Thursday, December 28, 2006

A visitor in the frost

Woke up this morning to find a sharp frost had painted the land white. As normal, I went into the kitchen to make coffee and looked out of the window to see whether the birds had any sunflower seeds left on the table, but if there were any they will soon be gone as this is the sight that greeted me.

We left him to it, and topped up the seeds when he had left.
He has a few nests in the trees outside the bedroom balcony, and we often watch him while we are laying in bed in the morning, but this is the first time that we have caught him pnching the birds breakfast!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Santa - The born again Biker, a poem by Jude

T’was the night before Christmas

And up in the sky

Santa is panicking

Rudolph can’t fly!!!

He’s sprained both his wings

And he’s white as a sheet,

And nothing will fix it

Not even Deep Heat.

‘I need a bright light’

Cried Santa; frustrated,

Then: ‘ I can use that!!’

His tone was elated.

Twas a present that he

Was supposed to deliver,

He looked and he stared

And he started to quiver!

A wondrous machine

All purple and black,

Twin silver exhausts

But no luggage rack?!

For Years he’d dreamed

Of owning a bike,

Fast roads and freedom

And speed and the like.

In a very few seconds

He was sitting astride,

He started the engine,

Prepared for the ride!

He threw it in gear

And raced through the sky

Skidding round clouds

On the ultimate high.

Roaring back to the sleigh

On the grand GSX

He was heard to exclaim

This is better than sex!!’

He piled the presents

And all of the toys

In a huge great big heap

For the girls and boys

On the back of the bike

In a pile so tall

All the reindeer swore

They were going to fall!!

But Santa knew bikes

And he said, ‘Wanna bet?!!’

And Hey-Presto!!..He magic’d

A fine cargo net.

That net, well it just

Seemed to stretch on forever,

The reindeer thought

It was terribly clever.

Rudolph was sad

And of humour devoid,

He could see himself soon

Joining those unemployed!

Said Santa, ‘Don’t worry

Old Rudy my pal,

The bike is a present

For some biker-gal.

Her name, well it’s Jude

And she’ll think she’s in bliss,

Cos next year she’s taking

A long trip on this!!

Off then he zoomed

On the roaring machine.

A fat little man, with his eyes all a’gleam!

He did all the rounds

And made his last call

To drop off the bike

(At the end of Jude’s hall)

He gazed at that bike,

Then he whispered, ‘I like her!!

How I wish I could be

A born again biker!!

Friday, December 22, 2006

A short holiday in Spain - by Jude

We recently went on a short ‘package’ holiday to Spain; it was cheap and you get what you pay for! It was a noisy hotel with loads of people round the pool consuming lots of alcohol (very noisy), a quantity of screaming children (twice as noisy), loud music in the evening (very, very noisy), and traffic about 30 feet away ARRRGH! It was a bit like Mexico, kind of grubby, rubbish and dog mess on the streets, and odours of I knew not what but didn’t much like them.

The first night down to dinner was a disaster, the food was a self service buffet, hot and cold, and it was rubbish!! I’m not that picky but this was stuff I wouldn’t feed a self-respecting Labrador! There were burgers which I don’t think were real meat, sausages in batter, soggy fries, salad which had seen better days, and mashed potatoes. It was basically a mass of carbohydrate and fat with no taste to it. I was so disgusted I just had salad that was so bad that I left it! Ended up eating my left-over lunch which was a hot dog we’d made with nice French bread that morning. To be honest at that point I felt like going straight home! The clientele were nearly all Polish, German, Dutch or something else? And the Brits that were there seemed to be the heavy drinkers with small children!

We ended up going for a walk and then back to the room and making tea with our camp stove that we’d cooked lunch on! Good thing there was a balcony! We bought some brandy and had a few so had no problem sleeping when we eventually went to bed. I lay there listening to all the wonderful noises emanating from the rooms above, below and either side! It was a wonderful cacophony of sounds: talking, toilets flushing, children doing the 100 yards dash up the corridor, air-con cutting in and out, showers, drunks shouting somewhere downstairs, drunks shouting across the street, the distant strains of disco music, and none of it music to my ears! It was all most disconcerting for someone who at best hears an owl too-wooing in the middle of the night, or a fox barking. Added to the pleasures of hotel noises was the uncomfortable bed which seemed to slope down to the left, so I had to lay on my stomach cus if I lay on my side I seemed to roll over anyway! What more can be wrong .

Needless to say I was not amused when Bob woke me by stumbling to the loo at 6.45 a.m, probably half an hour after I’d got to sleep! We decided to attempt the breakfast (given that all food was included in our price), we didn’t think they could fuck up eggs too badly. It wasn’t fantastic, there were hard-boiled eggs and sweet rolls and stuff so I stuck with bread and butter and jam, Bob had eggs. The coffee machine was crap; on pressing ‘white coffee’ it discharged a foamy looking liquid into our cups which, according to my taste-buds had little resemblance to coffee, and had no milk in it!! I guess the milk department in the machine had run out! We left the dining room (we called it the canteen) and retired, disgruntled to the room where I made instant coffee with the camp stove. The weather was overcast so we decided to pass on the beach and go to Barcelona, one of Spain’s biggest cities, by way of the train. It was about a 40 minute ride up the coast. We stood all the way because it was so busy, but not a real problem. Just before Barcelona a blonde female ‘busker’ got on and proceeded to set up her music box and loudly serenade us with a variety of Spanish songs, and in doing so, drown out the station announcements! This was not helpful if the station sign had whizzed by and we’d missed it. Miss Busker then came round for donations! I mean on a train for christ’s sake! Then she jumped off and (I assume) jumped on the next one, and I guess she jumped on and off all day! Our next entertainment was a quite well-dressed woman sitting on the floor of the carriage wailing in Spanish. From my negligible Spanish I picked up that she had no money and that she was hungry and something about her heart! I definitely picked out the word ‘corazon’ which I know is heart, so I began to wonder whether she may be begging money for a heart operation, or whether she was saying ‘Have a heart and give me some Euros so I can get a burger!’ She was also of course mentioning vast numbers of ninos and ninas (children) of which she probably said she had a dozen or so which are also starving but actually couldn’t bring them with her today because they were in school or with the baby-sitter. And who knows maybe it was all genuine and maybe I’m getting too cynical in my old age!

Barcelona was big and full of wonderful buildings, shops and market places. We wandered from here to there, not really knowing where we were going, sat in a little café in a plaza and had coffee, wandered some more and ended up in a huge covered market. It was quite beautiful the way the market traders lay out all their products, there were stands with fruit, veggies, salami, sweets, bread, fish, meat, spices, dried fruits, eggs, and a lot more.

The egg stall was one of my favourites; it had every type of egg you could imagine including some enormous buggers! They have to have been ostrich eggs or else they weren’t real, cus for damn sure no chicken could have popped those monsters out, they were sort of elongated-grapefruit size! For sure just one scrambled would have fed a family of six! The fruit stalls sold lovely packs of chopped mixed fruit with melon and kiwi and pineapple and mango and papaya, I decided to eat healthy and have one and it was delicious. We bought some rolls filled with Spanish meats and cheeses from a little bakery bar along with oat biscuits topped with pine-nuts, raisins and marmalade (scrumptious), and sat in a big square and people-watched and took piccys of a cat statue….

a male cat without doubt!!!

After that we ended up in the huge main plaza with about 30 million pigeons! There were two little wagons selling bags of bird food and people would buy it and then go and throw it for them. When someone threw food the pigeons rose en-masse from wherever they were and zoomed to the food spot, and sometimes landed on the thrower of the food.

I would normally have done my good deed for the day and bought them some too, but the evening before I’d been watching the pigeons round our hotel and they obviously had a severe case of lice! One poor bugger seemed to have them up his bum which sent him into the most hilarious contortions, and however he tried he just couldn’t seem to reach! In the end he tried doing small jumps one after the other as though he was in the grip of some strange dance, but that didn’t work either, and then he spied a pretty female pigeon and his irritations were instantly superseded by his need to impress! He dashed over; all itches forgotten, flaunting his plumage and his ridiculously expanded chest and told her he actually didn’t have a serious case of ass-lice, he was practising a new and unusual dance especially for her! (Lying sod.). She told him to piss-off and no-way was she billing and cooing with anyone that had just had his beak up his tail feathers! And I don’t blame her!

So there you are, I didn’t fancy being sat on by 10 thousand pigeons and getting itchy-ass syndrome so they didn’t get fed! We moved on and walked some of the back streets between the old buildings, up narrow passageways where everyone seemed to string their washing across their balconies. I wonder what their sheets smell of!

There were plenty of prostitutes hanging around on street corners, one exceedingly chubby one with a tight black bum-hugging skirt about the size of a large handkerchief, a low cut blouse displaying some stupendous cleavage, two tons of mascara, three inches of ruby-red lipstick, four inch stilettos, posing with one hand on her hip and the other picking her nose!! A wonderful sight to be sure! There were all sorts, shapes, sizes, colours and nationalities as would be expected in a city like Barcelona; rich and poor, a feast of different cultures.

During our visit to ‘Pigeon Plaza’ (not its real name) we even saw a ‘Bag-Man’. This guy was obviously one up on Bags cus he had a supermarket trolley. I suppose he was a ‘Trolley-Man’. He seemed to have had a successful day judging by his trolley’s fullness. Not far from him were some quite beautiful statues of horses, so I snapped a couple of those too.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day and decided to head back to the station … but where was it? We asked directions a couple of times and then tried to work out the answers and eventually with more luck than judgement we got there. The best bit was trying to figure out which train was going where because the overhead computer was showing all its times for 14.00 hours and it was now 15.30!! There was no relation whatsoever between the computer and the incoming trains, so we just had to go by the destination displayed on the front of the train as it came in, and hope one eventually said ‘Calella’! It was hot, humid and horrible in the station and we were just starting to reach meltdown and get very pissed off when Hey-Presto here comes a train with Calella on the front! We leapt aboard and heaven it was air-conditioned! No buskers or beggars on this trip and we get to sit down too which was another bonus. We relax and idly watch the Mediterranean slipping by between crumbling graffiti-daubed ruins, and stretches of white sand and … oh noNudists! Sprawled like seal colonies they were, with all their bits and pieces bared to the sun, tits and testicles for the train passengers’ titillation! Quite a sight for sore eyes and best that we were on a moving train or we could have got quite fixated on such a feast of body-parts. We made a mental note to avoid those particular beaches in future!

Rocked gently by the rhythm of the train and absorbed by the wondrous sights we’re lulled into the false sense of security that we’re going to roll into Calella station. Wrong! About 4 stops from Calella our train stops and we’re told we have to all get off! Everyone disembarks looking confused and mills around in a disoriented knot. We hear someone say that the train we were on is going back to Barcelona! The driver’s decided he’s had enough for the day perhaps? He enjoys confusing the tourists? Maybe he’s received a call on his mobile from his wife saying she’s leaving him and he’s rushing home to make sure she’s divided the furniture fairly? His pet hamster has possibly been taken ill and needs a quick trip to the vet? Who knows! We amble round in circles looking lost and are taken pity on by a nice Spanish lady who tells us to cross the track and get the next train. Phew! That was a relief, and lo and behold here comes the train, and it does go to Calella!

The food improves dramatically that night and is actually edible, and Bob and I swap beds because he doesn’t think mine lists to port, and I actually slept ok on his. On Wednesday, with the sun having come out we decide to head to the beach. I have difficulty deciding whether to wear my swimsuit and probably be too hot, or throw caution to the wind and allow my flab access to public view by way of a skimpy black bikini! I decide bugger it, I’ll be cool and not care about my rolls, which by standards here are small, even if unacceptable to me. At least thank god I’m not one of the beached-whale variety. The beach is quite nice, too many people though if you’ve been spoiled by hundreds of yards of empty white sand on the Baja peninsula! More than one other person is a crowd to me. We carefully lay out our towels and observe the waves and the relaxing sounds and smells of the sea, (And a number of middle-aged topless ladies displaying a range of bare breasts, some of which to my mind should definitely not be unleashed for public view, unless you want to be put off your pizza.). There are two ‘leggy’ Polish girls, one blonde, one brunette, a few yards in front of us draped delicately on their backs on two colourful air-beds, they look like models, and not only have fantastic figures but also smile a lot and have a happy air about them. Bob said he likes them because they seem very natural, and nature certainly had done a wonderful job on the brunette’s nipples which seemed to reach out to meet the wind like a pair of wild cherries! Personally I don’t think girls like that should be allowed on public beaches, it’s downright unfair and makes me want to stay under my towel!

The sea was warm and wonderful and we donned masks and snorkels and jumped in. There were quite a few fish of different varieties and we floated around and swam for quite a while until I pointed out a large purple jelly-fish, a bit like a flying cauliflower with a bad hair day, at which point Bob vacated the water rapidly and retired to his towel! The jelly-fish were obviously an ongoing problem because the first aid people had a boat out in the afternoon and appeared to be checking on quantities and how near the beach they were. It’s alright if you’re snorkelling and you can see them but for normal swimmers it would be so easy to swim into one, and they can have a very serious sting.

I only had one dodgy moment, but not due to jelly-fish. It had got a bit rough and I decided to get out of the water, I’d almost made it when a dirty great wave grabbed me quite unexpectedly from behind and sent me sprawling, face –down on the beach. I landed in a heap in the surging water, coughing and choking as more waves rushed in, and then I had the dreadful realisation that my bikini bottoms were no longer on my bottom!! And every wave was dragging them down a bit lower! EEEEEEK! I wriggled backwards in pure panic with a death grip on my ‘bottoms’ (convinced of course that the whole of Calella beach had seen my misfortune - and most of my bottom), until I was in deep enough water to make adjustments! Then of course when I did get out in a more composed and dignified fashion (as composed and dignified as you can on all fours through a mass of shifting gravel and foaming sea), I ambled casually up to my towel as though nothing had happened … and mentally dared anyone to think otherwise! I knew I should have worn my swimsuit!

We enjoyed two days on the beach but Friday the weather changed and neither of us felt the urge to stay any longer. I think we both missed our home in the woods and the peace and quiet. So we loaded the car and made for home. And that was the end of our summer holiday.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


This post is a request from my sister, Pam. She lives in the UK and is animal mad, and asked to see pictures of some wildlife over here.
The top picture is not an animal, if it was I would have run a mile. It is a mushroom of some sort. I came up the drive and thought there was an old football laying there, unusual as there is very little rubbish around here. We photographed it just in time as it only lasted a couple of days before it vanished.
This is one of the Paying Mantis that we get quite a few of around here. They are all called Maggie after Margaret Thatcher who was also a PM. Everything here in the garden gets a name!

A little dark, but these are a couple of deer in the field at the bottom of the drive. They are difficult to catch on camera as they are so timid. We often see them in our woods less that 10 meters away but if we were to try and take a picture they would be off too quickly. The same applied to the fox, who we have not been able to photograph yet.

Not sure what this skull is from, probably one of the deer, but it could be anything except a human.
Some of the spiders webs in the Winter Jasmin. There are hundreds of them around here, but we don't see the spiders.
Butterflies are plentiful as are Humming Bird Hawk moths. We have at least 50 differnt ones in the garden in the summer. They seem to be around till late November.

Just a caterpillar next to a lighter to show its size.

And last but not least a slug. This one is small as they seem to grow up to about 15 cm long. These are the most common ones but there are also darker ones with stripes on them.
If you double click some of the pictures they should enlarge.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Save money and be green

Being ‘green’ is about two things really, reducing our impact on world pollution levels, and saving money.

If you imagine the world, when it was first formed, being a hot place full of fire and smoke, you may not be far wrong. Over millions of years most of this was absorbed by plants and locked up in the ground in the form of oil and coal. The plants took in the CO2 and were buried, leaving us with a clean breathable atmosphere. If we were to remove all the oil and coal, known as fossil fuel, then the world would revert back to what it once was.

The areas that we all have an impact on are: cars, aircraft, central heating and electricity use. There are others, they are not as simple to see.

To start with cars would be the most obvious place. We all need and want to drive, but there are ways in which we can reduce the impact on the environment. The best thing to do would be to fuel a car on a non fossil fuel, and I don’t mean electricity as that can burn a fossil fuel at the power station to generate the stuff. Electricity is also very limited in performance and range. So we are left with petrol and diesel. There are steps being made to find alternatives to petrol, but for diesel they are here now. Bio diesel is made from crops growing in fields. The crop absorbs CO2 in the year it is growing and releases that CO2 when it is burned in the car, thereby having no net impact on atmospheric CO2 levels. A diesel car is also more efficient than a petrol car, so even if we stick to fossil fuel there will be less CO2 and it will cost owners less to run.

Aircraft are a different matter. They run on a fuel similar to diesel and the difference between an aircraft with 150 passengers as opposed to 100 is very little. The aircraft would use more fuel with the added weight of the 50 extra passengers but it would probably be less than 3%. We would need the aircraft to stop flying completely to stop the pollution. Just like diesel, aircraft fuel does not contain lead, not that lead is an atmospheric pollutant anyway.

We all need to heat our houses, so central heating is a necessity. If we could reduce the amount of fuel we burn in a system we would also reduce cost and CO2 emissions. The easiest way to do this is to increase the amount of insulation in our houses. An amount spent on loft insulation would pay back in the form of reduced heating bills very quickly. You can never have too much. My house has about 300mm at the moment, but I intend to increase that to around 500mm soon.

Electricity is generated by power stations burning fossil fuels, nuclear power and hydro electric. There are also wind farms which generate power and along with hydro electric schemes these do not produce CO2 in the generation stage. Solar power is a good alternative and here in southern France I believe that there should be more investment in this source for water heating. That is also one of the projects that I have in my mind.

Water usage also make a difference in that the water that we all flush our toilets with has been cleaned to drinking standards, had chlorine and fluoride added and is pumped to our houses. Just fitting a rainwater butt and feeding the toilet cistern off that would save hundreds of litres per year for the average house and here in France where we all have meters, that would save money. I have converted mine and have two inlets to the cistern, each with a standard ball cock on them, that way I can switch to town water should the water butt freeze. I estimate that we save around 20 to 30 thousand litres per year.

Electricity use is very easy. Just by changing light bulbs we can save CO2 and money. A standard 60 watt light bulb gives out most of its power consumption in heat, great in the summer, what a waste. A low energy bulb which gives out about the same amount of light uses 11 watt, but is not as hot. The revolution in lighting that is happening at this very moment is LEDs (light emitting diodes). These are the little light that you see on the front of the TV when it is switched off. An LED spotlight uses around 3 watts of electricity and last many times longer than a normal light bulb. LEDs are now appearing in torches and car light bulbs. In torches the batteries last around 12 times as long. I have LED rear light bulbs in both the motorbikes as they do not blow with vibration and reduce the power consumption should we leave the parking lights on. I also have a 240 volt LED spot lamp above the front door which uses less than 2 watts of electricity. Most people have seen LEDs in the solar garden lights that can be bought, these are not very bright because there is only one LED and the light has to be diffused to light an area. If you see 15 or 20 of these LEDs clustered together they make an effective lamp. Many motor manufacturers are now designing LED tail lights for cars.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The D-day beaches

This is the last photo of England for a while. We were sitting at Dover waiting to board the Speedferries ship to return to France. We decided to turn right when we got to the other side and have a look at the D-day beaches.
The first place we got to, after and overnight stay in Caen, was this war cemetery. There were graves of hundreds of men, mostly British and Canadian, but a few Germans too. Walking around was a very moving experience as many were no older than 22. This is a place that the US and British leaders should have visited before they decided to start the war in Iraq.
All along the beaches were reminders of what had happened in 1944, this was Jumo beach where the Canadians landed.
And this was the first house liberated on mainland Europe, by the Canadian troops. The French people do not forget the sacrifice that was made all those years ago.
This bunker was just along the beach from the house pictured above and would have been a first objective for the invading allies.
A few miles further on this bunker shows how the massive weight of the structure has been undermined by the shifting sand dunes. Nature always wins in the end.
There is a fantastic museum dedicated to the Canadian troops who fought for this area. We did not have much time in the museum, but were happy to pay the entrance fee even for a little look as we felt we were doing something for its upkeep.
A few miles further on were the remains of the floating harbour that was towed into place in 1944.
Another view of the same floating harbour. I understand that these bits of concrete were made in the UK and floated into position before being sunk.
What did impress me was the way everything was preserved. We will return on the bikes next year and spend a week or two having a better look around.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Woodstock, near Oxford, England

On the recent UK trip I happened to stop in Woodstock and decided to continue the theme of historic places on this blog. Unfortunately it was a little wet on the day so the photos do not do it justice.
Woodstock is the small town adjacent to Blenheim Palace, Sir Winston Churchill's home. There are many old buildings and public houses there but none seem to be as well preserved as those in France.
In fact, there seem to be as many car parks as old buildings which spoils the town.
As many will have read in previous posts, we were married in Woodstock, but at the time there was no red post office van parked there to ruin the view.
The other thing that spoils the town is the litter and overall shabby feel to the place. It is such a shame that a place like this is not better managed by the authorities responsible.
This view shows the main road through town. There is a speed camera at each end of this road, no doubt labeled a safety camera, whereas the correct name should be a revenue collector. There seem to be thousands of these cameras in the UK now and the congestion on the roads seems to be much worse than it was when we left 2 years ago.
A view down the main road showing the Marlborough Arms public house on the left.
The trip was good in that we spent time in countryside with Jude's family, but the driving, litter, congestion, and the weather spoils the rest of the country. Would I move back? Not a chance.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A trip to England - part 1

Well here we are back in the Dordogne at last. We decided on the short notice trip to England as we had not been back for 18 months and thought that we could not spend all our time enjoying the quiet life here in France without seeing how the family was getting on in the UK. The picture above shows the car waiting to board the ferry for Dover. The tank is full of cheap French diesel as it is 50% more expensive in the UK. I use Speedferries for the crossing as the trip is only around 55 minutes and the price is very cheap compared to the other ferry operators.
On the trip to Boulogne we covered around 520 miles in about 7 hours driving.

The morning after our arrival in Stonesfield, near Oxford, we woke to a frosty morning and went for a walk. This is the nice part of England with few people and empty countryside. Jude's sister Lib supplied the accommodation and this picture is of the garden leading down to the woods.
Libs husband, Rob, had left the tractor out overnight, I think it was done so that I could take this picture in the morning.
Half a mile away is the stream with so many fallen leaves that we spent a couple of hours clearing it.
I had the camera with me at all times so that I could take any good blog pictures if I saw them, this has to be one of the best.