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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Follow me!

Well how cool is this?

Not only can I send directly to this blog by email...I'm obviously getting a tad ancient as this seems pretty awesome to me.. but now regular readers can "Follow Me". Whatever that means. Try it and see. I don't think it hurts and it certainly doesn't cost anything.

Just call me a child ofthe sixties, dazzled in the headlamps of rapidly developing technology


Monday, May 25, 2009

A lake a day feeling I like

It's done. The long awaited event has happened. Two years after the possibility emerged the occurence has occured. All that talking and all that planning and it was really very simple and not at all exhausting. Wish we'd done it sooner and more often.

The bike ride that is! Every time we've been to Lac du Héron we've commented on what a brilliant place it would be for us to take the bikes, confirmed by the many unpowered two-wheelers doing the circuit. But the route looked tortuous, with many an opportunity for getting ourselves lost in the wilds of Villeneuve D'Ascq or, if we got that far, La Cousinerie.

Getting there by car is a trick we've only just mastered and, I've had one failed bike attempt when I didn't quite "get" the pumping up the tyres thing - no-one said you had to open the valves! - and Clare and I walked there in about 90 minutes and then persuaded Max to come and collect us in the car.

So, it is with a slightly ashamed face that I can report it took us about 15 minutes of cycling to get there. It was glorious in the sunshine and the route we took was leafy and traffic quiet, about 95% if it on dedicated cycle lanes. Then suddenly we were cycling alongside a sparkling expanse of water. Avoiding weekend joggers and uncertain where to walk pedestrians, I swooped onto the headland to enjoy the bench overlooking the lake but realised that Max, who was supposedly following, was nowhere to be seen. I got the feeling that this was like our invariable supermarket experiences together...

Rejoined we discovered that, in fact, the circuit for cyclists is interrupted by an enclosed reservation. Being good chaps we dismounted and pushed our bikes forward but after the fifth or sixth person swished past us we decided to get back on and to take it carefully and slowly. Indeed we were overtaken by any number of joggers. Couldn't quite make out what a careful cyclist could do in the way of damage, that a careless runner or even an inconsiderate walker couldn't.

Our return route took us along different cycle paths but we were soon home and barely perspiring, which may be less than ideal but suited me fine for a first time. Max is plotting a more energetic parcours next time but he may again lose me to the joy of the rustling leaves and the crunch of the gravel.

It was definitely lake day yesterday as, after Lac du Héron, we went on to have lunch with the Bopes and then accompanied them to an expanse of water in Wingles. It didn't appear to have a name but there was lots going on, it being one of those beautiful days when people emerge into the first real warm sun of the year and the sight of the otherwise-entrousered male leg is always something of a surprise. By the clubhouse I couldn't quite make out if it was a heat or indeed the final of the national French model boat racing competition. I hope it was the former as some 10 seconds before then end of the race all boats had foundered and the only angry waspish buzz was the intermittent sound of adolescents' wretched motorbikes. We strolled alongside the water and noted a young boy who was learning how to ride his bike without stabilisers, his father running alongside him. How he avoided being jettisoned headfirst into the water we'll never know. The labrador who couldn't wait to jump in one more time to fetch the enticing stick but who found it rather laborious to get out of the water. Yes we were relieved that we were watching from a safe distance when the enthusiastic mut finally made it back onto dry land!

We are fortunate indeed to have expanses of water so readily available for us to enjoy almost on our doorsteps. Water is so calming, so relaxing to walk or cycle next to. I believe we will be returning often for another fix of these fab facilities.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Mosaïc Gardens and the Looted Ladder

The arrival of friends gives us the impetus to do two things, at least, the first of which is to clean and tidy the house, and the second is to seek out places to visit and ways of keeping people amused. Thus it was with our friends and fellow francophiles, the Romans, who visited last weekend. They live in Kent just half an hour or so's drive from the Eurotunnel thus have a relatively straightforward journey to get to us that demands less than two hours driving plus the transit sous la Manche. This is unless you attempt to programme our address into most, if not all, Sat Nav systems, which deny our road's very existence and entice the unaware driver towards another JJ Rouseau in Vieux Lille. Our guests happily all enjoy the same initial, D, so we can refer to them as the three Ds, the smallest and youngest being D for Darcey, who is five and a half.

The weather was not quite as reliable as we had been led to believe it might be, but we risked an afternoon at the Mosaïc Gardens just 20 minutes drive away. As is often the case with "attractions" such as this, the written word can only give a one dimensional idea of the reality, but it sounded attractive and lent itself to a saunter in pleasant surroundings so we all leapt into the Romans' chariot - a Mitshubishi Pajero with impressively retracting wing mirrors - and set off down the A1.

The weather though only intermittently sunny, meant that fewer people had been lured from the shelter of their homes or the immediacy of their gardens and there was just a handful of cars in the car park. We waited five minutes for the arrival of the Bopes who were joining us , then made our way along the Deûle river towards the entrance of the park where their award for a welcoming reception was shown to be much deserved. Papa was provided with a free electric wheelchair - his back doesn't allow him to walk too far - and we were allocated audio guides in our respective languages.

And so we set off, not knowing really what to expect but it soon became clear that Mosaïc is a total delight, a jewel of a project that has been in development for five years, since Lille was European Capital of Culture in 2004. It's a series of conceptual gardens set in 33 hectares of parkland around a lake next to a river. Each garden is a work of art born of a collective approach and telling a story. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is something for everyone from the sheer pleasure of a walk through this open space where the air is sweet and clean to the representations of the gardens themselves to the froggy chorus. As well as a more traditionally laid out picnic area, scattered around are tables and chairs both factory made and constructed from materials found within the park. It would not be difficult to while away an entire day with a picnic in this magical place. We will be adding Mosaïc to our list of things to do for our visitors. (Pics to be posted soon)

Our stepladder has been missing for 7 months. The plasterboard man took it away, ostensibly for cleaning as it was covered in hardened plaster, and despite many phone calls and messages it had never been returned. Yes we've listened to the promises to bring it back and been disappointed when it never reappeared. It's just a ladder though, isn't it? Yes and no: it's OUR ladder. Why should he get to keep something just because he has taken a fancy to it?

So Max went to the main Lille police who rang the man - Fred - and asked when he would be returning our ladder. He said he would be a fortnight as he was using it on a job in Valenciennes! That must surely be the best example ever of barefaced cheek! The police told him that this was not good enough and they would take things further but it's at this stage that everything becomes a little hazy.

The local Hellemmes police have been in touch to ask how much the ladder was worth and now the thief has offered us 30€ saying he no longer has the ladder in his possession indeed the employee who took it away to be cleaned is no longer working for him. He's probably worn it out since it was a domestic ladder and he's been using it on every job over the last seven months! Had he hired the ladder from us over that period he would have owed us a lot more than a paltry 30€.

All we want is our ladder back or, if that is not possible, an adequate amount to allow us to replace it. Watch this space, floor level only - we have no ladder.
Update: Discovered from photos after much searching that our ladder was a Black and Decker ie not just any common or garden ladder! It was multifunctional too. Not that we used it much for anything other than getting off the ground to paint etc. The local police have called Fred in on Thursday and have promised us that they will make him pay for a new ladder. So we have bought one in Leroy Merlin that isn't quite the same but will do and at 30€ off was a bargain, for him. Watch this space.
Latest update: He didn't turn up! Now WE have to send him the bill for the new ladder and wait to see if he will reimburse us... I wouldn't bother watching this space!