Le Chateau Biron

Sunday 31st March

Today has been a funny old day, cold and wet at times, sunny at others.  A blistering gale and glorious warm sunshine, and neither lasting for very long.  We went to Villareal market and dodging the pouring rain bought ingredients for lunch.  We were going to Montpazier for a bit of sightseeing when we saw a sign for Chateau Biron, and we thought it might be worth a look.

Half expecting to be able to maybe buy some wine, as you can at Chateau Duras, but not sure what to expect we drove up higher and higher along narrower and narrower little roads.  Then we spotted towering above us the Chateau itself.  It was grand and imposing with high towers and several wings, all on a high plateau, rising far above everything else in sight.  The road got even narrower and we cautiously followed the Chateau entrance signs.

Parking the car there was a steep sloped walkway leading up over slippery cobble stones and mud to the entrance proper, which of course was never the entrance of old, but a side archway into the central now grassed-over courtyard.  The tour started with more and more steps up and almost outside to a doorway, then up a series of circular stairs into a series of grand halls, each with imposing stone carved fireplaces, and either intricately tiled or wooden inlaid floors, up and up we went until we were among the beams themselves.

Beautifully carved and curved and all with complicated joints the roof soared above us.  You could see the inside of the roof-tiles, and amazingly none were nailed, they each had a thumb made indentation so that they hooked over the horizontal batons in tiny row after tiny row of perfect neat tiles.

The only thing lacking was any original furniture, it was just a series of splendid rooms and mullioned windows and turrets and battlements.  We saw two rooms which must have actually been bedrooms with en-suite toilets.  Stone holes with a straight drop down of at least a hundred feet.  We all tried them out and there just where you would want it was an angled window so you could have a nice view of the surrounding fields and woods as you got rid of yesterday’s junk.

And France is literally dotted with these places, Chateau after chateau all over the country, you could never hope to see them all.


Saturday 30th March

I apologise to all my readers en Angleterre but we flew into Bergerac in bright sunshine and a gorgeous but not spectacular 18 degrees C.  Which is of course a lot warmer than it has been for weeks back home.  Oh, the luxury of walking out in a shirt with your sleeves rolled up and tilting your face to the sun.

And it is lovely here.  Spring has truly sprung, everything is warm and mellow and inviting.  So glad we got away from all that icy wind and perpetual cold.

We had a lovely walk around town, coffee in Kismet, then we bought the ingredients for a lovely salad lunch, boiled potatoes, parma ham, rillettes, a few cheeses, avocado and gorgeous French bread.

A little sleep after lunch and now we are going out this afternoon for a drive and a walk with the dogs around the lake at Lougratte.

So a lovely Good Friday.  Only slight regret – no hot cross buns.   You can’t have everthing.

Escaping the Melee

Friday 29th March

As you read this I will winging my way back to France.  Escaping the Melee, the madness, the push and shove, the hopeless striving for wealth, the overcrowded trains, the noise, the chaos of London.

I came from the country, the quiet rural heart of Suffolk, with nothing to commend it but a sleepy resistance to change and a prurience of its neighbours that bordered on fanaticism.  Everyone knew everyone’s business, and nobody was allowed to step out of line.  My mother had her unpaid spies behind net curtains in every house and I couldn’t wait to escape.

To London I ran, to the glorious feeling of freedom, of anonymity, of being able to invent my own history, of no-one knowing a thing about me.  A world of new opportunities, new chances, new ideas.  No parents, no teachers, no neighbours to watch over me, to regulate my behaviour, to make me conform.

But conform I did, like almost everyone in the end.  And now London is my home, for most of the time.  And I still like the glorious buildings, the feeling of being at the centre of things, a world city, cosmopolitan and diverse.

But today I am winging my way to France.  Our little house in Eymet, where once again I have re-invented myself, where no-one knows the mistakes of my past, where I can be free again.

Blogs may become somewhat intermittent, but don’t worry I am thinking of you.  Enjoy your hot cross buns and relax this Easter.

The Trouble with David

Thursday 28th March

You know how it is when you get that sudden intake of breath at the scrolling news line.  Out of habit I switch on to BBC News almost automatically, and whatever they are waffling on about I only half take it in, but I was jolted when I read the strapline that David Milliband was resigning as an MP.   He had been throughout the Blair years a rising star, hardly anyone noticed his brother Ed, and for David the future looked promising indeed.  Gordon Brown practically assumed the leadership of the party and bullied every member of the cabinet to endorse him.  One wonders if David ever thought about standing up at that point and being counted.  Well, he didn’t and though he maybe had to swallow some bitter bile he was a faithful minister under Brown too.

After the defeat he was the clear favourite and if any threat were perceived it probably came from Ed Balls not his brother, though that did cause a stir.  In the end Ed won the leadership, and though David put on a brave face he must have been gutted.  It was Blair what lost it for him.  He had staunchly defended Blair’s invasion of Iraq, whereas Ed was prepared to stand up and say it had been a mistake.

There is no knowing now if David would have made a more successful leader than Ed.  Most people agree that he is a better talker and is far more charismatic, but I think Ed is more in tune with the party at large.  The big problem Ed has is that he is an unpopular leader of a popular party, whereas Cameron is a popular leader of a deeply unpopular party.  It is by no means a foregone conclusion that Labour will win in two years time.  In fact it is Ed’s to lose, and should that happen one wonders if David will return and quietly wait for a safe seat and who knows……..

In the meantime, good luck to him in his new slightly obscure role in New York, and good luck to Ed too.  In a way it may now be a bit easier for both ambitious brothers.

The Trouble with Boris

Wednesday 27th March

Although this comes a bit late in the day, after the Eddie Mair interview and the BBC2 documentary (though it was more a celeb-gawp) ‘The Irresistible rise of Boris’ I. like almost everyone else in Britain am to a degree fascinated by Boris.

It is a bit like wondering from our wintry shores why the Italians keep on voting for Silvio Berlusconi, or why Bill Clinton’s star never waned after Monica Lewinsky, or even why the Lib-Dems ever got rid of Charlie Kennedy.  There have always been maverick characters in politics, and the public tend to love them.  After all, your average serious politician is boring as fuck.  Who can really get excited about Ed Milliband, or Cameron or Clegg or Osborne.  They are adept and evasive at interviews, and are all career politicians and almost interchangeable.

So what is it about Boris?  He can be ruthless and is a known liar and serial womanizer, but somehow this simply makes him more appealing.  It is as if he speaks above the political world to ordinary people, and even if, when you analyse what he says, it is more often than not lies or hyperbole or exaggeration, somehow you fall under the disarming spell and ignore the words.

The great debate of course is whether he will be the next leader of the Tory party, and eventually Prime Minister.  You never know, and after all the Tories did go completely against all form and elect Maggie as their leader, but I feel circumstances are against him.

Firstly, there is no vacancy, and despite all the gossip, Cameron will lead his troops into the next election, come what may.  Then there three possibilities.  Victory – either outright or as part of Coalition 2, in which case he is still leader.  Defeat in which case he will probably resign, or stalemate in which neither the Tories or Labour have a workable majority, in which case he may continue as a minority aministration for a while. If he resigns and Boris is not an MP he can’t stand as leader.

But even if Cameron does go at some time I think that Boris has peaked too early.  Like Heseltine before him he was the natural successor who got by-passed.  If you really want to know who will be the next Tory leader look at the next generation and people like Grant Shapps.  They are happy to wait maybe ten years before making their bid to be both leader and PM.  Boris may find that he is simply too old when it come to it.

No Sign of a Thaw Yet

Tuesday 26th March

I thought that after the snow of Saturday things might start to warm up, but it was still just 1 degree this morning, ice half forming in the puddles and the wind as biting as ever.  So, no sign of a thaw yet.

The ice chancellor, surrounded by his frosty ministers stands tall and cold, looking on as his people shiver.  Even the froth on the penny’s worth of beer he tossed them looks more like scum now that the dead reality of another pointless budget sinks in.  The government still insists that there is no alternative, and that eventually their policies will work.  The office for Budget Responsibility still maintains, just as it did three years ago that things will start to improve in about two years time, though they seem to present no evidence for this apart from a wet finger held up to the icy breeze roaring in from the continent.  So, no sign of a thaw yet.

A deal of sorts has been hammered out over Cyprus, though the real damage may be more long-term in the serious attempt to punish ordinary bank customers for the mistakes of the rich and greedy.  The Austerity solution that has failed so drastically in Greece, Spain and Portugal is being applied with ever tighter thumbscrews on tiny Cyprus.  So, no sign of a thaw yet.

Obama is flitting form one middle east country to another, desperately trying to rescue a foreign policy success for his flagging legacy.  But Isreal is as intransigent as ever, in fact speeding up the building of new settlements in the disputed territories, and the Palestinians are as divided as ever.  So, no sign of a thaw yet.

And so the world carries on, the leaders frozen like rabbits in the headlights of the oncoming blizzard, seemingly incapable of making a decision.  And the winter carries on, with no sign of a thaw yet.

The work-life balance

Monday 25th March

For years it seemed that I could never get this balance right.  It was always on the work side. In fact I am certain that I used work to fill in some of the empty spaces in my life.  Work always came first, no question in my mind.  I think I was always scared of not having any work, of losing my job, of being fired.  For years as a single parent there was the added pressure of having no other breadwinner to share the burden, so it was more than incumbent on me to keep a job.  And the pattern was set early on; there are those content to just do their nine to five every day and there are others who go more than that extra mile.  I was one of the latter, and never failed to stay late or go in early, or take work home.  And even now I read my e-mails late at night and usually reply, rather than leave it until the morning.

It is partly about wanting to do the job properly, not letting people down, maybe an exaggerated sense of my own importance.  And what difference did it all make in the end?  Not really sure, but given the time again I wouldn’t have done it differently.

Just recently though I seem to have achieved a bit of a change; I am now more and more succeeding in achieving that work-life balance.  I feel that the emphasis has changed, and I am now working in order to give me enough money to live, but not to the detriment of that life itself.  I now organize my work around my life and not the other way round.  Partly this is because I am almost financially independent now, and if work decides the date of my retirement rather than me, then that’s okay.  I have given notice that I want to go down to three days a week in the near future, and some time after that it will be two days and then maybe none.

Years and years ago an old acquaintance told me that you can only really enjoy your job if you consider that being made redundant is a bonus.  A joke at the time, but not that far from the truth either.

The Year the Winter Never Ended

Sunday 24th March

And the Winter never seems to end, does it.  Just when we get a couple of days where the weather seems a touch milder, the wind drops and the sun peeps out, back Winter roars in again.  I am at Walton, on the East coast and there is nothing between here and Denmark.  The wind is almost enough to knock you over, the sea is angry with huge white capped waves, and there is ice and sleet in the air.  It is almost the end of March and it still feels like January.

Now whether this long cold Winter, and indeed the almost non-appearance of Summer last year are the result of Global Warming or just plain old-fashioned variations in the weather is beyond my comprehension.  I can remember all the conferences about the environment that went on in the nineties and right up until a few years ago, and the almost Doomsday scenarios of a rise in temperature of just a few degrees.  But since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 no-one has the time (or money) anymore for what may well be a far greater problem for mankind.   The newly emerging economies of China, India, Russia and Brazil are rapidly burning fossil fuels as fast as they can in their attempt to catch the West up.  And even America has recently started developing Shale Gas which could turn out to be an even bigger environmental disaster than Oil ever was.  To say nothing about the worlds burgeoning population which may in the end be our biggest problem.

So, where do you start?  Maybe it will take a really awful man-made disaster to stop this mad rush for development at any cost, or maybe things will just carry on, even if the planet is getting warmer, and low-lying countries get flooded.  Will we as a human race just move to higher ground?  In a way the rich have done that already, isolating themselves from the effects of their greed.  And meanwhile both the economic and real Winter just drags on and on.

And I, one of the ones who profess to care, will soon be off to (hopefully) warmer climes in a week’s time, so what hope is there for the rest of you. Enjoy the rest of the Winter, it could last all year.

H is for Rupert Hine

Saturday 23rd March

Another one you’ve never heard of?  Never mind – at least it isn’t Politics, for a change.

Rupert Hine was anoher of those incredibly talented musicians who emerged in the early seventies.  You know, people go on and on about the sixties being the decade of the most brilliant music.  Well, in my humble opinion the seventies managed to eclipse the previous decade, with artists of enduring talent – Bowie, Rod Stewart, Elton, Roxy, Elvis Costello, Springsteen, Neil Young, Joni and oh so many others coming into their Golden Years in these few years.  And the early seventies seemed to be such a time of freedom and discovery, with all these young men and women inspired by The Beatles who were writing such great songs.  It simply couldn’t happen today, as everything is so managed, and record companies not willing to take a chance on something completely new and innovative.

Rupert released two albums in the early seventies, one of which ‘Unfinished Picture’ I bought on some sort of a whim.  It is still one of my favourites of all time.  Sonically incredible, one track being recorded in a church with anvils for percussion, and with tender love songs on it too.  Rupe then formed a band ‘Quantum Jump’ and had a few albums which weren’t so brilliant.

He re-emerged in the early eighties with a trio of albums upon which his reputation rests.  The best is ‘Immunity’, with lyrics by Jeanette Obstoj these are songs of paranoia and rejection and wonder.  Brilliantly played and sung, there has been nothing quite like them before or since.

Not everyone’s cup of tea I must admit, but well worth a listen to, which I do regularly.

He is a saught-after record producer these days and still knocks out the occasional acceptable album.  Another one to rack up in the obscure inventory of geniuses you might never have heard of.

A Budget for Re-election

Friday 22nd March

The Chancellor’s budget speech usually lasts about an hour.  It has become the practice recently for Chancellors to send everyone to sleep (Osborne’s delivery doesn’t help) for fifty minutes of that hour and then to whammy us in last ten minutes with the stuff which will form the headlines in tomorrow’s papers.  And George, ever the politician, didn’t fail this time.

In 2010 when the Tories (with Lib-Dem help) became the Government they were full of confidence that they could both grow the economy and slash public expenditure at the same time.  In fact one depended on the other, in their philosophy – roll back the state and the private sector will grow to fill the gap and make us (we all know who they mean) richer.

Of course that hasn’t quite panned out the way they expected.  Hidden in the boring fifty minutes were revised down (yet again) growth forecasts, mirrored by rising borrowing and debts.  The deficit that would be reduced to zero by 2015 is now still going to be around in 2018.  And as these forecasts have been optimistically wrong every single time I expect it will be 2019 by next year’s budget at least.

But for the Tories this entire raison d’etre seems to have been forgotten in this re-election budget.  It was full of small give-aways, which considering the state of borrowing we can ill-afford.  Nobody can complain at raising the personal allowance to 10k, though it is accompanied by last year’s announcement of a cut in top rate of tax of 5p.  Likewise the help offered to buyers of new-build homes is welcome and may help build more houses.

The poor got very little, a penny off beer duty.  I can just imagine all those unemployed teenagers rushing to the pub to celebrate.

This was a budget for re-election, pure and simple.  Most of the measures don’t kick in until 2014 or even 2015 and none of his measures begin to address the lack of growth in the economy, or even more crucially his own desired measure of success, reducing the deficit.

Well done George.  But it still won’t work.  The Tories will be a one-term government, but their legacy may well last a lot longer.