Menu de Jour

Thursday 31st October

Earlier in the year, on a day when it was mostly raining and dour we drove into the countryside and looked at a few of the smaller villages.  One was called Montahus, and was pretty much nothing but a tiny Boulangerie, an Epicerie and a bar where we got a coffee.  Sitting there in a brief lull from the rain I saw a sign for a panoramic view.  We decided to investigate and the road led to a grassed off hillock with a spiraling path to the summit.  We followed round and round and eventually came to a ‘folly’ – a little shrine and a spectacular 360 degree view.  Elated we drove off to look for somewhere to have lunch, and just by chance saw a bar which said Restaurant Ouverte.  Expecting a real dump, because the bar was nothing exciting we tried our luck.  We had a lovely three course meal for twelve and a half euros.  They even prepared a nice vegetarian alternative for my partner.

Yesterday we went again, and the pleasant experience was repeated.  The restaurant was almost full too with local French people, always a good sign.  It is very elegantly decorated with white walls, plain peacock blue curtains and wide windows offering panoramic views over the rolling countryside.  The same jolly little French waitress who spoke not a word of English greeted us.  She spoke slowly and we explained about the vegetarian requirement.  Pas de problem – her starter was a lovely salad of lettuce, endive and walnuts, main was a mixture of vegetables; I had Pate de Campagne, Bavette and Pomme de Terres, and for pudding we both drooled over Grand Marnier covered crepes.  A delicious meal and all for just 12.50 euro’s, just over a tenner each.

It has now become a must-go-to, and must-take-guests-to destination each time we are here.  The little village it is in is very small with just a church, the Mairie, a garage, a couple of food shops and this one bar/restaurant.   But really either en France or back home it is now one of our favourite places.  The lack of choice – two mains and two desserts doesn’t detract at all.  The menu de jour is always parfait. 

Why does It Always Rain On Me?

Wednesday 30th October

The whole pub was singing this on Friday night as Jeff Barker ran through everyone’s greatest hits.  A brilliant song with a great lyric we can all relate to.

One of the few structural problems we have at the house in Eymet is that the first floor terrace, lovely in itself, leaks a bit, and consequently some bits of rendering had fallen above the back door as the cement underneath became too wet.  There is drainage but it puddles in both corners and the tiles don’t lean in to the drains enough so we get puddling.  I part solved this in the summer by painting a waterproof white paint around the edges of the balcony, where I suspected that the leaks were occurring.  And yes it did rain on me when I was doing it, so I had to mop up half diluted paint and re-do it later.

We brought with us some terracotta floor paint to repaint the pretty grubby and boring tiles with, reckoning that an extra layer of waterproofing wouldn’t go amiss.  I first painted the whole floor with the white rubberized paint then yesterday I started the terracotta floor paint.  It was pretty thick and glutinous, and I could see pretty soon that I would run out, but at least I might get about half painted this time.  It was bright sunshine but when I had finished two rows of tiles, out of nowhere came the rain.  A bright blue sky had suddenly become overcast with a dark grey storm cloud.  I had to just stop and hope it wouldn’t last too long.  Luckily only about ten minutes.  Then I had to mop up the water, on both the painted and unpainted sections, ( two rolls of paper towels) then gingerly repaint the rain-drop spattered red tiles and try to paint as many new tiles before the heavens opened again.  I just managed it, and hopefully the rain will hold off a bit longer to allow the paint to dry.  Half terracotta and half white, but at least it should be waterproof.  Just a pity I am not. 

How was the storm for you?

Tuesday 29th October

Here in France we watched and heard about the storm with a degree of ‘so what’, (as we were way out of its track) and slight concern.  This storm had been trailed for days and had maybe been overplayed by the media; though in the light of the great storm of 1987 who can blame them.

Like many I suspect I awoke on that long ago day to a scene of devastation.  I had heard nothing during the night, slept like the proverbial log.  I woke as usual to take the dog for a walk to find the road and pavements strewn with small branches, leaves, dustbins and debris.  We had suspected nothing, the evening weather forecast so bland as to be ignored. I rushed home and switched on the TV, at least we had power, it seemed as if half the country had been knocked out.  Quite a few people were killed by falling trees, as even this time there have been.   The tubes were’t running so we had an unexpected day off work too.

I hope. And the news reports seem to suggest that the country was better prepared this time, and that the storm was not as bad.  We had had good weather here in Aquitaine, though co-incidentally it did start raining yesterday, maybe we caught the tail end of it even down here.   

Foire aux Potirons

Monday 28th October

Sunday is market day in Issegeac, and though only quite a small town it has one of the largest markets around.   And there always seems to be some sort of a festival going on, or a banquet with rows of huge hams roasting over a fire pit, or crepes being made by the thousand or something.  Today, (yesterday) almost on a whim we decided to go to the market there and it was the festival of the pumpkins.  In England we are in danger of losing our cultural identity to the American stupidity of Halloween, but here the pumpkin is celebrated in a completely different way.  This was simply a festival of pumpkins, squashes and gourds of all shape and size.  There were stall after stall selling pumpkins and dried and handpainted gourds, some for eating and some for decoration.

There were three huge bulls in the market square and an old wooden wagon laden with pumpkins, there were two huge pumpkins on a trailer that must have been four feet wide, there was a happy atmosphere as locals and tourists alike crowded through the streets.  They seem to need only the slightest idea to start a festival here, there are wine festivals, oyster festivals, and gourmands fetes for every conceivable reason.

And today it was the turn of the pumpkin.  We didn’t buy any actual pumpkin but we did bring back three dried and colourful gourds at only a euro each.  Coffee and croissants in one of the tiny cafes completed a lovely morning at the Foire aux Potirons.

French Civic Pride

Sunday 27th October

We are back in France, our second home and again I am struck by differences of attitude.  In England, one thing you can be pretty certain of is that the pavements will be kept well; no cracked or wobbly paving slabs, no sunken dips or pothole and a relatively easy passage fro pedestrians.

Here in Eymet the pavements are atrocious, a real disgrace.   There is no attempt made to maintain them, they are broken and full of holes, overgrown with weeds and badly repaired where this has been attempted at all.  So, it would seem that perhaps we take more pride in England.  But this may be only half the story.  It might just be that in England so many councils have been sued by people claiming rightly or wrongly that they have tripped or fallen because of faulty pavements.  Maybe you cannot do that here in France.  I would imagine not as the courts would be chocker if that were the case.

But in other ways there is far more civic pride over here.  The public buildings; the Salle des Fetes, The Mairie, The Community offices are smart and well maintained.  The parks are beautifully kept, even the verges of the roads and roundabouts are mown and kept tidy, whereas here they are shabby and overgrown.

In France everyone is a citoyen, not a subject.  There is a national identity with Liberte, Fraternite and Egalite.  In England you can do what you like if you have the money to get away with it.

One other reason for the poor state of the pavements here may also just be down to shoddy workmanship.  Builiding work takes forever to be completed here, and French plumbing is still pretty basic, even their electrics are a bit untidy.  As long as it works seems to be the motto.  Anyway, Vive La Difference.  It would be terribly depressing if all countries were the same. 

S is for Judee Sill

Saturday 26th October

Hardly anyone has ever heard of her, and her light flickered for far too brief a time.  She released only two albums in her short life before Heroin overtook her and eventually stole her life.  She apparently had a terrible upbringing and a few turbulent relationships and was always fragile.

Somewhere along the way she had learnt piano and guitar and became a singer-songwriter.  This was the early seventies, the golden age of the singer-songwriter.  Dylan had shown the way, and now literally hundreds of wannabe’s were strumming their way into recording studios.  Luckily for Judee, or perhaps it was more than luck, she was recognized as a true talent, and her first album was part-produced by Graham Nash.  And it is immaculate.  Clever original songs with haunting melodies and a wonderful country tinged voice, she sings of Angels and Love and Jesus and Loping along the cosmos.  And on her second album ‘Heart Food’ she goes even deeper into religious themes and the final song is almost a hymn to some mystical vision of her God.  None of that should put you off though, her songs are mostly happy and you can ignore all the Jesus stuff.

Despite one of her songs being recorded by The Turtles she remained in obscurity, and hardly ever sung live.   Only after her death has her reputation been revived, and she now has quite a cult following.  I was one of the lucky ones who bought her albums at the time, maybe it was her photo on the cover, or just a good review in Time Out, and have played the records to death.  Luckily they are always available on CD now, as are a few half-hearted demo’s for an album she never completed.  So that is Judee Sill, another Rock’n’Roll victim.  But no matter how sad her death may have been we will always have these two precious records to remember her by.

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Driving Through France

Friday 25th October

Today as you read this, if indeed you get to read this, I will be driving down through France.  We are going for the week, it being half-term.  Starting early we should arrive at Folkestone about 6 in the morning, then on to the shuttle and a short break.  We should arrive in France at 8.30 French time.

We normally head along the coast towards Rouen then turn south all the way to Bordeaux.  This time we will be going through Paris, the Peripherique, which is a sort of South Circular motorway most of the way, then down through Limoges and Brives and on to Bergerac.   It is about the same in miles, but less toll roads.  The long motorway south to Bordeaux is toll road the whole way and costs about 70 euros each way.  We have spoken to a few people who drive down and they say this is a better route, so we will see.

We can’t wait to get there, it is always the journey that is a pain.  I particularly dislike being a passenger, trapped in a seat for twelve hours; the one and a half hours flight is bad enough but at least the car seat is more comfortable.  We tend to stop every hour or so for the dogs and one of the great innovations are the French Aires, some are just picnic stops with loos, but many have nice restaurants where you can get undrinkable caffeine in tiny cups, but a break from the tedious road at least.  It will all be worth it when we get there I am sure.

So Bon Voyage….

map of France

How Reputations Change

Thursday 24th October

I have resisted the urge to follow up yesterday’s post about Ugly Men with one about Women; women are never ugly, I will concede that some are less superficially attractive than others, but each has an inner beauty infinitely more glorious than that belonging to my own sex.

I want to talk today about reputations.  Of Prime Ministers actually.  Winston Churchill, even at his supposedly finest hour was never loved.  It was accepted that the old warhorse was the only man for the job, and the Tories were re-elected in 1951 despite him not because of him.  His reputation has grown long after his death, and he is revered by people who cannot remember his premiership or who were not even born until he died.  Similarly with Clement Atlee, never really popular at the time; it was only later that he was seen as a great reforming leader.  Eden and Hume, incredibly popular at the time, were failures as PM, and are largely discredited now.  Macmillan on the other hand was both popular and now considered a good man.  Heath was and still is regarded as an unmitigated disaster, though he did have a brief flurry of popularity.  Harold Wilson was immensely popular while PM, but is still waiting to be granted some sort of posthumous re-evaluation, most commentators prefer to ignore him completely.  Jim Callaghan left office almost in disgrace but is now looked upon as some sort of kindly uncle to the nation.

Thatcher, the most divisive leader ever, was worshipped and hated in equal measure; the arguments still rage as to how much good/damage she caused to Britain.  We may have to wait many years for the dust to settle and we can come to some sort of settled opinion.  Blair won three elections and was incredibly popular, but after Iraq his reputation has been on the slide.  Gordon.  Poor Gordon had his reputation shredded long before he left office, though I suspect that given time his actions at the time of the financial crash may be seen as heroic.

That leaves John Major.  Never an easy task to follow Maggie, but he quietly got on with the job.  He grew in unpopularity and won an election despite being seen as boring.  Gradually the impression of the grey man and the antics of his fractious party meant he left office with a poor reputation.  But he was everything Thatcher wasn’t, and has quietly grown in stature.  Now his words are treated with respect, and is seen by followers and opponents alike as one of our better Prime Ministers.

We will have to wait awhile to see how Cameron is remembered.  It is quite possible that he will still be PM after the election, again most likely in tandem with Clegg and the rump of LibDems, or he may be beaten – it is impossible to get a real feel of things at the moment.  I suspect that win or lose he will be seen overall as quite a good PM though.  Reputation is a strange and fickle beast.

Ugly Men

Wednesday 23rd October

I am probably not unlike a lot of men in that I do not consider myself good looking.  In fact I was always amazed that any woman would think me attractive, and would work on trying to be amusing rather than rely on my looks.  But you reach a certain age and you realise that actually you are okay.  In any case there are a hell of a lot of uglier men around than yourself.   And looking at men on the tube there ‘ain’t half some ugly bastards about.

There are those of a certain age – late sixties or so whose ears seem disproportionately large, great big Dumbo lugs.  There are those heavy drinkers whose cheeks are covered with tiny red capillaries and whose nose is bulbous and bloated.  There are those thin weaselly men who look as though they have just emerged from some troglodyte existence and cannot wait to get back underground.  There are the fatties, the seriously obese, taking up almost two seats, their thighs bulging and multiple stomachs hanging down between their legs.  There are the geeky ones, thin with almost skull-like faces.  But all of these are fairly rare.  Far more common are the Eastender lookalikes.  These are bald or balding and have a hard angry look on their be-stubbled faces.  Some, like Mad Max Branning have long square faces and slightly bulging eyes – I can hardly bear to look at them.  And then there are the Phil Mitchell ones, again bald and bristly but short, overweight and pug-faced.

Honestly some days the tube trains are full of them, as if an advert had just been placed for looky-likeys in The Stage.  And here is the funny thing – women go for them.  There is something about these bald belligerent ignorant thuggish types that women like.   Display a hint of respectability, of genteel intelligence and women run a mile.  Don’t shave, go bald and look ferociously angry all the time and they come running.  Funny old world.

Nuclear, Coal, Gas or Renewables?

Tuesday 22nd October

The Government has just announced the agreement for the construction of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.   It is supposedly being built (16billion) with private money.  EDF (French multinational) are apparently building it in some sort of deal with the Chinese.  Our Government is guaranteeing 10 billion, I presume in case the Chinese don’t play ball and also agreeing a price for the electricity it will produce for 30 or 40 years.  The devil as always is in the detail.  Is this price fixed or will it rise with inflation?  Is this price already factored in for inflation, in other words when the first megawatts are produced will the price already be far higher than that quoted today (which is already almost double the cost of electricity being produced now).

But far more important than that, what legacy are we leaving our grandchildren?  As far as I know, no nucler power station anywhere has been completely de-comissioned.  We mothball them, and bury the nuclear waste or spend billions trying to re-process it into a different nuclear fuel that no-one wants to buy.   The trouble with nuclear is that it just isn’t safe.  Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and now possibly the worst disaster Fukushima are witness to that.  To be fair it was a brave experiment, and the promise of almost limitless cheap energy was alluring, but nuclear energy has persistently ended up being incredibly expensive and deadly.

Then we had coal, which at least was plentiful and right here under our feet.  But the extraction was dirty and many miners died digging it up.  Gas, was once plentiful too, but that is fast running out.  Part of the reason for high electricity prices is that in the eighties and nineties there was a ‘dash for gas’ when it was cheap.

So we come to renewables, wind, wave, hydro-electric, solar etc:  and surely long-term there is no other viable alternative.  Yes, the technology is in its infancy and will gradually improve.  Yes, the infrastructure may be expensive to build.  Yes, some of the windiest places are also the most beautiful, but no-one now complains about electricity pylons and cables criss-crossing the country.   And most importantly – we cannot keep extracting carbon from this fragile planet and pumping it into the atmosphere.   The only long-term solution is renewable.  And just as the taxpayer paid for the atomic power stations back in the fifties and sixties, so the taxpayer will have to pay for renewable infrastructure.  The Government must take back the initiative.  This deal alone shows that the market on its own cannot and will not pay for the most beneficial solution.

And if the wretched plant at Hinkley ever gets built how long will it run for, and how much will we all have to pay to decommission it when a future generation has the balls to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.