Thursday, 22 December 2005

That reminds me...

Couple of things I forgot to mention yesterday.

The Weather Station is going well. Have had some teething troubles. The Rain Collector has kept on falling over. It is free-standing atop a water butt at the moment (and working) but I need to sort it out over the christmas break. I really need to tie it up to a heavy slate or something. I wouldn't mind but there's an ideal spot on the root for it, but unfortunately it is totally at the mercy of the wind when I put it there. Also, I had everything set up to record in km/h, for no particular reason than it is the most natural unit for me to grasp. Unfortunately this resulted in some unbelievably high wind speed readings - 150km/h or so. I resolved the problem by having the Weather Station read in m/s instead. I think either the station itself, or the "reader" software was getting confused - getting a value already in km/h but thinking it was m/s and converting it. I did say I'd try and get to the bottom of it, although now that it seems to be working it is a case of summoning the willpower...

One of the observations of my visit to Liverpool. A small, subtle thing but worth recording. We went into Liverpool City Centre on Monday, and as we were driving back out we were in a queue if traffic on one of the arterial roads. The marked Police car in front of us decided, without signal, lights etc., to turn left at some traffic lights. The lights had "No Left Turn" signs on them. Just reinforces the notion that they (the Police) believe that there is one law for them, a separate law for everyone else. As I say, it is a small thing but it insences me when these people - who should set themselves up as shining examples for others to follow - blatantly flout the law. A pity I wasn't sharp enough to note the registration number of the car.

Stopped off at Fortnum's last night to get the Christmas crackers. Everything in full swing now.

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Lazy

This time really takes the biscuit - nothing written for almost six weeks!

In reality, life has been quite quiet. The build-up to Christmas is well-and-truly in full swing, but otherwise things are trundling along as ever.

Alice's presents are sorted, and Jacqueline's present was sorted long ago, so the only thing left to do is to wrap them. Last weekend we did the obligatory trip to grandparents - though on this occasion we flew for the first time. Very impressed with the flights (FlyBe, we arrived early each time), less so with the Rental Car company (Avis) who stiffed me around £25 on the small print. Fortunately it wasn't a lot of money since we hired a small car for just a couple of days, but proportionately it was about 40% of the total, so quite large. Still, we live and learn - I'll just not use Avis again ...

Apart from this, the visit was a success. I felt quite fresh because of the enormous saving in travel time so we seemed to visit lots of relatives. For me a little bit tedious - their conversations revolved around "family" and who looked like whom - but Alice enjoyed exploring their houses. We visited the museum in Liverpool on Monday, Alice seemed once again to enjoy herself immensely.

We arrived back in Southampton in time to meet up with Jacqueline and to do the christmas shop - cost twice as much as normal, but it is christmas, after all. So now it is just a couple of days more at the clients and then off until January. Whoopee!

Tuesday, 8 November 2005

Maisie and the Mint Matchmakers

Before I forget this, I must mention that we found out at the weekend that Maisie likes mint-flavoured Matchmaker chocolates. Unbelievable.

Further rioting in France, spreading to both Rennes and Nantes, both of which we know well and like immensely. The French government is bringing in curfews, it appears. A shame really that France is not governed by New Labour, which seems intent on giving the Police the power to hold people without charge for up to ninety days. That would sort out all these rioters, wouldn't it? Absolutely disgusting.

On the same subject, there are posters on the Tube at the moment by the TV Licensing people, to the effect "Use your computer to visit our site before we use our computer to visit your site". Very Big Brother-esque. And I couldn't help noticing when we were in Wales that daytime tv was running ads to the effect "Make sure you eat less than 6g of salt a day". This really is invasive, who on earth do these people think they are?
I wonder what Orwell would have made of all this? I wonder how strong the comparisons are with 1930 Germany? This really worries me since it shows the state getting larger and larger, stronger and stronger, to the detriment of individual liberties.

I must tie a knot in my handkerchief to write Isabelle to get her take on what is going on in France.

Monday, 7 November 2005

Places

Right, have forced some time to write an entry. Very interesting news from France currently, where there have been riots in some of their poor suburbs for the last four or five nights (BBC). Of course one knows about some of the really slummy areas on the outskirts of Paris (and indeed this is where most of the trouble seems to have taken place) - they are the parts that everyone knows about but nobody sees - but there are reports of trouble as far afield as Marseille (perhaps not surprising) and also Toulouse and Dijon (both of which stagger me). Toulouse is one of my favourite cities and is does seem alien to me that people would riot there.

I suppose in reality there is a part of every city that is known about but never visited, regardless of the country. In the UK we know about certain parts of certain cities - and not just London - where you simply wouldn't want to be. I'm sure France must be the same, its just that this kind of news doesn't normally make it across national borders.

On the subject of favourite cities, this is something I don't think I've ever discussed in this blog. Places that have most impressed me include Toulouse, as I said, also places like Montpellier, Avignon - it would be lovely to imagine finally settling somewhere where all three of these cities is accessible (along with the Med). After I left college I lived in Oxford for five years or so, and I would say that this too is a beautiful city (in terms of architecture). Again, though, where I lived I saw quite a lot of crime and was regularly the victim of it once I bought my car.

In the mid-nineties I lived for a while in the USA, starting off just outside Washington, DC (a place called Chantilly). Terrible place, not my cup of tea at all. Long highways punctuated with either shopping malls or housing estates. We did of course visit Washington itself, but again my memories are somewhat nondescript. We moved on to Tampa, which was far more agreeable. The climate alone almost made me feel as if I were on holiday (although I was working). Not much of a "city" atmosphere though, except for the old part of Ybor (which was excellent). My overriding memory is that one of the intersections there is called Malfunction Junction. Onward and upward (well, northward) to New York City, which I have to say I loved. Especially as a single chap, at the time. But what a bustle!

I actually got the opportunity to live/work in New York for good (I have the US immigration visa sitting in my filing cabinet), but on reflection I'm glad it fell through. The original offer was that the job was to be based in Tampa (less than half the cost of living as NYC). The salary offered would have been enough for a nice sports car and a beachfront apartment, who could ask for more? Unfortunately the employer decided that it'd be better to set up shop in NYC instead - and offered me the same salary which would have barely bought into a houseshare, let alone a place of my own. But as I say, in the three years after returning from the US I'd met Jacqueline, we were happily married, and Alice was on the scene.

Anyway, enough musing. Quite a quiet weekend. We headed over to Southampton Saturday to catch the lunchtime showing of Nanny MacFee. Alice enjoyed it lots, but more of a kids movie. We stayed there afterwards and had a bite to eat at TGI Fridays, then did the weekly shop on the way home. Back home in time for Alice and I to head straight out to the Downton firework display. Not bad - smaller than the one last week but a third of the cost also.

Sunday the only activity of note was that we met up with Simon and went to Serendipity Sams, followed by a MacDonalds run. First time we've been to MacDonalds for months. Come to think of it, first time we've seen Simon for months. He's embarked on a career as a contractor and seems to be surviving, although he's currently working away from home during the week (Hemel Hempstead) and staying over. Definitely not to my taste, though I suppose lots of people would look at the amount of time I spent on trains and question my sanity!

I expect more nonsense this week about the contract with the client. I'm currently in the middle of a two-week extension of the old contract, and although the signs are encouraging there's nothing on the table as yet. No news about any new contracts.

Thursday, 3 November 2005

Autumn at Last

Very much back into the groove with respect to the clients. Been juggling around four or five issues since I got back into their office. On the plus side, it appears that there has been a breakthrough with the contract, with the client seemingly recognising the difference in the reality between inside- and outside-IR35 relationships, and saying that they are willing to structure the paperwork accordingly. I suppose that whilst all these negotiations are a hassle, they do drive out the issues and it does protect me against typical IR claims that clauses in contracts are "shams", if ever there is an investigation. So there is currently only one sticking point, with the agency and to do with parity between us in terms of termination clauses etc. Hopefully they will give way on that and we can get on with the work.

Having said all that, the marketplace seems very active at the moment, so perhaps we'll be talking about contract negotiations again sometime shortly...

Weather has turned autumnal. The Weather Station I bought, and subsequently had to return to Germany because it was duff, has still not been replaced. Very slack. It highlights the dangers of buying from eBay, really. Whatever saving I made from buying it through eBay rather than from a bricks-and-mortar shop have pretty much been wiped out by the fact that it cost me £30 to send the bloody thing back. Plus it is now something like six or seven weeks since I actually "placed the order", which of course is totally unacceptable these days

Monday, 31 October 2005

Normality

So yesterday was essentially back to normality. Terrible night's sleep Saturday, despite the extra hour (clocks went back) - Jacqueline kept on kicking me for no apparent reason. Finally slept well towards morning, and woke up to find I was in the bed alone. Jacqueline was on the sofa - apparently she too had a bad night, kept on kicking me to try to stop me snoring! Well, I know who I believe...

Out early to pick up Maisie, who was looking well and who seemed happy to be home, then out once again to pick up some shopping. Home by midday and spent quite a lazy day thereafter. Jacqueline headed up to the library at the hospital, leaving me and Alice. Alice spent most of the afternoon painting, which meant peace and quiet for me. Did a little tidying and sorted some of the holiday stuff (nothing too strenuous) and watched some football on Sky.

Back to the client's this morning. I went in later than I'd expected because when the alarm went off at a quarter to six, it seemed far too early for any decent people to be out of bed!

Sunday, 30 October 2005

Follys and Fireworks

Again to allow Jacqueline some study time, Alice and I did some father-daughter bonding Friday. Her choice of expedition was to Folly Farm, about a half hour's drive on the other side of Haverfordwest.

We arrived in time for a magic show which, although she was disappointed she wasn't picked as a helper, she seemed to enjoy. Very old jokes. Aside from this, the place had an indoor funfair, which had a very "sixties" mood - not sure whether this was deliberate or not! We resricted the number of rides, though, since they all charged additionally, on top of the fee we paid to get in. We played on the swing boats together, then Alice had a go on one of those roundabouts from which swings are suspended.

Despite the poor (blustery) weather, I didn't want to spend all our time in this fair (tho Alice would have been more than happy to do this), so we headed off to the Jolly Barn, which had pens containing young farmyard animals - a couple of litters of pigs, a cow, and some hens, sheep and goats. We were just in time for one of the "events" there, and consequently Alice got to milk a goat!

Onward and upward, to the "zoo" part of the farm. Reindeer and ostriches, meer kats and tapir, great fun. And a bit of exercise to boot. Just enough time for a bite to eat and a brief revisit to the indoor fair, for a last ride on the merry-go-round, then off home.

Arrived back at the cottage at around six and, since this was our last night, I suggested we head on down to the local pub, the Lobster Pot in Marloes. Again, good hot food (and lots of it), although I was surprised at how quiet the pub was.

Saturday, up early, and out of the cottage for just after 10 o'clock (including final visit to Post Office to say goodbye), and had a largely uneventful drive home. From where we were staying it was about fifty miles to the start of the M4, and it seemed to be in this fifty miles that we experienced all our delays.Once onto the motorway, everything was fine and we arrived home at around 4 o'clock.

Fun and games Saturday evening, when we went out to the annual firework display at Godshill. For starters, we misread the signs - we thought it started at 6pm when in fact it started at 7pm. So we killed an hour in the pub at Sandy Balls. However, we finally got to the display. Upon entry I realised that I had very little cash, and in fact once I'd paid for us to get in I had just a couple of pounds in my pocket. The upshot of all this was, of course, a disappointed Alice, since she couldn't have a go on any of the rides.

Still, the display when it started was excellent. They set it all to music (mostly Ride of Valkyries I seem to recall), so it was very much a "son et luminere" experience. Unfortunately that's when our troubles started. Just before the end, Alice announced that she needed a wee, so I took her. Upon our return, no Jacqueline. Also, the display had finished by this time, so hundreds of people were heading for the exits. Suffice to say that we then spent the next twenty minutes searching for her, until we finally gave up and headed back to the car. Jacqueline was there waiting, and I just blew my top. We had planned to go to the pizza place at Sandy Balls, but since we were some of the last people to leave the firework display the restaurant was not surprisingly full. Ended up settling for a chinese takeaway on the way home, none of us particularly speaking to each other for the rest of the night.

Thursday, 27 October 2005

Castles and Castles

Back to medieval times today, we headed over to a place called Carew Castle, where we'd booked Alice onto a costume tour. A great idea since it meant that Alice had fun doing the activities (writing using quills, playing with dough and brass rubbing) while we got to look around the castle. All this happened quite early by our holiday standards, so by the time the event had finished we were ready for lunch.

Off to Pembroke, a charming little town completely dominated by the castle. Had a superb lunch at a pub called the Kings Arms - gammon. Enormous portions, though, it was like being back in America. Trouble is, you end up eating it all...

A walk around Pembroke, then headed back. Skipped Pembroke Dock (seeing a dock didn't appeal!) but headed back via Milford Haven. Strange, because the properties on the way in looked lovely, but this just belied the total ugliness of the town itself. The plan was to stop for a coffee, but apart from the fact that Alice was naughty once again, we simply couldn't find one that was open. So, homeward bound...

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Soaked

Wednesday the forecast wasn't good, so we planned a quiet day. After the obligatory trip to the Post Office (Alice got to see the lady's kitten this morning!), we set off to walk to nearby Musselwick Sands just before lunch. This promised to be a quiet, secluded beach, since the only access was via footpaths across fields.

However it was not to be - shortly after leaving the road and heading across a field full of sheep, the heavens opened. The wind was sufficiently high that all three of us had our backs completely drenched. I had on a pair of jeans which didn't stand a chance! (Fortunately on my top half I had my old, trusty Barbour jacket, which kept me, and everything in the pockets, bone dry. Upon realising that there was very little chance of finding cover, and seeing that the remaining path down to the beach was essentially a mudbath, we had a family conference and decided to abort the outing. So, retracing our steps, we headed back to the cottage, and of course the south-westerly wind which was blowing toward the sea then drenched our fronts! I couldn't have been any wetter if I'd just got into the bath. Anyway, after an uncomfortable trudge back to the cottage (Jacqueline was so wet she just burst out into fits of laughter), we arrived back at the cottage, stripped out of our wet clothes and got both the central heating and the woodburner going. Must have ended up looking like a Swedish sauna!

So, suffice to say a quiet afternoon, although Alice and I did venture out at tea-time to see Wallace and Grommit in the cinema in Haverfordwest, a quaint little place nestled amongst terrace houses, still with traditional "stalls" and "circle" sections. Excellent film, too, Alice enjoyed it immensely. Jacqueline, meanwhile, had the place to herself for a while to catch up on some much-needed studying.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Holidays

Once again, haven't written for ages. Ironic really, since lots has been happening.

I always like to be on the ball, but was completely taken aback when the clients offered a new contract - for some reason I thought the current contract expired at the end of the year, but not so - it expires at the end of October. So, all of a sudden there was a mad rush to decide whether I wanted to stick with them etc. Of course, setting up a new contract in such a short time was improbable, to say the least, and as it has happened there is nothing firm on the table except for the offer with the current client.

Can't remember if I mentioned but a couple of months ago the clients announced that they wanted all direct contracts to start going through agencies. Not particularly a problem from my perspective, obviously subject to Ts and Cs remaining the same as they are currently. Unfortunately however at first glance there is some way to go. The IR35-aspect of the proposed contract is questionnable, although there are other consultants there (doing the same kind of thing but going through a different agency and hence having a different contract) where the role has "passed" the IR35 tests. As things stand, therefore, there is still lots of negotiation with the client's lawyer - they're obviously not switched on to this at all. So everything is still up in the air - there will be an extension, probably under the old Ts and Cs, for a short duration, before they swap things over.

Having said all this, nothing is signed yet and the current contract ends this week.

Anyway, on to more current news. This week is half term, and I was sufficiently convinced that the contract ended at the end of the year that I booked for us to come on holiday. So, I'm writing this from westest Wales! We've taken a cottage in the tiny village of Marloes, about 10 miles west of Haverfordwest. Obviously it being Ocoiber, the weather is, er......variable, but we're in a newly-refurbished stone cottage which has roaring central heating to keep us snug.

We arrived on Saturday, just in time to watch sunset at the nearby Marloes Sands. The fact that there was a sunset gives an indication of the weather. This continued on into Sunday, where we basically toured the area. Little Haven (possibly worth staying here if we come back to the area), then on to Broad Haven (glorious beach - Alice made friends with a ferret!), and further north to Nolton Haven. Little Haven and Nolton Haven were beautiful little coves - probably no more than fifty yards across - surrounded by rocky cliffs - indeed we're right by the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path here. Unfortunately at Nolton Haven dead seal had been washed up, and this seemed to really affect Alice, who has obsessed about it since.

Further northward, up through Newgale, Solva and on to St Davids for lunch. Very picturesque, St Davids is particularly charming. Found a restaurant for lunch but to my dismay roast lamb was not on the menu! So I settled for beef instead. After lunch, on up the coast (most of our driving being done on unclassified roads) for the beach at Abereiddy. Lots of dark sand, great for Alice, plus stunning rock formations (mostly slate).
I should say that all of these beaches were pretty much empty except for families of die-hard surfers clad in wet suits, and at Broad Haven many people walking dogs (we must have got there at dog-walking time!).
Onward, up to Fishguard, which was somewhat nondescript, then southward along the main road to Haverfordwest and back then to Marloes. The weather had closed in and we settled in for a stormy night. Both bedrooms ar in the roof, so when it rains or blows, we know about it. Still, I set the woodburner going and soon we were snug. (probably worth adding that we've all got slight colds at present).

Monday wasn't brilliant weather, so we headed into Haverfordwest. The plan was to go to the cinema until I realised that it was closed Mondays! Again, quite a nondescript town really, but had a sufficient supply of supermarkets to keep us going! Drove down to Dale, the next - and last - village on the road. Dale isn't actually on the sea, but at the mouth of a river, so that much calmer. Good view across Milford Sound to what looked like an oil refinery (Moonbase Alpha as Jacqueline says). I thought I'd read that they'd all closed down but this one seemed very much lit up!

Tuesday, we set off to a place called Picton Castle, which was in my atlas as a National Trust place. Unfortunately not only was it not NT, but the house actually closed on 30th September. So, faced with walking around the gardens only, we decided to head on to St Davids in time for lunch once again. This time a proper look around, including a visit to the cathedral. Back along the coast to Solva - went to a wonderful little gallery where the artist seemed to specialise in stunning blue seascapes. Obviously a very slow pace of life - reminded me of Totnes. Also, the gallery had several kittens running around the place, which Alice loved. Back home, essentially taking the reverse route to the route we took on Sunday, and back quite early.
We drove through Marloes to Martin's Haven, and despite the fact that it was extremely blowy took some excellent photographs when walking on the headland (very exposed!). The weather is quite stormy at the moment and many ships had laid to in St Bride's Bay. To top it all, we walked down to Martin's Haven itself and saw a (live) seal on the beach. Beautiful, good for Alice to hopefully drive the picture of the dead seal out of her mind.

Yesterday evening we went out in the evening to a bistro in Little Haven, which despite it being the end of October was doing a roaring trade (food was ok but nothing special).

I should add that Alice was terrible yesterday, her behaviour really can be uncontrollable at times, and she spend much of the day either crying/whining or shouting because she wasn't getting her own way. We both ended the day completely stressed out, and I really feel like going home right now.

Today the weather is grey but not wet, so we're going to walk down to Musslewick Sands. If Alice is good (yeah, right...) I'll take her into Haverfordwest this afternoon to see Wallace and Grommit.

Monday, 26 September 2005

Liquid Gold

Forgot to mention earlier, I spent £100 on petrol yesterday. Jacqueline's car, my car and the small petrol carrier for the lawnmower. About £80 straight into Gordon's pocket - scandalous.

While I have a minute...

Again, it has been a while since an entry.

Well, the weather is starting to become autumnal. Very much sunshine and showers throughout the weekend, and high winds forecast for this week. Still, just as well we don't live in the southern states of the US, otherwise we'd really have something to complain about.

Since the last time, Maisie is continuing to be "reborn", almost. Very affectionate. Alice still blows hot and cold regarding school.

Last weekend (a week ago) we went over to Ikea, and Bristol in general, on the Saturday. A long day but enjoyable. Infuriating at Ikea since I'd bought a long mirror, which fell out of the trolley and broke even before I got it to the car. Still, took it straight back but had to settle for a refund because they'd run out. Still... Nice walk around Bristol and avoided spending any money! Sunday, we went out for lunch locally, to a garden centre in Hyde, followed by a long walk in the forest. Lovely, warm weather. Plenty of photos.

This weekend was every bit as active! Saturday, I spent the day shredding the foliage which was still on the driveway from the cutting I did in the summer. Yes, I really am that lazy! Still, a hard day's work and the driveway is now clear. Far more success with this shredder than the one hired over the August bank holiday. As a reward, we went out to our local Indian restaurant Saturday evening, and had a real feast. Muscles were aching like mad yesterday - strange because I really didn't feel that I was exercising when I was shredding, although obviously my puny muscles disagreed!!

Yesterday, went over to Castle Point for breakfast - Sainsbury's gets worse every time we go there - and to do the weekly shop. Then, on directly to Kingston Lacy House , a National Trust property. Wonderful house and woodland gardens - even Alice was impressed. Very much sunshine and showers, and a couple of times on our walk (which was quite long, around 2 miles) we had to take shelter under trees. Felt very much to me like a French chateau, which itself is unusual since English country houses normally have an "Englishness" about them.

Drove home across country, feeling well and truly knackered, though unfortunately there was one job still to do.... homework!

The big mistake is that we give in to Alice when she tries to put off doing her homework. So much so, we ended up forcing her to do her homework at six o'clock on a Sunday evening, when she really should be winding down. Last night was a classic - around ten minutes work took just over an hour, largely because Alice just would not concentrate. I got so frustrated with her that I ended up shouting and Jacqueline had to come and take over. And even then, she didn't do her spelling or reading, just the homework task. Alice's intelligence just seems so limited - she always seems keen on playing the fool, but I am left wondering whether she even has the ability to take another approach. And of course, this all just highlights my own failure as a parent.

Friday, 9 September 2005

Unhappy Alice

End of the week, but the weather has just taken a turn for the worse.

Alice back to school this week, although she seems unhappy already! We knew that her teacher for this year was quite strict, which we think will be good for Alice in the long term but might cause friction in the short term, but we'll have to wait and see whether that's the only problem.

Currently she's complaining that some of the boys in her class laugh at her because she trips over a lot (she is rather clumsy and has very small feet for her age), and are calling her "stupid". Plus, she has been talking to Jacqueline a little about Barney. Things like "I want to go to heaven because then I can see Barney again". I mean, I'm sure that it is unwise to read too much into these rather black things, given that she is only six, but it is patently obvious that she's not a happy bunny at the moment. We'll have to do something to try to cheer her up at the weekend - we could always visit Paultons, or if the weather looks particularly horrible we have some tickets somewhere to get us into Wookey Hollow caves.

Not a lot else been happening. Just work, really. We talked about going away for a cheapie holiday over half term - a cottage in Brittany for the week would have been nice - but the cost of channel crossings are prohibitively expensive just for a quick jaunt, now that Brittany Ferries own the monopoly. We were looking at a week away costing upwards of £550, with over half of that being the crossing itself. Unfortunately at the present time, that kind of money doesn't constitute "cheap" in my book. So I think we'll just give it a miss. In any case, I think Alice's idea of fun would be to play with next door's kids all week. We'll see...

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Back to School

Well, we've been over a week without the Boy. Alice hasn't really talked about it over and above the initial event. Still quite sad for me. Maisie is being very affectionate - Jacqueline says it is because she knows and is sad, I tend to lean towards her being glad Barn is out of the picture! I always had the impression that she "tolerated" him more than anything else.

Had a blazing row Saturday night. I was fed up of Alice continually being cheeky so smacked her, of course Jacqueline took Alice's side. It is little wonder our child feels she can act as she pleases.

Power cut Sunday night for ages, thunder and lightning although not particularly bad, I thought. Still, we made the excuse to go out to eat. Power still off when we got home, so lived by candlelight until bedtime. Looks like there was another glitch last night, since I set something to run overnight and it crashed at about 4am.
Back to school this week for Alice. Many reports of malady on Monday morning, but apparently when she saw her old mates again she was as happy as Larry.

On a downer once again with work. The clients seem to be throwing the most awful work they can find my way. Still, I suppose if I were them I'd do the same... I suppose they realise I'm fed up and are just chucking all the grunt work at me until I quit. It is a shame that this particular relationship is both the most menial I've had and also the longest I've had as a consultant. I can't help wondering if my best years are already behind me, and at 37 that is scary! And on top of it all, one tries to be professional!

Sunday, 28 August 2005

Barney

Barney is gone. Jacqueline found him Saturday morning, curled up in one of the sideboard cupboards, of all places. Looking very fed up with himself and feeling rather cold. We took it in turns to fuss the boy, and to keep him warm, but you could tell that the spark was disappearing. A brief trip to the vets later on in the morning confirmed our worst fears. Poor thing.

Of course on top of our own grief, all of this is difficult to convey to a six year old. Alice had wanted to stay with Barn right until the end, but Jacqueline took her out of the surgery into the waiting room, leaving me with the uncomfortable job of giving the boy one last fuss. I think the first she understood was when she saw me coming out of the surgery in tears. She then was in tears too, and I thought she realised what had happened.
We forced ourselves to go out to do the weekly shopping, when Alice just started being Alice. Probably no more boisterous than any other day, but of course neither Jacqueline nor I were in the mood, so she seemed many times worst than she probably was. When we got home, the kids from next door came around to play, and were all very matter-of-fact about things. But then of course, when its not one of your own pets, its just a cat.

Yesterday evening, things finally started to sink in with Alice and she was very tearful. Many, many questions about god and heaven, mixed up with the genuine grief that she'll never get to touch, to fuss, the boy again. In some ways the fact that she's going to a christian school makes it straightforward to put things into terms she has at least heard of, but quite rightly she feels there are questions to ask besides what we say to her. Plus, of course, for me not really believing in this stuff, I find myself putting things in almost clinical terms for her whereas perhaps an evangelist might be more convincing.

Even now, the reason I am awake at 3am is because I've just been woken up by Alice crying. And then you get thinking...

And then over and above Alice, there's the grief you feel yourselves. Certainly for me, since I was the one Barn always used to come to by choice. Of course, he was such a shameless tart that he'd go to anyone for a fuss, I was the one he came looking for first. Very difficult to put it into words. So long, Barney-boy, I'll miss you.

Friday, 26 August 2005

Isnt it Ironic?

Well, lots has been happening lately. Ironic that I blog a lot less when there is lots going on than when not much is happening.

I think the last time I was just looking forward to a weekend on my own. Well, that happened and as expected was very tranquil. I actually got lots done, and it was great not really speaking to anyone from Friday evening until Monday morning. Well, obviously I spoke to Jacqueline and Alice on the phone, and the woman on the checkout, but you know what I mean.

That would have been two weeks ago. Last weekend we headed up to London for a mate's (Hermit) wedding. We came up Saturday lunchtime and spent the afternoon in Kinghtsbridge, including an hour in the Natural History Museum, which Alice seemed to enjoy a lot. Then we headed over to east London, to the hotel where Hermit's reception was.

Interesting experience - the hotel was really quite plush, and was billed as four-star, but the area was absolutely dreadful. Basically sitting amidst a load of waste ground that obviously they thought would be redeveloped but which never really happened. Still, despite this the reception was excellent. For Jacqueline, she seemed quite happy. For me, it was great to catch up with a load of the guys I knew from a previous client. Reminded me how much I enjoyed that role (or at least all bar the final part of it). Alice, however, surpassed us all. Dressed up to the nines in a new party dress and glittery slippers, she basically danced non-stop from 7:30pm to 11:00pm, endearing herself to everyone in the process. In particular the bride, complete with flowing white silk gown, was a massive hit for Alice. They got on like a house on fire. So, Hermit is Indian and his new wife is Polish, so its fair to say there was quite a bit of cross-cultural interaction! Great fun.

We stayed in the hotel overnight, then on Sunday headed off. To make a weekend of it we dumped our stuff at Left Luggage, then went back into central London, over to Covent Garden. Haven't been there for years! Alice loved the street performers, and she found a Disney Store there so we got has a small present. Train, then back in Salisbury for around 5 o'clock.

Been very busy at the clients the last week - plenty of people on holiday so always more to do. Still, have had several cold calls from agents this last week or so regarding new business, and this without me going anywhere near any jobs boards. I must tune in with Jobserve over the weekend to see if I can't get something more architectural rolling.

On the home front, things aren't looking too good for Barney. I think his time might be near. We've hardly seen him for the last few weeks, and when he has appeared (every couple of days or so) he's had a bite to eat and a sip of water, and he's gone back out. And he's really been wailing, too. Continually. Anyway, I got him in last night and he quite contentedly spent the evening on my knee. But he has lost so much weight over the last three weeks or so. We kept him in overnight and this morning I found him sitting in the cat litter. He seemed quite content with everything, but.... This morning Jacqueline said she'd let him out once again after he'd cried to go, but she thinks he's on his last legs. Whether he's eaten something that has finally done for his kidneys, I don't know.

Jacqueline has suggested taking him to the vet's, but I know if we do that then there will be only one outcome. I suppose it will all depend on whether he seems to be in pain or not. If he can stay close to home and eat and drink and rehydrate himself, then all well and good. But when you see how vivacious Maisie is, poor old Barn is like a ghost in comparison.

The sad part of living with animals, I suppose.

Looking forward to the bank holiday, although I'd like to spend some time working and pushing my document scanning project forward.

Did I mention I'd written a Su Doku solver? Well, I have and am currently testing it (very lethargically). I'll put it onto the site once I've tested a hundred or so puzzles. But it highlights that the problem of actually creating the puzzles is far more interesting, so maybe that's the next step?

Thursday, 11 August 2005

Peace

Well, Thursday is here and I'm looking forward to a weekend "off" - Jacqueline and Alice are headed over to Jacqueline's mum's today for the weekend, which means I have a weekend of peace and tranquility ahead. And more gardening, I hope.

My mother flew home Tuesday, having first gone into Southampton to pick up the bag she'd mislaid from John Lewis's Lost Property section. Despite her flight down being around two hours late, the return flight was only fifteen minutes late, so maybe flying is not such a bad option after all.

Spent most of yesterday "ticking over" at the clients, only to be faced with a major problem late in the afternoon. Left their site at around 8pm and was not home until gone 10pm. Still, it is all money.

Did I mention I was in the process of replacing a shredder that had gone wrong? I was less than pleased because when I investigated exactly what had gone wrong with it, it was simply a case that one of the plastic cogs in the gear mechanism had got a broken tooth. Fine, I though, Pennies to replace. Unfortunately, even though these machines can cost hundreds of pounds, it is not possible to service them. Fellowes (the manufacturer) basically said that they'd replace it if it was under warranty (it wasn't), otherwise tough luck. The machines get shipped as complete units from China, and that's all there was to it. Anyway, I need a shredder so the choice basically became to get a cheap machine, so I wouldn't care if things went wrong, or to get a more beefy machine which might last longer. I decided on the latter (just this once), and we'll see how long the thing lasts. Because this is seen more as a Departmental shredder it comes with a two-year warranty as opposed to the standard one-year warranty.

Oh, and did I mention that I'd got a colour laser printer for the office? Basically got fed up of mediocre results from the old inkjet. Looks good so far - to be honest I don't do a lot of printing but when I do, its for invoices etc. so I can't really be sending out smudged and discoloured inkjet pages. And they have become so cheap...
So, that'll be some purchases to claim on the VAT return next time around. That'll be the first time for a couple of years!

Football season has started, so there will be something to veg out on in front of the tv once again!

Monday, 8 August 2005

Friction

Testing time at home over the weekend. Went out for a rare beer with Jacqueline on Friday night, leaving my mum to look after Alice. We ended up quite a way away at the Bell in Brook, which was quite nice. Must go there for a meal at some point. Anyway, I was told about the events of the day.

Jacqueline and my mum had been over to Southampton once more, where my mother had a senile moment and lost one of her shopping bags, left in the John Lewis cafe. Jacqueline wouldn't have minded so much except that my mother had insisted on paying for some stuff for Alice, which was also in the bag. So my mother's loss put her to an inconvenience also. She says she really lost patience when my mum started crying. Fair enough I suppose, I know from experience that it is not unknown for my mother to turn on the waterworks in order to get the "sympathy vote".

Saturday, we went over to Castle Point after a lazy morning. A big Sainsbury's shop, plus a general walk around. Alice has had a growing spurt lately so visited H&M, always good value for kids' clothes. Also, we saw some lovely, glittery party shoes in Next, which will be ideal for the wedding we're going to in a few weeks.

Whilst we were in Next, Alice fell in love with a pair of nice-looking boots. There was no way I was going to buy them for her, given that they are full-on Winter boots, we're in the middle of August, and they cost £33, but I said that if she wanted to use her birthday money she was welcome to get them herself. I was very surprised when she readily agreed. I think she wore them for the whole weekend afterwards...

After from the Sainsbury's shop, we went home since Jacqueline wasn't feeling 100%. However, we did bring back a load of picnic stuff for Sunday.

The next day, however, hopes for a picnic were dashed. As soon as we got to discussing where to go, Alice decided upon a particular place in the forest, close to a river where she could paddle. Jacqueline basically wanted to go anywhere but this place. They bickered like this for some time - my mother taking refuge in the garden - until I finally said, "I hate this. I'm going to do some gardening and will see you at suppertime.". And off I went. Not long after this, Jacqueline and Alice went out together, to have their picnic. They didn't even invite my mother. Very unimpressed.

Anyway, I did a couple of hours gardening (we now have a load of garden waste about the volume of a car in the driveway!) and clearing, by which time I was hot and ready for some refreshment. So, I took my mother over to Burley for afternoon tea. Lovely.

On vaguely speaking terms with everybody since, but I am not particularly happy. Fortunately my mother is flying home tomorrow, which should ease the situation. I think basically that 12 days is too long for her to stay in a house the size of ours.

Plus, Jacqueline and Alice are going over to Jacqueline's mum's next weekend which means I will have some peace and some time to myself.

Wednesday, 3 August 2005

The Morning After...

We survived Alice's birthday intact. I left the client's earlier than usual to get back to Salisbury for 6:30pm, then we all met up at one of these Brewers Fayre family pubs. Meal was cheap and cheerful, while Alice (in between Bangers and Mash and Ice Cream) played in the large play area. Turns out she got quite a few good presents in the end, and of course was very happy about it all.

My mother has decided to go adventuring, and got me to print off about seven bus timetables for her last night. We're in quite a remote remote location, but there is a bus stop about a mile away which has several buses each day into Salisbury. Aside from that, a walk of probably 2-3 miles will get to the main A338, where one can pick up buses southbound, to Fordingbridge, Ringwood or Bournemouth. But basically, the bus isn't an option where we live. Except if you're my mother....

On reflection, it would have been good to take some time out to spend with her, but unfortunately the finances don't allow that at the moment - as it is, I'm working for the tax man already this month.

Tuesday, 2 August 2005

Grandparents and Birthdays

Well, lots has happened in the last week or so, mainly surrounding Alice.

Last Thursday, my mum arrived. She flew down to us for the first time. Flying promised to be so much easier than getting the train, but in the end her flight was delayed by two hours (thanks, flybe!) so it kind of evened itself out. My mother did have the forethought to contact us when she know the plane was an hour and a half late, but then for some reason turned her phone off. I tried to contact her to tell her, "Call us as you're about to board", but the message didn't get through. Consequently Alice and I drove to Southampton to pick her up, and we still had an hour to sit around waiting. The best laid plans...

Still, we hit the weekend and headed over to Southampton. We had a look in West Quay to a dress for Alice - we've been invited to a wedding in a few weeks' time - and found a bargain in the sale in Next. Then, to the main purpose of the visit - Alice's birthday. Basically, she's told us for some time that she'd like to go back to the "big toy shop we went to last year", Toys'R'Us in Southampton. So, we went... This time, however, I was a little more constrained than last year - we'd already spent about £150 on a party this year. So, I set the limit at £25 and let her explore. Fortunately, it took her about ten minutes before settling on the toys she wanted (both dolls, surely destined to be broken by the weekend).

As a special treat, and a big surprise, we went to the Leisure World complex in Southampton, ostensibly for an ice cream. But once we were there I told Alice we were going to go into the cinema part to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Very happy - only that same morning she'd watched the original Willy Wonka film on the tv. I have to say, an excellent film. True to the story, but at the same time with some very Burton-esque parts. Five stars from me, and afterwards Alice just kept on saying Thank You all evening.
Even more excitement on Sunday. In the morning I attempted to cut back the magnolia tree in the garden, and cut back the lower two-thirds only to realise that the top of the tree was very much beyond my reach. Still, I did what I could. Tree looks very funny now, though. Looks like its got a Mohecan! So, have ordered some telescopic loppers (at what seems a great expense), which will hopefully arrive in time for me to finish the job next weekend.

Sunday afternoon, we went over to Kidzone, where we'd booked Alice's birthday party. Excellent fun. About fifteen kids there, mostly from Alice's class but also from a couple of other clubs that she goes to. I got heavily involved with things, having as much fun with the kids as possible. I'd never have believed that angelic six-year-old girls could be so violent. When I went outside they chased me and tried to pull my socks off. Then, they tried to pull my trousers down. Several of them took every opportunity to jump on me whenever possible, and one even took to pinching my bum!

It was quite funny, though, because you could see how some of them would start by attacking me and end up by the end of the party defending me against the others. I'm sure a psychologist could explain it!

All the kids appeared to have fun, although a couple of them didn't arrive until the party was more than half over, as the kids were finishing their meals. Even then, the elder of them arrived in tears. Fortunately the staf didn't give us any trouble about preparing extra meals for them, and they soon got into the swing of things.
Overall impression - great fun, one of the perks of being a Dad. Of the place - the play area was excellent, but the food was very sparse. (I suppose you could defend them by saying that the food was mainly just so they could have a little break during the play.) Jacqueline's mate Kerry brought her three-year-old daughter to the party, also her eight-month-old baby. She went into the play area with the baby, and consequently we got charges for the baby, which I thought was very cheap. I mean, at eight months old a baby can hardly be said to be using the equipment. Would we do it again? Maybe.

Sent everyone home with Scooby Doo lucky bags, which seemed to go down very well.

Sunday evening - knackered! The only grief was from Alice, who got a strop on because we wouldn't allow her to open all her presents until her birthday. We allowed her to open one (of the Toys'R'Us presents) on Saturday, and one following the party on Sunday, and said that the rest had to wait. Seems eminently reasonable to me...

So, last night Alice went to bed very excited. We finished the Famous Five book we'd been reading, and I left her to dream about finally being six!

This morning, just before I left for work, Jacqueline and I went into her bedroom and woke her up by singing "Happy Birthday" to her. Of course, she was awake like a shot, and realised that the time had come. And that's when I scarpered!

This evening, have suggested a meal out. Alice likes our local Indian, but I'll need to check with Jacqueline whether they have anything on their menu that would suit my mum (who claims to be allergic to absolutely everything, and would never touch Indian food in any case because it is "spicy").

On the subject of my mum, am not sick of her just yet, but it has only been five days. Let's see what things are like next week!

Car alarm went off a couple of times yesterday evening. But of a pain, could not find any rational explanation.

Monday, 25 July 2005

Green Fingers

Quite a quiet weekend, didn't get out much but got lots done. Saturday, we lost track of the time and I ended up being shaved, showered and dressed in just ten minutes, so we could get to Alice's end-of-term ballet class. For the final class of the term, parents are allowed to watch. So, we rushed off complete with camera. In fact, it really is an eye-opener to see Alice at these classes now. She actually listens and does as she's told, rather than just doing her own thing. You can see why the school have claimed she's progressed so much this year.

Off out to the shops - Hockeys then Sainsburys, and then on to the garage to pick up my car. Fortunately the damage was just an oil filter, which in the grand scheme of things is basically trivial. Very relieved since my car is now of an age where maintainance can be expensive...

Once home, I got out into the garden, where lots of things required "trimming". I took the hedge trimmer to the bushes along the boundary of the property and cut back anything overhanging onto the road. Typical garden work - the cutting took fifteen minutes and the tidying took a couple of hours. Still, the garden looks all the better for it. Far more to do, of course - I must trim the other side of the bushes (I only trimmed the parts that face the road), and the largest task, to cut back the magnolia tree.

These tasks were planned for Sunday, but steady rain all day put paid to any work in the garden. Instead, I had a nice lie in, and then tidied the back bedroom in preparation for my mum's visit later in the week. In the end, the cleanup was very successful. I ended up with a very small pile of documents I need to keep, a slightly larger pile of documents I'm going to scan and then shred, a still larger pile of documents to go straight to the scanner, and an enormous pile of miscellany which can just be left out for the next waste paper collection.
Spent a lot of time, therefore, shredding things. So much so that the shredder cut out about three times (it cuts out when it gets too hot), and I had to wait for it to cool before continuing. At the very end, I think I might even have broken it, but I'm not sure - it may just have been acting funny since it was hot. But basically I had a bin bag and a half to shred, and there will be more to come... Hope I haven't broken the thing!

So that was it, really. Lots of tidying in both the garden and the house. Meantime Jacqueline ran the hoover round and cleaned the kitchen, so everything looks very respectable at present.

Must say something on the events of the last few days. The last time I really mentioned anything in the news was a couple of weeks ago, after the bombs went off in London. Very quickly, it seems, the Police managed to identify the (suicide) bombers. All four were disgruntled Muslims, all four were ostensibly "home grown", i.e. had UK backgrounds. Very concerning.

Last Thursday I was invited out for a lunchtime beer, it was Lesley's (client) birthday. As I was sipping my shandy at the Blue Posts one of the chaps received a phone call to say that there were reports on tv of further explosions. I got onto the internet and sure enough, Sky's website was reporting the same. Incidents at Warren Street, The Oval, Shepherd's Bush and a bus in Hackney. As these things do, over the course of the afternoon events became clearer - it would appear that every device failed to explode. The detonators exploded, but did not set off the explosives themselves. A lucky escape, and this was made all the more interesting because the current reports are that the explosive was the same as that used in the bombs of a couple of weeks ago. There were further reports of one guy laying star-like on top of his bomb as he thought it was about to explode, and of one guy looking very hacked off when his backback failed to detonate. So, no explosions, but all four of the guys managed to escape. Obviously everything went into a state of high alert.
Friday, we started getting reports that a guy has been shot by Police at Stockwell. Of course, everyone is quick to make a link between this and the explosion at The Oval. Plus, there were eyewitness reports very shortly afterwards which gave the impression of almost a "hit" - the guy was running from the Police, who caught him, got him on the floor, and shot him five times at very close range. Obviously this guy was dead, although the news reports were at pains to say that they tried their best to revive him.

Very mixed feelings about this - on the one hand you feel that this is no more than these bombers deserve. Yet on the other hand, in a civilised society the Police would need to have absolutely rock-solid reasons for behaving in this way. This kind of behaviour has got to be the exception rather than the norm. I even argued with Jacqueline over this on Friday evening - her stance was that by not stopping when challenged by the Police, he deserved to be shot.

My concerns were borne out on Saturday, when it emerged that the guy who had been killed was a 27-year-old electrician, just going about his business. Of course, nobody knows why he ran away when challenged by the Police, but the fact remains that by running, he sealed his own fate. And this is the real problem we have - it is all very well to say "shoot 'em all", but it is a whole new ball game when it comes to identifying who "they" are. Can the Police be allowed to shoot people who run away when challenged, as a matter of course? Of course they can't.

Now we hear that the victim's family are intent on suing the Met. Don't blame them, I would do exactly the same.

I suppose all this does is to prove what a fine line the Police need to tread. In the cold light of day it is easy to see things as "right" or "wrong", but in the heat of the moment things become a lot more complicated. And, of course, we need to be satisfied that the guy firing the gun is behaving as rationally as possible under the circumstances. I wonder whether this is always the case?

Thursday, 21 July 2005

Car woes

Very fed up again yesterday. Funnily enough quite busy at the client's, I've build some enhancements onto one of their systems and it is due to go be finished soon. Ended up staying in town until gone 7pm last night, didn't get home until 9:30pm.

Found out yesterday that the clients are recruiting again, and it did cross my mind that it could well be to replace my services. We'll see I suppose. At least that would have a galvanising effect, even though it might mean financial hardship until I could find some more clients.

To top it all, as I was driving home last night the Oil Pressure light went on in my car. Fortunately I was about a minute's drive from a petrol station, so bought some oil and poured it in the engine. I looked at the manual for the car and it basically said to stop the car immediately if this light went on. Still, once I'd fed the oil in the light stayed off, and although I was a little concerned about making the journey into Salisbury this morning (travelling with 5 litres of engine oil in the boot at the moment!) I got to the station without any mishap. I'm taking it over to the garage later tonight for them to look at tomorrow, so it hasn't got to struggle for much longer. Can't help thinking that something pretty fundamentally bad has happened to it, though, which obviously means expense. Last time I took it to the garage the bill was £2500, and I just can't afford this kind of money at present.

Maybe, as Jacqueline says, the time has come to sell the car... But what to buy in its place?

Monday, 18 July 2005

Insolvency

Getting very lax with entries once again. Back from an interesting weekend. Beautiful weather, I spent a lot of time either gardening or clearing out the garage, resulting in lots of waste. I took a trip to the tip last might to get rid of the garage waste, but there is still easily a skipful of garden waste on the driveway. And there's more to come - I've only cleared the patio and the driveway so far. The plan is to tidy the front garden - including the Magnolia tree - and the back garden also. Plenty of work ahead...

In other things, work with the clients hit a new low last week, when I found that they'd forgotten to pay me. Fortunately they corrected it, but in the intervening week all of my accounts went overdrawn, and I had a letter from the bank on Saturday saying that they'd bounced a direct debit and had charged me £25 for the privilege. You can't even blame them for it, since it is just the rules on the account. It is purely the client that has caused the hardship.

When I found that the client hadn't paid their invoice, I decided not to go up to town that day to work out what to do. Trouble is, you're only really penalising yourself, because you know they will pay, even if it is a bit late. So staying away doesn't really mean much more than a day's lost fees. Still, spent the day gardening instead.

We went over to Mottisfont Abbey last weekend. Beautiful weather and a lovely place. On the spur of the moment Jacqueline decided to enrol us in the National Trust for the year. So, you can guess what we did this weekend!

Yesterday, I was up early to clear out the garage. We'd already decided to go out for a picnic (bought lots of nice "picnic food" on Saturday), but I left it entirely to Jacqueline to decide where we should go. She just told me to be ready for midday (which I almost was). And so we left, very organised (Jacqueline even did an Autoroute route map), for Stourhead Gardens, over toward Warminster. Again, lovely weather and a really beautiful place - very "Brideshead Revisited". Excellent picnic under some trees (surrounded by ducks), followed by a decent walk around the gardens (we followed a 2-mile trail).

At the end, however, the day was spoilt. Right at the end of the walk there was a pub, and on such a hot day I was looking forward to a nice pint of shandy. Unfortunately as I was at the front of the queue Alice had other ideas, and started messing with my camera. I got a little stressed at seeing my expensive camera being pulled apart, and hurriedly returned to the table to rescue it, thereby losing my place in the queue. I certainly wasn't going to queue again (several people had entered the pub just behind us), so I ended up walking out of the pub, very annoyed. I didn't speak to either Jacqueline or Alice for the rest of the day (Jacqueline, of course, takes Alice's side when I start getting angry with her, so as far as Alice is concerned she hasn't done anything particularly "wrong".) Unpleasant journey home. Hot and thirsty.

Anyway....as you have to as a family I eventually let things slide, although Jacqueline is still hacked off with me.

Have finally completed backing up DVDs to the computer - a massive 150GB later. I've put the files on a network drive, and although Winamp has a bit of trouble playing movies over the wireless network, the dedicated DivX software had no such problems.

Finally sent off MicroCrest's Annual Return today, about a month late. Wonder if anything will come of it? Would have done it a week ago, but as I've said I couldn't write their cheque since even the company account went overdrawn.

Finally, have discovered an oil leak on my car. Must book it into the garage. More expense.

Friday, 8 July 2005

Into the Lions Den

Have been lax for a couple of weeks, mainly because not a lot has been happening, but felt I had to write something today after the events of yesterday.

What have we been up to? Well, we booked Alice's birthday party, for which invites have now been distributed. Also, we celebrated Jacqueline's birthday with a low-key meal at a Brewers' Fayre restaurant. (Great for Alice, though.) Last weekend we headed over to Stockbridge for a Sunday-afternoon drive, and had just about the worst afternoon tea we'd ever had. Small, extremely dry scones, a very minute (and carefully-rationed) amount of clotted cream, all complete with a Fawlty-esque character who was presumably the proprietor. I have forgotten the name of the placer but it is somewhat immaterial - we shan't be visiting again. It seems typical of these tourist-trap villages where proprietors know that they can peddle any old rubbish and still make money. In fact, I suppose we are quite lucky since another village we know - Burley in the New Forest - actually has a rather nice tea room, despite attracting tourists by the coachload.

For Jacqueline's birthday, Alice bought her some stuff on eBay - heaven knows what but something "crafty", and I have yet to buy her a Light Box. I'll buy it after payday, but its not as if she needs it right now in any case! We also got her some nice smellies from Fortnum's, and a small box of chocolates from Charbonnel et Walker.

Still on the subject of Jacqueline, she's got a new job. Somewhat out of the blue, since she wasn't even looking. The new practise contacted her, and she moved forward with it on the basis that it might offer some extra hours on top of her existing job. But it was sufficiently more hours, and the role obviously had sufficient positives, that she has now decided to take the job instead of her current job. Far better hours, since for the most part she is working mornings which means that the "picking Alice up from school" chestnut for the most part is resolved.

DVD backups are still in full swing, in fact almost complete. Another week will see it through I think. I've also bought some DVDs lately too - mainly some French language stuff but also the Indiana Jones and Back to the Future trilogies. A bit disappointed since a lot of Alice's DVDs appear now to be unplayable. I have just replaced Mary Poppins and it would appear that Sleeping Beauty and Robin Hood have gone the same way. Of course, this is really the first time ever that I've effectively collated the DVDs - and of course the whole process of getting them onto the computer will mean that she does not touch the actual disks again.
Had to visit the DVLA earlier in the week, my car tax had run out and I hunted high and low, without success, for the registration document. Ended up having to request a new one, of course in exchange for a disproportionate fee.

So, yesterday started off fairly normally. I happened to take the later train in and was just going down into the Jubilee line at a quarter past nine. There was a train waiting in the station, but not going anywhere because of a "power surge" at some stations. They let slip that the whole Tube network was affected, and of course when you stop and think about it, this immediately raises suspicions. Still, no trains going anywhere so in common with everyone else got overground once again. Since I was in the midst of thousands of others at Waterloo, there was no point waiting for a bus or trying for a taxi, so just started walking...

Fortunately, the first thing I did when I got to the client's office was to phone Jacqueline to tell her what an awful journey I'd had. Whilst we didn't know at that stage what had happened, she did at least know that I was safe and whining like a good 'un. Then, of course, web sites started breaking the news. Explosion at Liverpool Street, Bus blown up etc. All very piecemeal and, at this early stage, unconfirmed. Different web sites saying different things. For the rest of the morning it was clear that something had happened, but not yet what. One of the guys who works for the client had been in contact with his wife, who works in Fenchurch St, and who said that they had all been evacuated into the centre of their (bomb-proof) building. Another report of a suicide bomber being shot at Canary Wharf.

As time progressed events became clearer, although not the travel situation. We heard that the whole of the travel network was suspended, yet at the same time South West Trains were reporting that Waterloo was open and that services were running. So, getting home may still be an issue... As the afternoon progressed, there were continued mixed messages, and I pretty much decided that the only way to find out what was happening would be to walk across to Waterloo and see for myself. As it happened, I left the office early, at four o'clock. There were lots of people on the streets, but Waterloo was indeed behaving as normal. My train left on time and I duly arrived in Salisbury - somewhat earlier than I had intended, to boot.

I would have to say that I felt a huge feeling of relief once I stepped off the train at Salisbury - a definite feeling that my destiny was back in my own hands somewhat.

When I got home, Jacqueline was surprisingly stressed about all of this, far moreso than myself. I suppose there was the worry there that something might yet happen - we had spoken several times during the day but the fact that the mobile networks were out meant that we couldn't necessarily speak "at will". Plus, Jacqueline has said several times about how she fears my working in London for exactly this reason.

Phone calls from several people, including Isabelle, to make sure I was Ok.

Nice early-ish night last night and back into town this morning. Train quite empty. Wore some trainers - if there's one thing these bombs have reinforced it is how dangerous it is to travel by public transport, especially to somewhere that is walkable anyway. So, an enforced fitness drive!

Plans for the weekend - possibly a visit to Mottisfont Abbey, weather permitting (weather pretty lousy today, not at all July weather). Plus I think Jacqueline has booked a shift in A&E on Sunday.

Wednesday, 29 June 2005

Dog Kidnapped at Gunpoint

...was the headline of the Standard as I went out for lunch today. Just felt I had to say something. Will update further when I get some time.

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

Summer Sunshine

Been a few days since I wrote. Fortunately all seems to have quietened down with the client, no more being mentioned after the other day.

Beautiful weekend, weather-wise. Also, we did a lot. Jacqueline was off both days, so Saturday we went to Compton Acres, towards Poole, which was lovely and relaxing. Even Alice enjoyed herself, especially when furnished with an ice cream and a walkie talkie to keep in touch. The gardens were excellent, and it was surprisingly quiet. A shame that you can hear the traffic on the road from within the gardens themselves. After we left, we headed over to Castle Point to get a coffee, and to do the weekly shop. BBQ Saturday night.
Sunday, it was very hot. We went over to a kind-of Diner for lunch. We'd never been there before but they put flyer's in Alice's school to advertise one of these big climbing frames etc. We're looking for someplace to hold her birthday party, and thought that this could be the place. Very new, only been open three weeks, and although it was a big on the small side, there was also an outdoor area in which kids could run around. The food, however, was pretty lousy. It was basically very slow in arriving, and very fried! But for kids parties, the menu is basically burger/nuggets and chips, so how badly could they screw it up? And, if its slow, I'm sure the kids won't mind because they'll have longer to play. So, it could be a go-er.

After brunch, we headed up to Hale for the school's fete. They held it on the green, which basically offers no shade whatsoever. Sweltering. We hung around for half an hour or so, long enough to allow Alice a go on all the stalls, but quickly came back to the relative coolness of the house. They had a kids' tombola which I think was really dumb. We were all very pleased because Alice picked just four tickets and got two winners. However, when we unwrapped the prizes, they turned out to be no more that large coffee jars filled with sweets. I mean, in an age where they worry about childhood obesity and where we have to watch our own child very closely, surely they could have showed a little more imagination?

BBQ Sunday night (we like barbeques!). By the time we ate it had cooled a little so we even ate outside. Lovely.

Had amazing trouble getting Alice to do her homework. Anything vaguely educational is just a big turn off for her and a big headache for us. I hope she starts to tune in soon. I wouldn't mind, but all she had to do was write about the last time she went to the beach - something of which she has very recent experience. It should have been easy but by her own reluctance she turned it into a very painful exercise.

Have been continuing to rip my DVDs onto a computer, although as stated previously it is a slow process. I think it'll be a couple of months before I get all of the disks backed up. Also, yesterday, our new DVD Recorder arrived! Whoopee! It is last year's model, so although I bought it new (i.e. unused) I got it significantly cheaper than the current equivalent model. I settled on the Panasonic model, it won some "best of breed" award for 2004 (their latest model has won best-of-breed for 2005), so I figured it had to be halfways decent. Basically, it is the lowest-spec model in their range. We didn't need a hard disk, even the timer functions will be redundant, because the Sky box has all that nonsense. Good old eBay!!!

Investigated the hose pipe situation at the weekend - I had two hoses, but both of them are now leaky. Jacqueline bought a hose set last year from QVC (why?), which we'd never plumbed in. Alyway, the upshot is that I need to throw the old hoses out and to get a couple of parts to bring the hoses up to scratch! (I should say that I found all this out because Alice has a hopscotch game into which a hosepipe is plugged, and which squirts water out. Just the ticket on a sweltering Sunday!!)

I don't know. When I look back to when I was a bachelor and had my little flat, whoever would have thought...

Friday, 17 June 2005

Faux Pas

I should have said in my previous entries that since we picked the twosome up after the holiday, the Barn is looking remarkably healthy. Very sleek. Must be two weeks of having an absolutely controlled diet I suppose - where we are they get out into the fields and could end up munching on anything, for all we know. True to form at 4:30 this morning one of them had obviously brought something into the house, which had got itself out of their clutches and taken refuge under the telephone table. I got up to see what the noise was, but I'm afraid I left whatever it was to fend for itself, my beauty sleep being far more important.

Undesirable episode with the clients yesterday. I got the feeling I was being sounded out about expanding my role some. I was somewhat guarded in my response, and they picked up on this. I must admit such conversations make me uncomfortable. Strictly speaking I like to take a business approach, in other words you draw up an agreement which says you will perform services "x" for the client, in return for renumeration of "X". And everything is nice, straightforward and clear. But what do you do when the client turns around and asks you to perform services "x + y" as part of the arrangement? Plus, of course, there's got to be some leeway here - if you're too rigid then they're not going to be your client for very long.

Anyway, I'm beginning to waffle so will shut up on the subject.

Enjoying the current book a lot - I'm reading the Callaghan bio currently. Making up for all the reading I didn't do on holiday.

Wednesday, 15 June 2005

Get into the Groove

Very much back into the groove.

Been back at the client's since Friday, and the tasks are starting to pile up. Good that I'm so popular...
Got all of the holiday photos onto the site. There are a couple of good ones but I do have trouble taking "level" pictures with this camera. Especially where there is a horizon, the pictures often look lop-sided. Now, of course, I'm paranoid when I take pictures with the thing!

Downloaded some software at the weekend which will allow me to copy my DVDs onto the computer, the same as I did with the CD collection. Found some information on the web about good formats to store the resultant files in, and have settled on DivX. Apparently compresses down to only 10% of the original, and from what I can see the quality isn't bad. Takes a long time to rip the DVDs, though - a two-hour film took five and a half hours to convert into a DivX file. Of course, you can see how easy it is to use this software to abuse copyright - the software is quite happy to rip copy-protected DVDs, with only a messagebox warning along the way. From my perspective, though, I already own the "license" by virtue of having bought the DVD in the first place. After all, the actual pyhsical DVD isn't what costs the money, what yoiu're buying is the license to view the thing. Whether Sony would agree or not is, of course, a different matter!!!

Incidentally, finally decided to do this because (a) it'll be excellent to have all our films and music on a single hard disk, and (b) have just ordered a new "Mary Poppins" because Alice has well-and-truly trashed the original. I've also found out that the "Dumbo" disk is unreadable also. Maybe we should try one of those "magic cleaner" kits?

Anyway, this has started taking a little of my time and a lot of the computer's time.

Went to Exbury Gardens on Saturday. Disappointing. It's mainly a rhododendron garden, and they'd already flowered this year. Walked around a little further but Jacqueline complained that she was cold so we didn't stray too far. Ended up not staying there long, and heading off to Beaulieu for afternoon tea instead.
Sunday, met up with Simon to go to Serendipity Sams, ended up going to the Haywain at Cadnam for lunch, then back to Simon's for birthday cake and a game of football with Patrick in their back garden.

Lovely weather over the weekend. Saturday clouded over a little but still bright enough for a barbeque in the evening, as we had on Friday too. Been lovely since then too, although was foul this morning. Cleared up now, though, good for the garden.

Friday, 10 June 2005

Normality

Ah, Friday. Back to normal. You'd never have known I'd been away except for the fact that I've got a slight tan.

Arrived home as planned on Wednesday evening, following a quick visit to the Co-op to get some overnight supplies. Got Alice to bed - very reluctantly - for about 9pm. She was due in school on Thursday. It was nice to sleep in my own bed once again, although not quite as nice as sleeping in the bed in the middle of France!
Thursday, Jacqueline took Alice into school while I went to pick up the twosome. Barney was very displeased at us - howled most volubly on the way home - but soon appeared to forgive us once we'd given him a fuss. Jacqueline and I then headed off into Salisbury for some breakfast, then to do a grocery shop. Back home for lunch, the washing machine doing overtime in the background. Weather very sunny, but cooler than France.

Quite relaxing not to have to work on the first day back off holiday, although I did need to sort through my post - we've had phone, gas and electric bills since we went away. Also, I mowed both lawns. Then I had to pick Alice up from school. But apart from that, very relaxing!

Back to the client's today. Forgot my travel ticket, so had to pay for the ticket. Then, to cap it all, the clients weren't expecting me until Monday. I almost turned around and came home again!!

I must, however, keep fueling the resolve to find some new clients.

Could not resist yesterday looking on some of the ferry web sites to see about a day trip to St Malo soon, but either I couldn't find the right carrier, or they no longer do day trips. Jacqueline went on a day trip to St Malo just after we met, but when I looked yesterday all the crossings took at least five or six hours, making a day trip impossible.

The last day in Dinard has made an impression on us, I think. It would be lovely to return there or thereabouts.

Over the weekend, must sort the photos out and get them published on the web site (I've already published the diary entries). Also, we hope to visit Exbury Gardens and to meet up with Simon at some point. I'm keen for Alice to either go swimming or for us to take the bikes out, just to keep up the exercise trend going.
So, in retrospect, I have to say that this has been the best family holiday yet. To assume that we will do the same sort of thing next year seems a no-brainer, although there may be scope for going to a different Center Parcs (perhaps in Belgium). We'll have to see. To be honest I'd be happy to go back to the same place, or perhaps the other French park in Normandy.

France remains as magical as ever, although certainly the "holiday" element contributes to this. Compared to England there is so much space. We're very fortunate to live close to the New Forest, surely one of the most beautiful parts of the country, but there simply isn't the space that exists in France. Also, my French has been very good this holiday, I have spoken it well and more importantly have been able to understand things said to me moreso than ever before. Fortunately this same impression has long since rubbed off on Jacqueline, and seems to be rubbing off on Alice.

Wednesday, 8 June 2005

Homeward Bound

Well, holiday nearly over. We drove over to St Malo last night and had a meal in a small pizzeria. It turned quite cold - even moreso within the walls of the old city - and the restaurant was small and cosy. Alice managed to eat a whole pizza, while I had veal in a delicious mushroom sauce.

We drove back to the hotel for a nightcap in the bar, just in time to watch the sunset. For a short time the sun looked like a giant peach resting on the water, until it sank beneath the waves. Fortunately I had the camera with me, so have a half dozen lovely photos.

Just getting into bed when Alice reminded me that I'd agreed to go out to see the lighthouse. Because there are so many hours of daylight at the moment we hadn't yet seen it "lit up". So, clothes back on and out onto the terrace. Fortunately it was now sufficiently dark that we could see a red blink out to sea, as well as various other illuminated buoys.

Had a disturbed night with Alice, who got us up at 2:30am because she had a really itchy back. She's had a really good time on this holiday (she keeps on thanking me for it!) but I think all the swimming has taken its toll on her skin. (We went in the salt water pool of the hotel yesterday afternoon, which I personally thought was terrible.) Still, she finally settled and we got some sleep.

Alarm went off at 7:15am, and had a quick shower before going outside onto the terrace, where I watched our ferry heading into St Malo. Difficult to believe that in just a few short hours we'd be on it.

So there we are, having packed our bags and taken breakfast, we departed the hotel and drove to the port. Ferry, fortunately, very quiet and Alice has spent the last hour and a half playing in the kids area. I did hire a Commodore cabin for the crossing but that may turn out to have been a waste of money, certainly Alice would quite happily spend all day in the communal areas.

Took some final, beautiful, photos as we left port. Good view of Dinard and of the hotel. For now, all I can see is sea, but at least it is nice and quiet (and flat calm by the looks of things).

Tuesday, 7 June 2005

Dinard

Wonderful day, spent in Dinard. Despite the torrential rain we had yesterday, today we woke to clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine.

Took a late breakfast, then back to the room in time to see today's Portsmouth ferry depart. We got our act together and took the cliff path into Dinard (we're in the Novotel on the Pointe de la Roche Pelee, a couple of kilometers walk from the main town).

Absolutely beautiful scenery, a really interesting coast line with rocks and cliffs interspersed with beautiful sandy beaches. And - it is pretty much deserted. Excellent views across la Rance to St Malo - I just hope the photos do it justice. One can see why this part of the world is called the Emerald coast - where the water is deep it is very much blue, but in the shallows it gains a beautiful green tinge. The only place I can remember seeing a coastline like this was on a school holiday to Greece, one one of the islands.

Anyway, we arrived in the main part of Dinard, the Plage de l'Ecuse at about 12:30, enough time to have a brief mooch around the (small) town before taking lunch - Moules frites for the only time on this holiday.
A further walk back to the hotel, through the streets this time since it is shorter, and into the bar for a refreshing cocktail. Next, on to the Plage de St-Enogat, which is five minutes down a beach path from the hotel, from where I am writing - the wonders of the Nokia Communicator!! The plan is to spend a couple of hours down here, before going back to the hotel's pool. This evening we'll drive into St Malo for our meal - we ate at the hotel last night which was okay but not "gastronomique" enough for the "astromonique" prices!!
Clients finally coughed up today. Avoided going overdrawn by just £160. I suppose one could call it "good timing".

I have concluded that relaxation is inversely proportional to driving. Although I would like to see more of Brittany the decision to stay close to the hotel was definitely good. Dinard and the surrounding coast is very beautiful. Jacqueline is even talking about buying some property here. We'd love to invest in a French property instead of Jacqueline's Bournemouth flat. But the quandry is that we'd have to go south to get a better climate, which of course means increased travel time. But to find somewhere not just on the northern coast, but a stonesthrow from ferries from both Portsmouth and Weymouth, would be great.

In short, a superb way to spend the last day of the holiday.

Monday, 6 June 2005

At the end of the day

Tiring day. Got out of Centerparcs shortly after 10am, and drove on cross-country D routes until we got to Le Mans. Obviously quite slow going, but there was very little traffic and given that we had the bikes on the back...

Weather has been at best overcast during the day, but we had torrential rain as we left Le Mans and headed up to Brittany. Approaching Rennes, where just two weeks ago we sat and ate lunch in brilliant sunshine, visibility was down to a hundred metres or so, and we had to slow right down.

Still, we arrived finally at our hotel in Dinard, a big Thalasso centre. Although the rain has stopped now, visibility is poor and there is a sea mist. However, the forecast for tomorrow is sunshine and clouds, but no rain.

Once we arrived we all headed for the bar for a quick drink, after which I was ready for a kip. Jacqueline and Alice, however, made full use of the pool here (salt water of course, bonnets compulsory), although they're quite strict about usage so Alice wasn't allowed to enjoy any other of the facilities (sauna, jacuzzi).
Will probably eat in tonight - the hotel's restaurant has a decent looking menu. We have tomorrow at leisure, not sure what we'll do, although St Malo seems the obvious choice.

Depressed

Time for a very brief entry. It is early Monday morning, I'm sitting with most of the cases packed around me. Not a great deal to do now.

Heavenly here at this time of day, it really is so quiet. We've lost the glorious weather, though

...

Sorry, had to break off there. We have just had two enormous (free-range!) turkeys around to visit. Far larger than anything I've seen before. Fortunately we'd saved some bread for the ducks, but these guys have certainly made their presence felt. Wouldn't like to make one angry!

As I was saying, the beautiful sunny weather of yesterday morning turned overcast, and it was against that backdrop that we visited Chambord, probably the most magnificent of the chateaux but that's because of its size more that anything. It certainly is not as beautiful as, for example, Chenonceau, but makes up for this with its imposing skyline. Slightly more "authentic", I supppose, because this was the country seat of many of the country's kings. One hears of Louis XIV, but really the only way to appreciate the decor this guy surrounded himself with is to see it for oneself.

Weather started to break on the way back to Centerparcs, although fortunately Centerparcs itself had quietened down a little. It looks like many people disappear from here on Sunday night. Avoids taking a day off work, I suppose.

So we headed for the pool for one last hour's swimming. It is a bizarrely good feeling to be sitting in a warm outdoor swimming pool, with cold rain falling on one's head.

So, back to the cottage for the final time, to pack our things. We did a fair amount of this, but are so on top of it that we called it a night about 11pm. (Alice still awake.) Up early this morning to get some bread and to bring the car round, ready for the trip up to the coast today. Weather still awful. 13 degrees on car's thermometer - 20 degrees cooler than when we arrived!

Sunday, 5 June 2005

Afternoon Off

Glorious day this morning.

Weather yesterday was very cloudy, with only patchy sunshine. For some reason Alice didn't want her usual swim, instead she wanted to go over to the play area. So the morning was spent in a mixture of either the outdoor play area, or the indoor Experience Factory, where the play frame is.

I have to say that Centerparcs is absolutely heaving this weekend. It appears to be worse than last weekend, although the queues to use the slides etc. looked about the same. But certainly, as I've said before, the midweek sessions are far less populated than the weekend sessions. As Jacqueline said, this is what we could expect if we came during the summer holidays, too.

Anyway, after a home-cooked burger lunch (cooked from frozen!) Alice went over to Kids' Club, where she was apparently taken to the disco that didn't happen on Thursday. The women at Kids' Club knew all about it, I just got confused since what they said flatly contradicted the flyers we'd been given. Still, Alice loves discos, so what the hey?

Gave Jacqueline and I a little time to ourselves, so we headed off to the nearby town of Vierzon. It is the largest town hereabouts without heading into one of the cities. Having parked the car, we walked along the river (L'Yevre) for a while, and then headed to the main street. We got to a clothes shop, and.....stop! In fairness to Jacqueline it had loads of beautiful kids' clothes, plus a nice selection for Jacqueline. They even did some nice-looking shirts for me! This is the thing that England simply does not have - clothes shops with good designs and reasonable prices. As it was, we restricted the clothes for Alice to a single pair of white and pink cargo pants, but she looked adorable in them.

We arrived back in good time, and I went off to pick up our swimming things leaving Jacqueline to mooch around the dome. Kids' Club is next door to the swimming area, so the plan was to pick Alice up and to go straight there. Meantime, I made use of this new Michelin Guide I'd bought to phone the only rated restaurant in Chaumont to reserve a table for the evening.

As I've already said, the parc is heaving this weekend, so much so that swimming was almost unpleasant. Very packed in the outside area (plus quite overcast too, making us feel quite cold), but even the larger indoor pool appeared absolutely crowded. I ended up getting out early, I'd had enough. Jacqueline too. Of course, Alice remains oblivious to crowds, so she stayed in until we got her out, although even she found it more comfortable to play in the sandpits rather than to swim.

Back to the cottage for a quick change, then off to Chaumont. La Grenouillere. Very well signposted, about 1km out of Chaumont on the Route d'Orleans. Beautiful old building, with excellent food to match. We had an exquisite cocktail to start with - a sparkling white wine with a little added honey and rosemary. An odd combination but absolutely delicious. For starters, Jacqueline had langustines, while I had foie gras (absolutely love it, and had not had it yet this holiday), while for main course we both tucked into a traditional Sologne smoked lamb dish. Very subtle, I have never had smoked lamb before but it was delicious. I think there is no substitute for a good cut of lamb. We even got Jacqueline to try some French cheeses, something she just doesn't do. She didn't like them, but at least she tried them. Cheese is an excellent way, in any case, of taking the taste buds from the main course and preparing them for the dessert.

Ah, dessert...... Hot chocolate pudding, with homemade ice cream - very chocolately. Dreamy.
During all of this, we had ordered the "menu enfant" for Alice. For a very reasonable price, she got a wonderfully prepared three course dinner of pate, chicken and tagliatelle, and homemade ice cream with caramel and chocolate trimming. Absoultely gourmet quality, but did she appreciate it? I ended up eating a large chunk of her pate, not to mention her chicken (which was simply delicious). At other times, we let her wander around the garden (the auberge was in a lovely setting). She did find room, however, for her dessert.
This really is what sets France apart from other nations, the trouble they take to prepare and to serve food (and wine, of course). It is even more than taking it seriously, it is a pure passion about food. Of course, there are "junk" restaurants here as everywhere else, but good food here is surely better than anywhere...

Anyway, enough of my eulogy. Suffice it to say, straight to bed once we got home (after great fun trying to park in a packed-out car park), and to sleep. Except that Jacqueline has been awake most of the night - she says its not indigestion, but she just feels too full-up to sleep. Alice and I had no such problems, although I did wake up early (well, 5:45am, which will be my normal time from next week!!). I appear to have picked up a tickly, annoying cough while we've been here (which when compared to the multitude of bites on my legs is a strikingly odd combination!), which meant I had to get up in order to avoid waking the whole house up.
Have been up now since quite early, but short of putting some coffee on haven't taken any steps toward breakfast. I think Jacqueline is likely to be lying in this morning, given the amount of sleep she had last night, so I'll probably end up taking Alice swimming.

Have been thinking once again about the fact that the clients haven't paid yet - and unfortunately this time it really is quite a bit of money. I'm Ok until we return to England, but if they haven't paid by then everything basically stops. I'll be overdrawn at the bank, for starters, so won't be able to get any cash. In practical terms I simply won't have the means to get to their site, which although it would lose me money would in some ways be quite a good retribution, since they are dependent on my for a couple of pieces of work at the moment. Serves them right. But once again it highlights the need to get some new clients. People are saying that the market (and market rates) have picked up, so I really need to see some of that action. I'm really not punching to my weight with what I'm doing currently.

Ah well, I'll try to put all this to one side until we finish our holiday. Last full day at Centerparcs today, which is quite sad in itself. Hopefully we'll visit Chambord this afternoon, but I'll need to see how Jacqueline feels. Alice has just woken up, and her first question is whether it is the afternoon, so she obviously feels she's had a lie in.

One final thing - before I started writing I put some of yesterday's bread out. Since I started writing I've seen Mr and Mrs Mallard, Mr and Mrs Chaffinch, even a robin and, as Alice has just spotted, a mouse. Wonderful array of wildlife here right on the doorstep.

Will try to get an internet connection now to see if any interesting emails have arrived.

Friday, 3 June 2005

Changeover Day

The plan was to swim this morning, then to go out this afternoon.

However, we all slept late, and by the time I got out to get the bread it was almost 10am. Not a problem in itself, except that Centerparcs was very crowded. Weekends seem far more highly populated than midweek. I think if we did come here again, I'd book for two midweeks and one weekend, rather than the other way around.

Anyway, because of the number of people heading into the dome we decided to go out first, then to swim later. So off we drove..... A lovely jaunt around the Sologne villages, arriving in Blois (found a petrol station in the nick of time) and travelling on toward the Cher. We arrived in a little town called Montrichard at around 1pm, and stopped in a beautiful pizzeria for lunch. Food was OK, but surroundings were magnificent - we were convinced the place was formerly a church.

I should probably say that throughout all this driving we'd seen the weather change from "Fair" to "most definitely raining"! We almost ran into the pizzeria to get out of the rain. However, as if by magic, one pizza and one hour later, the world seemed a brighter place. Montrichard was almost our destination - we only needed to drive a few more kilometers to the famous chateau of Chenonceau. This is the most beautiful, in my opinion. On our first proper holiday together (as opposed to weekends away), we stayed in a gite in the village of Sache, one sunny, cold, October week, back in 1998. Among many chateaux, Chenonceau is the place that sticks in my memory.

Wonderful once again, although spoiled somewhat by the coachloads of Russian, Italian and American tourists. It would be acceptable, but these people insisted on being so loud (and not just the Americans). From this perspective, it would have been better to visit in October!

However, where we did win (and also, because it was off the beaten path it was quite quiet) was by visiting the working farm/garden. This time of year is most definitely rose season, and there was a huge abundance of fragrances all around us.

Of course, we saw the formal gardens, those of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici, too, and again they were lovely, but again they were very much back on the tourist trail.

For some reason all of us felt tired this afternoon. Alice slept very soundly on the way back to Centerparcs, while I would have liked to have slept soundly, but if I had we'd never have got to Centerparcs! Not sure why this was - I've been waking at 7:30am at the latest during the holiday, and didn't wake until an hour later today. Anyway, a swim for an hour seemed to revive us somewhat.

Alice, from being afraid to ride her bike, has gone to the other extreme, and now wants to ride it everywhere. So, immediately after the swim we cycled over to the deer sanctuary, right in the far corner of the site. And, bearing in mind that the pool shuts at 9pm, you can guess how late this was! We finally arrived back in the cottage at gone 10pm, all of us feeling that we had at least made a little contribution to getting fit that day!
In general, a little sad since now we are counting the days left rather than the days in, but that's holidays for you.We have a final "bang" planned - two nights in Dinard, so we shouldn't be too upset to leave here.
Also, am massively hacked off that my clients are late paying a big invoice. I am reluctant to call the bank at the moment since I feel sure they will tell me I've gone overdrawn. If the funds aren't there on Monday I will seriously consider prolonging my holiday beyond next week. That will really hack them off since I know they have some deadlines to keep, but I can't afford to work for free.