Monday, January 31, 2011


Wee Jockie needed a haircut (see photo in earlier posting). So I dragged him along to the local poodle parlour. Probably the wrong time of year to rob him of his warm topcoat but it had to be done. His fur was constantly getting tangled up in burrs, brambles and twigs. And he was beginning to smell. No wonder the madame of the poodle parlour (and especially her two big white poodles) looked absolutely horrified when I dropped him off. Emerged a couple of hours later looking like a very poofy woofy. Bright white and smelling of roses. Hardly recognised the little blighter. Gave him a walk with Sprocket up the cemetery run. He seemed quite perky. Maybe he was chuffed with his new hairstyle. Or, more likely, he was just pleased to be out of that poodle parlour hell hole. Took a few snaps of the old orchard trees. They look a bit spooky at this time of year. Fiddled with one of the photos using this computery nonsense. Came out rather well. Cheating, I know, but what the hell. Also took a snap of our house from across the valley. Not exactly interesting but, hey, it is winter after all. Chilly too. Just ask Jock.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Regular readers (I presume that's plural) of this garbage will possibly be aware that I've been planning a final motorcycle flingette (cor blimey, the number of times I've said that!). The plan was to sell the BMW and replace it with..., er..., something else, but I wasn't sure what.

As usual, things didn't go according to plan. Snapped up a mint 2001 Honda VFR800 (with the gorgeous gear-driven cams instead of the sloppy chain-driven items which appeared on the somewhat unpopular 2003 onwards V-tec model) before selling the Beemer. This left me in the somewhat unenviable (or enviable - depending on your viewpoint) position of owning two bikes when I really only need one. I had, of course, advertised the Beemer before buying the VFR but, despite much interest (mostly from nutters and dreamers - see a previous posting), there were no takers. Then, having resigned myself to keeping the Beemer, an email appeared out of the blue from a prospective purchaser back in the UK. Emailed him a few photos and a bit of the bike's history and, hey presto, he agreed to buy. Immediately cancelled the ad on the classic bike website then did a quick Google search of the buyer (email clue) just to check that he wasn't some fraudster.

Well, knock me down with a feather. Turned out he was some multi-millionaire from 'oop north'. Cripes! And he was aiming to collect the bike in person. Double cripes! If a multi-millionaire from the upper echelons of The Sunday Times Rich List enters our 'umble abode, he'd have a fit, closely followed by a heart attack. The shock of seeing the living quarters of a bohemian hermit recluse is far too much to bear for most people (just ask some of my chums), let alone a top-notch squire. Panic!

Without letting on that I'd discovered who he was, I tried to prepare him for the shock of seeing our house by supplying this blog's address. In it, there are various photos that I rather hoped would put him off coming here. Maybe he'd then suggest meeting in more solubrious surroundings. But no, he'd be arriving with a box trailer on Wednesday. Eek!

Once I'd got over the scary prospect of entertaining one of the UK's richest men, my attentions turned to making sure the BMW was running properly after its winter slumber. And, of course, it wasn't. Damned thing wouldn't start. Battery on its last legs. So, last Saturday, I drove to BMW Limoges and bought a new one. But..., they were waiting for a new consignment of battery acid. Should arrive "at the end of next week". Too late mate. So bought the battery, minus acid, then popped into the local bricolage at Aubusson in search of the desired liquid. Sold out. Told me to try the place down the road. Stroke of luck. Bought the last two litres of sulphuric acid they had in stock. Returned home, filled the battery and put it on overnight charge.

Next day (Sunday, a week ago exactly), I gave the Beemer one last try at starting with the old battery. Sods' Law, she started. Took her for a spin round the hills. Fine on acceleration but a bit 'faffy' on tickover. Changed the plugs. No improvement. Ah well, no time to sort the problem. Probably just needs a good service. Which is what the buyer said he intended to do just as soon as he'd trailered the bike home.

Spent the next couple of days attempting to make the house (or kitchen area at least) vaguely presentable. A hopeless task. Absolutely hopeless. Even went so far as buying a new plastic tablecloth featuring a colourful design of hens, chicks, eggs and various vegetables to brighten the place up. Added a bit of colour to the dreary scene but didn't exactly create a kitchen from the pages of Ideal Home magazine. Hung the old tablecloth over the doorway to the eyesore that is the lounge, er, indoor shed. Even went as far as doing the washing up. That's how seriously I was taking things.

Come the Wednesday morning (chap was due to arrive at around mid-day), I was a nervous wreck. Had a quick shave and hairwash, squirted stuff in my armpits, polished my shoes and dug out a sweater without elbow holes, cleaned the loo, fitted a new loo roll then lit a joss stick in a futile attempt to hide the stench of dog pee and the involuntary trouser cough or ten resulting from an over-indulgence of the previous night's Ruby Murray. Then dragged the bike from the shed, gave her one last polish and attempted to start her up. Nothing. Old battery completely flat. Fitted new battery. Luckily, it worked. Engine fired up. Still a bit 'faffy' on tickover but otherwise parfait. Went back indoors to clean the grease from fingernails, face and trousers. Not a pretty sight. Phone rang. Buyer ten minutes away. Aaarrgghh! I look almost as messy as the house! Nightmare.

I stood outside waiting, ready to wave in case my visitor couldn't find the house, half expecting to see a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce emerge from the mists of the valley. Completely wrong. Multi-millionaire arrived without a chauffeur, driving a slightly beat-up 4x4, wearing jeans and a casual checked shirt. Seemed a very normal chap. No airs or graces. Big relief. Chatted away about the bike, he asked all the right questions, said he had a modern Beemer but fancied the R100GS as well because it was a simple design without all the latest high-tech gadgetry and gizmos. Then we did the paperwork, he handed over the cash and, together, we secured the bike in his box trailer, then shook hands and off he went, heading back to Caen, a night channel crossing and a morning run 'oop north'. Sent me a very nice email the following day saying he'd cured the 'faffyness' by cleaning a carb and how pleased he was with the bike now it was running perfectly. Had I not done that quick Google check, I'd have never guessed he was one of the richest blokes in Blighty. He just seemed a normal classic bike fan. Didn't even flinch when we went indoors. Just said the house was in a lovely location and would be great when renovated.

My initial preconceptions and prejudices made me feel stupid. Just because some geezer's rich beyond one's wildest dreams, it doesn't mean he can't be a regular guy. My feelings of inferiority, brought about by the gap in our respective finances, were totally ridiculous too. From my buyer's perspective, I'm sure he didn't feel superior in any way. In fact, I was left with the distinct impression he rather envied my simple lifestyle. Interesting though: two people from opposite ends of the social spectrum brought together as equals by the sale of an old motorbike. And I loved the fact that he offered 250 quid below the asking price. Really made me smile. Me, bartering with a multi-millionaire! I refused to budge on price, naturally. Half Scottish y'know.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


People say that if you blog about the weather, it shows an appalling lack of imagination. How very true. So I'll blog about the weather.

After all the snow of recent months (arrived early this year, back in November), it came as a welcome surprise when the sun reappeared last week. Clear, blue skies and unseasonally warm. Even had the windows open on a couple of days. Gave me a chance to do some much-needed washing and drying. Made a pleasant change to take the rabid canines for a stroll up the lightning tree without a thick fleece and woolly hat. Twice caught the evening sun setting behind the hills with not a cloud to be seen.

All changed yesterday though. Chilly breeze from the north. And today it snowed. Not a lot but enough to make last week's sun seem a distant memory. Ah well, c'est la vie. Time to don that winter gear again and venture out into the cold outdoors. Come on lads, walkies! (Click on pics to enlarge.)


Just realised it's over two weeks since I last bloggeaued. Probably 'cos nothing worthy of note has happened recently. Indeed, a long lost cousin even asked if my absence was due to illness. Nah, just laziness and a lack of imagination. Renewed contact with her and other cousins from Mum's side of the family a couple of weeks ago when I discovered her email address in a dusty old drawer. I've said it before and I'll probably say it again: amazing stuff, the internet, for keeping in touch. Trouble is, one of my long lost cousins flatly refuses to have anything to do with computers. Fair enough, they can be daunting. Having been informed of my Luddite cousin's new address, I keep meaning to dig out my old fountain pen and write her a letter. Seems so very quaint in this hi-tech age.

Anyways..., so..., picking up from where I left off in my last posting, I did indeed make that second trip to Ussel to have another look at those modern telly systems. Still had difficulty understanding the technicalities of the various tellys on display in the supermarket showroom. Seemed very easy to spend a couple of grand (at least) on a mammoth screen, stand, speakers, DVD unit, another 'leccy unit thing (dunno what it is but it seems to be part of the kit) and a whole host of other bits'n'bobs which are apparently necessary in order to watch or listen to your fave progs. All seemed far too complicated to moi, not to mention bleedin' expensive. So, once again, I left the showroom empty-handed and totally confused.

The following day, I visited the supermarket at Aubusson to check out the half dozen, cut price, 40 and 32 inch Sony Bravias I'd seen there the previous week (probably last year's models or even earlier, but who cares!). Walked out with a 32 incher for just 380 euros (about 330 quid?). Pleased as Punch. Problem solved. No need for extra speakers, boxes, cables, wotsits and various other hi-tech gadgetry, or a living room the size of tennis court. Being used to a 26 inch screen (always thought it was quite big enough), this new 32 incher is positively massive. Was thinking of going for the 40 incher but rather relieved I didn't, a) because of price (around 600 euros - much cheaper than a lot of stuff out there but still way too expensive for a tight-fisted geriatric comme moi), and b) because the screen's too damned big for my comfy little upstairs telly-viewing area!

Jumped the gun a bit there. While I was at Ussel, after visiting the telly showroom, I dropped into the VW garage to see if I could make an appointment for a mechanic to check out my malfunctioning digital dashboard. All very tricky to explain, especially as I hardly speak a word of French. Luckily they understood. Booked me in for Friday (last week) at 2pm.

Being the pessimist that I undoubtedly am, I reckon the digital dashboard is beyond repair. I'd done a bit of reasearch and discovered that replacement ones are no longer available from VW. However, very, very occasionally they come up second-hand on eBay. Luckily, just before my Friday appointment at the VW garage, I spotted a mk.2 Golf GTi 'Match' digital dashboard unit being auctioned on French eBay. Put in a winning bid seconds before the auction ended and sent off a 104 euro cheque (when new units were available, they were priced at around a grand!). Now, if the mechanic confirmed my suspicions that the unit was dead as a dodo, I could at least tell him I'd tracked down a possible replacement. How do you say hens' teeth in French? (If I spouted 'dents de poulet' to him, he'd think I was bonkeurs. Still, I'm used to it.)

Drove up there last Friday at around luchtime. Beautiful sunny day. Spotted some steam rising in a forest by the roadside. Shafts of sunlight drying out the forest floor. Looked rather impressive so I doubled back and took some snaps. Why do I do this? Seems daft.

Ah well. Arrived at the garage at 2pm, dropped the car off and was told to wait in reception while the mechanic did his stuff. After an hour, the cheery mechanic woke me up by waving the dashboard in my face. Said he'd checked the electrical connections and they were all fine. Now he had to take it apart and have a look at the circuitry. Told me to come back after four. Killed the time by wandering around Ussel. It's a town that's old at the centre and modern on the outside - a bit like the rings on a tree stump. Did the tourist bit and took a few snaps of historical buildings. But the one that really interested me was an old butcher's shop in the middle of town. Looked like it had been shut for years. Yet another casualty of the new supermarkets at the edge of town. There are more and more boarded-up shops like this appearing throughout France. And the UK too. Great shame. Still, I guess that's progress.

Returned to the garage, armed with a fresh baguette, and reported at reception. Mechanic spotted me through the window of the workshop and waved me in. He'd taken the unit apart and spread the innards out over a table. Pointed to the printed circuit board and said a couple of bits had 'blown'. He might be able to fix 'em or maybe not. Either way, I had to leave the car there or risk being stopped by the police (happens a lot in France) who'd inevitably spot the absence of a dashboard and thus issue me with a death warrant. Told him I'd tracked down another unit on eBay but it probably won't arrive 'til next week. If the dismantled one was totally kaput, he could replace it with the eBay one. He apologised for the inconvenience of keeping the car there but then reminded me that he'd warned me of this eventuality (indeed he had but I'd hoped for a simple fix - optimist? moi?). Returned to reception, burst into tears and wailed "woe eez moi, I'm a long way from home, bereft of wheels and I'm going to die and then there'll be nobody to feed my dogs." Luckily, the matron of the establishment took pity and rang up the local bus (pronounced 'booze') station. "Booze leaves for Felletin at 5pm in forty minutes. It's down there opposite the (spit) Ford garage, next to the train station. Bon courage." Thanked the charming lady for her much appreciated assistance and wandered off into the sunset clutching a slightly bent baguette.

Arrived at the station about ten minutes later and made the mistake of asking a street cleaner where I could catch the Felletin booze. I say 'mistake' because he then wanted to know who I was, where I lived, what I was doing in Ussel, and indeed, what I was doing in France when I could be far better off living in Angleterre (clearly he had a rosy view of England and a thorny opinion of France). Answered all his questions as best I could and then sought sanctuary in a nearby caff. Coffee done, and sitting outside the caff puffing on a rollie, I then spotted the street cleaner's wife waving at me in the distance (at least I assumed she's his wife because they were sharing a Thermos and rowing - a sure giveaway of marital bliss). Wandered over to her and she introduced me to the Felletin booze driver. Asked him for a ticket to Felletin. Told me I had to get one from the next door railway station. Joined a long queue of spotty youths, eventually purchased a ticket and hopped on booze with seconds to spare. Very pleased there weren't many passengers so chose the best seat and looked forward to a quiet trip through hills and forests bathed in the rich pink of evening sunlight.

Five minutes later, after we'd stopped outside some school, I was up to my neck in 'orrible, screaming kids. Stayed that way for most of the trip. Luckily, a whole bunch of the noisy little blighters jumped off at La Courtine, by which time the sun had set. With peace and quiet almost reigning, I nodded off on the final twenty kilometre downhill stretch to Felletin. Woke up when the booze shuddered to an abrupt halt. It was 6.15pm and dark. And I was still a long way (7 kms.) from home. Popped into my fave caff and asked the proprietor (a charming chap) if he could book me a cab. One turned up half an hour later. Home just before seven with a very bent baguette. Quick dogwalk and one large scotch later, I was back to normal.

This is normal?!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pruning and stuff

Well, that's Christmas and New Year done. Drove Georgie back to Limoges airport yesterday after her week and a bit's break. As I've said many times before, amazing how quickly the time passes when she's here. Crap time of year to visit though. Rubbish weather and short days. Mind you, come to think of it, the weather wasn't that bad really. Gave Georgie the chance to get into the garden and do whatever gardeners do at this time of year. Judging by the couple of large piles of branches stacked by the bonfire area, I presume it's pruning.

Gave her a hand hacking bushes 'til I had to retire back indoors with buckets of blood dripping from a couple of bramble punctures in my paws. Being somewhat aggressive and short-tempered in my approach to gardening, I tend to lash out in a blind fury whenever a bramble has the audacity to attach itself to any of my extremities. This, of course, usually results in my becoming even more tangled up in these vile growths. Many's the time I've eventually struggled free with blood spraying from various wounds and the air ringing loudly with blue expletives. Such triffid attacks call for a quick march to the shed, the grabbing of an axe, a storm back to the scene of the heinous assault and an enthusiastic display of divine and excessive retribution. But this is nothing though compared to my old Dad's approach to gardening. Being ex-military, he used to attack weeds and brambles with a massive army flame-thrower, then go up the pub leaving the garden looking like a smouldering war zone. Reckoned it was far less damaging than using chemical weed killers. And a damned sight quicker.

Anyway, besides gardening, we looked into tellys. Our current item (a five year old Sony) has, rather annoyingly, developed a slightly darkish horizontal area across the middle of the screen. It's nothing serious, just a bit of a blemish, but maybe it's the beginning of the end. So we nipped up to the LeClerc supermarket at Ussel to see if there were any bargain tellys in their January sale. And there were. But..., it immediately became apparent that I know nothing about modern tellys. How, for example, do you choose between plasma, HD or LCD screens? And what size? Then there's the question of whether or not to plump for an integrated hi-fi and/or cinema system. Then, just to confuse matters further, there's this new-fangled 3D option. Georgie did her best to explain to me the basics of all this new technology but, as ever, I didn't understand a word she was on about. Said I could transfer all my dusty old LPs onto some digital iPod mp3 thingy and then listen to them through the television or digital car radio wotsit. At this point I felt a bit dizzy with information overload and my head fell off.

After leaving the supermarket, telly-less and feeling like an alien from a bygone age, Georgie dragged me kicking and screaming into the next door garden centre to inspect rows and rows of ghastly triffids. Stayed there for what seemed like an hour (could have been longer but was probably only about fifteen minutes) until Georgie allowed us to escape when she noticed I'd started hyperventilating and foaming at the mouth. By this time it was dark and icy outside and the car windows had frozen up. Scraped the worst of it off then nipped into the supermarket petrol station to see if they had one of those paper rolls to wipe the inside of the windows. Place was packed with queuing cars. Parked up and had a quick search for a paper roll in the pump area. No success. Then discovered the only exit was by the pay booth. Joined the queue and explained to the madame in the booth that I hadn't had any petrol but I'd just been looking for paper to clean the car windows - desole, je ne parle pas francais, half-Scottish y'know. Obviously thought I was bonkers. A normal reaction. I'm used to it.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, yesterday. Drove Georgie back to the airport after nearly blinding myself attempting to watch the partial eclipse of the sun. Perfect weather for sun gazing - clear, blue sky. Hit the road with a blind spot in the centre of the windscreen. Had to steer by looking sideways. Sight returned about halfway to Limoges. Stopped off at a boulangerie for a cheese and ham baguette. Georgie bought a couple of pain raisins to take back to Putney. Took a quick snap of her at the boulangerie with her head reflected in the car roof. Came out rather well. Took another snap on the return journey of the view looking towards the Massif Central mountains near Clermont Ferrand about fifty miles away. I do like a clear winter's day when you can see forever. Bit dull today though. Might nip up Ussel again and have another look at those tellys. And visit the VW garage. Better dash.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mice can't swim

My daily routine consists of doing as little as possible at all times. And if I have to do something, I always try to put it off 'til tomorrow. Or, better still, the day after. By which time, with any luck, I've completely forgotten what it was I was supposed to do. It's an approach to life I've been working hard at ever since I can remember. Some people might call this laziness. But I don't. Hah! How can anyone call me lazy? I work like a Trojan bringing wood in from the woodpile on my trusty old wheelbarrow, I light stoves, I walk the dogs (always exhausting) and I occasionally do the washing up (equally exhausting). No wonder I'm usually fattygayed at around six in the evening.

At about this time, regular as clockwork and resisting the urge to assume the horizontal on the settee, I swing into action serving the dogs their evening grub before planning and preparing my own magnifique Cordon Bleu creation from whatever scraps are festering in the frigo. The only time I get to relax is about an hour later when the church bells chime seven. With this clanging in my ears, the dogs snoozing in front of the stove and whatever nosh-up I've sweated buckets preparing gently bubbling on top, I leap once more to the frigo, sling some ice in a glass, pour a large whisky, add a measure of dry ginger ale and begin my jolly old evening sit down at the kitchen table. Then time stands still. All is quiet. Peace at last. It's the best part of the day. Especially in winter.

Thus seated, I can spend ages just staring at the flickering flames in the fire. Sometimes thinking, sometimes not. Or staring at cobwebs on the ceiling, thinking maybe I should sweep 'em up. Nah, maybe tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Anyway, must have been last week, or maybe earlier, I was quietly sitting there watching the flames, my mind miles away, when I caught a slight movement out of the corner of my eye, somewhere around the dogs' bowls. Couldn't be arsed, of course, to get up and investigate so I just stared at the bowls instead of the flames. Thought maybe I should clean 'em sometime. Maybe tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Then, shock, horror, up popped a mouse's head (could have been a dormouse or vole or shrew, I suppose) peering over Jock's bowl. Quick as a flash, he (or she) dived in the bowl, nicked a scrap of dog biscuit and then shot off behind the bin. Thought about digging out the old mouse traps. Nah, maybe tomorrow. Or maybe the next day.

Next morning, he (or she) was floating face down in the two inches of water in the dogs' water bowl. Hah! Forget the traps, the water bowl does the job. Same thing happened a couple of more times over Christmas. So far, three drowned mice (or dormice or voles or shrews). Maybe that's the lot. Or maybe not.

After this natural catastrophe, on the Monday after Christmas, Georgie arrived for a week's break (she spends Christmas with her sis and elderly mother, always believing it to be the old gal's last). And last night, after a long slog in the garden watching Georgie pruning various rampant bushes and hedges (it's exhausting watching her), with the dogs snoozing in front of the kitchen stove and our grub gently bubbling on top, we were both quietly engrossed in our reading matter - she studying some Limousin magazine while I attempted focus on the performance details of the 2001 Honda VFR800 (sight as well as speech tends to go a bit pear-shaped when imbibing my soiree medicinal scotch) - when I caught a slight movement out of the corner of my eye, somewhere around the dogs' bowls. Quietly told Georgie to look. Not being the type to immediately stand on a chair and scream, she watched in amazement as the cheeky little mouse (or dormouse or vole or shrew) calmly nicked a morsel from Jock's bowl and then sped off behind the bin. "No problem," said I, "mice can't swim." She looked at me rather oddly. Sure enough, this morning...