Sunday, 30 December 2007

Yesterday...

...was excellent. Dim Sum at the Imperial China on Lisle Street (wonderful, even if we did order enough for five!). Then, a walk down to the Embankment to the theatre, for an excellent performance. London theatre tickets are dreadfully expensive but you always feel as though you've seen a really professional performance.
By the time the matinee finished it was four o'clock, and we walked back up to Regent Street for Alice's trip to Hamleys. The only unfortunate thing on the way was that I called Bodeans, who told me they were full. Anyway, we split from Jacqueline and I duly spent the next two hours following my eight-year-old daughter around five floors of toys.

Highlight for Alice was probably the Build-a-Bear. She loved it but through a grown up's eyes it is an absolute con. Not only did she end up paying £30 for a £10 bear, but they have this notion of an "adoption certificate", whereby you enter your name and address to get some printed certificate. So, not only do they fleece you for the bear but they will sell your details on to junk mail companies! I wasn't able to stop Alice buying the thing but I did draw the line at giving them our personal information.

Anyway, come 6 o'clock Alice was totally spent up, and we met back with Jacqueline (who had been to Selfridges but claimed not to have spent the earth).

On to Bodeans - they have an upstairs bit which is more fast-food than restaurant, but serves roughly the same food, so the surroundings may not be ideal but the food would be good. Upon arrival, we popped downstairs and, as if by magic, they were able to conjour up a table for us in the restaurant. Excellent way to round off the day.

Back to Waterloo via Tottenham Court Road station. Very strange because as the train pulled into the station, Jacqueline said to Alice, "Look who's getting off the train". Of course it meant nothing to me but when Alice got on she was totally gobsmacked. The woman who'd just got off the tube was an actress who was in one of Alice's favourite TV shows, Tracy Beaker. As I say, I was none the wiser, but Jacqueline and Alice clocked her immediately.

Reminds me of the time when we walked past Richard Wilson (aka Victor Meldrew) on the stairs in Fortnum's - again it was Jacqueline who told me who it was (though that time he did at least ring a bell).
One final flurry, completely by chance Alice met up with a mate of hers on the train, who'd also been up to London for the day. They spent the hour-and-a-half journey playing happily with Alice's new-found Hamleys acquisitions.

Unfortunately, all too exciting for Alice. Our long day and late night couldn't combat the excitement, and even at eleven o'clock she was refusing to sleep and coming back into the lounge. Spoilt the day somewhat, to be honest. I need a couple of hours to chill at night, and this needs to be in a child-free environment.

Still, a memorable fortieth!

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Ho ho ho

Well, first and foremost, Happy Christmas everyone. The lack of entries goes to show how busy a December I've had.

Hot on the heels of the trip to Cardiff, we've had two trips across to France this month. First, we had what was essentially a day trip across to St Malo. Fine - we drove down to Rennes - but the weather let us down and we had rain most of the day in France, and stormy seas on both crossings.

Contrast this with the weekend just gone, where the weather was crisp and icy, with clear blue skies and calm seas. Lucky for us, then, that we chose this weekend to make a pre-Christmas visit to Rouen. Wonderful weekend - arriving in France first-thing, we mooched around Caen until around lunchtime, then headed over to our hotel right by the cathedral in Rouen. Rouen itself was excellent - very christmassy with a market, carousel and outdoor ice rink (Alice tried both) and although on Saturday afternoon the city centre became rather crowded, even this didn't dent Jacqueline's appetite for shopping.

Sunday, we took a leisurely drive back to Caen, via Honfleur, Trouville, Deauville, and generally along the coast. Stopped for an excellent lunch (moules frites) in Cabourg, and for the obligatory supermarket shop before the ferry. So, this week we'll be living on French groceries, with excellent bread (which will proably be no good today) and a wonderful chocolate log planned for after lunch today.

Talking of lunch, we've got a lovely-looking joint of rolled sirloin sitting ready for roasting. Mmmmmmmm.
Alice had a very good weekend at Rouen, but we have had a couple of major arguments this month - the most recent only yesterday - and life can be really unpleasant sometimes with her. She is all sweetness and light while she is getting her own way, but can turn the instant someone says "No" to her. I got particularly offended yesterday when, after all the effort I'd put in for christmas, I was told I was mean. Believe me, Father Christmas very nearly didn't stop at our house. To cap it all, Alice herself has become overexcited and managed to vomit all of last night's supper up at around 4am this morning. So, you could say we're not on top form. Just as well we don't need to do much today ;-)

Work has been very busy, and although I don't plan on going to the client's again until the new year, I do need to spend some time going through some paperwork, sorting letters and hopefully preparing the accounts ready to give to the accountant. Optimism.....

I haven't had any presents yet from anyone - too tired to open presents yet, but I have a feeling that the main presents will be self-bought. I picked up a PSP a couple of weeks ago, which I have to say is absolutely brilliant. I'm struggling to master Fifa 08 at the moment, and we were all entertained with Lemmings on the ferry back from France. Also, in France, I picked up a wine "sniffing kit", le nez du vin, which is basically a presentation box of fifty or so phials of the different smells associated with wine - apple, apricot, tobacco, liquorice etc. I noticed one on the ferry quite reasonable, but instead decided to treat myself to a "complet" kit from a snooty wine shop, for a whopping €275. I let them wrap it, so will open it later for a trial.
What else? Oh yes, Jacqueline crashed her car in icy conditions, fortunately both she and Alice were unhurt, but our poor old Mazda 323 is lying on the driveway, a write-off. I'm not normally one for getting sentimental about chunks of metal, but we got this car the summer Alice was born. While eight months pregnant, Jacqueline used to sit in the car (our first with air conditioning) just to escape the heat. Plus, it has been all over France with us several times, from the northern climes of Brittany and Normandy right down to holidays in Provence, Languedoc and the Dordogne. So, we need to get a new car asap once Christmas is over.
Back on the subject of christmas, I'm now off to enjoy it. Saucissons secs, anyone?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Cardiff Photos

Some snaps from last weekend:













Here comes winter

Stormy this weekend, especially today  - hearing the wind and watching the rain outside makes me very grateful to be inside! Especially since I've just had breakfast of tea and hot, buttered toast. Yummy...

Alice and I braved the elements yesterday to head over to Portsmouth, to watch the mighty Blues of Everton play. Alice's first football match. I did want her first game to be at Goodison, but I found out last week that Everton were playing down here and on the spur of the moment decided to buy a couple of tickets. So, the weather was crap - cold with squally showers, with neither team particularly looking as though they wanted to be out there. Poor old Mikel Arteta, this must have been a million miles away from his native Spain! As regards the football, basically it was two good teams cancelling each other out, and ended 0-0.

Hardly a memorable first game. But then my first game was a dour 1-1 draw against Tottenham, the day after my birthday in 1978. The first of many.

Today will be lazy, except we need to get some food in along the way.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Croeso i Gymru

Just back from a hugely successful weekend in my old stomping ground of Cardiff. I went to University there twenty-odd years ago, and have been back only very irregularly since. I think the last time was with Jacqueline, but not long after we'd met. So that would probably put it in the Summer of 1998.

To save time, I took the train directly from London, while Jacqueline and Alice drove up from home. She should have got there an hour or so earlier than me, although as it happened because of the traffic we arrived at the hotel at almost the same time.

We stayed in the Future Inn, which had a few strange traits (they wanted us to pay on arrival, for example, the first hotel I've stayed in where this chas been the case) but was comfortable enough. Plus, it was close to all of the Cardiff Bay facilities, most of which was of course derelict when I last visited Cardiff. Indeed, there appeared to be lots of building going on all over the city.

On Friday, then, off to the Red Dragon Centre for some supper at the Old Orleans restaurant. An excellent meal, plus they were really kind to Alice. The three of us shared this amazing chocolate dessert, complete with ice cream, marshmallow, maltezers and brownies.

Saturday started quite cold, so rather than walking into the city centre we drove, even though it was only a mile or so (indeed, once I'd got my bearings I realised that there was a park and ride bus just opposite the hotel, plus there was a station just a few minutes walk away. But still...next time...

So, into the centre of Cardiff where we had a good old walk around. The place itself was full of people (I hadn't realised that Wales were playing this weekend), and having walked up a couple of the shopping streets we made a detour to avoid all the people and visited the university, so I could show Alice where I used to study. Now, they'd warned me the evening before that they'd gone past a fair on the way to the hotel, and although nothing was immediately apparent, Alice's eyes lit up as we walked across to the university and right in front of us we saw the big wheel. They'd set up in front of the museum, and it was a "Winter Wonderland" theme rather than just a fair.

We weren't ready for the fairground yet, however, and we strode on until we reached the main building of the university. Of course, since it was a Saturday it was very quiet, and I was able to give them a tour of where I used to study. I was quite lucky (although didn't fully appreciate it at the time) to study in such a lovely old environment. It truly is a magnificent building. I rounded off the tour by taking Alice into the library, where she was absolutely aghast at the huge number of books on the shelves. "Daddy, when you studied here did you have to read all of these books?", came the whispered question!

So, a wonderfully refreshing visit, full of memories. In fact, the only major change I noticed from all those years ago is that the theatres and labs in which I studied now form part of the Chemistry department, and the Physics department has now been hived off to a new location altogether. So, if I were to go to university now, I wouldn't even be in that building!

Back to reality, and at last Alice got to visit the Winter Wonderland, and we had a ride on an excellent big wheel, in the cold drizzle I remember so well! Still, Alice was totally unphased by it all. Right next to the big wheel was an outdoor ice rink, which also looked like great fun.

Back into the city centre, where we got sidetracked by Alice wanting to visit a Santa's Grotto. It was a little strange since she was the eldest child queuing, but there again kids generally want to grow up so quickly nowadays that its quite nice to have her enjoy childhood.

Alice by now was very content, and we settled down to strolling some more through the city streets. Cardiff has some beautiful Victorian and Edwardian arcades, which retain their charm largely because the high street stores have left them alone. Very different to your average city centre, although there is a load of construction work going on at the moment so quite how much charm will be left in a couple of years is open to question.
By this time the rugby had started, so many of the bars and had emptied, and we settled down to a somewhat belated lunch, before walking through the arcades once again.

We finally got back to the car just as the rugby was finishing, so avoiding most of the crowds. Both Jacqueline and I had bought hats, while Alice had a new teddy (courtesy of Father Christmas) and some new bottles of fairy dust.

Back to the hotel for 5pm for a couple of hours' rest, then out again, this time to the excellent Doctor Who exhibition in the Red Dragon Centre. There were full size Daleks (which are actually quite scary!), a model of an "old" cyberman (a guy in a grey boiler suit!) and a "new" cyberman. Plus, of course, the Tardis and K9. I'm not very into Doctor Who, though Jac and Alice love it, but it was very impressive. At the end of the exhibition was a shop, and the amount of merchandise of all kinds was incredible. This must make the BBC a lot of money.

Out through the centre - the weather having cleared up somewhat - and we caught our first glimpse of Cardiff Bay. Lovely. Fortunately I'd brought my camera and tripod with me so took some decent photos to boot. They really have smartened the place up well (I visited Butetown once of twice when I lived there, and it was very rough), and clearly it has become a big venue for going out. A lovely stroll. Back through the Red Dragon Centre for supper, to a Thai restaurant which was basically a buffet. Lovely, but I couldn't work out where the chips came in!! Finished off with some fresh pineapple, to wake us up a little.

Back at the hotel, Jacqueline's pedometer said she'd walked 30,000 steps that day, with her normal target being just 10,000. So, that's how far we walked

Sunday turned into a full day also, though at the outset we had little planned. Checking out of the hotel, I treated the family to a drive around Cardiff, showing them where I'd used to live etc. etc. Very little had changed in Roath, and we had time to take a stroll around the lake in Roath Park. On then, back into the centre of Cardiff, where I'd booked for Alice and I to go skating. Initially Alice got very upset because she'd thought it would be easy and it wasn't, but by the end of the hour she was moving a little more fluidly, albeit with one hand still on the rail! Back then across to the bay, where we visited Technoquest - a great entertainment for youngsters. At about 4 o'clock, we finally had some "lunch" at the nearby Harry Ramsden's. As usual, the food was good but the service was disappointing. Topped up with food, however, we then headed for home.

Two hours later, fortunately with very little traffic along the way, we were greeted by the lovely Maisie, whom we had awoken from her slumbers upon our return. Someone was glad we were back...

Monday, 19 November 2007

Naughty but Nice

Tippled down over the weekend, so no walking despite a trip to Cotswold Outdoor Saturday to get some proper walking shoes for Alice. We did have a tentative plan to go out to the forest Sunday, but 33mm rain yesterday put paid to that. Instead a trip to the Rapids for a swim, followed by afternoon tea at the White Hart in Salisbury. So very much a day of two halves - a good one and a naughty one!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Eastern Promise

I must mention a TV channel I have recently found. Its a news channel called Russia Today, and I have taken to watching it as I'm getting ready to go out in the morning. At that time of day they seem always to be showing documentaries, but the tone of these documentaries is highly questionnable. A week of so ago, I was treated to some black-and-white footage of Lenin's time. All well and good, except that as I became drawn in, I realised that the footage was not filmed *during* Lenin's time, but some time later. And the documentary was not simply telling me a story, it was telling me how wicked a man he was to boot. Pure propaganda.
Then yesterday, a documentary on Latvian nationalism. It was not immediately apparent when this program had been made, save that it wasn't made that long ago. But the programme went back to the Second World War and made sure the viewer was aware of how many Latvians were complicit with the Germans. All very emotive stuff, Latvia should look toward Mother Russia rather than to the West. Then the documentary displayed footage which was clearly contemporaneous, made me realise that people are probably churning out more and more of these even as I write.

Can't wait...

I am something of a golden boy again at the client's, for both prudence and brevity I won't go into much detail. Suffice to say that my approach of being calm, understanding problems, and grinding out solutions is rather less spectacular, rather less pro-active than many at the client's, yet it seems to produce better results. I am reminded of Rudyard Kipling's "If", and of Hemingways quote - "Never confuse movement with action".

If nothing else it is just interesting to see different people at work, and how peoples' fundamental nature means that they will take the same approach again and again, irrespective of previous results. To be honest it is partly frustrating, but for the most part amusing (after all, they're paying me to watch all this!).

Did I mention I was thinking of buying myself the complete Dilbert collection for christmas?

Monday, 5 November 2007

1984

I've prattled on for years about the policies of our illiberal government. Fortunately, Blunkett now appears to have been carted back to whichever lunatic asylum from whence he came, and Reid - never more aptly described than as an "attack dog" by Paxman - has faded back into obscurity.

However I was reminded yesterday just how pervasive this "Big Brother" attitude has become when I heard on the car radio an "advert" regarding benefit fraud. Listen here.... Truly disgusting.

Its not that I condone benefit fraud, although I can easily think of other types of tax avoidance (which is essentially what it is) whick would probably be fairer and more lucrative to target (for example the millionaires who live in London but pay no tax). It is purely the tone of this advert, alongside the tv adverts we see about TV Licenses and Car Tax, all of which aimed purely to scare.

It upsets me a lot to see this. I think of the terrible event that was 9/11, and how even more terribly these opportunistic politicians have taken this event as an opportunity to erode our liberties and essentially turn the country into a police state. I remember with dread 7/7 - not least because I take the tube each day - but I cannot see how such an attack will be a one-off when simply the tone of our government gives rise to so much resentment both at home and abroad.

On a final note I read an article today claiming that Brown has put a halt to the ID Card project pending a review of the feasibility of the technology. Dare I be optimistic enough to hope that this is one constraint on my liberty that is now dead and buried?

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Photogenius

Well, the holiday seems a long time ago, although we have just had a good weekend, especially from a photographic perspective.

Started Saturday slowly, but Jacqueline wanted to finish an essay for her latest course, so Alice and I made ourselves scarce, going to Serendipity Sams over in Romsey. I'd have thought Alice was a little old for this now, but she seemed to have a great time. For all her flaws, Alice is very gregarious and has no trouble befriending people. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to get into a new book (I stopped off at Hatchards last week and basically stopped buying at £50, but could easily have spent the afternoon there).

So, Alice ran around like a mad thing while I started reading Tony Benn's latest diaries. Benn is a man I admire greatly in any case, plus these diaries take hime from 2001 (when he left the Commons) to the present, so are very much comtemporary. I am sure they will be excellent.

From Romsey we headed over to Salisbury, where I had determined to take some photos of the cathedral. Every night when I come home from Salisbury Station I drive along the Ring Road and I have often though what an excellent vantage point to see a good view of the cathedral. Of course, one cannot stop on the ring road (let along set up the tripod!!), but the ring road runs next to a multi-storey car park, and such places are excellent for a good photograph.

Off, then, to the top floor of this car park, complete with photo bag and tripod. Even though I say so myself, the end results are wonderful. Even Alice was placated, since she had an excellent view of some fireworks displays over Salisbury.



Back home, and not only had Jacqueline completed her essay, she was also up for taking Alice to the local firework display in Downton. I stayed home for that one - I'd had enough of Alice's sole company for the day. But they came back an hour later having had a great time.

Despite lovely weather on Saturday, Sunday was actually forecast to be the better day of the weekend, and today we headed back over to the Purbecks (we were there just a couple of weekends ago), parked up at Lulworth, and walked across to Durdle Door. Absolutely perfect. Even Alice (although she whined on the walk there and back) had great fun exploring the caves along the beach.

Once again, although we were at the wrong time of day for perfect photography, I got some okay snaps.








So, Sunday evening. Having traipsed over the Dorset cliffs today I feel absolutely knackered, and won't be long out of bed!

Monday, 29 October 2007

Action Man

We're back and settled now. The journey south was, as anticipated, quite hard, at least until we got to the M6 Toll. We stopped for a late lunch at Warwick, a first visit for all of us (though I did work in nearby Leamington for a while). Surprisingly small and bland, considering its strong reputation with the university and the castle. Still, Alice enjoyed it because the fair happened to be in town. So she had a couple of rides, one of which was white-knuckle indeed! The fact that the town centre was given over to the fairground meant that most of the shops had taken the opportunity to close early, though as it happens I'm not sure we missed a great deal.

On southward, then, until we finally reached the greenery of the forest and the comfort of home for a substantially lazy evening. I did upload all the photographs onto a computer, and at first glance some of them were very impressive indeed. (In fact this was confirmed when I looked at them properly yesterday, and after about four hours of processing the photos are now on the site.) We were so lucky with the light last week that, aside from Ullswater, the ambient light features quite strongly.

So, sitting using Bibble was yesterday evening. However, prior to that, I did have quite an active day. Of course having been away for the week the cupboards were bare, so a supermarket run was obligatory. I took the opportunity to combine this with a visit to Cotswold Outdoor, where I came away with some new Merrell walking shoes, and some lightweight weatherproof trousers.

Now, I'm sure the smart money would say, "why didn't you buy all this gear *before* you went on a walking holiday?". And I can regrettably offer no defence to this argument. I could possibly mumble something about only realising I could do with this kit having spent last week in "normal" gear, but how convincing would that be?

So, returning home from our shop, it having been raining all day, Alice and I went out for a walk, accompanied by Jack. A nice little circuit which just took us through the fields above Downton, and at an hour and a half was ideal for the kids. Withdrawal symptoms, you see.

Homeward bound for the ultimate - and most draining - event of the day. Alice is an extremely untidy child and had let her room, once again, turn into a pig sty. Event something she had brought home from Grandma's, less than 24 hours previously, had found its way, crushed, under her bed. Needless to say, Alice's idea of "tidy" is somewhat different to my own, and ultimately Muggins ended up doing things like crawling under her bed with the hoover, and had to pick mouldy old apple cores off the floor. I can't believe I found six towels in there, all having migrated from the bathroom at some point, and the amount of dirty cutlery and crockery would almost have filled the dishwasher.

Needless to say, I was hardly in a good humour doing all this, waiting to discover what the next disgusting surprise would be, so there was inevitably some shouting as Alice and I fell out. And although the end result was a tidy room, I was forced to shun human contact in favour of sorting my photographs, just to retain a modicum of sanity.

So, a late night and, having forgotten to set the clock on the central heating, I woke up this morning in an oven feeling very stuffy indeed. All of which means that I should be using this journey for sleeping, not blogging!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Half Term Frolics

Of course, the last line of the earlier entry was somewhat contrived, since by some quirk of fate I have spent the last week on holiday. We have taken advantage of half term week by visiting Grandma in the frozen north.


For Alice, that was as good as it got. A week wearing Grandma ragged. Poor old Grandma hasn't said as much, but I'll bet she breathes a sigh of relief when we finally leave, after breakfast, today. Highlights of the week, for her, included going to see the new Disney film, Ratatouille, visiting the museum in Liverpool, visiting her great auntie Margaret in St Helens and, top of the list, blowing most of her spending money on a pair of dodgy Heelies from Liverpool market. She's been on about getting Heelies (training shoes with wheels in them) for weeks, and at a minimum price of £50 she was set to wait until Christmas in order to pool her money. However she found a pair this week for £15 - not "official" ones, of course, but some copycat brand - and is totally thrilled. Personally, neither Jacqueline nor myself share this enthusiasm - the sooner they break the better - but this is what comes of Jacqueline's off-the-cuff remark that if Alice wanted Heelies, she'd have to pay for them herself.

For Jacqueline and I, we headed up to Scotland on Monday and spent a couple of nights in the charming Moffat (the Annandale Arms, which was very comfortable and didn't serve a bad meal either). Apart from sitting on the M6 for an hour and travelling only 1 mile, the journey up was straightforward enough, although since I do relatively little driving these days I have to say that the M6 made me distinctly uncomfortable. It really is a death trap (and in fact the reason for the motorway being blocked was an accident).

Anyway, once settled in Moffat, we spent a somewhat misty Tuesday exploring Dumfries and Galloway. We headed off first to see the Devil's Beef Tub, although the lack of visibility meant that we didn't see a great deal. On to Drumlanrig Castle, and although the castle itself was closed, we had an excellent walk in the forest. On to Dumfries for lunch, and we were amazed to see so many people - mostly school children - roaming around the centre with chip bag in hand. No wonder that health in Scotland is statistically quite poor. Really surprising, and really apart from a pleasant stroll by the river, was our overriding memory of Dumfries. After a (non-fried!) lunch, we headed south to the coast to visit Caerlaverock Castle, which was very enjoyable. Having promised me an afternoon tea, we continued on to Annan, and found a town which in my opinion was utterly charmless. We did, however, find a hotel which served a microwaved scone and butter. Admitting defeat, we headed back to base camp.

Wednesday started frosty and sunny, and we took fullest advantage of this by driving north-east out of Moffat, and climbing up to see the beautiful Grey Mare's Tail waterfall. Unfortunately Jacqueline wasn't up for climbing to Loch Skene, at the top of the waterfall, but we certainly went far enough to see some wonderful views - and all of this with blue skies and brilliant sunshine. On, then, to Langholm for lunch, travelling through some 30 miles of glens and forests, and barely another car in sight. No cars, but we did come across a Tibetan monastery along the way. Lovely, colourful and not a bad cup of tea! Langholm was another example to us of a dour Scottish town, and after a brief lunch we headed southward, past a place called Bewcastle where I holidayed as a child, and on to Hadrian's Wall. Excellent - both Jacqueline and I love this sort of thing.

With the light starting to fail, we then blitzed down the motorway a few miles for the highlight of our stay, at the Rampsbeck Country House hotel on Ullswater. A charming, laid-back atmosphere, a lovely room with a view of both the lake and the garden, topped off with a sumptuous four-course dinner (hare followed by turbot followed by a pear creation). I was up early the next day to take some photos, although our stint of bright weather was pretty much over and the surrounding hills shrouded in cloud. Alas, we were staying in this particular hotel for a single night, so had to check out once breakfast was finished. However, with high energy levels, we stopped the car just a couple of miles away to walk the Aira Force waterfall. Again I took both the new camera and its tripod, a decision which proved to be correct as I was able to take some excellent long-exposure shots of the playful water. A wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, very exhilarating.
On then, over the Kirkstone Pass (past the Kirkstone Inn, where as a fifteen-year-old I get very severely hung over on a range of single malts!) and into Windermere, for my first visit to England's largest lake. Packed with people, the town was nevertheless quite charming. Very much a tourist trap, with very little there of any substance, but pleasant nevertheless.

South, south, south - via a brief stop at the National Trust's Sizergh House (very dark interior, oak-panelled walls throughout, quite depressing!) and a more lengthy stop at Ikea in Warrington, we finally arrived back at Grandma's on Thursday night, to reports of Alice having played up.

We spent Friday at leisure, with a visit to Chester. Despite Alice's difficult behaviour, Chester was a surprisingly attractive place, and with exclusive boutiques such as Molton Brown and L'Occitane it is most definitely a city "on the up". So, after a broadly positive afternoon, we headed back for one last evening at Grandma's, and had a lovely (authentic, bought in Cumbria) supper of Cumberland Sausage and mashed potato.

So we're up to date. I'm hopeful that the M6 will be quieter today, but I really woundn't be surprised if it was another nightmare. Still, at least we'll get to see our lovely cats once again, and sleep in our own beds.

Ahhhhhhh, on reflection, there's no place like home.......

Friday, 19 October 2007

Chuckles

For the second time today I am rendered speechless.

I am sitting on the train finding it difficult to suppress a giggle. Just outside of London, during the ticket check, a young girl behind me who sounded extremely dippy held the guard up for ages, trying to find her ticket. Eventually, the guy gives up and says he'll catch up with her later. There then follow 10 minutes activity where the person sitting next to this girl is forced to stand in the aisle, while this girl turns out bags, pockets, anything you'd care to mention.

Finally, Eureka, a ticket is produced! Train Life returns to the usual dull activity, loud people talking on phones and deaf people using ill-fitting headphones.

Some time later, the guard returns. Triumphantly, he is presented with the elusive ticket. However, in an instant the charged, excited atmosphere returns as the guard comments, "This ticket is from Salisbury to London" (we're travelling in the opposite direction). But the guard hasn't finished. A second comment, "its dated 16th March" delivers the final blow. Clearly moving in now for the kill, the guard says that the girl must pay him, and that she can obtain a refund at the ticket office, should the original ever rise from the depths of her handbag.

But the drama is not quite over. The girl has no money and no cards. Further, due to the train running at peak hour, her student railcard is invalid, and she is not only penniless but indignant. The guard requests her address, which the girl is reluctant to give. Oh, what tension!

The atmosphere is finally cut like a knife when the woman sitting next to the girl (she of infinite patience) offers to pay for the girl's ticket. A true knight in shining armour, although after the excellent performance the girl has given I'm sure if she'd had a whip round the rest of her carriage would have paid for her ticket and probably her supper too!

As if sensing the atmosphere for a small encore, the girl proceeds to alight at the stop before Salisbury. Truly this would have capped a wonderful display, had not some kindly passenger tipped her off.

At a time when I fret about my daughter's future ability to engage in any kind of paid employment (at least, without my committing a minimum of £6k every year for the next 8 years), the knowledge that such dippy people exist is tremendously comforting. If this girl is the competition at the Tesco interview, Alice should walk it!

Impossible, really, to top that. But I'll briefly mention the chuckle I had at the client. All the grief of the last couple of days, surrounding a project I'd worked on which has just gone live and is very, very wobbly, finally came to a head. Since the crisis began I have done my utmost to keep my distance from the fray (too many headless chickens for comfort), rather I have settled back, studied the problem, and this morning worked out what had happened. So not only was I the star of the show, but there was a double whammy.

Several months ago, when this project was merely a design (my design) I got gazumped by one of the client's people who basically instructed that the design be changed. Against my advice, but of course the client is the client and ultimately as a consultant I need to be prepared to just doff my cap and say "Yes, sorr". Which I what I did. Anyway, some more looking into the problem, and this afternoon I discovered that the cause of the current problem was a direct result of that change all that time ago. Of course it would be foolhardy to suggest that the problem could have been foreseen, but I do feel somewhat vindicated.

Autumn Blues

First frost of the year yesterday, followed by another one today. For the last couple of weeks I've been travelling to and from London in the dark. Whilst we'll get some temporary morning respite when the clocks go back next week, we're heading now for winter at full speed.

Life recently has been dominated by work, though I did manage a full weekend of gardening last weekend. Tidied all of the hedges around the garden. Hard work but in general nothing more sophisticated than giving everything a good going over with a lopper. Still, it looks good and the garden gets a lot more light because of it - in some cases I was taking more than three foot of branches off, and to be honest it is still not as short as I'd like. Jacqueline likes that we have tall bushes because of the privacy they afford, but once they get higher than seven or eight feet I don't think we benefit all that much.

We went to a Parent Evening at Alice's school a week or so ago, only to meet Alice's teacher, a singularly unimpressive woman who left us merely with the notion that she'd given up on Alice already. For the first time I'm starting to think that Alice may have got herself into a position where there is no way back, at least at her current school. So, I have started looking at private schools, although this obviously grates somewhat because (a) I have paid for one education already, and (b) I'm not sure that Alice will appreciate (or make the best of) the sacrifice I'd be making. Prices range from £6-12k per year, and whilst we have a lot of equity in the house I would rather like to keep things that way.

Finally to the clients. Absolute mayhem. I could go on at length, but in reality it would first of all be very boring, second-of-all very imprudent. Suffice to say, I am reminded of an old maxim from my very first boss, "We've never got time to do things properly, but we've always got time to do things twice".

Maybe I need to split this blog into two, and come out with a "public" version and an "uncut" version, for private viewing, where I could vent my spleen to the full!

I need a holiday!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Keeping up Appearances

Dear Diary....

Well, I'm trying to keep up the habit of writing more regularly, but in truth not a great deal to say. The weather has turned cold and autumnal, though for the last couple of days has been bright - as I write this the low sun is streaming into the railway carriage. If the weather holds until the weekend I may need to make another pre-sunrise excursion with the camera. Of course as we head into winter, and the days become darker, this will become easier, at least without having to get up too early.

Had a nice lunch yesterday with Henry, one of the very few who has made the jump from "client" to "friend". Truth be told, I've been feeling slightly under-the-weather all week, so bangers, mash and gravy was just the ticket to warm my aching limbs.

Jacqueline has started going to the gym once again, though I dashed her plans last night by not arriving home from the client's until quite late. I had promised myself that I would not stay late at the client's any more, but there you go...

At some point soon I am going to have to make a decision on their renewal offer. I am thinking about it a lot, and all other things being equal it is clear what I'd like to do, but the trouble is that all other things are not necessarily equal....

On the plus side, I have finally found an online French grocery with whom I have been able to replenish stocks of my wonderful Soft Cashmere tea. Ordered last Thursday and arrived yesterday, and at what appears only to be quite a nominal markup on the supermarket prices. I noted that these guys can also supply the shower gel, shampoo and conditioner that I consume and that are part and parcel of every trip to France, although it has to be said that after the summer holiday I've still got about a year's stock of all of these.

We had a gardner come round in an attempt to tidy up. I've always found gardeners very hit-and-miss - or to put it another way we had one guy who was excellent, and all the others have been crap. So, deliberately leaving this guy under no illusion that there would be follow-on work if we were impressed, I said to him that I wanted tolimit my outlay in the first instance to £100, and to see how far he got. I'd have thought that was sufficient incentive for him to do a decent job (there's probably at least £300 worth of work to be done in the garden) but it appears not. Even our thriving magnolia tree was left with a "tuft" on the grounds that the guy couldn't reach the very top. As it happens I have got a telescopic lopper which will finish the job nicely at the weekend, but the point is that I'm not the professional gardener here!

So we're almost back at square one, inasmuch as although the front has been tidied we're still left with a back garden requiring lots of TLC (trimming, lopping and cutting!) Looks like I'll have to get busy with the cutters myself, although this is a disposal nightmare and will take out a weekend. Or, do we just keep looking?

Ah, time to hunker down for a little kip before the train gets into London.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Rambling on...

We had rain for the first time this month yesterday, and what rain! We'd ventured out, en famille, to the Purbecks. However following a leisurely morning we didn't leave the house until midday, and so didn't get over there for an hour or so.

The plan was to go and have a walk along the cliffs, but what with the time of day etc. our first stop was to a pub on the outskirts of Wool for Sunday lunch! After we'd finished, we headed down to Lulworth Cove and we did actually do some walking, although the sky was very grey and becoming greyer - we had around an hour walking around - until ultimately we were basically walking in cloud along the cliffs. I didn't fancy getting drenched by the not-far-off downpour (especially the bit about sitting in the car for an hour, driving home with steaming wet clothes) so we quit while we were ahead. We were fortunate to have just started driving home before the *real* rain arrived!

But wonderful to be there nevertheless. Obviously it was quite blustery, so was were able to stand and watch the power of the waves as they crashed on the bottom of the cliffs, and it was amazing to watch the way the birds caught the air flows up the cliffs to soar above us, seemingly with no effort whatsoever.

Contrast this with Saturday, when we had a beautiful day all round. To give Jac some peace, Alice and I went out for a walk in late afternoon, which ended up taking us 3 hours! I did pull up an OS map beforehand and thought I knew where we'd end up, but seem to have got it all a little wrong, probably adding a good three of four miles to the journey. We started off going up a bridleway, and really for the whole of the first half of our walk we avoided any roads - the bridleway even turning into fields as we progressed. Ever prepared, the GPS was left at home, so too was the compass, and my own OS map of the area long since disappeared (I'd checked the OS Site on the web when at home) I did get a little concerned that we were actually walking the right way - especially when we wandered through a field of grazing cows - but the signs were just about frequent enough to ensure that we didn't stray far.

Until we hit the road up at Redlynch, therefore, I wasn't quite sure where exactly we would end up. And when we I did recognise the surroundings, I realised that we were a good ten- or fifteen-minute drive from home. Clearly our walk was far from over, although having said all this Alice was loving it and not at all concerned about how far we had to walk. Making a brief pit-stop for ice cream, we headed back home, again via back roads and along the river in Downton. Lovely - we were certainly ready for supper (vegetable pizza) when we got home!

Life outside of weekends only barely tolerable at the moment. The plus side is that the bank balance is steadily increasing, the bad news is that I need to give most of it to the taxman in a month's time! Boo-hoo.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Action Man

Following on from yesterday's activity I must add that after the blog entry was written I climbed onto the roof (twice!) to fix the weather station (it has been showing zero wind speed for a couple of weeks now, basically because it got crudded up), *and* I mowed the front lawn.

Despite this abundance of activity, I didn't get anywhere near as much done as I'd planned - I have three or four months' worth of letters to scan and shred, and I shall be praying for good weather so that I can get the back lawn done at the weekend.

In the vein of "sorting things out", one problem that has niggled for some time is now fixed. As any observant reader might have spotted, this site has a contact form hanging off its front page. Basically, when someone fills out the contact form, the web server sends an email to my address. The only thing was that the people who host my email account kept on rejecting these emails. Plus, despite evidence that their servers were at fault, their support people were either unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

Clearly an email address that is not allowed to receive email is of limited use, so I finally got around to approaching my business's host, even though the work would have been paltry. Their support guy really helpfully showed me how to do it using their servers - and what's more at no extra cost - and lo, web forms appear in my inbox once again. Ah, the appliance of science...

Heading up to London today to fulfil the boring task of earning money. Whoopee!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Tour of Britain

I've just spent a lovely Monday off work - rare for me unless we're on holiday - to watch the Tour of Britain, which this year passed through the New Forest only a few miles away from where we live. We decided that Bolderwood would be a good vantage point, and although it was quite overcast it was a good opportunity to put the new camera through its paces.

Following on from our visit to the Tour de France, we were prepared for something somewhat smaller, although despite the fact that the roads weren't totally closed like they were in France, there must have been an entourage of a good twenty or thirty police riders escorting the cyclists.

Anyway, amidst some beautiful countryside, the sun popped out and just a couple of minutes later the Tour went through, a two-man breakaway (identities unknown, I'm afraid - my cycling knowledge isn't quite that extensive) leading the Peloton by a couple of minutes. In yellow, and at the head of the peloton surrounded by hisT-Mobile teammates (in pink), is the promising British talent Mark Cavendish, who won the prologue yesterday (and who in fact went on to win today's stage too).






Not bad, even if I do say so myself. Actually the sun made all the difference - I took some "set up" photos during the cloudy spell and it could almost have been a different day. Anyway, good luck to Mark Cavenish, who at just 22 looks like he's got a very bright future ahead of him.

I mentioned yesterday that stuff had been going on at the client's. Apart from the day-to-day stuff (they're working me very hard at the moment), they have offered to extend my company's contract for another year. It wrong-footed me somewhat, because they have made the offer extremely early - there's still a while to run of the current contract. So, good news...

Or is it? Well, that's what I've got to think about over the next week or so. And its not easy. Without boring with the pros and cons, suffice it to say that there is a sufficient number of cons to maybe make me think that enough is enough.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

New Camera

I mentioned last time out about the new camera, and I finally prepared a couple of images. The images have been processed with a package I found called Bibble. I liked this one so much I paid for a license!
First off, the day after the camera arrived I headed over to the New Forest - very early in the morning at 7 o'clock. I'd promised myself to do this for years, and the opportunity of Jacqueline and Alice being at Grandma's, plus the new camera, was I guess like the spring tide. Anyway, the fresh sunlight in the otherwise deserted forest was beautiful, plus it gave me an early chance to use the camera in totally manual mode. Plus, of course, the obligatory ponies...




Then, I managed to take a picture of the beautiful Maisie...



...and finally, we went canoeing on the Beaulieu River last Sunday, and paid a visit to Buckler's Hard afterwards. I particularly like the way the overcast sky has come out - not the best "photo" weather but very true to life.




Probably not the best photographs I've ever taken - there is clearly a learning curve with these SLRs - but the camera is very impressive.

More stuff to report, especially developments at the client's, but I'll catch up with all that next time.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Back to school

Ah, well, the summer holidays are over and Alice went back to school yesterday. Or so we thought... It must have been quite comical but Jacqueline took Alice up to school only to find out that yesterday was a "Teacher Training" day, and that she was to have one last day of holiday.

I don't know what these Training days are all about, perhaps when I was at school the teachers were untrained? Or, worse yet, perhaps they were fully trained before they got their jobs? Still, I'm sure I needn't worry - by the time Alice sits her GCEs she (and presumably all other children) will automatically score 100% and will be labelled a genius.

It is beautifully sunny this morning (very appropriate for the first day back to school) although there is a definite autumnal feel to the air. Still, it is warm in the rail carriage so I can just bask in the sun up to London. Life with the clients is manic as ever, though there is a partial tube strike this week so I don't plan on hanging around their offices if I can help it.

I'm still very happy that I got the new database up and running at the weekend, although as it happened there was little respite. Just a couple of hours later I was installing a patch onto the web server, rebooted it and when it came back up one of the disks had failed. Fortunately, despite the annoying beeping, the disk was part of a redundant array, so I set it off to rebuild itself and, so far, it looks to be ok.

Before I settle down to my basking, I must just mention Sunday. In a big change to our routine I planned a session out canoeing on the Beaulieu River in the New Forest. It was one of those Indian-style canoes, and all three of us fitted snugly into it. Great fun - I wasn't sure how Jacqueline would take it but she loved it too. Alice was..... Well, let's just say I now know the meaning of ballast! Seriously, she seemed to enjoy herself also - although it is very hard as a parent not to keep droning on about how "I never got to do things like this when I was a kid".

Following the two hours of fitness (and boy did my shoulder feel it on Monday) we drove to nearby Buckler's Hard, where we were just in time to take some afternoon tea at the hotel there. Well, all that hard work deserved some reward!

Took the camera out with us, playing with a uv filter on the lens. But to be honest it was too overcast for the filter, and when I looked at the images later the filter had simple tinged them all blue. Plus, I had been playing around with the camera, shooting night photos, a couple of days earlier, and had forgotten to reset the ISO setting. So the first few photographs (and in fairness to myself I did notice quite quickly) were taken at ISO 1600! But it is a learning process, this is my first SLR after all. The lesson I take from this is to pay more attention to the information in the viewfinder in future.

All-in-all, though, an excellent day out. Even in the evening when we were watching tv, knackered, but could still feel the salt on our faces.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Progress

Yippee!

A blog or so ago I alluded to having some problems with the office computers. Dead as a dodo.

Well, I bought a couple of replacement servers very cheaply, on eBay. I mean, if you know anything about computers, the old one was a Pentium 3 800MHz desktop with a whopping (maxed-out!) half gigabyte of RAM. It did have a large hard disk, but that was about all. Anyway, this has now been swapped out for a twin P4 2.8GHz blade server running on 2 1/2 Gigs of RAM. A very decent upgrade. The server in question ran the database behind many of the applications used in the office, including this blog. Consequently everything has been offline since pretty much the end of June. Blog entries - few and far between as ever - have been stored offline in that wonderful medium known as email.

Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey, and over the course of the last month or so I have been bringing the new servers up to speed, bit by bit. Now, one of them is finally ready and is once again running a database. I've just spent the last half-hour uploading all of the offline blog entries, and we're ready to roll.

Next, for the second server, whose destiny is to take over the administration of the LAN from anoter beat-up old box, this time a PIII 500MHz. Plus, of course, since the new server is a blade server, just 5cm high, there's a fairly big space saving too. Something for another day, I think...

The only other thing technically was that my bloody laptop got a virus infection. First one ever! It showed my current virus software was just not up to the task, so I need to find another product. Finding an Antivirus package will be easy enough but I use this laptop for all sorts, so maybe one of those firewall-type packages may be appropriate. (I use ZoneAlarm on the office desktops but this isn't supported on the laptop's operating system.)

On to more electroniccy things, I have just bought my very first digital SLR camera. There are lots of knobs and dials and I have also got a hefty instruction manual which tells me what they all do. Of course, the camera has a point-and-shoot mode, but half of the fun is learning how it all hangs together. Right now I'm starting to learn about filters, lens extenders etc. etc. - and am realising that buying the camera was only the start...
On the suject of photography, I haven't put any pictures up for a while. First, here's one from that flight in the Pyrenees:


Yes, it really was that beautiful. Not forgetting, of course, our primary reason for visiting the region, the Tour de France




Must publish some more photos once I master the new camera!

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Mighty Blues

It is twenty past midnight and, by rights, I should be tucked up in bed asleep. However on this one special occasion, I have obtained an evening pass and have spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening watching my beloved Everton trounce Spurs at White Hart Lane.

Spurs have a number of attractive players, but really they all must have stayed at home tonight. Their most impressive player, at least early on, was an eight-foot giant of a youngster named Anthony Gardner. Seeing him stand next to Andy Johnson was like something out of Snow White. For all their height, however, The fact that two of Everton's goals came from right-wing crosses said it all. First up was Joleon Lescott with just a minute on the clock. Everton's first attack. A free kick, and in comes Lescott unmarked for 1-0. Next, the equalizer (Spurs played some flowing football ten minutes either side of their goal), but shortly afterwards Everton regained the lead, Leon Osman firing home at the far post. Osman was excellent throughout for sheer commitment. Finally, on the stroke of halftime, Alan Stubbs (has he ever scored before?) hit a piledriver free kick from thirty yards out. Skidded along the ground, took a deflection along the way, and slid past Robinson into the net. Game over. Certainly Spurs were willing in the second half, but Everton killed the game as any decent team would. In the end it was men versus boys.

So, an excellent game of football followed by a hassle-free trip back to Waterloo, and heading back westward on the last train of the evening. I should be home for quarter-past-one, only to be up again at six for the return trip into town.

When I get round to it I must summarise my computer woes - my blog itself has been offline for around the last month because the database server packed up - but not right now. All the keys on this tiny keyboard are starting to look the same!

Monday, 13 August 2007

Happy Mondays

I wake this morning, twenty minutes before the alarm. A lovely night's sleep and a beautiful morning outside, spoilt only by the fact that I must get up shortly and got up to London. The duvet is so comfortable, however, that I give in - I'll be taking the later train today.

I pass the time just lying there, then the alarm finally kicks in and I have Radio 4 for company. I find the first past of the Today programme a little pointless - we hear the news but at that time of day it is simply journalists interviewing journalists. But of course they will speak to the "real" people a little later, when the world has woken up.

I hear all the financial news. The markets are very wobbly at the moment, the world has the jitters because the USA is bankrupt. Nothing at all to do with local economic factors, but the amorphous "market" is all-consuming. And of course I am affected - as is everyone else with a pension or an endowment. Tony Benn used to talk scornfully about the new religion of worshipping the markets, and he was right, but the reality is that we are all affected.

Despite being bankrupt, despite the absolute disaster in Iraq, the hawks of Washington talk next about Iran. The world's latest empire, but if we look at our history books, we see what ultimately happens to empires - in fact there is a lot on TV currently about the sixtieth anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan, the death-knell of the great and glorious British empire. Britannia waives
the Rules!

So far we hear nothing from Brown on Iran, in fact very little from him on any subject at all, has he gone on holiday? But rumours abound that there will be an announcement in September and that rather than pledging undying allegiance to our Atlantic cousins, he's actually going to start pulling our troops out of Iraq. At last, common sense takes hold! But this man has been at the centre of government for the last ten years. Has he really just become a convert to the fact that our invasion of a soverign country was totally unjustified and doomed to failure? Or is the truth perhaps that he has (at least publicly) concealed his true views all along, so as to hold on to the power? What would that say about the man's honour?

To more mundane matters, we have been enjoying a week or so of beautiful weather, which we are promised will end by tomorrow. Saturday just gone was spent very lazily, summoning the energy only to drive out for supper (The Lamb at Nomansland, and very good it was too). Yesterday was more active, especially on the tidying front, and was interspersed with a trip to Castle Point for shopping and Pizza Hut
for lunch. Ah.......the life!

I am currently reading a trilogy of books by John Nott. The name of John Nott is indelible in my memory since my interest in politics, in my early teens, was cemented by such events as the Falklands War (Nott was Defence Secretary at the time). Having seen his latest offering on the shelf at Ottaker's, I made a note to check Amazon, and subsequently found that he had written three books. What's more,
all three were highly recommended by Amazon users. So, in for a penny...

Deciding to read the books in chronilogical order, I started off with the chap's memoirs. Refreshingly candid, and interesting not just because of his time on the greasy pole at Westminster, but because he had a life both before and afterwards. Indeed, his recollections from the City are consistent with some of my own experiences there. On, then, to his second book, "Mr Wonderful takes a cruise", a
funny, politically-incorrect, tongue-in-cheek take on a seventy-year-old's view of the modern world. For the most part, his comments make absolute sense, although his phraseology in terms of different races ("them" having "integrated" into "our" society) is discomforting. But then this is typical presumably of a seventy-year-old's experience, and certainly not racist. My own experience (as a
just-about-thirty-something), having lived in a multicultural society all my life, Nott's observations are not even remarkable.

As regards the last book, which was the book I saw in the shop, it promises to be good. It takes the history of British wars fought over the last hundred-and-fifty years, and asks the simple question, "why can't we learn from this?". Good? I'll let you know.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Bored

Ah, well, the start of another week.

The holidays are over, and this time of year is always a hard slog to do enough work so as to be able to pay the Corporation Tax, due next month. To make matters worse, we seem finally to be getting some summer weather, and life at the client's is quite tough going presently. I'm back with the frustrations I was having a year ago, and the days seem long and pointless right now. Still.....professional consultant.....smile sweetly at client and make note to check bank balance.....

Had a nice barbequeue Saturday, some neighbours came around and we spent hours just chatting out in the garden. Lovely weather, yesterday the same. The only thing is that it is too hot for Maisie, who has taken to eating at around 3am, presumably when it is sufficiently cool, unfortunately she doesn't think twice about jumping on us to try to get us to feed her. Little bugger!

Alice had her birthday last week, but this year it was a quiet affair since we've just got back from a couple of holidays and haven't really had time to organize anything. I was going to treat her to an Indian restaurant on Friday, but she was naughty and so everything was cancelled. In truth, she seems to be getting worse as she gets older. She got some money for her birthday so we had to take her to Toys'r'us and watch her spend several tens of pounds on absolute tat.

Been having lots of trouble with one of the computers in the office, so much so that I've ordered a replacement - far more powerful - but of course it is going to be hassle to build the thing. Something to do on those hot summer nights...

Generally fed up.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Vacances en plus

Because of the cloudy weather forecast, Tuesday's special treat got postponed until Wednesday. Still, Tuesday itself wasn't wasted since we headed over to nearby Foix for a mooch. Unfortunately Jac had succumbed to a tummy bug, and eventually retreated back to the car. Alice and I, however, enjoyed a walk around the charming chateau, and visited a farmers' market and picked up some foie gras. Lovely town.
While in Foix we heard about an underground river complex nearby, and decided that since we were in the area... Absolutely wonderful experience, though no photography allowed so I only have a few postcards to remember the experience by. Back to Saint-Girons in time for an evening meal. Again just Alice and I, we found what looked like a roadside café, which served a not-too-bad pizza, though they mucked the order up slightly.

Wednesday began a beautiful day, with not a cloud in the sky. Perfect weather - especially to go and take a peek at the mountains in a light aircraft. What an experience! To try to describe it would not possibly do it justice, though fortunately I took lots of amazing photographs along the way. What a way to spend an hour! All I can say is that the pilot is a lucky man. Because we flew quite early on, there was still time to check out Saint-Lizier before lunch. A beautiful old hillside town, seemingly with every view being framed against the backdrop of the Pyrenees. Magnificent.

From this point, things definitely took a turn for the worse. We headed back for some lunch in Saint-Girons, and within an hour of this I was feeling very poorly indeed. We'd gone back to the hotel but literally all I could do was lie on the bed with a tummy ache. Of course, this was double trouble because it also disrupted plans I'd made. To cut a long story short, I ended up seeing lunch over again in the bottom of the toilet. At least having been sick I felt well enough to go out, although this was Wednesday and I've not felt quite right since.
Out, eventually, alone, on a beautiful circular tour culminating on the Col de Portet d'Aspet, which is well-known to anyone who knows the Tour de France, and in fact was riffen by the cyclists on Monday, after they'd sprinted through Saint-Girons. Spectacular, lush, green countryside - I have to say not at all what I'd generally consider to be a mountain pass. I stopped to pay my respects at the memorial to Fabio Casartelli, who crashed and died on the descent in 1995, aged just 25.

I remember this well because I happened to be staying with Isabelle at the time, and the five or six hours live coverage on French tv was novel to us (we made do with a half-hour roundup in England), so I happened to see the immediate aftermath. Even at 25, Casartelli already had an Olympic gold behind him - a sad loss.
Turned north / north east to complete the circuit, stopping off in Aspin for a cool, refreshing Orangina (and a toilet break!) and arriving back at the hotel via the local Champion.

Our last day, we quit the hotel early to spend a couple of hours in Tolouse before we flew home. Alice initiated an argument which meant that none of us spoke to each other for the trip up there, and while we papered over the cracks in Toulouse it still meant for a stressful day. Add to that the enormous queue to check in when we finally got to the airport,I had to have words with some guy who just decided to push his way past us on his way onto the plane. Now, I know we'd all get on the plane anyway, but it was just rude and I didn't feel like putting up with it.

To make matters worse, Alice played up on the plane, whining like a toddler, and so any hope I'd had of getting a little sleep went straight out of the window. Plus, of course, we went from 30 degree sunshine in Toulouse back to 13 degree rain and cloud back in Bristol.

To cap it all, we were greeted by a real "jobsworth" woman in immigration. Really, I feel I ought to complain. Alice was walking ahead of us and so I gave her her passport and told her to wait by the baggage reclaim. This obnoxious woman, presumably from Immigration, said to me "she has to stay with you". Put off by the tone, as much as anything, I asked why. "Just because", came the reply. Ignorant bitch. It is a classic case of putting someone in a uniform.... Especially with all this terror rubbish at the moment, they feel they can do as they please.

Still, once we were through the airport, there was a chap waiting with the car, which was good. The only thing left was the interminable drive back home, complicated firstly by the route strangely being reprogrammed such that we ended up headiing toward Weston-super-Mare (the opposite direction) - Jacqueline denies all knowledge. Then, losing first the GPS device and then the GPS signal, so we didn't know where we were headed. Then, once we'd found the receiver on the floor of the car, the battery on the PDA giving out altogether. Fortunately by this time I could pretty much remember the way back. The only other event of the journey was travelling at 60mph down this road and at very short notice seeing a sign for a ramp - although I jammed the brakes on the car seemed to hit it at a hell of a speed. Fortunately it felt worse than it actually was, and the car drove home without any ill effects.

Got home after about 2 hours (mental note never to fly from Bristol again), and I slept well last night. When I woke this morning, my tummy was still sufficiently dodgy that I just turned over and went back to bed, telling the clients that i'd be recouperating today. After all this holiday nonsense, I need a rest!

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Live and Direct

There's this strange sensation on my face. It feels a little pink, and strangely warm. Could it be???? Ah, yes, I remember. Its sunshine!

While the rest of the UK is seemingly underwater, we are counting our lucky stars, nestled in the Pyrenees in the picturesque town of Saint-Girons. We're taking a couple of days away to watch one of my favourite sporting events, the Tour de France.

The first stage I saw was in Paris in '98, with Marco Pantani coming home in yellow. After that, a massive gap until we saw the Prologue just a couple of weeks ago in London. Hot on its heels, we're down here to see a true mountain stage in the midst of some wonderful scenery. As it happens, although yesterday was a mountain stage (2 category 2 climbs, 2 category 1 climbs, and 1 hors-categorie climb) we actually chose to watch close to the hotel, since in Saint-Girons there was an intermediate sprint. We were lucky, since le tour passed immediately in front of the hotel (La Clairiere - very pleasant for a one-star hotel), so we only had to leave the room fifteen minutes before the caravan was due.

For all I've seen the tour three times, this was the first time seeing the caravan. This is basically a stream of trucks and floats, advertising anything you might imagine, which pass down the route in front of the cyclists. On their way, they throw out all kinds of freebies. So we ended up with a whole bagful of things. For caravan "virgins", we soon learned that there were good places and bad places to stand, and it was infuriating that the kid just 10 metres along the road was accumulating gear at a much faster rate than us. So, we repositioned ourselves a little close to a roundabout, where of course everything had to travel that little bit more slowly. But it is all a bit of a lottery - Jacqueline would have loved a baseball cap but unfortunately it was caught by the guy next to her, probably we caught things that other people would have loved to have. Still, all in all great fun as long as you don't allow yourselves to get too disappointed.

Having been warmed up by the caravan, we strolled on into the centre of Saint-Girons and eventually settled into a nice spec, just 10 metres or so from the sprint line. An hour's wait (interminable for Alice) and the leaders raced past. Unfortunately at this point the camera refused to work (probably not the camera's fault, more likely a lack of brain-to-hand coordination!) and unfortunately the one shot I did get had a big green "hand" placard in the middle of the shot! However, all was not lost, since this was a breakaway of a dozen or so riders (including Vinoukourov, the eventual winner) and the main peloton was yet to pass through. Ten minutes later and I made no mistake - the camera has this high-speed mode, allowing me to shoot 7 shots per second, and as soon as the peloton came into view I started snapping Around 200 shots later... So hopefully one or two of them will look good.

Now, after Saint-Girons, those poor guys still had another three or four hours cycling to do, and four of the five peaks still to climb. So, I had a mad idea to try to catch up with them again at the finish. According to TomTom, we could make it, however as we neared Loudenville, the gendarmes had other ideas. 10km (or 5km, or 6km, depending on which gendarme I asked) from l'arivee, they were turning all cars back and only allowing people through on foot. Although we were able to park quite easily by the side of the road, it soon became apparent that we were never going to make it with a seven-year-old in tow. Admitting defeat, we turned tail for a town called Arreau, where we ate a belated lunch.

Although we passed through some beautiful scenery, indeed we could see snow-covered peaks in the distance, in truth the weather was starting to cloud over even before we left Arreau, and certainly by the time we arrived back in Saint-Girons, the cloud had turned into rain, weather which I guess is quite prevalent here. Home to a quiet night in the room, via Intermarche and MacDonalds.

This morning we have sun and blue skies once more, though there is quite a stiff breeze making it a little chilly. This afternoon, we have another treat in store - more later!

Friday, 20 July 2007

Wet Wet Wet

We're having an unbelievably wet summer - I looked at the weather station when I got up, and saw that there had been 13mm of rain already today.

Life is more interesting at the moment, since I am closely following the Tour de France. I started off at the opening ceremony on Friday 6th, then we came back up to London the next day, en famille, to watch the prologue - as Mother Nature would have it, a beautiful sunny day and a wonderful atmosphere to boot. Sunday saw the tour head down toward the Kentish coast, though we watched the stage courtesy of Eurosport. Since then I have contented myself by watching the highlights show each day - yesterday's stage went from Marseilles to Montpellier, and there were some wonderful aerial shots of Arles  along the way. If I were pushed, that part of France would be very close to the top of my "favourites" list.

On the subject of the Tour de France, however, it is only going to get better, since on Sunday we will fly down to Toulouse, and thereon drive down to the small Pyrennean town of St Girons, where we will watch Monday's stage. Tremendously exciting.

As well as being a nice little "jolly", I do feel I could use the break at the moment. Since we returned from the main holiday I have spent a lot of time at the clients' and worked plenty of overtime, all toward trying to meet a deadline that I told them several months ago was unachievable. Hey, ho. I think I could be developing itchy feet syndrome once again.

Straight off the back of our Tour de France visit to London, we headed back again the very next weekend, this time to meet up with a friend of mine, Martin, and his family. We met up at Camden Market, somewhere I haven't been since around 20 years ago. I used to love it up there, but having aged somewhat I now find myself uncomfortable among that many people. Still, following a stroll along Regent's Canal we then headed back to Martin's house where we enjoyed a sumptuous barbequeue. Wonderfully relaxing day - even Alice's overly high spirits seem to have been tolerated.

Ah, well, the rsi is starting to kick-in now, I'll call it a day. Must write some more from France.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Fading Tan

Its now two-and-a-half weeks since we came back from holiday :-(

In that time, I don't think we've had a single rain-free day :-(( The faint tan lines I acquired in France look more like I've forgotten to wash.

Last weekend was typical. Saturday, we ended up going for a walk over at Bolderwood - A took her bike, J her new shoes (with which she is still elated) and I took a pair of binoculars I've bought on eBay. (They feed the deer at Bolderwood, and there is normally a good opportunity to see lots of deer, albeit at a few hundred yards distance. This time of year, the stags' antlers are just about ready, so they looked very regal.)

Tippled down with rain, but at least we can confirm that J's swanky £90 Merrell shoes are indeed waterproof, and comfortable as anything, so she says.

More encounters with deer on Monday, this time driving home from a restaurant when I nearly hit a couple of them! Fortunately it was raining and I was driving quite slowly, I decided against continuing the chase cross-country! We'd been out to celebrate the birthday of a friend (sans Alice, we've found a new babysitter!) at an Indian restaurant. We've never been to this particular restaurant before but must have passed it hundreds of times and have more than once said "we must try that place sometime". So now we have!

Also went out to eat Sunday, in celebration of J's birthday the day before. Ended up at the Fighting Cocks at Godshill. I went there once about 10 years ago, but this was the first time since. Despite the "lived in" decor, the food was really quite good, and I had a very enjoyable lamb roast.

Have not been near the garden since our return from holiday, despite a newly-serviced mower sitting in the garage. Maybe this weekend...

In the meantime, been working a lot at the clients, which will at least improve the bank balance a little (overspent by around £1000 in France - unbelievable!!) 43 hours last week (probably a short week to many people, but quite a lot longer than I can usually bear to spend with the clients!) Same again this week, boring...

More soon.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Depressed

Ah, well. Back a week and thoroughly fed up.

Full week's work last week (groan) although the bank manager will be happy since I'll be getting paid once again. But very tiring. I have been drinking the excellent tea I brought back from France, and on the way to the client's I bought apricot jam and unsalted butter on Monday, and have been buying fresh bread each day to have my jam rolls, but of course it isn't the same.

First weekend back to normal. It is J's birthday next week and she has been hankering after some walking shoes (she didn't really have the right gear on holiday, so she said) so we popped to Blacks yesterday and got her a really smart pair of Merrell shoes. Most expensive in the shop.

Next, our iron fell apart last week. Still heats beautifully, unfortunately fell apert! So off to John Lewis in Southampton to buy a replacement. Again, we opted for the most expensive in the shop.

Whilst over in Southampton we popped over to Hedge End to get the grogeries in (in theory this would leave Sunday entirely free). So, without having done anything, really, yesterday ended up costing me about £400.

The amount of things we did we were basically out of the house all day, which wasn't a bad thing since the weather was terrible all day (been very sunshine and showers all week). And, as I say, doing everything in one day left today free.

Only thing is, the weather has been even worse today! Imagine "sunshine and showers" without the sunshine, and you'll have an idea. The one thing I have managed to do is to hang up my new lovely brass thermometer/barometer/hygrometer, which still looks great. I've tuned the tidal clock into Redbridge, which is about the closest tidal point to here. Of course it won't really be useful until we live by the sea....

Saw "Coast" on tv last night, they had the Isle of Man. Looked like a lovely place to visit. Maybe  one time when Alice is staying up at Grandma's...

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Homeward

Sumptuous meal at the Grand Hotel last night - lobster followed by beef followed by "decouverte chocolat". Even the childrens' menu was split into courses so A. felt she was having a "proper" French meal. The restaurant appeared quite busy to start with (the best restaurants have, I think, a relaxed air about them, which I think hotel restaurants have difficulty matching) but quietened down (or did wine consumption come into it?)

Totally knackered by the time we headed back to the suite, basically just opened the window wide to go to sleep to the crashing of the waves on the shore.

Awake again at 6am, the waves still crashing and the sun streaming in - a beautiful morning. Took the opportunity to have a soak in the bath, by which time J. Was awake and we went for a bracing morning walk along the beach.

Upon our return A. was still crashed out, and had to be roused with the promise of a buffet breakfast. I think of all meals out, buffet breakfasts are her favourite because there is so much to choose from (most definitely true in this four-star hotel) and because A. Generally ends up making around four visits!

Fortunately the hotel lies only a five minute drive from the ferry, which meant that after breakfast it was relatively straightforward to get onto the ferry. As I write this entry, A. is amusing herself in the kids' play area (where she has been literally since we came up from the car) and J. Has just returned having exhausted the tiny boutiques on board. For me, there were a couple of nice white Lacoste shirts for work, but even though £40 apiece is very cheap for these things, they're nevertheless more than double the M&S price! Becoming a skinflint in my old age!

Might settle for buying a little chocolate and a fridge magnet from A. to our of our neighbours (who is always generous to A.).

Au revoir la France, jusqu'a la prochaine!

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Luxury

We woke Thursday to the patter of rain on the Velux windows. Through breakfast the sky remained grey and we abandoned our ideas of a local tour, and decided instead to head all the way across to Brest (some 2 hours away), both to see the city and to visit an oceanarium there.

The city itself was quite disappointing, very modern, although I suppose this was largely due to the war. Oceanopolis was better, but was marred by an argument with J.

Having come this far west, I wanted now to see the Atlantic, so we headed over to Le Conquet and Saint Mathieu. Despite driving through rain at Brest, the weather cleared as we got to the coast and we walked along the cliffs in brilliant sunshine. Must dig a photo out.

Late return back to the cottage, with the weather very changeable all the way.

Friday morning very much the same - very grey. I wanted quite a short day simply because this was our last day, so we'd need to start tidying and packing. Off then to the local town of Paimpol. We'd been here a couple of times previously but this was our first walk around the tiny streets. A lovely place (I got a traditional brass thermometer/barometer/hygrometer to rival the hi-tec gizmo that broadcasts onto the web) - somewhere I'd definitely go back to.

Having decided to do a quick local tour in the afternoon, the weather obligingly cleared up and we ended up at the coast north of Plougrescant, the Pointe du Chateau. Deep blue sea, white surf and pink granite rocks - I hope the photographs do us justice. Absolutely wonderful.

After a great day, A. ended up disgracing herself by going off on her bike somewhere - I had to go looking for her in the car. Even after all the publicity about Madeleine McCann, it falls on deaf ears. Bed without supper.

This morning was, of course, an early start to get packed. We've bought so much this last fortnight that it was a struggle indeed. Still, once packed we headed eastward....to do more shopping (and not a bad lunch) in Saint-Brieuc. Onward to Saint-Malo, poor weather all the way, to enjoy a final night of luxury at the Grand Hotel des Thermes (J. Has already raved about her visit to the thalasso centre, and A. has gone one better and has been for a dip in the sea.) We're hearing English tv here for the first time and about rain and floods! However changeable our weather has been in Bretagne it has clearly been better than home.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

What a difference...

...a day makes!

Two excellent days, but both very different to each other. After a lazy morning yesterday, we got the bikes out and rode, en famille, along the nearby coastline. Probably around 10km in all, with plenty of stops for photographs along the way. Terrain ranged from proper roads, to mud tracks, to the beach!

Complete with IGN map, we struck out south east until we hit the "coast" (actually looked like a salt marsh) and followed the path (the GR34 walking route) until we actually hit a beach at Laneros. Very sunny, hot and clear, we could easily see the Ile de Brehat and the Point de l'Arcouest, yesterday's visit. Many photographs, although the water itself looked almost stagnant and certainly not coastal as we'd expected.

Onward anti-clockwise around the coast, making our way back toward L'Armor. Past the Sillon Noir, and outcrop of black sand/pebbles which appears to be permanent. The
road at this point became a path (of course, meant for walkers) but was just about navigable on the bikes. However as we progressed, the pathway became sandy beach and
further riding proved impossible. Hot and flustered, we eventually arrived at the Sillon de Talbert.

This is a sand/pebble promontary which extends something like 5km into the sea, apparently a permanent fixture, and very well known hereabouts. And so of course, when presented with a challenge...

Sad to say it was very hot, and A. gave up to play in the sand close to halfway along, J. and I continued but we ourselves gave up probably three-quarters of the way to the end. Well, it was getting late...

Actually I found it very difficult to judge the distance along the sand. When we finally approached the car park at the start of the Sillon, I started counting the steps when I thought it looked 100 yards away...and ended up counting to 300! This
was our experience in general - the end didn't look too far away but didn't seem to get closer. Anyway, a challenge postponed for a couple of years.

Still sweltering (and for myself, having caught the sun), and quite fatigued, we endured the final five-minute cycle back to the cottage.

Out again a half-hour later, this time en voiture, to enjoy a meal on the quayside at Paimpol. The restaurant/meal really was magnificent (La Cotriade) - as agreed by all three of us. Highly recommended.

All in all, a very agreable day.

Contrast this with today, which started out grey as we journeyed westward to Perros-Guirec once again. Now, every day here is starting out grey, so I wasn't too concerned. However, today it just got greyer, and as we arrived there (just in time for lunch) it had started raining. Indeed, as we hastened into the nearest creperie, the rain looked somewhat torrential.

After lunch we embarked on our cruise out to Les Sept Iles, in a vedette packed out with a couple of French SAGA parties. Undeterred by the driving rain, all three of us found the islands very enjoyable. They appear to be a designated nature reserve, and many species of birds were in evidence. Most popular appeared to be penguins and puffins (both very cute!). Many photos, but a shame the day was so grey. Having paid for the "extended" tour, we even got to disembark at the Ile aux Moines. Nice to stretch our legs, even the rain stopped for a while.

Back onto the boat, we endured one more shower before the weather started to clear. Indeed, by the time we arrived back in port the weather was considerably better.

Onward to find a Salon de The in nearby Lannion, where we found not only what we were looking for, but much more besides. £150 of Descamps bedding and a trip to the local Jeff de Bruges later....

So as I write this I am utterly knackered, but at least there is blue sky outside.

Tomorrow's agenda is undecided. We might stay local (ish) and explore some more coves, the rockscape at Plougrescant and the nearby town of Treguier in a bit more detail.

But then tomorrow's another day... 

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Baghdad Burning

For the holiday I am currently reading a book "Baghdad Burning", which is the transcript of a young Iraqui blogger, Riverbend (riverbend.blogspot.com)

A. has picked up that I'm reading this book, and wants to know what it is about.

Answers on a postcard, what the hell do I tell her?

Memories

The thing I will take most away from this cottage is the cellar.

When I was a child, my grandparents lived in a big, old Victorian house, complete with stables and servants quarters. Of course, its cellars were enormous and a great place in which to have adventures.

In the 1990's, "progress" demanded that this beautiful old house be knocked down to make was for a modern apartment building.

But as I descend the cellar steps in this cottage, the smell I pick up along the way transports me those thiry years back to days gone by.

The gite so far

Let's see, where are we?

Well, Sunday was quite grey and we decided to combine a little exploring with the necessary task of getting some petrol - I know from experience that petrol stations in the French countryside can be few and far between, so didn't want to take any chances.

Mrs TomTom said that the nearest petrol station was in Paimpol, so there we headed. In addition to petrol, we found a lovely town with a beautiful marina (bordered by wonderful-looking fish restaurants - wish we'd found them the night before!)

Onward, though, to the Point de l'Arcouest, which is where the boats sail for the Ile de Brehat (www.vedettesdebrehat.com). A cruise around the island sounded quite a good idea, so we went to find out more. Stopped at the Point for lunch - the first Moules Frites of the week. Over then in the other direction to the town of Treguier, a beautiful old place reminiscent of Dinan. Beautiful cathedral. By then we were tired and the sky was grey, so we headed back to the cottage In fact we had a good old storm Sunday night, the weather being so grim I had to find out how to put the heating on in the cottage.

By Monday morning the weather had broken, and although it was still grey the storm had blown itself out. On the grounds that we might not get any better weather (the forecast for the entire week is not good) we decided to actually visit the Ile de Brehat. Wonderful tour around the island - beautiful rock formations and plenty of photograph material. And I feel so "alive" in the bracing, salty sea air. After sailing around the island, we landed and strolled to the Bourg in time for lunch. And, gradually, the weather cleared too. So much so that we spent a while in the afternoon playing on the beach, and the crossing back to the continent was blistering.

Out appetite for sailing having been thoroughly whetted, I drove on to the port of Perros-Guirec, where they operate trips out the the seabird sanctuary out at Les Sept Iles, and have booked a criuse for tomorrow.
The boat actually sails from the jetty at Tregastel, and there we found a beautiful sandy beach and a lovely bar in which to have a relaxing drink. There was also a hotel there, the Grand, which looked absolutely beautiful (and which was attached to a thalassotherapy centre). A future destination? Could be.

Homeward via Lannion, where we drove through the centre but didn't stop - looks to be another place worth a visit.

Today we are going to spend quietly, with a walk along the coastal path this afternoon, and perhaps a meal over in Paimpol this evening. Not as bright as yesterday but by no means bad weather.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Second Half

We are installed in the gite, and this is god's own country. Having unpacked the cases (carting them up not one, but two, flights of stairs in the process), we headed off to explore and ultimately found a rock/sand beach stretching as far as the eye could see. The weather brightened up nicely on our way up here so we had blue skies and bright sunshine too. Wonderful.

The small of the salt made me feel like fish for supper, so I offered to take the family out for supper. The only restaurant we found didn't exactly promise fish, but was Moroccan, a cuisine which we all like. As it was, the food was good but the service was slow. And this isn't just some ignorant Englishman speaking - I'm well acquainted with French restaurants and am all in favour of allowing food to digest between courses, but trust me, this place was s...l...o...w.

So anyway we came home just before 11pm, and it is just about dark now. Wonderful.

Can't wait to explore the beach some more, and hopefully unpack the kite tomorrow.

Muggy

Very muggy today, misty outside. A storm is brewing and is forecast for tomorrow, when we will be right at the seaside to witness it.

Nice meal in Rennes last night, a very-French pizza. Was feeling quite chilled until A. decided to knock a glass onto the floor. Sometimes I think she was better as a two-year-old.

Still, my induction into crash-course French met a new level, when I discovered that I would need to call for a taxi. Passed with flying colours. I don't know how good my French actually is, but I'm certainly able to make myself understood!

So, today J. is allowed to shop in Rennes until 1pm, after which time we must leave for the Cotes d'Armor, to take the keys off the owners at 4pm. When we went into Rennes last night the shops were just closing, so whilst there was an air of frustration at the time, I suspect all she was doing was building a hit-list for today.

Must close now. Everyone else seems finally sorting themselves out, I don't want it to be me who deprives them of 10-minutes vital shopping time.

P.S. - Had Lipton's "Soft Cashmere" tea this morning - absolutely delicious!

Friday, 8 June 2007

Halftime

Well, the first half of our holiday is over - we left Centerparcs today and have checked into a hotel in Rennes for the evening.

Tomorrow we head further westward into Brittany for a week. Since I wrote Tuesday, things have pretty much gone as planned. Tuesday we packed Alice off to Kids Club and Jacqueline and I ended up having a lovely, relaxing drink in the golf clubhouse at Centerparcs.

Wednesday was busy, as expected. We caught the train into Paris Montparnasse, on a beautiful sunny day, and the first thing we did was to ascend La Tour Montparnasse. If ever you want a good view of Paris, and can't decide between La Tour Eiffel and La Tour Montparnasse, my advice is to take the latter, just from the hassle-free viewpoint. We were at the top of the tower in two minutes, rather than the hour of queuing to go up Eiffel. And the views were just as wonderful...

We dropped Jacqueline off at les grands magasins, then Alice and I headed off (on foot) past the Louvre (the pyramid was not quite the Egyptian monolith she was expecting, but a 10-minute pause by the fountains cooled us off a little), across the Pont des Arts (my favourite Paris bridge). Then along La Rive gauche, to our destination - the bateau mouche at Notre Dame. In fairness, this was probably an anti-climax, it was far too hot to sit in a greenhouse, even if it was travelling along the river.

The trip climaxed when a woman was taken ill at a quai by the grand palais, the police arrived in spectacular fashion in their motor-dinghy, and fifteen minutes later we still hadn't budged an inch. So, Alice and I decided to "abandon ship" at this point, instead opting for an altogether more underground journey across to rendezvous with Jacqueline at the Opera.

Surprisingly, she had only two smallish bags, but had discovered, on the ground floor of Lafayette Maison, a wonderful Italian ice cream stand. An amaretto and lemon cornet later...

Back to Montparnasse, and the good old SNCF decided to remind me what I was missing, our scheduled 65-minute journey instead taking 95 minutes, arriving back into Verneuil at around 9:20pm. Still, we forgive such tardiness because we're on holiday...

Thursday, again, a quiet morning. Alice wandered off to play in the playground, then headed back at lunchtime so we could go to the pool together. The outdoor pool was open for the first time since the Friday night when we arrived (technical problem), and we made the most of it. This year, the slides which once held fear are now something to be enjoyed as much as possible. The afternoon, we visited Evreux, which was quite charming. Again, we were unable to resist visiting Decathlon, where I ended up having a long chat with a guy (in French!) about a bike I liked the look of. Jacqueline sought out some new walking shoes (she'd been tempted in Dreux but there was insufficient time on that occasion). Plus, I picked up a really lightweight rain jacket. So, how to buy a bike from a French shop and get it back to England.....

This morning, time for one last trip to the dome before heading westward. The only thing to note is that Alice has been a complete bastard all day, annoying both myself and Jacqueline along the way. I was livid when she told a barefaced lie to Jacqueline, telling her that I had called her a particularly horrible name. I guess it just goes further to show where her limits are. Even now, Jacqueline and I are trying to chill in the hotel bedroom, and she is being deliberately disruptive because she is bored. She needs to understand that it is our holiday too. I'm really fed up with this. With Jacqueline along everything is so relaxing, add Alice and everything becomes stressful. I think next year we will investigate leaving her at grandma's. Still, out into Rennes in a little while for a spot of supper, hopefully we can salvage something of the day.