Sunday, December 26, 2010

Nice ice

Minus 17 last night apparently. Bit chilly out on this afternoon's dogwalk. All very interesting though. Trees, bushes, grasses and fence wire were all covered in a coating of ice. Fascinating.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A wise investment

A little endowment thingy has recently matured (I think that's the right terminology) and a whole load of dosh has suddenly been deposited in my bank account. Others may call it peanuts but to this hermit recluse it's enough to cover a couple of years' living expenses. However, it raises the question 'what to do with the wedge?'.

We could of course chuck it at the maison and finish off the bathroom, fit a new kitchen and maybe make a start on doing up the lounge - er, I mean indoor shed. But.., if we then sold up (we still don't know what we're gonna do house-wise!) I doubt if we'd recover the costs of those improvements. Or..., we could invest in resurfacing the lane that leads to 'the barn' down Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne way, thus gaining proper access and enabling builders' lorries to reach the dilapidated cottage and barn (er..., we still don't know what we're gonna do house-wise!). Or..., we could stash it in a UK bank or building society but, like everybody else, we've lost all faith and belief in bankers and financiers (and besides, the interest rates are a joke). Or..., we could chuck it on horse number seven in the 2.45 at Uttoxeter or put it all on red at the local casino.

I assume we're not alone in this quandry. Presumably there are loads of other Baby-Boomers of my generation currently receiving buckets of money as their endowments mature. However, unlike us, most of them have kids and I presume many will be helping their grown-up offspring get onto the housing ladder or helping out with paying off their little brats' credit card debts. Or maybe they're planning round the world cruises or that holiday they've always promised themselves. Or maybe they're investing in Brazil (I understand this to be the latest financial craze).

As an avid fan of bikes and cars, I've noticed quite a few recent articles about people (presumably Baby Boomers) investing in classic vehicles. Ten years ago you could pick up a Vincent motorcycle for about ten grand. Today they're going for about forty or fifty. Cars like 'E' type Jags have similarly increased in value. It's all about supply and demand. Good 'uns are hard to find and demand is high due to Baby Boomers with dosh looking for somewhere safe (and enjoyable) to put it.

Such vehicles are way beyond my means. Besides, I actually think values have now peaked (I say this every year then watch gobsmacked as prices continue to rise). And..., if you chuck fifty grand at a Vinnie or 'E' type and hang onto it for, say, ten years, who's going to buy it and at what price? In ten years time we Baby Boomers will be too old to drive the damned things so we won't be looking to buy, certainly not at sixty or seventy grand, so prices could plummet. And I doubt very much if the next generation will then drool over these motoring icons with the same misty eyes. So you'd be lucky to get back your investment. Hence me saying values have peaked (if I give advice about anything financial, do the opposite).

The trick is to spot tomorrow's Vinnie or 'E' type. Obvious contenders are the Yamaha 'Fizzy' and mk.1 Golf GTi. Both are cult vehicles held in high esteem by the post-Boomer generation (prices are already rocketing). However, as far as I'm concerned, investing in a car doesn't make sense due to storage problems. So forget cars. And I'm buggered if I can get excited about owning a damned 50cc Fizzy. So forget that too.

As mentioned in an earlier blog posting, I've been giving a lot of thought recently to what affordable, modernish motorcycle would make a sound investment. Came to the conclusion that the Honda VFR750 seemed a good bet (widely regarded as the best engineered and greatest all-rounder of all time). Even went as far as putting my Beemer up for sale so I'd be in a position to buy if the right one came along. Typically, the right one came along but before I'd sold the Beemer. So I didn't get it. No worries, there'll be others.

But all this was before the endowment thingy knocked the moths out of my wallet. My imaginary budget leapt from 2.5 grand to somewhere around five (could have been far higher but, for the first time ever, I'm trying desperately hard to be Captain Sensible). Spent hours, nay days, deliberating while dogwalking and waiting for spuds to boil when cooking. Investment contenders now included the iconic Ducati 916 and Urban Tiger Honda Fireblade. Then the phone rang. To cut a long story short (this is short?!), chap wanted to buy my Beemer. But, bereft of afforementioned moths, I no longer had to sell in order to invest in a future classic bike. Besides, I reckon the Beemer is actually a future classic. So maybe I'll keep it and invest in something else as well just for fun. But what?

Ruled out all Ducatis (too temperamental and I reckon millions of others are already investing in the blighters, thus pushing up prices). Ruled out the Urban Tiger (people already investing in good 'uns). Eventually ruled out the Honda Blackbird (not yet a collector's item but soon will be) because it's a licence loser. Then ruled out the VFR750 Honda 'cos I discovered that the later VFR800i (pre-VTEC model) was equally well built, a better performer (better mid-range grunt) and still retained the adorable gear-driven cams (this is how extensively I'd been researching). So.., the VFR800i it is then. Ticks all the right boxes.

But..., having done hours of research, I discovered that the process of registering a UK bike in France is a potential minefield. For a start, the lights have to be changed so they dip right. Then the speedo has to be changed so it reads in kilometres not miles. And if the bike's rated at more than 106bhp, the engine has to be detuned (the VFR apparently produces 108bhp - or 98, or 106, according to different websites). Some chaps have had no problem importing while others have been foiled by this 106bhp ruling. Seems to be the luck of the draw which 'prefecture' representative you deal with. Bit of a risk but could be worth it. The alternative is to search for a French registered VFR800i instead. Nah, all French bikes are about 30% pricier than UK ones, and generally with far higher mileages.

At that point I gave up and decided to stick with my Beemer. But..., as is often the way, I then spotted the bike that had my name written all over it: a year 2001 VFR800i, only 1200 miles, in mint condition, UK registered but an import, with kilometre speedo and right dip headlight, up for grabs at under four grand. Sent off a cheque yesterday. But what if it fails this 106bhp registration hurdle? Well, I'll just stick her indoors as an objet d'art.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No snow

Welcome change in the weather recently. Suddenly warmed up. Happened Monday night. Went to bed with six inches of snow and ice outside. Woke up next morning and it was all gone. Well, not all of it, there were still bits of the stuff in the shadows. All gone now though. Seems strange listening to TV and radio reports of freezing conditions back in the UK. And up in northern France too. Down here we must be on a different wind stream. All very misty this morning but the sun's slowly burning through. Shall make a dash for Felletin this afternoon to do a bit of pre-Christmas shopping. Haven't done any so far. Might go beserk and lash out on some smoked salmon and a good bottle of plonk. Aaargh! Just realised I can't go out looking like this. Unshaven and filthy. Been far too cold to wash or shave recently. Haven't washed my hair since... well, maybe three or four weeks ago. That's what happens when you're a snowed-in hermit recluse. Eskimos and Mongolians would understand but Brits probably wouldn't. Amazing how the civilised world takes things like central heating and bathrooms for granted. Er..., I'm waffling. Think I'll give the mutts a quick walk then clear the cobwebs in the shower room and rid myself of a month's dirt and grime. Then hit Felletin and get stocked up. Wahay! Just realised, we're past the shortest day!

Couple of pretty pics (click on 'em to enlarge): view from house last Sunday afternoon and same view this morning...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Church windows

I live next door to an old church. When we first arrived here it was being renovated. On the outside, the walls were repointed, the roof repaired and guttering replaced. On the inside, various improvements were carried out including the installation of a brand new wooden stairway and mezzanine gallery, lovingly hand-made by an expert local craftsman. When the works were completed I attended a service to celebrate the church's rebirth. The place was packed and it was a wonderful opportunity to view its impressive interior and beautiful stained-glass windows.

Sadly, that's the only time I've attended a service there. I would have attended more but since then there haven't been that many. Just one or two a year. Unlike other churches with bigger congregations, ours remains locked for most of the time. We don't even have a vicar or choir. However, we do get quite a few visitors who wander around outside taking photos of various historic features. Unfortunately these visitors are unable to appreciate the true splendour of the windows. Indeed, I'd forgotten how splendid they are 'til the other night when, for some reason, the chuch's interior lights were switched on. Could have been Didier rigging up the Christmas lights on the roof and belfry. Quickly whizzed down there with my camera and took a few snaps...

So this is Christmas

Amazing how quickly Christmas creeps up. I've already received a few cards from my better organised chums. I've only just bought mine and have done nothing about digging out addresses yet. As usual, I'll probably get them off on Christmas Eve so they'll arrive around mid January. That's if they arrive at all - my address book is about twenty years old.

Another reminder that Christmas is coming is the recent appearance of Christmas lights and decorations. First noticed them last week (or was it the week before?) when driving Georgie to Limoges airport. Passing through Felletin, our local town, the lads were putting up the street decorations. And a couple of towns further on were already festooned with festive decor, as was Limoges with its pretty street lights and massive tree outside the town hall.

Not to be outdone, our local mayor and a few other lads and lassies have been busily decorating our wee hamlet. The village hall (Mairie) now proudly boasts an impressive 'Joyeuses Fetes' illuminated sign above the front door and across the road from the Mairie they've erected a splendid Christmas tree with colourful lights. They've even decorated a few little trees with flashing light ribbons. Looks brilliant at night.

Took some photos there on Friday evening after a dogwalk up the Lightning Tree area. Passed by again on Saturday evening. Place was packed with cars. Turned out that they were throwing their annual Christmas dinner for all the local 'retraites' (elderly and retired people). There's a token price of admission but the main costs are subsidised by the government. Gives the local old people an opportunity to celebrate Christmas with friends and neighbours. It's a brilliant idea and typically French. Such events build a great community spirit.

A much appreciated invite to attend was dropped in my letter box a couple of weeks ago. Didn't go of course. I hardly know any of the 'oldies', don't speak French (well, not enough to join in conversations), most of 'em have known each other since school and I'm happy with my low key, once a year involvement when I show my paintings in the Mairie cowshed on the annual summer open day. Hopefully my paintings say more than I ever could about my appreciation of life out here in the sparsely populated hills and backwoods. I'll never truly belong but I'm happy to be a welcome outsider.

As well as decorating the Mairie, the lads have also been busy on the church. Noticed Didier and a couple of chums up there last week apparently messing with the bells. Hadn't a clue what they were up to. All became clear as night fell when strings of lights glowed like stars. Hardly on a par with Oxford Street but nevertheless mightily impressive.

Talking of impressive, there's a house on the outskirts of Felletin that's always brilliantly decorated at Christmas. Whoever lives there obviously makes a huge effort to impress everyone who passes. And this year it's no exception. Passed there on Friday when out shopping. Luckily I had my camera so I stopped and took a quick snap. Bet it looks even more impressive at night. Might have to pop down there for a quick peek.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Snowed in

So..., there I was, a week ago last Saturday, attempting to tidy up the house in eager anticipation of Georgie's arrival the following day, when down came the snow. Not much at first but just enough to get me worried. That downhill lane out of the hamlet blocks up easy. Then there'd be no chance of getting to Limoges airport to pick up Georgie. Checked a few websites and realised it was snowing in Blighty too. Maybe her flight would be cancelled. Things weren't looking good.

Luckily, it turned out okay. Georgie's flight wasn't cancelled and I made it to Limoges. Picked her up and headed back to the hills.

Just as we were about to ascend the steep hill towards the hamlet, Georgie remarked that the weather seemed to have cleared. At that very second (yes, that very second), the freezing snow blizzard started. Crawled up the long, zig-zaggy hill with wipers at full speed and headlights on dip - with full beam we couldn't see a thing. Eventually arrived home, re-lit the stoves, noshed at the neighbours', gave the dogs a quick walk in the blizzard and hoped it would clear by morning.

It didn't.

Monday dawned with a fresh covering of snow. Wasn't too deep so we were able to nip down to town and do some shopping then drive up the lightning tree area to walk the dogs. Climbed the hill, took a few snaps with my super-duper new camera (don't quite understand what all the knobs and buttons are for) then went home and prepared a massive stew in a couple of big pots. Halfway through cooking, we had a power cut. Rats! Fortunately we were cooking on the log-burning stove and not the electric cooker so we were able to complete and enjoy our slap-up nosh-up. No telly of course, and lighting by torches and candles. And, needless to say, no 'leccy blanket either. So out came the jolly old hot water bottle filled with the remnants of hot water from the boiler.

Tuesday dawned grey, dismal and freezing. Still snowing and still no electricity. With a foot of the white stuff outside, we were very definitely snowed in. Wasn't looking good. Poor old Georgie had to make a superhuman effort to get out of bed, it was that cold in the boudoir. I, on the other hand, being of considerably stockier build and far more used to the inclement meteorological conditions that currently prevailed, had meanwhile given the dogs a quick walk in the garden and bought in another dozen or so logs while wearing just a raggedy dressing gown and slippers. Yes, completely bonkers, but sometimes I can't be arsed to get dressed.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday dawned much the same. By this time we were getting low on milk and stale bread. Would have had more bread but I kept chopping it up to feed the poor wee birdies. So a trip to town was called for. Dug out the car, cleared the driveway, tentatively headed off down the snow and ice-covered road to Felletin, arrived safely, stocked up and headed back. Don't know which is worse: going downhill on ice and snow or driving uphill. Seems they're both equally tricky. Luckily we didn't meet another car (or lorry!) coming in the other direction so we were able to stick to the two tyre grooves in the snow. Deviate from those tracks and it could spell disaster - sheer drops into the valley.

Saturday dawned cold and snowy as ever. By this time Georgie was having serious doubts about her return journey to Blighty. Flights to and from Limoges were being cancelled and the same was happening at UK airports. Checked the local weather forecast. Rainy and warm for Sunday and all next week. Hard to believe looking out the window. But, sure enough, Sunday dawned noticeably warmer. And the snow was indeed melting. Maybe Georgie would get back okay after all.

Monday dawned wet and warm. Hardly any snow. Checked the Limoges airport website. Flights were going ahead as normal so decided to make a run for it. Georgie had done her packing the night before so we left in good time. Arrived at the airport bang on time, had a quick coffee and made our farewells. Have to admit I'm no good at all this snogging in public so Georgie always thinks I'm just glad to see the back of her. Which I'm not. Far from it.

That 75 mile drive home alone is always a downer. Especially when I know she hasn't really had a good time. Not just because of the weather but also because I'm a useless conversationalist and, as Georgie rightly observed, I can appear a little stand offish at times; alone in my own little world. Although I joke about it, maybe, without realising, I have actually become that bohemian hermit recluse I'm always on about. It's a terrible thought. Things will have to change. Think I'll have to start talking to myself to improve my conversational skills. The neighbours, of course, will think I'm barking. Still, what's new.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Guess who...

Guess who's been digging in the snow and who'd rather stay indoors...