Saturday, 30 June 2007

Good Food and Seaside Walks

These long lazy days, eating and drinking well and chatting amicably about everything under the sun - just means I get out of sync with this blog. So lots of apologies, but we are having a wonderful time with my sister and her husband here!

Off to the Brasserie du Port at Valras-Page again - any excuse and we take visitors there. However we did not really allow for the fact that Lesley does not like fish! Oops! But they did rustle up a great entrecôte steak. Lesley likes her meat cooked rather than still mooing - so we ordered well done and it arrived pink but not oozing - perfect!

A stroll along the cobb followed by a paddle in the sea - Nic even went swimming amongst all the tourists!

Back home afterwards, a swim in the pool and then a relaxing afternoon on the sunbeds......who could ask for anything more!

Friday, 29 June 2007

Artists in Herault

Twice in the last month we have been invited to a vernissage d'une exposition, both times by a friend in the village known by us a 'Parisian Nicole'. Although retired now in the rural South and spending her time painting, she was a taxi driver in Paris for most of her life, indeed one of the very first.

A few weeks ago, the painting club she is a member of was exhibiting their members' paintings and sculptures. It is astonishing how much 'amateur' talent there is around - at that vernissage we discovered two other people from our village who are also artists in their spare time. That makes a total of four in a village of only about 70 people (adults and children)! Must be something in the air!

This week Nicole also invited us to the vernissage of another local artist Jean-Christophe Attencourt which was to be held at the Salle Municiple of our very own little commune. It was interesting - he cleverly combined various techniques using acrylics and oil pastels, and incorporated optical illusions into his artwork. However we felt that this made them too complex and tiring on the eyes to be hung on our walls!

Working for so many years in the IT industry, I am always interested in new ideas on how to make practical use of the Internet - rather than just for general info, games, downloads, etc. I was therefore impressed with the Red Shoes Painting Blog set up by artist Sally Wimperis to showcase and (very successfully) sell her artwork via the net. Having discovered the plethora of amateur artists in our little village, none of whom own a PC let alone have considered using it as a means of showcasing their skills, I am toying with the idea of setting up and running a blog for them. What do you think?

LeeLee draws and paints, etc a lot in her spare time and is exceptionally good as well. It is not just me saying that - her art professors are always telling us! The latest one has recommended she goes to the beaches during the summer and earns money drawing portraits - he said he would if he could draw as well as she does. I mentioned to her about the idea of an artists' blog and she fancies publishing her pictures - I will keep you posted.....

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Customer Service

You should all have realised by now that I am a very reasonable person. It takes a lot to get me riled, and even more for me to get angry. When I am angry, I still retain my professionalism but become very 'concise, precise and to the point' as the children say. They also recommend diving into the nearest reinforced concrete bunker! My last boss before I retired, famously described me as an iron fist disguised as a charming lady!

It all started when I decided to order my Dad some birthday presents from a website that specialises in items associated with his former regiment - I won't mention their name!

Now some might say that since I ran an IT Department for several years, part of which specialised in the development of web-based user interfaces, that I know what I am doing on the Internet. And I do!

There I was filling in my user details, including a compulsory e-mail address, as the 'person doing the ordering'.

Then I opted for a different delivery address. All very logical. I completed my Dad's details - name and full address. The problem arose over the e-mail address field. Now my Dad is almost eighty years old, has not used a computer in probably 20 years and has never had an e-mail address in his life. So I left that field blank and carried on.

I completed the payment details and opted for the invoice to be sent to my address.

On pressing the 'order completed' button, I was told a compulsory field had not been completed, so order aborted. And I was back to the beginning again.

Three attempts later it became obvious that in order to accept the order, the person being 'delivered to' had to have an e-mail address, or no-can-do! So I made one up and off we went.

Now, in my business, we always wanted to know if there were 'bugs' or non-logical code within our user interfaces, so I thought I would do them a favour and drop them an e-mail. I mentioned that having a compulsory e-mail address for the person being delivered to, was illogical and that many people would have given up trying to order from their site long before thinking of a work-around. I was polite and trying to be helpful!

Two weeks later (!) I receive a reply that could only be described as patronising, bordering on the rude. Basically they told me that it seemed logical to them that if I was ordering over the Internet, I must have an e-mail address, so DER! WHAT WAS MY PROBLEM!!

Now during those two weeks, my brother had contacted me to say that Dad had received the invoice, even though it was marked to be sent to my address, and was discovered writing a cheque to the company thinking he had forgotten he had ordered the items.

So I started to steam at the ears!

I sent a 'concise, precise and to the point' e-mail highlighting the fact that the company was not only incapable of understanding an e-mail message when they received one, but were equally guilty of ignoring all the information (necessary or not) that they collected on their Internet ordering system!

Within 24 hours I had a grovelling e-mail stating that they were very very sorry, and that unfortunately an outside company develops their web site that they themselves have no control over! But that they would pass on my helpful comments!

Lessons to be learnt:

1. Customer service. Always look carefully at, and learn from, any customer correspondence and act promptly and accurately. Bullshit always gives a bad impression!

2. Never, ever lie unless you can be totally convincing and have all angles covered! Which is basically never.

3. Everyone should early on in their life work in a service industry that brings them into contact with the public. Between the ages of 12 and 18, I worked all my weekends and holidays in a petrol station where we actually dispensed petrol, washed your windscreen, checked your tyres and topped up your oil. By the end of it I could deal politely and 'charmingly' with anyone from the nice to the obnoxious!

4. It is a pathetic excuse to blame someone else and gives an even worse impression. Your customer interface has to be your responsibility whoever developes it!
lll
Oh well. Rant over for tonight!


Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Wine Tasting

Today we took Lesley and Steve on a short wine tasting expedition. Steve likes full-bodied red wines and so Richard and I had a great idea - lets go and find some! It's a difficult job but someone's got to do it!

Whilst heading over to Fos to the Domaine Ollier-Taillefer, Richard mentioned that yesterday he met Eric (our neighbour) carrying a case or two of wine from his car - and ever interested in all things alcoholic, asked what he had got in the boxes. Eric explained that he had just been to stock up on one of his favourite local wines from the Domaine du Météore, over towards Cabrerolles. So that was added to our itinerary.

When you look at the map, Fos is roughly equidistant from two routes - one from Bedarieux to Clermont d'Herault, and the other from Faugères to Pezenas. What is not immediately apparent to first timers, is how winding it is once you leave either of these main roads! But we made it by 10:30 and gave Lesley and Steve a quick tour round this lovely, pretty village.

When we presented ourselves at the domaine however we saw that we were 30 minutes too early for opening time. But we are not locals for nothing - having been here so many times before, we knew to ring the door bell. A very nice lady stuck her head out of the window above us and called out that she would be straight down. We had a good time trying their Castel Fossebus - and agreed that the 2005 was more to our taste than the 2003. They also had in some more of the rosé champagne that one of their relatives produces - for the last two years he has stuck to the white, but due to popular demand has again been producing the pink. That was two cases (one champagne and one castel) bought and put into the boot!

Next we headed off to find the Météore. Again you forget how winding and isolated so many of the villages in the Faugères region are. But, with very few signposts, we finally found the domaine - only to read that they are only open in July/August. Other times you have to make an appointment!

But we are persistent if nothing else, and we had an ace up our sleeve. Again, insider knowledge came into its own - we know that the garage on the hill outside Faugères on the Herepian road, has a secret. Once inside the kiosk, you can go through a door just behind the payment desk into a small room stacked with most of the up market wines of the region. And yes - they had some Domaine du Météore! They also had their usual champagne 'Philipponnat' which is very rare to see anywhere else, but which we recommend if you are into bubbles. So once again we had added to the contents of our boot.

By then it was lunch time and we were tired - so off we went home. This evening we have had a bottle of the rosé champagne (not as good as previous years) as an aperitif and taste tested the Castel Fossebus against the Météore Les Orionides. Both these reds are blended from the same four grape varieties (grenache, syrah, mourvèdre and carignan) but the results are quite different. We decided that the Castel was a more rounded wine than the Météore which had an unusual taste. However we all actually preferred drinking the Météore with our main course tonight, paella. It could stand up for itself against such a strongly flavoured dish.

We love it when wine drinkers come to stay!

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Another Gin, Dearie?

We live a quiet life down here in retirement and are quite 'stay at home' people. Therefore Sunday morning came as a bit of a surprise. I woke up feeling rather heavy in the head area, and remembered that I had actually been dreaming of drinking lots of water just before I woke up.

Ah! Now I remember why! I drank too much the night before (but it was a great party!).

It must have been that small bottle of lager I drank at the end whilst helping to tidy up. It certainly could not have been the few pastis I had first with the nibbles, nor all the wine I drank with the food, and absolutely not the glass of schnapps followed by a glass of neat jenever (special gin) I enjoyed with the coffee.

Nope - I definitely blame the lager. I should have remembered my relative's advice - never trust low % alcohol.
lll
We had a lovely day today with my sister Lesley and her husband Steve. First we strolled round Lamalou market and bought gros pain and croissants from our favourite bakery. Then we enjoyed smothering them with butter and jam at home.

For lunch (not many hours later!) we sampled various patés with a salad buffet and the afternoon passed very leisurely out on the terrace, in the sunshine and chatting about all and sundry. We normally only see each other at Christmas when there is not a lot of chance to sit down and just chat. So today was special.

Dinnertime arrived all to soon - we ate butterflied leg of lamb (marinated and then roasted) with roasted vegetable couscous. The cheese platter that followed the fresh pineapple (with minted sugar) included a brie de meaux that was positively oozing across the plate. Yummy! There was also a gouda with basil which was very unusual - but surprisingly moreish if you took thin slithers each time.

And did I mention alcohol? Yes we enjoyed white wine with lunch, sampled a rosé as an aperitif and had a red with dinner. But I do not expect to be suffering tomorrow morning - you notice I kept away from the lager!!

Monday, 25 June 2007

Don't Panic, Mr Mannering

We are off to pick up my sister Lesley and her husband Steve today for their long-anticipated visit and we are all so excited.

BUT - first we have to clean the house from top to bottom and as usual, we have left it to the last minute! So action stations.......not much time to 'play' on the Internet. Time to panic!

Our place only gets a good spring clean when someone is coming - I am such a terrible housewife, and that is why I have always worked full time! Not really because I like business, I just hate manual labour!

So we are finally on route and approaching Beziers when our mobile gets an SMS from Lesley to say they are getting on the plane and should be on time. How come we had to leave earlier than they?! They are travelling a thousand kilometres whilst we are only going a 'bit east' on the map!

We arrive comfortably in time. Get a quick look at the English books at the airport (Perpignan) and their plane lands 10 minutes early. Great! Back home in time for champagne as an aperitif! That's our life for you!

Sunday, 24 June 2007

The Cost of Cats

With increased poverty on the cards,we have already started planning things to cut down on. And what a shock we got when we analysed the ongoing costs of the dog and cat. This all started when we went to the chemist to pick up more worming and anti-flea/tick stuff for Smokey, our big fat tabby cat. She is not in fact fat, but she has such thick fur - and that phrase just rolls off the tongue.

Firstly we are delighted to report that pharmaceutical companies have finally employed someone who actually owns a cat! Every month we worm our cat/s (was two but recently down to one, but that's another story) and how many of you have tried to get tablets or thick white gloop in a syringe down the throat of a struggling, pissed-off feline? Grinding up the pills with a very cute gadget from a shop in Lamalou (every medical related gadget you can imagine!) and mixing it in her food is not very successful with an animal that will just go and catch her own dinner if what's on offer smells suspiciously different from normal.

Whilst looking for the anti-flea/tick drops, what did we spy on the shelf but worming drops!!! Great idea - we want some of those - irrespective of cost. So 45 euros poorer we have the regular cat medicaments for the next 3 months.

So today Smokey was captured and treated. Then we got worried because she became worryingly sleepy and just spent the rest of the day and evening curled up on a chair - not normal for her! We had carefully read the instructions, been worried about the warning on the dangers of giving the wrong dosage, and had decided to follow the advice of the Pharmacist about not putting the anti-flea/tick drops on at the same time but to leave two weeks between them.

After prodding her awake every half-hour to check she was still alive, she finally got so fed up with us that she left home in a huff. It is so much easier with dogs - put it together with a bit of cheese and any medicine will go down in one swallow!

When discussing the imminent money-shortage situation with the kids this evening, LeeLee expressed in one sentence what we had not even thought of - its all well and good spending that amount of money keeping our very expensive 'rare breed' dog healthy, but a 'free' stray cat?! Oh well, we all know that the English are suckers for their pets.
lll
Just before I logged off for the night (must get to bed!) I had a quick look at the news and HAD to post this story - the headline is certainly an attention grabber!

Sporran wearers may need licence
Kilt wearers could face prosecution if they do not have a licence for their sporran under new legislation which has been introduced in Scotland.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Party Time!

We had a wonderful time this evening at a 'multi-lingual' party to celebrate Albert's birthday - four English, 5 Dutch and 9 French people all enjoying themselves! But, as usual, we came away feeling very inadequate language-wise.

Riet and Albert have had a villa in La Sesquiere for about 10 years and, having retired recently, are now moving down to live here permanently. They have always spent a lot of time here, join in with everything and anything and are really nice people who get on well with (and care about) everyone. The whole village is so looking forward to them being here full time!

What also sets them apart is that they speak French like natives. In fact Riet speaks about 5 languages whilst Albert must be into double figures - not because either of them worked within the language industry but because they feel you should speak other languages if at all possible! Their two adult children also speak English, French, German and I think Spanish (as well as Dutch obviously) just for starters.

In England, Richard and I were always unusual in being able to get by in a second language and everyone here tells us how impressed they are that our two children are totally fluent in French. We are obviously inordinately proud of them for embracing the life-change we inflicted on them but it is worth noting that most of the people in our village speak several languages. Tonight I sat next to Cyprian who mentioned that he 'only' spoke 4 languages: French, Spanish, Occitane and Catalan! What we also note is that they keep up the local languages in the home.

LeeLee speaks German as well but she feels that she does not get enough practise - so hopes to chat to Riet and Albert in German more in the future! Nicole will start Occitane (as an extra subject) in September and then Spanish the year after (her 'second language LV2' after English as LV1 in college). She is looking forward to being able to chat to some of her friends and their families who already speak these two languages at home - when she visits they change to French just for her! Both of our girls have found that by being immersed in learning a new language (French) they are finding it easier with other languages - they soak them up like sponges!
If only we in England could accept what an advantage this European attitude is! We might be an island, but we need to be able to compete within Europe!

Friday, 22 June 2007

Flowers and Fish

With family coming to visit on Monday, we have started our usual "let's try and finish all those jobs we should have finished months ago".

So, out in the noon day sun, we finally got around to finishing the planked fencing around the pool. Then tomorrow we go and get the windbreak sheeting - and once we have remembered where we put the staple gun, that will go up as well.
Richard then decided that the lavender planted along the steps down to the pool decking, was now attracting too many bees to be safe. So I ended up sitting on the said steps using scissors to trim back the bushes, and the result - two massive bouquets and enough left over to put in the jug. The house smells wonderful!

In between everything else, I have also been working on designing cookery courses to run over the winter months at our new apartment. Tonight's menu included oven-baked trout stuffed with mediterranean herbs. It was scrumptious!

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Blind Faith and Scissors

In England, the dog used to go to a dog groomers regularly for a professional 'short, back and sides'.

So when we arrived here, we investigated the local groomers, found one that specialised in spaniels and took along Xena plus the 'Sussex Spaniel' book - that way they would know what she was meant to look like at the end. As you might have guessed, Sussex Spaniels are virtually non-existent here in France whilst only rare in England.

Ten minutes later they called to ask us to fetch her - she had attempted to bite all three of the groomers, and did not seem to understand them at all! Very apologetic, we went and picked her up - and didn't she looked very impressed with herself!

So now, when Xena needs a trim, I get out the scissors. I have had practise you know! When the children were young, I always cut their hair - well who cannot cut across in a straight line?! OK, so both girls have experienced snipped ears at least once .... and so has the dog now I come to think about it. Even Richard gets me to trim his hair - well I can manage a No.4 all over using the electric dog clippers!

The point I am getting to is - the dog has no other option whereas the girls do. However they seem to have total and utter faith in my hairdressing skills - blind or what?!

They bring out the magazines, point to the latest 'look' and say - that's what I want.
I reply - well save up your pocket money and go to a salon. But that does not seem to get me anywhere.


So there I was going to bed last night, when LeeLee arrived just out of the shower asking to have her hair cut. Two seconds later, Nic joins us and makes an appointment with me for tonight.

And however many times they tell me they want their hair cut short - how come my concept of short, is a lot shorter than what they wanted?

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Do I look fat in this...?

Not a particularly exciting day.

First we presented ourselves at college to inscribe LeeLee for the next school year. She was a bit pissed off since 'everyone else' did it on their own without their parents. But, being fairly conscientious (or anal as you might say if you are a teenager!), we always go through all the forms in detail and present ourselves at whatever establishment we are attempting to have dealings with in France. They do probably think 'Oh God, it's the English again' but what the hell - we feel we are doing our bit even if the children don't agree!

What happened? There we were queuing behind various students who had filled out the forms themselves - just leaving gaps where they did not know the answer! So what should have taken just a couple of minutes per person was actually wasting lots of time! I think LeeLee took the point - although I am not convinced.

One of the reasons why the whole family went to college, was because afterwards we were going straight on to a shopping complex near Narbonne. Having heard the magic S word, both girls deigned to come with us - always fatal!

LeeLee miraculously remembered that she not only had some birthday money still left unspent, but also that her next month's allowance is only a week or so away. So she hit the shops at full pelt whilst the rest of us went round Carrefour. We were investigating their fish counter when Richard's mobile went off - LeeLee was calling to say she needed me in Jennifer's to tell her if what she had tried on looked good!

Now, as her mother, she urges me to be honest - as a sensible person, I know it is a no-win situation. Sure enough I mentioned that I thought the top she had tried on made her look more voluptuous in the upper body area than normal.
'But do you like it?' she responded.
When pushed for more information, I explained that although I liked the top in principle, it made her look bigger than she actually was, especially around the arms.
'But don't you like it?' was her riposte.
This 'toing and froing' went on for some time until finally LeeLee said 'Will you just tell me if you think it makes me look fatter than normal!' to which I answered 'Yes, I think so.'

We were out of that shop in two seconds flat, and she sulked for the next 15 minutes!

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Birds and The Bees

I sent the girls off to get ready for bed and settled down at the PC to update the blog in peace and quiet, as I do most evenings. Best laid plans and all that.....

Five minutes later they were back and settling down into chairs next to me to tell us all about Nic's day which she had forgotten to tell Richard and me earlier. It seems today was the day that her class CM2 got THE TALK. You know - birds and the bees, etc.

With their teacher (the Headmaster) and an expert brought in for the occasion, they watched a series of DVDs and participated in question and answer sessions in between as well as discussions on associated issues like sexually transmitted diseases, etc.

Well, if I was following it correctly, the film that made the most impression on Nic was the one about the green hairy aliens that looked like bears with antennae. They were teenagers (one boy and one girl) who arrived on Earth in a blue spaceship and got all lovey-dovey. Having got an erection, the boy-alien said to the girl-alien "Wait a minute" and went off to find a condom machine down the street. He thumped the machine hard, took out a packet of condoms and returned to the huffily waiting girl-alien who proceeded to put it on him. They were then seen entering the spaceship to 'go to bed'. A little while later, the now very happy boy-alien came back outside, went down the street, wrenched the condom machine off the wall, carried it back to the spaceship and took off for home.

Whatever you might think about this particular example of sex education here in France, after an hour and a half of chatting and discussing everything she learnt about today with Nic, I have to admit she was totally knowledgeable not only about sex, the various associated health and social issues but also about puberty in both boys and girls. There was no embarrassment (nor indeed for any of her classmates) in discussing these issues openly.

Now Richard and I have always brought the girls up with the understanding that whatever questions they ask will be answered truthfully (albeit with detail appropriate for their age at the time). They talk with us about everything and anything, and are allowed to read whatever they want in the house, with the agreement that they will come to us to discuss anything that they do not understand.

We well remember a young LeeLee who had been fascinated by the 'little bit of the daddy' (the sperm) that joins up with the 'little bit of mummy' (the egg) to produce a fertilised egg, which splits repeatedly until a foetus is formed which then grows into a baby. As you might have realised by know, she soaked up technical knowledge like a sponge. However the day finally dawned when she asked Richard and I how and where the two 'bits' got together - something that had never interested her before. When this was explained, her 'Urrr! Yuk! Gross!' exclamation went down into family history, regularly thrown back at her even now.

Overall, a successfully day, me thinks - even if it meant that once again they have kept Richard and me up until the early hours with their chatting!

Monday, 18 June 2007

Ballet Concert

One year of lessons, and all those extra practises over the last month, led up to Saturday's ballet concert for Nic. She was so excited and thoroughly enjoyed herself. It was an interesting evening for us also - experiencing a children's concert French style.

For a start it was the first time we have found the locals early for anything! Richard and LeeLee dropped Nic and I off at the place whilst they went to park the car. It was due to start at 21:00 with the children being there for 20:30 so we expected to have half an hour to spend in a bar/cafe somewhere. However, as I delivered Nic, I found virtually all the seats already taken - filled with several generations of family for each child! Off I ran to find them and we hot-footed back to nab the last chairs.

It was an outside concert and as the light faded, out came the bugs. First lesson learnt: remember the mosquito spray next time like all the locals did.

It started 30 minutes late but went on until a quarter to midnight! Yes, that long! LeeLee noted that there was a far higher proportion of fathers (and indeed grandfathers) than you ever saw at such do's in England and we noted that even though there were a lot of young children in the audience, they were very well behaved right to the end!

Second lesson to pass on: even though it started in daylight and hot temperatures, by midnight it was cold so remember (like we did at the last minute) to take fleeces.

It was a classic example of the problems associated with young children. All so confident during the rehearsals, when the four year olds got out in front of us - stage fright struck. Also, knowing their left from their right would have helped! During the young ones' performances, the older girls acted as 'sheepdogs', herding the little ones in the correct direction with well placed pushes on either their tummies or backs! I have to say though, they stole the show.

Nic was super even if I say so myself. Her excellent rhythm meant she was one of the few that kept in time to the music, and her photographic memory meant she knew all her steps - as well as everyone else's. Bossy, she was, I am afraid!

Afterwards it was drinks and nibbles - that ballet teacher knew how to make sure everyone stayed right to the end however late it went on to!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Happy Father's Day to Richard and Dad!


I should have known it would be fatal to take the girls with me when I went to our favourite chocolates shop in Beziers (Chocolat de Neuville) to buy Richard one of his Father's Day presents from them. When the lady behind the counter greets us by name - you know you have a reputation! The stuff they make is out of this world, truly!

Spending lots of time choosing the individual items to go into his box of chocolates was perfectly justified. Then LeeLee (a serious chocoholic alongside Richard!) could not resist any longer - and suddenly announces that she is going to blow a large proportion of her hoarded birthday money on a box as well. That takes another 20 minutes - too much choice and she always wants EVERYTHING!

Just to cap it all, Nic also gives in and decides to blow her remaining birthday money on a selection. Lucky for us, the Lady is patient and recognises a good thing when she sees it - and for the first time ever, there is not a queue of people waiting behind us.

So 84euro poorer, I drag them out - as the Lady is handing us each free chocolates to eat on the way home! What really pissed Richard off is that the girls have been cheerfully munching from their boxes since then whilst he had to wait until today! 'Quelle dommage!' said the girls!

So if you are wandering along the allées Paul Riquet in Beziers, number 35 is where you should be going!
lll
Also happy birthday today to one of my nieces - Sheila Kate!

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Happy Birthday Dad!

Its my Dad's special day today - 79 years young! I miss him very much, and being so far away from our elderly parents was the one thing that made Richard and I question moving to France. We both lost our Mums nearly 2 years ago, three months apart, and it was a difficult time for us and the girls. Dad is therefore especially precious - I am already starting to plan a surprise 80th birthday party for him next year!

He does not change though. A gentle quiet man, always letting my gregarious Irish Mum be the main talker, he would ring me up regularly and the conversation would be as follows:

"Hi, its Dad."
"Hello Dad!"
"How are you? Richard and the girls?"
"We are all fine. Are you OK? And Mum?"
"Yes, we are fine. OK then, night night." And he would put the phone down.

And today when I phoned him - it was almost exactly the same! The shortest call in history!

Watching the 'Trooping of the Colour' celebrations on TV was particularly relevant on his birthday. As a soldier in the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, he was also in their Military Band as a musician (euphonium player) as well as a music teacher for them. He also arranged musical scores for the Band.

I have wonderful childhood memories of watching him in the Band performing all over the country and I still love watching and hearing them to this day! I knew the animal mascot that marched in front (a Shetland pony called Ringway) and never cottoned on that it 'changed' over time as age took its toll! I was fascinated by the 'dishmops' (the drum sticks that had white tassels on the end and looked just like old fashioned dishmops......) and exceedingly jealous of the man with the BIG drum in the centre because he got to wear a tiger (or was it a leopard?) skin which Dad did not.
As a very organised man and with more nouse in his little finger than most people have in their whole body, he had already researched what he would do if Mum died first. Knowing that (after several strokes) he would not be able to look after himself in the long term and with a lifetime of being most comfortable around soldiers, he discovered that the Royal Hospital Chelsea is actually an old people's home specifically for ex-soldiers. Provided you were a full time soldier with a clean service record, receive a service pension and have no dependants - they will welcome you to join them for the rest of your life. It is a service charity, and you just sign over your Army pension to them each month (irrespective of how little or large it is). They do not take anything else from you - they consider your 'assets' (eg your savings, your house, etc) are yours to do with as you wish.

At the moment they are only able to take on a small number who need the amount of care that Dad requires so although accepted, his move there is delayed until their new infirmary building is finished - due Autumn 2008. So if you are looking for a worthwhile charity to donate to - please remember them and their 'buy a brick' campaign! They do an amazing job and the Chelsea Pensioners are an important part of our heritage!
lll
It is also the birthday of one of my nephews, Paul, today. Hope you have had a super time!

Friday, 15 June 2007

Smokey and The Bandits

When we lived in England, tabby cats were most common and I always wondered why Mother Nature bothered with that type of fur design. Since moving down here and acquiring such an animal I have realised two things.
One: how incredibly beautiful their fur is - the colour variations are actually strata on each individual hair!
And two: how superbly suited the tabby coat is for blending into stone walls and structures that are everywhere down here - a perfect camouflage! We actually have a picture of Smokey sitting on the ruin in front of our terrace which we bring out as a party game - 'spot the cat'.
Smokey is Nic's cat and I have to admit, not the brightest star in the firmament. We watched her tonight sitting on the wall watching Michael our neighbour cook the dinner in his outside oven (her favourite occupation!). Much to her astonishment, she became the target for 'bombing' hirondeles. Her head was going round and round like an owl's as she tried to follow their flight paths and not once did she attempt to catch them. In the end, she decided to ignore them and lay down. All my attempts at a photo failed to catch the birds in mid-flight but she deigned to look at me!
lll
Onto cheese again! We visited a Carrefour in Narbonne today to pick up a Father's Day present for Richard (he is into gadgets...) and saw a particular cheese we like that is difficult to find down here. We originally had it at the Arbousier restaurant in Lamalou when we first arrived. On asking the waiter about it, he explained where it came from, what it was and the fact that you have to be careful - there are two distinct types that are called the same but taste very different. Since then we have only found it at the SuperU at Agde. It is called Boulette d'Avesnes from near the Belgium border and is made from buttermilk flavoured with parsley, pepper, tarragon and cloves. It is moulded by hand into its distinctive shape, coated in paprika and sometimes washed in beer. It is well worth a try if you like unusual flavours, but watch out because one tastes too herby for me - I prefer the one that tastes like it has a bit of cumin in it.
lll
Talking about the Arbousier restaurant, this is one of Nic's favourite because (as she will be delighted to tell you!) it was where she visited with her class the first year she was in school here. Every year all the Lamalou restaurants liaise with the school to organise a food appreciation week. The children go to different establishments, are shown the cooking process for different dishes and get to taste them - all around a particular topic. That first year it was 'taste - sweet/sour'. That's hands-on education for you!

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Cheeseboard

Set off this morning to choose something for lunch, opting for cheese and fresh pain epi with sliced tomatoes in vinaigrette on the side. Whilst browsing the cheese counters for inspiration, we came across two new ones to try - and loved them both. They were Selles Sur Cher (AOC) and Bavierola.

The first (pictured bottom right) I had read about on the blog Chez LouLou a little while ago and noticed it this morning for the first time. In my french fromage bible it describes a goat's milk cheese with a smooth clay-like texture and a slightly sour/salty taste. It is covered completely by an edible blue/grey mould over powdered charcoal. As it reached room temperature it became creamier and the taste was excellent - not over sour as is often the case with a goat's milk cheese.

The second (bottom left) gave no hint of its origins but was creamy with some blue throughout. Found virtually nothing about it on the Internet other than it appears to be from Germany. We would describe it as smoother and not quite as strongly flavoured as Gorgonzola, yet firmer and stronger than Cambozola. Absolutely my favourite at the moment.....until we find something better!

Just for info, the other two were Tomme Noire (top left) and a mature Gouda. All in all, a good variety of textures and flavours we thought!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Cosmetic Surgery?

Aaaah! Another day without the internet. I am getting fed up with this!
lll
For 10 days I have had half a face that was gloriously smooth and wrinkle free - women of a certain age and wealth pay a lot for such results. I am pleased to report though that the crows feet are reappearing and I am getting movement back on my left side. The children no longer think I am snarling at them all the time, and my dimple is visible again. But doesn't my jaw ache from all that chewing gum!
lll
With college winding down, LeeLee chooses each day whether and at what times to go in to school. The criteria are very serious - is 'so and so' going in, are the shops open in Bedarieux, etc. What it highlights is the problem most often associated with teenage girls - why can she not decide what she wants to do, tell us and stick to it. As fast as she arrives at college, the phone rings with revisions! We end up having our plans for the day disrupted every time. This morning's joy? She took in a boxed set of DVDs she had borrowed (weeks ago!) to give back to a friend. Have you guessed? Yes, she did not check all the disks were in it, and yes one was missing so at 7:44am we get the call 'Dad, can you just pop in with it at 11:00.' She knows better than to ask me - Dad is the soft touch in this family!

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Noises and Success

Sorry for the delay in this post - our internet connection has been down for 24 hours!

lll

The deafening cacophony of baby bird noises that greeted me as I went out on the terrace very early this morning, tells me hatching season has commenced. The bounce in the step of our remaining cat tells me she is looking forward to a bumper crop this year. The parent birds nest in the walls of our remise, entering through incredibly minute gaps between the stones. As the fledglings emerge, even the blindest, fattest, slowest old feline can just sit with their mouth open and munch all day!

lll

Our meeting with the immobilier and the vendeurs of our apartment went exceedingly well with many issues discussed and amicably resolved. The list of contents supplied was extremely detailed (the number of clothes pegs?). Our concern over the back boundary of the courtyard was resolved by their suggestion that we put up a 2 metre trellis/fence as soon as possible so that it is in place when any future purchasers of the other apartments come viewing and before the document for the copropriété is finalised. The purchase contract was then read out, we followed virtually every word and paid our deposit. This had been a pleasant surprise when we received the draft contract - they were only seeking a basic 2000 euro acompte rather than the standard 10%. Mr Roques then went hot-foot to the notaire to lodge the paperwork, which will be back with us tomorrow to give to the bank. Scary or what?!

lll

Lamalou has an impressive outdoor swimming complex which is only open to the public for one month of the year (!) July. In June the schools have the use of it for lessons - and so from now until the end of term, Nic spends each morning of every school day there. We got a surprise when we drove into Lamalou yesterday - seeing our daughter plus class mates walking along the storm drain/conduit that runs through the town - it seems it is the quickest route! They believe in making sure all kids can float!

Monday, 11 June 2007

In Our Prayers

Richard and I felt undeniable sadness, tempered by a measure of relief, when we read this week-end that the McCann family were recognising that soon they might have to move on and start the grieving process for their beloved daughter Madeleine.

As parents, we pray and hope that she will come home safe. As a police officer, Richard could only say - if she is dead, pray it happened quickly.

For me it brought back memories of a time soon after we were married.

A young child was abducted in the UK, and the suspect was being hunted throughout the country. A police officer on Richard's ground was out walking the beat on Night Duty. He noticed a car with out-of-town plates driving through their insalubrious area of London, and also the fact that that make and model was extremely rare in that particular colour. On returning to the station, he noted his observations in the 'occurrence' book. His superior, on checking the book at the end of the shift made the connection to details of the suspect just sent out to all forces. The suspect was picked up soon after and ultimately convicted of the crime.

What I remember was Richard's silence for many days, before he was able to explain to me the fact that the full details of the horrendous crime were not going to be released. Thankfully, compassion and commonsense prevailed - it was decided that those parents should not have to live with that degree of knowledge.

At the age of eighteen, I was horrifyingly unqualified to help Richard other than by being there, ready to listen, when needed. I thank God that the need to provide proper psychological support to members of the emergency services is recognised nowadays.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Generosity and Sobriety

We have such generous friends in the village (pictured above at a New Year's party at Eric and Chrystal's house), who all live by the premise that 'when you have plenty, you share it with others'. What this means in practise is that we regularly receive gifts of whatever is currently in season:

- sanglier (opened the front door many a morning in my dressing gown to find a man holding a raw leg, on the doorstep)

- strawberries (these arrive 3 kilos at a time in paniers)

- cherries (carrier bags of white, red and morello as well as 'special ones' off a tree that NEVER gets treated with chemicals and are saved for family and close friends only)

- peaches ( when asked if I liked peaches I innocently answered yes, and found a commercial crate load of the most luscious and freshest peaches you can imagine on the terrace the next day)

- walnuts (what does anyone do with 5 kilos of these?!)

- beetroots (when around at our neighbour's house Richard admired their beetroots and mentioned I was the only one in our family who liked them; next day I found a bag of 8 hanging on the door handle)

I could go on, but the point I want to make is that Richard and I feel so guilty not having much to give back except homemade marmalade. This morning, though, one of my lettuces on the terrace looked wonderful even if I say so myself - large and unslugged - and far too impressive to waste on ourselves. So off I trotted to our friends opposite, and gave to Chrystal the salade. But what happens? She immediately hands me back a basket of fresh eggs that her young daughter had just collected and was going to bring round to us! That will be our favourite 'eggs and ham' for Sunday brunch then!
lll

Anyone out there reading my blog would know I usually re-read my draft the next morning before publishing it - to strip out the late night drunken tirades.

But not this week - deciding that lots of medication probably should not be mixed with alcohol, I am living a life of sobriety. So any tirades will be published on the day - and cannot be blamed on any prohibited substances!

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Floorplan!

A busy and exciting day today! LeeLee off to college as normal for 8:00am classes followed by Nic off to the very same college with us for a 9:00am start - why can't life be simple!

It was Nic's day to be shown around her new educational establishment in preparation for September, and she thoroughly enjoyed it - especially the bit where you get to chatter incessantly to your four best friends. Yes, I mean the ones she has been away with for five whole days this week and last saw late yesterday! How can so much have happened to a group of eleven year olds over night?!

After a very quick pain epi and cheese for lunch, we were off to 'Poujol sur Orb' where Nic had an extra three hour ballet lesson at 14:00 (thank goodness the concert is this month). The complication was that our Immobilier also called to say that the Géometre's plan and report for our apartment had just come in and he was bringing a copy to us if we were free - but it had to be before his appointment at 14:00. So at ten minutes to the hour, there we all were in a car park discussing the changes needed to the compromis (which he e-mailed to us last night, and had me down as 10 years older than I am!) and the Géometre's findings. Who needs a local office!

We then spent an exciting afternoon, scanning the plan, blowing it up to 1/20th size and rearranging the walls, sanitary wear and furniture to our hearts content!

Friday, 8 June 2007

Classe de Découverte

Off we went at 17:00 to meet and collect Nic (who has been away with her class for five days) at the car park of the Gorges d'Heric. There we all were expecting a coach to turn up - when we spy the children arriving on foot! They had set off at 9:00am to walk the whole way along the gorges and back - only stopping for a picnic at lunchtime. What impressed us all was that they did not look puffed, just a bit hot since the sun had been shining all day! The treasure hunt that the teachers had arranged for the whole journey must have helped!

Nic's first comment was 'Its really odd to be speaking English again' followed by verbal diarrhoea.

First we heard about one of her best friends who cried her eyes out solidly for the first 24 hours away. The teachers finally gave in and said they would call her parents and explain that she was too homesick - at which point she informed them that she was having far too much fun to want to go home! Only Richard and I thought of the song ' Hello Mother. Hello Father. Here I am at Camp Granada....'

Then we heard about the day they went kayaking - another of her best friends pushed her in the water!

Then about the potholing - yet another best friend got stuck in the narrow tunnel because she did not listen to the instructions to keep her arms pointing forward !

Then about the day they went mountain biking - they cycled 24 kilometres!

And finally - the food.

Hot chocolate, bread, jam and orange juice for breakfast - and only allowed if they had showered and got themselves ready in time for 8:00am!
Lunch - half a baguette filled fresh each day with something different, followed by fruit and cheese.
Dinner - starter, main course and fruit/cheese. As a special treat, they had a coffee eclair one night!
Wine was available for the adults each evening, and the children were allowed a small amount if wished.

My memories of school trips do not quite match this!?

No pictures yet though - her disposable camera will need to be sent away to be processed.

lll

As an aside, we had our first evening swim tonight - a balmy 26 degrees in the swimming pool. Glorious!

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Home Grown Dinner

As a couple who have worked full time and long/odd hours all their life, we are often asked 'What exactly do you find to do all day long now?!'

Well, I watch our vegetables and fruit grow! Anyone who knows me, knows that manual labour is not my strong point but down here - wow, do fruit and veg grow easily!

Mangetout and french beans - pop the seeds in the ground, attach them to the automatic watering system and up they sprout.
Tomatoes, lettuces, aubergine, peppers, courgettes and strawberries - buy the little plants at the market, put them in the ground, attach them to the automatic watering system and watch them grow.

You might have spotted a common feature - and this is Richard's project. The magic 'automatic watering system' is the key for us. So far we only grow fruit/veg on our terrace - we have not even started on the garden yet!
So I went out onto the terrace, picked the above, and our dinner tonight was as follows:

Side salad : homegrown lettuce and green peppers

Marinated and barbecued lamb leg steaks

Simple stir fry : homegrown courgettes, french beans and mangetout

Homegrown strawberries with homemade ice cream

Yep - it was wonderful and tasty! If we could just work out how to keep sheep and cows (without over taxing ourselves ........... ) it would have been homegrown lamb and cream as well!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

British / French Differences

Sunday lunch at our favourite restaurant. Whilst our children dived into moules à la roquefort, on our left a 7 year old had oysters to start followed by mussels, and on our right a 5 year old helped herself to her own soupe du poisson with all the extras. Wonderful!
lll

As you can imagine, I am on a vast array of medications at this time, one of which instructs me to diet at the same time. So I am not only feeling off colour but also hungry!

This is not the first time since coming to France that I have been on large doses of painkillers, etc and each time I remember to check with the Doctor whether I should refrain from alcohol - and in every instance the Doctor has looked absolutely incredulous and said 'Of course not!'. Obviously locals would not be prepared to take any medication needing such drastic abstinence!

When Richard had his hip-replacement operation here, he spent the following 6 weeks in a residential re-education unit. Both lunch and dinner were four course meals with a 1/2 litre of wine per person. Richard could not hack the wine at lunchtime (sends him to sleep for the afternoon!) which caused astonishment amongst the predominantly elderly clientele!
lll

One day when we first moved here, we walked to the college to meet LeeLee from class. Not surprisingly there was a large group of lads loitering outside and spread all over the pavement. As we approached, they immediately moved off the pavement and said 'Pardon Monsieur et Madame' - imagine our astonishment! And we have since found this to be the case all the time!
lll

We were leaving Bedarieux last Friday after our fun evening dans la rue, when a moped with a young man on the back started weaving in and out of the traffic and then overtaking on the inside using the bollarded-off cycle lane. Needless to say he was not wearing a helmet - this is France you know!

All of a sudden flashing blue lights appeared behind us and then set off after the moped who had by now turned right at the roundabout and disappeared. 'Not a chance' was Richard's comment from the passenger seat (I was driving!) - 'he is well away by now'.

But what did we see when we reached the roundabout? The lad, seeing blue lights some distance behind him, very conscientiously pulled over and waited for the police car! What a well brought up young man! 'Not like at home!' said the incredulous ex-Met copper next to me.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Humorous Times, and Sad

It is amazing what a family with a slightly skewed sense of humour can find to laugh and joke about amongst themselves when one of them has acquired half a face that does not work very well all of a sudden. And please believe we mean no disrespect to those people who do suffer permanent paralysis - our hilarity is based on incredible relief that what has happened to me is minor in the bigger scheme of things.

French children have a comment cassé (used in conjunction with pretending to shoot someone with your right hand) that is similar to 'Gotcha!', 'Serves You Right!' or 'Took a stance yesterday against something, and have been caught out doing it today yourself' which is relevant to my story today.

First, I had an interesting time trying to rinse my mouth out after washing my teeth this morning - needed one hand to keep the lips together to prevent the water leaving by the left hand side faster than I could put some in my mouth!

Second, I only realised once I was in the shower that my left lower eyelid was drooping sufficiently to be unable to make a watertight seal - and I was definitely not going to lose an expensive 'wear them constantly for 2 months without taking them out' contact lens down the plug hole. Hence washing my hair whilst keeping one hand over my left eye....

Third, having to tell LeeLee that on the recommendation of the Medical Expert I had to spend each and every day chewing gum whilst grimacing and making other unnatural shapes with my face and mouth. As a parent who has always lectured her children about people who insist on chewing gum with their mouths open like a cement mixer, and banning the said children from having it until they were old enough to be able to masticate WITH THEIR MOUTHS SHUT AT ALL TIMES - she thought this was definitely a cassé moment!

Fourth, I have decided that the plastic straw is the most underrated invention of all time. It definitely enhances your life by enabling you to not only be able to drink water and juice but also the essentials of life (ie tea) - when your mouth is unable to make good enough contact to the rim of a cup. Now in a household where the father got so fed up with used straws being left on all the surfaces around the house by the children, that he put the straws on the top of the kitchen cupboards out of their reach - LeeLee thought it was particularly cassé when the three of us went out to lunch today and I 'brought my own supply of straws' which I had had to ask Richard to get down for me because I could not reach them! Also, as the idiot who decided to make homemade chicken soup for dinner, I declined their kind offer tonight to fetch me another one - with dignity!

Fifth, one of the quirks of this palsy is that whilst your facial muscles are paralysed your hearing on that side becomes highly sensitive (someone in heaven has a twisted sense of humour me thinks!). This resulted in me being wide awake all last night because I imagined I could hear every proverbial 'small pin' drop!

Oh well, life goes on and Nic is enjoying her school trip very much. They have set up a telephone system which we can call at any time to listen to recorded messages left by the children each day - and some of these kids can talk for England (or should I say France?). Nic did point out to us that we would recognise her because she would be the only one speaking English!

On a sad note, we heard from my brother last night that their dog Jessica has had to be put down. Her wonderful finale was their last visit to the vet a few days before to discuss 'quality of life' for such an old dog - on their return they opened the car door for her just as a local cat walked past. Quick as a flash, she jumped out and was racing down the street after it - and they had the devil's own job to catch her! Way to go, Jess!!

Today would also have been our Mum's birthday (82 years young) and it has been a day to look back and remember all the good times. Digital pictures on the computer are convenient but at times like this, photo albums are worth their weight in gold.

Monday, 4 June 2007

One of Those Days.....

Richard and I certainly had one of those days today!

To put it in context, Nic is spending this week away on a school trip with her class. Where she is concerned this means being fully prepared, lists drawn up and all arrangements gone over again, and again, and again.....at least 2 weeks in advance. She has been so excited - this is going to be the highlight of her year so far. LeeLee was due to be at college all day.

Alarm clock goes off as usual, children are woken up and start getting ready when I notice that the left side of my face does not appear to be working properly. Did not think I drank that much last night?! Slowly it dawns on me that I have a potentially serious problem. In the back of my mind is always the fact that my Dad has had 5 strokes so far (and is fighting back from all of them) whilst my Mum lived her whole life with major heart problems - both hereditary.

Our priority suddenly becomes getting both the girls on their way, none the wiser, before setting off for the hospital. This worked a treat with Nic, although suffered a set-back when LeeLee asked if she could skip some lessons since school is basically over now that all the marks have been counted and places for next year confirmed. As luck would have it, she meant that she wanted to actually go in to be with friends, just not go to all the lessons (eg English!).

On the dot of 9:00am we were therefore able to present ourselves at the Emergency Department of the Polyclinique Trois Vallees at Bedarieux, to be seen immediately by a doctor - only one person in the queue ahead of us as usual! Wired up to every conceivable monitor, within 20 minutes he pronounced that it was not my heart or a stroke, but probably a 'frozen facial nerve'. However, to be on the safe side, I was going to have an MRI scan on my brain and the ambulance was just outside to take me to the dedicated unit in Beziers. He also apologised that their own new scanner was not available yet for use!

We arrive at ScanDoc and within 30 minutes I am wheeled in to have my scan. Five minutes later, the Doctor on duty tells me that everything is totally normal (no clots, bleeds or tumours) and that I probably have a 'frozen facial nerve'. He then sends me on to the Emergency Department of the main Beziers hospital via ambulance. Once there I unexpectedly collapse and get the full works again - all fine, not a heart attack, etc. Then up to the ORL Unit (basically ear, nose and throat) where I am diagnosed as having - you've guessed it - a 'frozen facial nerve' brought on by a virus.

And so here we are, back home by 16:00 - plenty of time before LeeLee arrives on the school bus at 17:30.

Lessons to be learnt?

1. Don't panic - might not be as serious as you think.

2. Isn't the French health system wonderful.

3. Most people would be happy to pay towards the cost as we do here, in order to get such an excellent, prompt service.

4. The internet knows everything - if I had read this page, I would have known exactly what was wrong with me!


I am now the proud owner of an 'autorun CD' of my MRI scan - at a cost of 30.98 euros (85% of which will be refunded). Definitely something to bore the pants of our next dinner guests!

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Odd Thoughts

Early Saturday morning after yet another late night eating and drinking at a friends' house in the village ......... having remembered during the night that I had not loaded the final version of yesterday's 'post' onto our blog!

What I did not expect to be doing was editing html code - I thought I had left that all behind at work! But I had forgotten the rule that however wysiwyg something is meant to be, it is invariably simpler to get things consistent by editing the behind-the-scenes code. Enough geekyness for now ...

With strict instructions from the girls not to wake them up until 11:30, Richard has gone to get bread so that we can have a quiet breakfast together before lunch time. The only day there is not school/college in this household is Sunday - so this is the only day we all can enjoy a lie-in. The girls however, whilst wanting to catch-up on sleep, do not under any circumstances want to miss out on an actual meal. So hence it will be 'nutella on bread' at 11:30, just in time for lunch at 12:30.

LeeLee spent Friday in Montpelier on a school trip - Herault ran a book project where college students were given 4 newly released books to read, discuss and vote on. They then got the chance to meet the winning author and question them on their creative processes. What was the first thing our eldest cherub commented on, on her return? At lunchtime the students were let loose in the city to find their own lunch and LeeLee immediately proposed a quick trip to McDonald's (one of the things she misses most about living down here). Horrified - her friends said 'Yuk! We're not eating awful junk food like that!' - so they ended up at a super little Turkish cafe in the back streets that one of them knew, where even LeeLee admitted that the food was absolutely fantastic!

I take it all back - children are wonderful! Nic has just staggered down the stairs two hours early to give me my Mother's Day present - this beautiful collage that she made after spending many days secretly searching for photos on our computer! I love it!

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Happy Birthday to Patrick!

It's my brother's special day today so many happy returns to Patrick! Since part of his present was wine related we wanted to also give him a couple of bottles. About 900 miles separate us - so we had to send a cheque to Susan (my sister-in-law) and ask her to buy some bottles locally. Being a STAR, she searched until she found some wine from our region! It is galling when we are surrounded by excellent quality, good-value wine that it is just not economic to send it home to England.

On the dot of 9:00 this morning our Immobilier called to check we had received and understood his e-mail, and to agree some dates for the signing ceremonies. Still cannot believe he is real! After we met him yesterday, we had a little laugh to ourselves about the fact that other people also suffer from parents who promise the 'services of their brilliant son/daughter' to friends. We asked him how come he was selling these apartments when his office is actually based some way away in Lodeve. His face was a picture (and one we recognised) - he was born and grew up around here as did his father who has lots of family and friends still living in Lamalou. Hence the couple who are selling their apartments obviously wanted to use the son of their friend, of whom they had heard so much about over the years .......

Last night we went to the Cuisines Dans La Rue in Bedarieux - a wonderful, typically French evening spent with friends.
This is an annual event whole-heartedly recommended if you like good food and wine tasting, where a central food area is surrounded by various local wine producers. When you arrive, you purchase (for a token 1 euro) a wine glass that hangs around your neck and enables you to visit the many stalls to try any of their wines - for one euro a glass. You also buy a 10 euro ticket which qualifies you to food. Three different plates of food are offered through the evening, roughly equating to an entree, main course and dessert. Each plate contains two different specialities, prepared by different top chefs in the region (from various upmarket restaurants). New this year, the same chefs were doing cookery demonstrations of their individual dishes. You spend your evening wandering around alternating between trying various wines and plates of food. It is a family occasion primarily attended by locals - you come away knowing you have had a good time. You even get some exercise wandering around!

Sorry this entry is a day late - we have had a hectic two days and I did not get a chance to do the necessary 'final read through whilst sober, before posting' until this morning!

Friday, 1 June 2007

Offer Accepted!

It was a surreal evening last night, drinking champagne and shakily toasting our future as property tycoons in the making. But to start at the beginning....

We had arranged a meeting with our Immobiler (Nicolas Roques) for mid-day in order to discuss various questions and also to get some feel for whether our planned offer would be in the right ballpark.

First miracle of the day - he phoned us at 11:45 to explain and apologise because he was running about 20 minutes late - would we be still OK to meet? A very rare occurrence I can assure you! Most never phone to warn you and commonly do not turn up at all. We originally spent about 18 months looking for our current house and got to know every Immobilier in this part of Herault (and there are loads!) - and would only recommend about four as being truly professional. Well, now we can add one more to that short list!

We settled down in a cafe and he very clearly and carefully explained the whole process, including the fact that the crucial Geometre report was not due until next week and so any initial offer would be dependant on our reading and being happy with this. Between us we drew up a two-part offer: one if the apartment was only available for final signature at the end of the rental season (with us not requiring the contents) and the other for if it was available 6 weeks earlier in which case we would pay a little extra for the contents in order to fulfill the bookings already organised by the current owner. It was refreshing to find that Mr Roques did not attempt to inflate the value of the contents but in fact proposed a figure less than our view - and also that our 'certainly lower than the requested purchase price' offer was not dismissed out of hand. He had no hesitation in agreeing to speak to the owner as soon as possible to find out her reaction, and promised to get back to us via e-mail.

Back home and a couple of hours later, the promised e-mail gave us the good news: the owner was happy with our offer and our willingness to be flexible with timing - and the apartment plus contents could be ours before the end of the season. Would we like to select a date in 2 weeks time to draw up and sign the compromis de vente?

Hence the champagne, the shakiness and discussions with the children about how impending two-property ownership would effect us all - ie increased poverty!