the dark space away from the streetlight, let me raise the tone a little to announce that the reason for my carbon-producing flight today is that I am off on a jolly. Although hard to believe, it has been four decades since my wife first attended Edinburgh university, but I am sure she won’t thank me for sharing that fact. To mark the occasion, she has gathered all her fresher friends from that era so they can embark on a pub-crawl of student proportions around the city, and, possibly to their detriment, have invited me to tag along. It may, to coin a phrase, get messy. Realistically, it will probably just involve a few pints of heavy, and a nightcap dram, and we’ll all be tucked up in our onesies before closing time but, in our own heads, we will have painted the town in rainbow colours and showed our younger selves a lesson or two.
   As it is still only mid-November in real-time, the city will be just gearing up for the festive season and hopefully not quite so OTT as its southern counterparts. Also, because it is November, I can no longer fly directly from one place to another in a straight line – Ryanair only do that in the greedy months - and hence a 90-minute stop-over in Stanstead complete with all the rudeness it purveys. Having been through one set of security checks in France, wouldn’t it be nice just to seamlessly merge into a queue for the next flight without the hassle of a second round? But no, as we are herded through a maze of seatbelt tape and glared at, my turn eventually comes to put my stuff on the conveyor and off I go through the hoop of shame only to set off the metal detector alarm. Why me? Stand over there. Why me. Raise your arms. Look, no belt, no shoes, my pockets are empty? But somehow the machine decided I was carrying a bomb, or even worse, a tube of moisturiser, and singled me out for a whole-body search. Was I not within my rights to demand an apology from the man who put his hands down my trousers? Or at least an explanation for why the bloody machine went off and delayed me 10 minutes, despite me being as clean as a washed sock. Nope. Nada, zip. In this cry-baby world where everyone is offended by everything, I find this offensive. But what can I do? Sadly, I am not one of Greta Thunberg’s chums, so I don’t count.
   Anyway, I am now safely reunited with my wife after a week’s absence, in the chilly but cheery north. Never mind the gluhwein and carols, break out the Macallan and haggis - and, for a few days at least, all will be right with the world.

Monday 4 November 2019

Building for life

Late late late again. Where does the time evaporate to? 
    This month's excuse is that we were at the time travelling to England from France for my niece’s wedding in Rock church and, coupled with an endless list of problems around our building project in Scotland, things all got a wee bit fuzzy.
    Anyway, the wedding was superb and went off without a hitch, culminating in a great party at Hopleys Park in Bewdley. I would like to wish Adele and Ade, a long and happy life together. It was nice to see a few familiar faces around the village including Sheila Nott who was ‘on duty’ during the service, and the editor who furnished me with a pint in the local!

     I had mentioned earlier in the year that we were planning to head to Japan for the Rugby World Cup this month. Unfortunately the above mentioned building project urgently required my presence here in Scotland, dealing with some quite technically challenging issues spurred on by constant reform of building regulations and technology, so we cancelled the trip last minute. We now have a floor, 4 walls and a ceiling on the downstairs area and, as I speak, the upper extension is underway and awaiting the arrival of a rather expensive 4 metre wide window. This in itself has highlighted yet another problem as it is dubious whether we can fit the panels down the alleyway to our seafront position. With a street too narrow to take a crane, the latest suggestion is that we deliver it by boat and carry it up the rocky beach. Not an easy thing to schedule during the windy season! During my 3 weeks here I have walked 240 kilometres, climbed 800 floors, done 46 hours of hard labour and burned 75,000 calories. This information I gleaned from the Fitbit (or in my case, Fatbit!) device that Wendy bought me for my birthday which has the sole purpose of shaming me out of being a lazy B as I enter my later years. It also advises me of how much sleep I have had, or in this instance, not, as I constantly wake in a cold sweat at 3am imagining the waves and rainwater cascading into our new unfinished bedroom!
     On the subject of wind, I think the postponement of our trip to the Far East worked out rather fortuitously, as it would have coincided with the arrival of typhoon Haggis, which delivered gusts of up to 150mph around Tokyo’s stadia. Thankfully not too many tourists suffered and a plucky performance by the host nations on the pitch that weekend put paid to my wife’s national team, Scotland, in quite dramatic fashion, leaving only hot air from their coach in its wake! As yet, I am unaware of the fate of my own team, England, who will have either held aloft the Webb Ellis trophy, or predictably crashed and burned in their chariot!
     Also, by the time this gets to print we will once more be back in France for a short while, tidying up before winter. During that time Halloween will have been and gone and, perhaps, things around the ‘B-word’ may have settled down a tad. Or perhaps not.
     As we plan to return to Scotland in late November, it is with some trepidation that we suspect we will be met at the ‘hard’ border with vehement hostility, and have our wine stocks and dogs confiscated. Then, of course, the trip North will inevitably be hampered again at Hadrian’s Wall, as Nicola Sturgeon bullies the Scottish public into a new bid for Independence, and the country’s economy nose-dives into whisky-enriched oblivion!
     Our final news this month is even more exciting. After more years than she cares to admit working in the computer industry, my wife Wendy will be taking well-earned retirement at the end of this week. This will, of course, leave us in a hopeless financial predicament but at least we will be able to share the worry together! Inevitability it will incur a few changes ahead, but we are both looking forward to taking more time to travel once we have everything settled down and the roof back on.
See you all on the road!

No such thing as a fish

     And breathe! After 45 nights, 3200 miles, 6 countries, 8 ferries, in a variety of weather, in a tin can on wheels, we have finally landed back at Chauffour. For a change it is not the usual week long slog of catching up with chores and excavating a path to our front door through the undergrowth that awaits me, as we have been fortunate enough to have some very bored house-sitters. As a family of 4, they must have toiled day and night to cover the amount of work they have done during their stay, which included tackling ten years growth of honeysuckle and conifers, rebuilding our barn doors and laying an impromptu patio. I have to admit that none of this was pre-planned nor even requisitioned, but it is gratefully received.
     Our trip through Ireland was nothing short of magical. Firstly a weekend at the British Open golf, despite periodic torrential rain, set up a wonderful atmosphere in and around the pretty town of Portrush, which was crowded to bursting point. A win for an Irishman and bumping into a few old friends completed the event for us in style. From there it was across to Donegal, a place I had never been but somewhere I would surely head back to in a heartbeat. I know we shared our time between rural France and a backward town in East Fife where the pace of life in both spots is half that of England, but in Donegal, divide that by five. It was as though time stood still for the 2 weeks we were there, where farmers still pottered around their fields on antique tractors, and sheep grazed the roadsides. Not that the place was poor; to the contrary, the scale and style of the brand new holiday homes on every hillside was of the highest luxury. Around each bend was another cove with a white sandy beach with nobody on it. On numerous occasions, as we parked by the shore, locals would come along for a chat about this and that. Some had even heard of Brexit! After one of my regular unfruitful days fishing in a stream, one chap took pity on me and scooted off in his van, only to return an hour later with a bag of smoked mackerel fillets, such was the generosity of this forgotten corner of Europe.
     When we were children, our family would visit the county of Mayo for our annual holidays. Back then I can recall some of my earliest memories, of high hedges of fuchsia and a large dining room full of waiters in waistcoats. I had since heard that the Great Southern hotel in Mulranny had closed down so it was to my pleasant surprise when we rounded the corner to reminisce and found it not only still there but open with rooms available.  As this happened to coincide with the electrics failing in our camper, we jumped at the chance of not just some nostalgia but a bath with a sea-view. A short trip from there saw us on Achill Island and a pint in what they claimed to be the most westerly pub in Europe, an accolade that is disputed by at least two other establishments in Southern Ireland! One of my other memories of this place was sharks. No, not the sort who want to relieve you of your hard-earned, but great big real ones! This was quantified when we parked up in the small Keem harbour and saw a monument to what once a prosperous fishing industry when in the early 60s as many as 2000 basking sharks per year were caught here. Now the odd one can still be sighted and it is reported there was a ten metre long beast out there in the bay. Apparently it had grown at least 3 metres since it was last sighted in May!
     And finally, the leg of our trip that was to be our destination, Galway Races. A lively event spanning an entire week, this is possibly one of the largest gatherings of Irish in the calendar year. We only had tickets for one day, my birthday, but so it seems did everyone else. As we jostled amongst the revellers, trying to get a look at the action, I managed to get a few bets on but narrowly missed out on the winnings every time. My wife, on the other hand, seemed to have the knack of picking winners just by looking at them, so the day didn’t turn out too costly. After a few evenings in Quay street, where the party-goers spilled from pubs aplenty, our ill-gotten gains were soon exchanged for pints of the black stuff!
     We then ended up in Wales, on Anglesey to be precise. It was particularly busy, mainly with Scousers, and I have to announce that, in comparison, the service was as shocking as I remember it. Swiftly heading south east through Snowdonia we reached Bala and once again I tried my hand at catching a fish on the lake, this time adding more equipment to my tackle bag. Still nothing. A few more stops in Shropshire, Somerset and Dorset were all pleasant, principally because we realised pubs in England don’t mind you parking on their car-park for the night, free of charge, as long as you have a meal in their restaurants and drink a few ales, a proposition that suits me fine - especially when I am so uselessly adept at catching my own tea!
Then finally a few days in Brittany which was also very busy in their peak holiday period. We avoided the seaside, choosing a few inland rivers to park by.  At last I managed to snare a fishy (fanfare!). I would send a photo to accompany this piece but it wouldn’t be a very big one!


The western front

Never being one to canvas envy, it would be churlish of me to mention that I write this column today from a beautiful white sandy beach in blazing sunshine, with a backdrop of heather-clad mountains soaring towards blue skies. But I will. No, we are not in France, nor even the wonders of Spain or Portugal, but bonnie Scotland. For those who have never ventured to its west coast, just read this as an advert for its unrivalled splendour and make a mental not to do so. It is over two weeks since we left France, initially to attend a wedding in St Andrews, Libby our old campervan chugging tirelessly up the M6 with baited breath awaiting her annual check-over. Thankfully she got the all clear, and a certificate for another year in service. On our arrival in Fife we were met by a gaggle of French ex-pats and between us we partied in our wee cottage for nigh on a week. As my intentions of instigating the start of our building works were scuppered by the life-long procrastinators of Fife council, who have still yet to issue our building warrant, once the throng departed, so did we, heading West. A night in Glencoe on what is known in these parts as a ‘driek’ day, the low cloud and occasional drizzle was almost fitting, setting an eerie atmosphere to this place of historic battles steeped in its Pictish past.
Heading an hour south took us to Port Appin, a sleepy village on the shores of sunny Loch Linnie, boasting one of the best seafood restaurants in Europe. I have frequently been labelled as cheeky, not least by my late mother, and it certainly stands you in good stead when it comes to travelling with a house on your back. A quick reccie discovered an old farm track leading out from the village and a spur heading off through the thick bracken opening up to a cove so private we could have been on our own island. Two days here and the concerns and headaches of the past week faded rapidly into bliss as we parked within a few yards of the water with only an equally cheeky seal for company. Sadly he stole our dinner, mopping up the few fish in the bay that had evaded my fishing line for half a day, but his/her needs were far greater than ours as one assumes that, unlike us, he had no access to the self checkout at Tescos the previous day! I admit we had a slightly hairy moment getting the vehicle back up the aforementioned dirt track and at one point thought we might have to use ‘dial-a-farmer’ to tow us out. But we made it, continuing south to Seil Island and the beautiful if somewhat unpronounceable village of Ellenabeich and its tiny island of Easdale. After a few too many drams in its local pub, debating climate-change for an evening with a chap who spent 40 years researching it inside the Arctic circle, I have sent a photo of the scene we woke up to the next morning which even I, as a man of many words, fail to do justice to when describing its beauty.
A couple of ferry rides brings me to the now, where we are parked on this blessed beach, counting down the days until we exchange Scotland for Ireland and all that it beholds. Watch this space for that episode.
Meanwhile, back on planet normal, I feel I have little to complain about for once. Except maybe that UK’s airport staff are planning to hold the country to ransom during its busiest period over a 2p per hour pay dispute. To quote the Telegraph, the only access I have had to part-reality in the past fortnight, their union spokesman says “our members are essential to the smooth running of the airport and hence should be paid more!” Pardon? That’s like saying gravy is essential to my Sunday roast and therefore should cost a tenner? Or politicians are necessary to the smooth running of our daily lives and therefore we need lots of them. Which brings me neatly round to the horrific fact that by the time this goes to print ‘Boris Trump and the Lunatics’ really will be running the asylum when realistically they would be more suited to the comedy stage at Glastonbury!
See ya’ll back in France!

Saturday 15 June 2019

Hitch-hiking robots

As this column gets penned a few weeks before it goes to print, when it should be read in summer, it is still mid-winter here in France. Now this might make me sound like Mr Moanalot but, apart from one brief sunny spell a few weeks ago, the weather seems to have deteriorated so much that we are seriously planning on permanently moving to Spain. In fact, we are shortly due to head North for a month on the road, leaving our cats and sheep to shiver, while we seek some warmth in Scotland. Firstly we are expected at a wedding in St Andrews, one with French connections and hence have our seaside holiday houses will be full of ex-pats for a week. I am sure much frivolity will ensue as we attempt to play golf and drink the town dry. From there we head the compass across the country, donning our sou-westers as we settle in for a week's exploring on Scotland rugged but beautiful west coast, along with a few million midges. Yes I am aware it is probably the worst time to be there, along with all the other English touring numpties, but we have our reasons.
From there we continue following the setting sun, hopping over the sea to the Emerald Isle in time for a spot of golf. Last year was the first time we had been at the British Open but we enjoyed Carnoustie so much that we have opted for another go, this time in the scenic village of Portrush on Ireland's most northern tip. A few days here watching the world's best professionals and catching up with friends before we continue on over the border to Ireland's west coast. A slow trek down through Donegal, stopping in Co Mayo, a place where I holidayed in my childhood, will eventually find us further south in time for one of Europe's biggest events, the Galway races. We have made a number of friends in this district over the years, many of whom have partied at our house in France, so this is payback time. I am not a big gambler but I will put the first tenner on the fact that it will be pouring down all week and the second on the odds of me not winning anything else. But one thing I will bet on, to quote the Blarney, 'we will have some mighty craic!'
This is of course assuming our auld campervan will make the distance, or else it will be Wendy and I and two bedraggled dogs thumbing it for a few thousand miles. The thought of this does fill me with some dread as, and I know this may be old hat to some, but it will soon be the 4th anniversary of the death of Hitchbot. For those of you who are unenlightened to this cheery chap, 'he' was a peaceful robot that was designed and built to hitch-hike its way around the world. All started quite well in 2014 when it managed to make the trip from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, almost the entire width of Canada, in just 26 days with the help of friendly strangers who found-out his whereabouts from social media and gave him a lift. Not content with this, Hitchbot then made it across Germany and the Netherlands, armed only with a limited vocabulary and a 'bucket list' of places he wished to go. And so it was, on his next adventure across USA that on the fateful day of August 1st, just 14 days into his trip, the poor fellow was beaten up and decapitated on the streets of Philadelphia. Since then, there have been any number of conspiracy theories as to the instigators of his demise including aliens, Donald Trump and suicide, despite his attackers - a couple of local teenagers - being caught red-handed on security camera!  
I also don’t relish the thought of hitching or even walking at all just now as I have, once again, broken a toe. Not sure quite when the clumsy gene reared its sore head in my life but that will be three Junes out of the last four that I have been laid up resting my feet on high for a week or two. At least in previous years I have had the chance to sit in the sun with my tootsies in the swimming pool. Ooo, there I go again, complaining about the weather. I will admit that sitting around and resting isn’t great for my advancing physique, something that was endorsed when I cleared out the mezzanine last week and found my cross-trainer all seized with rust. But then I never really did see the sense in all this exercise for the sake of it. When I want to get fit I go and build a shed, or lay some concrete, not sit around whiling away the miles going absolutely nowhere. Did you know that the treadmill was originally designed as a form of torture in Brixton prison in 1818? Quoting from the internet, one prisoner said about the machine, "I have worked for months on the wheel. I was quite well on coming in. I have now a great pain in the back part of my legs, my loins, and my left side. I get weaker every day. I can hardly stand upright!"
I rest my case. Bottoms up!

Rounding up

     Who would of thought it, June already? Wendy and I are still in France just now and I have to say it is bl@@dy freezing! Yes, I hear Sir David and all his sycophants crying into their soya milk about global warming, but it is not happening...well not here anyway. Apparently, once the ice caps all melt due to farting cows, the polar bears are all relocating to Lot-et-Garonne to stay cool and possibly wallowing in my swimming pool. Meanwhile, our Coypu have vanished back to from whenst they came, somewhere near the equator where lemon trees don’t all die from hypothermic frosts, in mid May!
     In actual fact we should be in Newcastle-on-Tyne this weekend, where I'm told the sun often shines, but for the loss of a good friend to cancer earlier in the week. An avid follower of this column and regular visitor to France, my Edinburgh pal will be sorely missed for his gentle ways and sharp wit. Another one of the good guys, taken far too soon. Anyway, onwards and upwards.   
     Meanwhile life goes on here at Chauffour, with the usual springtime chores taking up most of my time. And this year has just got a little bit harder since the French powers-that-be have confiscated my favourite gardening tool, ROUND-UP. Apparently its active ingredient, Glyphosate, is about to kill me and therefore, once more, I am being saved by people who care far more for my welfare than I do. Well, actually I am not, because now I have such backache from pulling up weeds for 6 hours per day instead of my once-a-month 20 minute 'rounding-up', that I am bed-ridden, unable to sleep and grumpy as hell. I would, of course, buy it in UK where it is freely available and will be even more so when Britain is no longer in Europe. Except I can't, as I am not allowed to take it on an aircraft in case it explodes! I can't buy it online either as, although the smiley British postie can deliver it to the Channel while whistling a merry tune, Monsieur LaPoste refuses to so much be in the same vehicle with it, such is its supposed danger to everyone.  Apparently I can buy it in Germany, Italy, Spain or just about everywhere else in the world which makes a complete and utter mockery of the French bureaucratic system. Oh well, I probably need a holiday, so will have to drive a few hundred miles in my gas-guzzling diesel climate-destroying machine to get a fifteen quid bottleful!
I would let our few remaining sheep into the garden to eat the weeds except that, led by Daisy, all the flowers and vegetables would be gone in minutes and the offending weeds would remain untouched! Maybe I could attempt to educate them into selective eating and do the world a favour? Because - you heard it here first - sheep in France are actually allowed to go to school. Yes, in a small parish in the Alps, 15 ewes have been registered as pupils in a primary school, so it can keep its numbers up and its doors open.  Somewhere in a European by-law, the ability to discriminate the ovine from the human species has been overruled in yet another spite at President Macron who had suggested that school with diminishing numbers be closed. This has inevitably escalated the rights of animals over humans and played into the hands of those who believe BBC's  Chris Packham speaks any truth whatsoever, despite the fact that his propaganda is about as reliable as a Boeing 737 Max 8!
    The fact that the French love their rules almost as much as they do finding ways around them is no surprise. From banning ketchup, redbull and mobile phones in schools to burkas (but allowing peeing) in public and flip-flops in cars, France has always led the way when it comes to absurdity. Hence hundreds of men sitting around a bbq in yellow vests and annoying motorists on every major traffic island becomes instantly acceptable behaviour, despite its illegality. Well, thanks to the 'Gilets Jaune's' disappointment in the governments rule to drop our national speed limit form 90 to 80 kilometre per hour, I might save a few quid. You see, in April this year I got a speeding fine through my Scottish letterbox from a flash I had from the camera at the bottom of our road in France, in September 2018. Yes, it took six months to find me, but find me it did. Thankfully now the local protesters are not content with wearing yellow jackets but have added a few tins of jaunes spray-paint to their armoury and then proceeded to blast it repeatedly over the face of said speed camera. In spite of my hesitance to support their socialist ideals, I will certainly not be the one down there with my Jif and J-cloth any time soon. 

Daisy on the wall

     I had every intention of writing to you in French this month, once the final day of 'outing' had arrived, and this headache of uncertainty was put behind us. But now, surprise surprise, we get yet another extension to this brexiting madness and it is starting affect me personally, in a number of ways. Actually I have no issue with the deals or the future of this mess but it seems everyone else has and hence are sitting on their own sweaty hands instead of getting on with their lives. The holiday rental market here in France is taking a hit, with many folks really believing that if they leave the UK for a couple of weeks they won't be allowed back in! Maybe they will have to pass an IQ test first, that would surely whittle a few of them down? Then there is the property market in Scotland, with the Sturgeon's SNP vultures hovering around another post-brexit vote for independence and thus holding house prices to ransom, and my pension with it. Inevitably all this will end - although possibly not resolved - by a General Election installing yet more loonies into the asylum that is our governing body, who can then squabble their way through the next 5 years.
     However, if we think our autonomous voting system is somewhat complicated, spare a thought for Indonesia who are also just re-electing their government, with somewhere in the region of quarter of a million candidates to choose from! Within just 5 hours, a monumental 25,000 MPs will be appointed into power. Imagine them all debating the price of Marmite? And think of their expenses as they travel 3000 miles across the country from their constituency, partly by canoe! But the thing is, if the hot favourite known as 'Joko', (no joke) a former furniture salesman, gets elected as president, the people will actually listen to him and believe him because it was them who put him there. He will make decisions on behalf of his 200 million voters, backed-up by his large cabinet, so they can carry on with their day tilling the fields or catching fish, safe in the knowledge that someone is actually in charge who knows what they are doing. That, my friends, is the definition of democracy in its infancy, before it got polluted by idiots!
     Right, enough of politics, let's get on to the more serious subject of why Americans all have such stupid names! Yes, I am sure I have raised this issue many times before but, usually around the time of the US golf major tournaments, it still gets my goat. Let's start with that happy-chappy who just won a major tournament, after a 10 year absence, Tiger. No wonder he's miserable, his mother named him after a wild animal, for god's sake! Then we have Brooks Keopka, Xander Souffle and Bryson DeChambeau. What is going on here? It's not like actors who make up names so they can be instantly recognised - these people are for real, i.e. that is a name given to them at birth. What sort of a parent would look at their one hour-old baby and say, 'ah yes, he looks just like a Bryson'? Well here's the latest new kid on the block: a 23 year old from Sacramento named 'Cameron Champ'! Surely, if your surname is Champ, there is only one Christian name you could possibly consider for your first born? 'World!'
     Meanwhile back on planet Earth, spring is rapidly turning to summer here in South West France and we really really could do with a drop of rain, as I have 7 acres of newly planted grass seeds that need watering before they shrivel up like a beetle's scrotum! I don’t have a rain gauge but I would suggest that this part has seen barely a few millimetres of it since February and it is getting mighty dusty. Now, before all you eco-warriors start pointing the finger of suspicion at global-warming, this time last year we had so much of the stuff that we could only visit the sheep fields in thigh-length rubber waders. And anyway, it's not even that warm as last night we had a frost, in mid April, which did wonders for our geraniums, not! Well, just to check that annual opposites are not the basis for an argument on climate change, I did a quick check on Google and am now much wiser on the subject as I found this definition: 'effects warming of the ocean surface, leading to increased temperature stratification.'  Thanks guys. Using big words invariably makes you sound reverberant!
    Finally, this week saw the return of that bissum that is Daisy Death-wish, now in her eighth year. Being the sole survivor of the sale of the adult portion of our flock last autumn, she has been residing at someone else's place through the winter adding the bonus of a lamb sometime around mid February. I have to admit, for such an ugly old brute, the lamb is quite an acceptable specimen. Well, due to a chance contact with an old girlfriend who used to live in Far Forest but is now in Holland, Daisy has now taken one step nearer to the bovine Hall-of-fame and been painted in watercolour. I believe Daryl has captured the creature's spirit quite remarkably.

Saturday 16 March 2019

The price of envelopes

       Every day is a school day? Many a time we have heard that. Well, today I have been handed a lesson in photography - something I never knew I needed. In fact, as a youngster I did do a course in the subject but sometimes, as they say, it is hard to see the wood for the trees or, in my case, the plasterboard for the furniture. I have always been a man of self belief so it was with reluctance that I hired a professional photographer to 'shoot' our new house and boy, am I glad I did. With proper gear and an experienced eye, rather than a cheap phone standing on a chair, he has created a masterpiece. A palace by the sea, if you will. When I look back at the snaps I took when we got the keys to this place, just 15 months ago, and compare them to now, I have to say it makes me rather proud.
    Something else I am also getting lessons on is fly fishing. My father was an avid fisherman, chasing salmon from the Tenbury Teme to the Tay and I never quite saw the attraction. But here I am, a good few years later with a new rod, reel, line and box of brightly coloured fluffy things. Admittedly, as yet, I haven’t much idea what to do with it all but a pal has promised to take me to a local lake where the goal is to catch a trout for my tea. I may go hungry for a while!
    It is quite rare in this column that I don’t mention the eco-mental fraternity getting on my goat and this month I really have to rant about the treatment of that good old house-wive's choice, James Bond. No longer can he tear up the France Riviera in his beautiful Aston DB5, but instead, in the next film episode due out soon he is issued with a save-the-planet electric car! OK, it is still an Aston Martin, possibly British made, but is this really necessary to degrade this hero to that level, so that when he races after villains, he will need to stop and plug-in every 100 miles? What if there are no handy 240v sockets when he is hurtling around rural Russia after baddies? Will he just park up and walk? Or get the bus? Maybe Q can give him a fold-up bike to stick in the boot for such emergencies? It is nothing less than an outrage, I say. Might as well arm the poor chap with a spud-gun as well?
    On the tenuous subject of goats, they seem to have made the news this month. Firstly a herd of 120 wild Kashmiri goats wondered down from the snowy mountains of North Wales and invaded the town of Llandudno, presumably to watch the rugby. After a lot of complaints about the smell, one spokes-goat said, 'we put up with it for a while but it was a bit rough! We just had a few pints and a pie and chips in the Kings Head, but after that things got a bit out of hand when the locals started chanting anti-goatish songs and talking about curry. A few of the kids ended up in the cells but we are happily back on our mountain again now!' Then, just a few days later we hear about Belle the Pigmy goat who was stolen in Shropshire and presumed cooked. Then, a few days later she turned up wandering around a train station in Manchester, surely not the safest towns for such creatures. Just how she released herself from the clutches of such evil scoundrels in unclear but at least it gave the press chance to divert their Brexit headlines with 'Escape Goat!'
    While trying my hardest to steer away from government discussions at present, for obvious reasons, I would like to raise the subject of inflation and, more poignantly, how it is calculated. Somewhere out there amongst the corridors of power, somebody with a clipboard makes decisions about what is and isn’t in the 'basket' of consumer goods that are measured annually to see if they have gone up in price. My simple question is 'why would you leave things out?' Apparently envelopes and armchairs are now excluded, but Alexa speakers are recently on the list and I am not quite sure how they arrive at that decision. For example, according to one statistic, more households in UK have a voice-activated speaker than a pet rabbit! From which I ascertain that a lot of people must own pet rabbits - which are excluded from the calculations? A 3-piece suite may double in price next year but that won't matter a fig as it isn’t in the basket? Isn't that called manipulating the figures? Here is a more significant example: if the current level of inflation is really only at 2%, then why have my gas, phone, electric, train-fare and council tax bills all gone up by ten?  
    And so, after our 4 month long stint, in a few weeks we will packing up our small change and heading south to France for some summer again. Each year this gets a little harder as I find myself more attached to this Fife coast, with its quirky streets, friendly pubs and stunning views. I will be back for a couple of weeks in May to progress with building our extension, and again in July for a wedding, both of which I am already looking forward to. Maybe the time has come in our life to make some decisions about where we really call home these days.

Thursday 14 February 2019

Bjorn to Brexit

    This month is the first time I have spent not-lambing for close on fifty years. Our one and only remaining ewe, one Daisy Death-wish, has today dropped yet another mutant into the world, aided by some friends who are housing her for the winter. So instead of late night vigils, all I get are a few photos to say the job is done, successfully, from a few thousand miles away. Great result everyone.
I did threaten that during this 'lambing-holiday' we might instead head off to South America to visit my son who is working out there but, as it happens, he is back in Blighty this month, so we will just make an 800 mile road-trip to see him in the Midlands instead, visiting a few other family members in the process.  Not that I have been lazy these last few weeks, as I have been constantly kept busy shuffling furniture around from one place to another, then occasionally back again, generally on my own. That's the one beauty of using Swedish furniture, it does all come apart and reassemble, even without a set of diagrams designed for idiots.
    In between times, I have found myself at my writing desk, the first time for nearly two years. A couple of ideas were kicking around in my head, occasionally shouting to be heard above the constant whirr of an overcrowded bureau full of un-completed admin. A framework has been drafted and a few chapters already scribbled towards a new novel based in the early sixties around a true set of events. I am not sure when I will get chance to finish it, nor re-visit the list of half-written projects lurking on my PC, but it is nice to get back to my preferred occupation, rather than the one I have forced myself into out of financial necessity. Out of total co-incidence I noticed a poster for a local writing group here in East Neuk and decided to attend one of their meetings. I have to admit it is the first time I have ever been to such a thing, but I am now card carrying member of, and already supplying contributions to their website.
      Obviously I can only make it to the winter events of writers workshops, pool matches, quiz nights etc, as we will be back in France from Spring through to Autumn. It was suggested that I could attend, via Skype, an innovation that allows people to pretend to be somewhere they are not. But then I happened to read in the weekend's paper about how Abba are going on tour this year, by hologram! Yes, instead of their tired 70-year old bodies being shoehorned back into lycra and high-heels, the crowds can enjoy Agnetha, as she was back in 1978, cavorting around in that oh-so-tight silver cat suit! Apparently, says the article, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t really them, so life-like is the stage act. So much so that, at a hundred quid a ticket, folks are queuing up to get a front row seat. Now that I have to say is a win-win for everyone, especially Bjorn's dignity and bank account. This is, of course, the thin end of a very long and fat wedge. How long before the Beatles get back together and take a world tour or, heaven forbid, The Bay City Rollers restart the fashion statement of tartan flares and tank-tops? The concept is limitless. Donald Trump could send himself out on stage, safe in the knowledge that when someone assassinates him, the bullet would go right through and into any world leader standing behind him. Once the Chinese get hold of the technology it won't be long before we can all get a hologram of ourselves for Christmas? My wife could send herself to business meetings in Aberdeen in her best suit, whilst simultaneously sipping gin by our pool with her rollers in. I could be at home writing a book, at work with a pointing trowel and in France mowing the lawn, all at the same time. Oh hang on a minute, I do that already!
   I couldn’t let this month's column go by without some reference to the 'B' word and the impending deadline of doom. Has anybody a clue what is going on? I mean, really? It is nearly a couple of years ago since the press filled up our ears with Article 50, back-stops, soft-borders and a whole load of other foggy jargon and propaganda. Now we get threatened with withdrawals, extensions and no-trade-deals, and it appears blatantly obvious that nobody has a Scooby-do about what will happen come April 2019. Should I be back in France by that date? Will they charge me to return to my own home? Or let me in at all? Will I still be able to buy wine and cheese on a British passport? Does our habitation tax double next year, unless we can prove our residency by singing both verses of the Marseillaise? Will my hologram be French, or British? In fact, does a hologram have to pay tax at all? Or need a passport for that matter? There's a question I bet Teresa May hadn’t considered? Oh dear, back to the drawing board we go...

Tuesday 15 January 2019

Smart toilet seat

    Skiing season, 6 Nations season, possibly snowy season, wow, welcome to 2019 before it roars into the next decade. This should also be the golf season for me, as I enjoy playing the sport in winter in Scotland because the courses are a bit easier. Admittedly, you do have the howling wind sending the wee ball offline, as well as rain, fog and other inclement climate variants but, for a bad golfer like myself, it is all about the 'rough', as that is frequently where my ball ends up. However, what is normally 3 foot high goose-grass in summer which will swallow more balls than a Polish hooker, in winter is cut back, so that it can re-grow and thus, with a sharp pair of eyes I manage to get round without losing a box-full of the things. Now, if only they would put a net over the sea or, better still, make golf balls that float!
    I mentioned last month we are now in our new home and are still very much enjoying life by the ocean, not least because the weather has mainly been beautiful here in East Neuk. Beach walks with the dogs have been frequent, despite Louis's obsession with rotting seagulls which seem to adorn the shoreline this time of year. On numerous occasions he has either had to have one confiscated on his return to the house, or take an involuntary full bath after he has rolled in the damn things.  Our new kitchen has been put to extensive use and, on the whole, seems to function reasonably well. I have designed and built half a dozen kitchens over the last few years but when it comes to putting one in that I want to work in myself, some serious thought needs to apply, regarding proximity of appliances, sinks etc. My only complaint is the issue of the soft-close hinge. Yes, maybe this modern invention does have the advantage of doors not banging shut or drawers being left slightly open but it has really been taken too far, with the introduction of the slow-drop toilet seat.  Now we all know the eternal age-old gender debate about 'seat up or down' which has probably instigated more sexual harassment law suits than Peter Green, but now we have this in-between state where it is neither one thing nor the other. And sometimes, you don’t have time to wait the full 5 minutes for the thing to descend, if you get my drift? Hopping up and down and gritting your teeth surely can't be produce healthy outcome - can it? Well, from now on, ours is glued down permanently, so there Mrs F!
    This month I have to go to war, with the Chinese. No, not quite the whole nation - in fact, the take-away at the end of our street actually sent us a Christmas card this year, such is our working relationship. No, my truck with them involves mobile phones or, in my case, lack of them. Just 2 months have passed since my new Umidigi handset arrived from China, only a few weeks late. And, for a while it all worked fine until, for some strange coincidence, it packed up on Christmas morning. Since then, after vain attempts at fixing it, I have emailed, written, phoned and screamed at the supplier to replace or repair it, only to be bluntly ignored. So now, I have taken to naming and shaming them on social media, each posting slightly more vitriolic than the former. Despite still getting zero response, I do wholly realise that somewhere amongst this vendetta, I may be breaching some libel laws but I care not. I have even taken to swearing at them in Chinese! However, thanks to Bing Translate, for all I know I could be ordering a chow-mein! Not until the Emperor himself sends me a full pardon, or at least a refund, will I cease with my endeavours of justice. Keep your eyes on the press for a solitary figure sitting in Tiananmen square sometime soon!
   I am not quite sure where I have been hiding my head lately, but I have only recently discovered a new phenomenon that it about to spark the 4th industrial revolution (no, I never knew we had 3 previous ones either!). I am talking about the 'Internet-of-things'. I don’t know who came up with the name, possibly a small child, but basically this is a generic term for devices that are connected to the internet, allowing them to not only communicate with each other but also gather data to improve their productivity. Sounds complicated? Well it may be but it is surprising how many of these IoT gadgets we already use in our daily life and the list is growing at an alarming rate. Let's take one of the original ones, that gadget you can use at the supermarket to pay for your shopping. It knows when you shop, what you eat, what the weather is like, how fast you walk, how much you drink, etc. And you don’t suppose for one minute that it keeps all that information to itself, do you? Of course, you don’t have to use it, and many of us choose not to for that very reason. Basically anything preceded with the word Smart belongs to this category and it is stealing all your stuff and sharing it with strangers. As well as TV, phones and cars, you can get smart hairbrushes, toothbrushes, toasters and dog collars, the list is as endless as it is, in my mind, useless. However, the reason I uncovered all this uncomfortable information is that we have just installed a new heating system and it too is Smart - well, smarter than me anyway. Now, apparently, I can control the heating in the house, even when I am not there which, er, seems pretty unnecessary. But more than that, it knows what the weather is like because the internet told it, so can control itself accordingly. And, as it knows we are in Scotland, it possibly assumes it snows all winter and asks the bank for a loan to pay the gas bill? Apparently I can even set it to switch off the radiators every time I leave the room to go to the toilet. Adding on an extra 5 minutes for the slo-coach seat to go down, obviously. Ah, here's a thought, why can't someone invent the smart toilet seat, that I can control from my phone 5 minutes before I need to go for a pony-and-trap? Come on IoT, get it sorted.