Saturday, December 01, 2007
St Pancras International is currently something of a disappointment. Long awaited and feted as a destination in its own right, this magnificently restored building is an architectural gem. Sadly much of the extensive media coverage and marketing has been frittered as so few of the promised amenities are yet open. A day after Eurostar's first paying passenger service arrived here there was but a handful of shops open. A fortnight later maybe a third are in business. I was invited by Angela - who took pity on my one-wheeled bag and turned up with a spanking new valise - to partake in a flute at the longest champagne bar in Europe. It is certainly enjoying early success and we are grateful to the people who permitted us to join them as seats were at a premium.
As champagne bars go this is nothing special, relying soley on the location with nary a thought to service or presentation. At £7.50 for a flute of house fizz I would have expected the sparkling liquid to have been placed in front of us, at least, if not poured, yet our glasses were unceremoniously plonked in front of us without as much as a paper coaster to take care of the dripping condensation. The manager explained that they had taken the decision not to use coasters as they might look "untidy". This concession to style over substance is surely an opportunity missed, it seemed to me, thinking whistfully of the great German beers for example that arrive at optimum temperature in the right branded glass around which has been placed a branded ring to prevent dripping. If a "lowly" beer can be thus proudly proffered then doesn't the prefered drink of celebration, of luxury, of good times, deserve at least as much? He commented on how they had been the "victims of their own success". Later I wished I had retorted that it is sad how so many can be satisfied with so little.
I still wish St Pancras well. Once fully fitted out - some benches might be nice - and with all the units open, it will be worth a look beyond the in-the-face magnificence of the Barlow shed. For now I cannot see non-passengers making early return visits. As for the champagne bar, expect it to be openly offering cheaper alternatives before long. Perhaps it could become the longest coffee bar in Europe?
Friday, November 16, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
And this rather scary/scared looking pic heralds the new dawn with a new haircut! I wasn't expecting it to be quite so short but, hey, it'll grow soon enough. What is it about being in the hairdresser's chair that makes one feel so devoid of choice or power? I think another centimetre everywhere will be perfect. That should take 2 weeks the rate my barnet sprouts.
I am gainfully employed for a few months working just 14 hours a week for an organisation called Better Bankside a Business Improvement District in Southwark, Borough Market, Tate Modern, Vinopolis, The Globe theatre. Interesting area. It will be fascinating to be an employee again.
In the meantime not much to report from chateau Newman-Legros. Almost crippled myself removing the contents of the loft down two floors to the ground floor and then putting most of it out for the encombrants last week. Of course there was nothing of any real interest to be found except some more original doors which we may just manage to put into use again somewhere. I also managed to put my foot through a little piece of ceiling. Ho-hum.
We cleared out the dépendance on Saturday and put away the, scarcely-used-this-summer, garden furniture. Now we have plans to turn one end of the space into a garden room by replacing both the existing solid doors and the window with, well, I suppose we would call them French windows but, since whatever we buy will be French most likely I mean glazed double doors. Some clear sheeting on the roof and a bit of tidying and Petit Bob c'est ton oncle!
More from London coming soon. May be in Brighton on Saturday - ma foi it's expensive to go 50 miles if you haven't managed to plan way way in advance. Working on it...
Bisous à tous!
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Anyway enough of that. Summer has gone and autumn is here and, apart from a few degrees difference in temperature and the leaves turning glorious shades of gold and red on our maple tree, it has been a seamless transition. I wonder just how many hours less sunshine we have "enoyed" this year and how much extra rain we have seen fall in 2007.
A combination of disappointment with the weather, approaching retirement (still some way off yet within an understandable period of time rather than being too far off to be worried about )and the need for less stairs and more light at home, have led me to checking out the cost of flats in Mallorca. The good news is that they are affordable - just. We have no plans to up sticks and yet that thought is somehow sustaining.
On another front we have almost definitely decided that I should find temporary employment in London. We need some cash to make things happen in the house or else we will be living with zero progress for another year. I also need some motivation and this may just remind me what it is like to achieve and to be recognised for contributing to a team effort.
So, it may not be plain sailing ahead but there is a way out of the doldrums, une sortie du marasme.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Yes, of course we fell in love with the place and were soon leafing through property magazines to see if our new dream was realisable. It may be, but for now property is expensive, very expensive, and even a small place in a pleasant spot with maybe a bit of a view and some outside space is likely to be in the region of 500,000€ +++. That lottery win is long overdue.
We were seven for week two and an additional car had been arranged. Consequently most of our trips out were split along national lines ie the Brits and the French. No matter. We ventured first into Port de Pollença, something of a disappointment but not a bad place, and not quite tacky but a source of "typical" Mallorcan souvenirs and postcards. Then we tackled the market at Alcúdia, - we didn't bother with its port - quaint, walled and ramparted, it was a thrill to buy locally grown produce including white onions, imperfect but delicious and cheap tomatoes and stripey purple aubergines. We ate well too.
Pollença, our nearest town of any size was a pleasant surprise. Almost as lovely as Alcúdia but less of an obvious tourist magnet, this little town boasts a flight of steps which climb almost to the stars and at the top I mused that there seemed to be less dissonance between the man-made and the natural as if dwellings had sprung organically from the ground. Of course it is probably more to do with their use of local materials rather than brick or concrete. On the subject of stars I have to mention that the clear night sky was almost as poridgey-thick with stars as I have experienced in New Zealand.
What a joy it was to imagine for those few days that this was how we lived, to dream that life could be like this always. All too soon of course we were hitting the road and I am back on the Rhodiola.
A first for this blog - two short and rather grainy videos.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Sunday, August 05, 2007
London was the way it always should be but seldom is when one lives there ie fun! No rain that I can remember though I did once borrow Angela's rather decorative umbrella which features a kind of impressionistic view of Paris. I did not have the opportunity to unfurl it.
Apart from A&P's fun company I was lucky enough to eat out four times during the week. The Terrace Café at Somerset House is much to be recommended when the barometer is set fair and especially when a friend is treating you - thanks CW1. Having experienced the 20€ bottle of wine in even the most moderate French restaurant I find myself almost forgiving the £16.50 at the shallow end of their wine card.
Nigel produced his usual delicious fare on Friday evening. It is not so much that the food is always so good but that he is exceptionally able to produce it with such ease and seemingly no stress. That is a real skill. New old recipe for the summer must be Delia's avocado soup, a pistachio coloured cold starter with a smooth and creamy taste perfect for whenever we have a modicum of warmth in the air.
I am tempted to mirror Charles Bremner and to announce that blogs will be sporadic over the holiday month of August. It is visit central chez the Newman-Legros with Polly and Ellen from tomorrow for five days, Dawn, Dean and Darcey for a long weekend then the return of Margaret for a week to include a long weekend in Paris. Then we head for two weeks in Mallorca. Bring it all on!
Oh BTW - I note with some incredulity that this blog has now been viewed 1001 times!
Monday, July 23, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
Tomorrow and indeed for the next 10 days the forecast is set for at least showers and at worst deluges of rain.
Accentuating the positive, my first successful attempt at sweet peas is looking like a success with an abundance of buds about to burst forth the next time something like summery weather calls by. Next to the pond the unidentified but enormous plant continues to burgeon - I wonder if whatever it is will be edible?
Having continuing problems with French workmen and the admnistrative bureaucracy. A pleasant enough fellow came round three weeks ago to give our kitchen (extension) roof the once over and we have been awaiting his estimate ever since though even three weeks ago the first possible date he would have been able to do the job - before we were anywhere near knowing the price - would have been early October. No wonder they are so lax with their paperwork. We are also expecting a grant from the region and three months of waiting have elapsed and as we are now on the threshold of the great summer shutdown it seems unlikely that anything will happen before at least la rentrée. Given that we shall need the money for the roof perhaps I shouldn't be too bothered about the delay?
Let's get positive again! The sales started this week and it looks as if some bargains are up for grabs. An article in the paper suggested that the discounts may reach 90% this season. Perhaps Max and I will be able to treat ourselves to something for our holiday in September when it simply must must must be sunny and warm for the majority of our break in Majorca. I prefer to spell it Mallorca - a remnant of my Spanish O Level I guess - but was going for the alliteration.
Will soon be back in London for 9 days to help a friend with a business start-up. Given my singular inability to find any enthusiasm nor motivation for my own it seems like a good idea. Not sure we have ever been apart for quite so long. Thankfully Angela has free calls to Europe!
Monday, June 18, 2007
Saturday, June 16, 2007
The cherry tree is having a year off. At least it has gone part-time and there are hardly any cherries worth harvesting. As I gaze across the neighbours' gardens from the upper floors of the house I note with some envy that next door but one has a tree that is veritably dripping with plump red fruit jewels. Can this be fair? There is no way they are going to be able to harvest them all so I guess many of the top ones will simply go to supplement the local wildlife diet. Too bad that slugs don't do trees, eh?
Not all is lost however as this weekend we are in deepest darkest France, or as deep as it gets in Nord-Pas-de-Calais - and that is surprisingly deep and dark with the far right's candidate coming second and thus in the second round of the general election tomorrow just down the road - visiting the Bopes. They have two cherry trees in their immense garden, one of which is equally heavily ladened. I did some extensive sampling this afternoon along with the raspberries which are also plentiful. I feel sure that we will be taking some home tomorrow in our 20 year old Corsa. Belated Joyeux Fêtes to the old lady who celebrated this milestone on 3 June in a garage near to where I am writing this. She is now fully fit and raring to go. We won't even touch on the bill but to say it was large yet generously discounted.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Ségo was knifed in the back within moments of the result being officially confirmed by one of her reluctant lieutenants - the ceaselessly ambitious Dominique Strauss-Khan, who had at first put himself forward as the PS candidate, then declared himself available to be prime minister in a Royal administration and now - having rubbished the campaign he was supposed to be an integral part of - declares himself willing to become the new leader of the socialist party. Methinks he does self-sacrifice too much.
Somehow the question most needing an answer is left hanging in the air losing neither its freshness nor its pertinence. How has Sarko managed to convince a majority of the French electorate that he is now suddenly a more effective Sarko than the man who over the last five years has held considerable power in government? Plus ça change?
He is a good speaker - better than Royal though she was improving from her rather wooden beginnings - and a bit of a charmer. He exudes power and competence and has answers and solutions to everything that is thrown at him albeit in a rather pat fashion. He has more than enough confidence - that has never been in doubt- but as Ann Widdicombe famously commented about the equally suave Michael Howard, there is something of the night about Sarko.
To listen to the commentators and to the supporters of this president elect the mere fact of his election has somehow transformed the fortunes of the land. One thing is certain and that is the fortunes of the rich will be multiplied - not a bad thing as wealth creates jobs creates spending power etc etc - and yet his promise to be the president of the whole of France is just words. It will only be once actions have been taken and the nation has proof of his intentions that we will see who exactly is part of Sarkozy's France.
Royal warned that there might be protests should Sarkozy be elected and she was proven right. Of course those who should know better interpreted her words as a call to revolution and yet anyone who had bothered to visit the poor districts of Paris or any large town in France would know that the protests were either born of desperation that the man who epitomises in their eyes a France whose doors are firmly shut to them, or they were extremist anarchists who riot given any small reason.
We breath a collective sigh of relief with the news that that Petit Nicolas's election has persuaded the godfather of French pop/rock, Johnny Hallyday, to return from his self-imposed tax exile in Switzerland. The latter land being the alternative to the preferred Belgium where Johnny declares his heart to reside. Johnny's fragrant fourth wife Laeticia was the bringer of these glad tidings.
This is democracy and the right wing have secured another period of officer for their general. Time will tell whether parliament will be more balanced and will be able to provide more of a check to the president's ideas. Rarely in recent history has the reality of capitalism been quite so laid bare. President Sarkozy has promised a land where all have opportunities, all have rights and alongside those rights, obligations (so often ignored by the often least articulate who maintain their rights most vociferously ). Bravo monsieur le président. The right and opportunity of the workers will be to work more and earn more. The right of the elite and of business will be to keep more of what they already make in profit and in investment. That is not his fault but maybe it is the challenge of a fair and just presidency ie to give those who have least the most opportunities accepting that those with more can probably manage alone or certainly with less help. Being seen to be the champion of the more needy than the friend of the greedy could be the proof that France really needs.
Monday, April 16, 2007
We have just waved goodbye to our frends Stu and Tiff - their second visit - after a 12 day stretch of visitors and now have 1o days "off" before our next invités arrive. The weekend was a success not in small part to the enthusiasm they both have and especially yesterday when we ventured into the unknown and went to see the Paris-Roubaix cycle race.
This gruelling challenge in its 105th year is also known as the "hell of the north" as it includes over 50km of cobbled roads, many of which are in the middle of the countryside and are not in the best state of repair.
We worked out that we were only about a 20 minute drive from the Carrefour de L'Arbre a notorious spot of pavé road and so set off with hats and umbrellas to shield against the August temperatures. We couldn't get too close as the roads were already closed off in readiness but the 4 km or so we had to walk to be in the midst of the cobbles was a pleasant Sunday stroll. Another person's enthusiasm indeed passion, can be infectious and we were strangely enjoying being in the middle of the countryside under the blazing sun with the dust rising around us. We found a likely spot in that seemed to be the Belgian supporters' area and took advantage of the reasonably priced beer available from an almost cartoon-like vendor whose Jack Russell entertained us as we awaited the first bikes.
Suddenly they arrived as if from nowhere and swished - or rather rattled - past us looking impressively fresh given they had already traversed some 240km from the starting point in Compiègne and virtually all of the pavés. Everyone was applauded. It was almost as if the arrival of the cyclists was almost incidental to the overall feeling of being there and enjoying the expectation and the camaraderie.
Back at home we discovered that if we played the recording back in slow motion we could catch ourselves on the television and we had confirmation that the pictured Stuart O'Hagan had taken the prize and we had participated or at least assisted in one of France's favourite sports.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Monday, February 26, 2007
So, having considered getting someone in but done nothing about it - mostly because of the expense - we took up our 75 year old neighbour, François's offer of help and the loan of most of the equipment including a fearsome looking tronçonneuse- chainsaw to us. We had three targets which, at first I thought of merely trimming but then realised needed taking out completely: a tatty and ragged birch tree which was neither use not ornament being hidden behind three others its purpose expired some time ago; an unattractive conifer which did indeed serve as one half of Max's hammock support but little else, and what we think is a kind of maple. The latter was due only a slight reduction, the formers complete annihilation!
Of course we were more than glad for the help and presence of both our voisin and our semi-official lodger to up the macho load. That said it amazed me that both were so focused on their objectives that they seemed blind to anything and everything else. Theirs appeared to be a scorched earth policy ie if it is in the way ignore it for any and all examples of life be they nascent or more substantial suffered as collateral damage beneath their feet or at their hands. Despite my repeated - though not nagging mehopes - requests for care to be taken of, amongst others, my lavender and thyme, we will not see the irises in bloom this year. Tant pis! We have saved ourselves a pretty centime I suppose though I must source replacement chains for the chainsaw as a gesture of thanks to François.
About a mile away as we chopped Mr Le Pen was making his policies for his umpteenth bid for the presidency. Reading this morning on the internet I see his party would stop all benefit payments to the non-French and close the borders. Oh dear! Somehow I wonder if it isn't about time the French far right did a little clearing of their own garden as they are stuck firmly in the undergrowth with little chance of seeing the light nor of the reality in 2007.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
So, thank goodness for Dibley, a little piece of English heaven served in appropriately sized portions and guaranteed to entertain. It is not nostalgia or even nostalgia by proxy. I have no wish to live in a small, incestuous village in middle England, but it has a gentle humour and is lightly played by a cast who rub along very nicely thankyou very much.
Of course it runs on a channel we have to pay for and is not dubbed but subtitled in French. It is almost impossible to ignore the text and we find ourselves both listening and reading, checking the translation.
Update: The radiators have arrived!!!! We are expecting them to be fitted on Monday followed by the solar panel. The suspense is almost unbearable. Meanwhile back at the window company the irritating person who manages the branch continues to take us for fools and lies to us as much as he tells the truth. Apparently the replacement windows(for the ones that were lost - though of course their (window) pain was equal to ours and it was as much as we could do not to rush over to Boulevard du President Hoover and console the delicate cherubs) have been available for days but he somehow only managed to get round to informing us today as he was awaiting a cheque from us for 4000€. Perhaps he had chosen to ignore Max who had told him in no uncertain terms that they would not get another centime from us till the windows were in and we were satisfied. I feel a strong letter to their parent company coming on.....
Sunday, February 04, 2007
London was the kind of fun that is almost impossible to experience when you live there and have to work to pay for the privilege. Meeting up with friends, admiring the sights, taking the transport without being in a constant hurry etc. Most of the niggling things that bug me in France exist in the UK and I was reminded of them. I was equally reminded of the extortionate cost of getting anything done to your home and how unreliable such persons so employed can be. Something of a relief then as I was starting to wonder if we had been specially selected to have the merde chucked at us sans cesse.
Good news for those who might be following the progress at chateau Newman-Legros; the rest of the rads are due to be installed week commencing 12 February together with the solar panel AND the sitting room windows are apparently going to be installed on 19th. I wonder if they will be changing the glass in the future bathroom and fitting the lockable handle to the garden doors at the same time.
Lille is a little sad having waved adieu to Lille 3000 till 2009 and to the elephants which played sentry along the Rue Faidherbe. So it is with a slightly self-assured pride that our maire, Martine Aubry, announced that she had negociated the retention of four of the pachyderms. Almost a herd rather than a pride. They were supposed to be making the trek back to India where they were to take part in film projects etc. So now we have big hefalumps and littlelumps and we will be asked where they should be displayed.
The presidential campaign heats up and Sarkozy is starting to look the moer serious candidate though Ségo has yet to reveal any real policies. My guess is that this will make or break her and she may find hersefl struggling to beat off the challenge of the "third man"who, surprise surprise, may not be Le Pen but a certain François Bayrou. Still plenty of race left but Sarkozy is looking like a winner with Bayrou maybe the kingmaker.
Monday, January 15, 2007
With the annointment yesterday of Nicolas Sarkozy - or Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa to give him his full name - as the candidate for the major centre-right political party for the presidency the battle lines seem set for a confrontation between Sarko and Ségo, the socialist party nominee. The nearest challenger appears to be Jean-Marie Le Pen of the Front National yet he has still to garner enough backers in order to be able to run in the first round in April. To all intents and purposes, unless all those who are still undecided swing behind Le Pen, it will be Ségo and Sarko in the second round.
Unless of course the current incumbent, Jacques Chirac, decides to try for an independent third go. His wife, french first lady Bernadette, seemingly supports this possibility and yet how seriously are we to take the challenge of someone whose presidency has been marked not by its successes but by its singular lack of progress nor change. There are whispers that Chirac detests the idea of a President Sarkozy so much he would prefer to split the rightwing vote and let Ségo become the first woman president. There are others who believe that his effect on the vote would be less of a problem for Sarkozy who would still go through to the second round against Ségo. Would Chirac risk this kind of humiliation?
From my vantage point with the benefit of notional neutrality ie I cannot vote for anyone in the presidential election, I find myself recently reconsidering the way in which I would vote were I to be enfranchised. An early supporter of Ségolene Royal I am now beginning to question whether her, and her party's apparent unconditional support for the workers could ever make the changes necessary to drag France out of the doldrums. The latest suggestion from her partner and leader of the Part Socialiste (PS), François Hollande, is that people who earn more than 4000€ a month net (ie after social security contributions but before tax) should expect to pay more tax. He was rapidly slapped down by his "wife". It would be interesting to know just how well that was received by the man who might otherwise have been their presidential hopeful.
Having done a rough calculation I believe the equivalent salary in the UK is something like £38K before tax. Yes, higher than average but hardly enormous.
As someone who is about to launch himself onto the self-employed system in France selfishly, though I don't believe for a microsecond I would be subject any time soon to a "higher earners'" tax, I do believe in enterprise and in encouraging the creation of wealth in balance with the establishment and maintenance of the rights of both the employed and those who attempt to make a living themselves.
I am increasingly unsure that the PS have the ability to make any real changes for the good of France although their overall stance is one that is attractive in the longer term in a country where the kind of rights they aim to support and even to extend were affordable.
The idea of a woman president appeals. The need for change appeals more. Who is in a better position to make those changes and to incur the wrath of the "workers". Maybe it is time for the man who they are calling the French Thatcher. I cringe to think of it but wonder if there is indeed any other way.
With three months still to go it will be interesting to see if the electorate move away from their almost equal support for the two main candidates. One thing is certain and that is the voters see the contest as being Sarko/Ségo and it would be a challenge for any of the others to change that. Will they start to move in greater numbers towards one rather than the other. Watch this space...
Monday, January 08, 2007
Anyway, this post is a bit of a catch up and a little look forward too. I recently told a good friend that she should counter every negative thought with at least two positive ones: one to neutralise the negativity and one to move forward with. That is what I am going to try to do as well.
We have a tendency to see the negative first and are almost programmed to be negative, more especially when it comes to thinking about ourselves and our talents, abilities and potential. We are not this we are not that, we are so self limiting. We make endless, unrealistic and certainly unrepresentative comparisons.
So what were the highlights of 2007 in no particular order?
- Moving into our new house and having various works done to it
- Welcoming our friends and family to spend time with us there
- The summer
- Max getting a part-time job which then became full-time
- Having a functioning shower-room on the 2nd floor
- My niece being born and going to see her
- Our long weekend in Paris
- The kindness of our neighbours
- Our French Christmas guest needing a training session in what to do with Christmas crackers!
There may be more and for most there is certainly a counterpoint or two (and when it comes to having works done, many many more!) that I have actively avoided! If I had to chose one as the most important or perhaps most satisfying it would probably be welcoming frends and family as one of the reasons for acquiring all this space was not to use it just for us but to throw it open to our extended family.
The new year has started well. Though Max might say it was pants (you had to be there). Our new windows are going in as I type and we will benefit from their insulation qualities both heat and noise though it is not really noisy here as our guests would confirm and I have become used to the sound of the street. On the garden side we are protected from most sounds by a natural barrier of gardens. The weirdly mild temperatures persist during the installation of the windows which, of course, is a huge relief for he who is at home and experiencing temporary lack of protection from the elements!
I shall be in London shortly in connection with some work - yes paid! - I will be carrying out throughout the rest of January and possibly into March. The only downside to that is we never can get to see everyone we would like to.
I am getting to grips with the complexities of being self-employed in France and am almost certain that - having thought the contrary - I am entitled to be taxed under the simplest micro-entreprise regime.
We already have one definite visitor arranged, others pencilled in and, we hope, both return visits and new visits throughout the year.
Oh! Almost forgot. Our television service provider has suddenly made TF1 available to us. Despite the overall quality or otherwise of French TV, not having TF1 has been a little like not having ITV! Perhaps that is not a bad thing but then again it is always nice to have the choice.