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.

Thursday, 2 June 2005

On yer bike

Had a good "rest of day". After a restful lunch we basically bullied Alice into going out on her bicycle. She was very nervous at first, but all went well so her confidence is now that much better.

We headed off to the Experience Factory at four o'clock, for a kids' disco that never happened. To make up for things we had, you guessed it, ice cream sundaes. It was lovely just to sit there, outside in the shade.

Once the time came to head back, we only came back to the cottage for long enough to pick up our swimming gear, then we went off to the dome for a mega-swim. Must have been a good two hours in the pool. Stayed almost exclusively in the outside part, to catch the evening sun. Plus, since we were a threesome, both Jacqueline and I were able to go and "do our own thing" for short periods. Alice, unbelievably, took a shine to a small pool of really cold water. Absolutely mad, but she loved it.

They had the "official" photographer in the pool, so we got our picture snapped, turned out excellent. Brilliant idea for a money-making scheme. This guy snaps away on a top-notch digital camera. Presumably, as he fills memory cards, he drops them off at the office, where they are loaded onto a central computer. Then in the foyer of the dome, they have machines from which you can view all the photos, and for a fee print them out. Its not cheap - €5 for a 6 x 4 print, €7 for a 7 x 5 print, so they make their fair share of money out of it, but an excellent idea nevertheless.

Back to the cottage for just after 9pm, ready for a Jacqueline-inspired supper of chicken chasseur, all fresh ingredients thanks to a visit to the on-site supermarket earlier. Not sure what we'll do tomorrow - I've suggested Chenonceau, but we'll see.

It was very hot today, I think we've all caught the sun. Jacqueline currently taking every opportunity to display the bruise which is forming after the pony kicked her. I am unpopular since I said it was her own fault for standing at the wrong end!!

Paris

Long day yesterday, but managed to drag the family out of the cottage for 9:30am to catch the 9:54 from Lamotte Beuvron, via Orleans, to Austerlitz. Wonderfully modern train up to Orleans, then an older "Inter City" train, which ran 10 minutes late into Paris.

Met up immediately with Isa and her kids, great to see them. We walked through the Jardin des Plantes, where the kids could run wild a little (some good photos), then across to la rue Mouffetard to take some extremely slow and mediocre lunch in a cafe on the Place de la Contrescape. Walked on past the Pantheon and the Sorbonne, to Notre Dame, which was the one place that Alice said she wanted to visit. We got some slight views of la Tour Eiffel too, which is something else she said she wanted to see.

As a special treat (plus we were all tired) we took the Metro back to Censier Daubenton. Isabelle used to live near there, and it is the area we always stay in when we visit Paris, so we felt "at home". Plus, Isa knew a splendid Ice Cream shop, Octave, at the bottom of the Rue Mouffetard, so we all had some ice cream. The place happened to be next to the L'Occitane shop so Jacqueline too was happy. Unfortunately it was then time to head on home - how quickly six hours can pass.

Robin is starting to test the boundaries, according to Isabelle, and we could see signs of it. But he seemed generally Ok, a typical eight-year-old. Tess is very prim and proper, very ladylike and lovely. She has a loose front tooth at the moment and took great delight in wiggling it about, especially when I expressed disgust! Even though Tess is only three months older than Alice, she looks and acts far older, and her behaviour is far better. Alice looks positively baby-like next to them. A little concerning.

Anyway, back to Lamotte for 8pm, and a quick dash back to Centerparcs for a brief swim before closing time. Then back to the cottage for a salad which we were all too tired to eat.

This morning, we again went for a swim, the three of us there together for the first time. Dragged Alice to the outside part, which was lovely - a blue, cloudless sky overhead. We had to leave the pool quite sharpish, since Alice had a pony ride booked. it was thus that we met Herneste. Because Alice is a largish child, she was given a largish pony, a beautiful white pony by the name of Herneste.. I was a little surprised that I was supposed to lead the pony around, but in for a penny...

So off set the three of us for a walk around the lake. Unfortunately Alice decided quite soon in that she didn't like it, and before too long Jacqueline (who was steadying Alice) stood to close to Herneste's rear end, and received a kick on the shin for her troubles! Still Alice stayed on board until almost the end of the ride - the final straw for her was when Herneste lunged for some lovely-looking leaves - she decided to walk the rest of the way. So it was that I wandered back into the stables, alone with Herneste. Lovely creature, though not if you were to ask Jacqueline or Alice!