Thursday, January 06, 2011
Oh and we had a White Christmas throughout New Year!
For pictures see Franca's blog: http://portersonthemove.blogspot.com
Monday, December 13, 2010
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Monday, November 01, 2010
Up to this weekend my daughter Fleur has always been afraid of Halloween and we have had to close the gates and keep a low profile so that she was not frightened by trick or treaters. This weekend all that changed, having been fed a diet of Halloween editions of all her favourite TV programs for the last 3 weeks, she wanted to dress up for the Halloween party we were going to on Saturday night. We did not have much time so we had to try and make a Halloween costume, and whilst she enthusiasticall y joined in the printing cutting out and colouring of all the Halloween bits and bobs we were going to sew onto her Princess dress, once they were all tacked on she suddenly came over all self concious and thought she looked stupid, so they were all ripped off again. So she went to the party as a normal princess, this time next year I think we will be in full Halloween and trick or treating mode. Fleur even plucked up courage to come and see the costumes from the 2 trick or treat visits we received on Halloween night, which were very good. Next year we have a lot of work to do I think, the children of Sigogne set the costume bar very high!!
So we had a really busy weekend, we have once again ended up with a challenging target to get some building work completed before our next B&B guests arrive. I think we will just about make it, I have a whole weekend to point an internal stone wall and finish off re routing some electrical cables, so it should be achieveable provided I do not meet any unforseen challenges along the way.
Franca's mum has been through the mill over the last 6 weeks, with 3 operations to blast away a tumour in her bladder. She is well on the road to recovery now, but it did mean we had some unplanned visits to Rotterdam, which is never a bad thing, but as usual the timing was not perfect, but that is life all over, we are just pleased the Franca's mum is fit and well again.
Until the next time...
Saturday, July 24, 2010
I am travelling home by train today, because the flight was too expensive, mind you the train was not cheap either, but then it is summer time and everyone is on the move, travelling to or from their holidays.
I am on a modern TGV I did not realise that there were 'ancient and modern' TGVs, but apparently there are. This one is travelling from Paris almost to Spain, I'm not sure if Henday, the final destination of this train, is in France or Spain. The advantage of this train is that the first stop after leaving Paris Montparnasse is Angouleme, it takes 2 hours 15 mins station to station, half the time it takes me to drive it.
I love the French idea of first class in the TGVs in general, the only difference between 1st class and 2nd class, apart from the price of the ticket, is the size of the seat, and to be honest the difference in price of the ticket is not huge. On the Eurostar the price of first class is more than double that of second class but then you do get a meal and a free bar, both on the train and at the station before boarding.
Blog update..... first class on this TGV has reached new heights, we have an at seat trolley service, now I am not sure what the French are going to make of this, as they have already brought their lunches on board with them, but the tourists are making good use of it. Poor guy needs to get the hang of it a little better though, as everytime someone orders something he has to race off to the buffet car to get it, I wonder what is actually in his trolley. This is the first time ever, in over 4 years of French train travel that I have had an at seat trolley service, long may it continue and Viva La Republique:-)
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
So, this is a bit of an automotive blog inspired by some interesting hires I have had recently.
I am also still looking for a replacement for my Jaguar S-Type which is being retired after 4 years of very good service to and from SW France, but I will not be selling it or trading it in.
. I am looking for a largish comfortable diesel for the runs between London and SW France,capable of towing a trailer and having a large boot area, I don't think that is not too difficult a specification, but its hard finding just the right car for the job.
I am lucky enough to be hiring a lot of cars in the course of my travels, so it gives me the chance to try lots of different makes in a similar class, and given that you have no choice in the car you are loaned it means driving all sorts of vehicles.
Most of the cars I rent are either group C or group D 1.6 diesel or petrol cars but one of the advantages of being a regular hirer at the same hire company office is that I occasionally get a decent upgrade when my group of choice is running low, and recently I was given what I thought would be a good upgrade which was handy as we were actually going to do a lot of kilometers that weekend so a bigger car was very welcome.
I was given a Mercedes B180, a weird looking piece of kit and to be honest not a very good car overall. It was very bland inside unless you like black on black with more black. It drove reasonably well but the 1.9 diesel engine felt under powered for the car, the steering was aweful, it had so much under steer that I nearly hit the first car I tried to overtake. After a whole weekend of driving it grows on you a bit and it is pretty sure footed on the bends, once you've got the hang of the understeer, but over all it was a disappointing experience as I have found most Mercedes, and I really don't like the new designs they have come up with recently.
The weekend before I had a direct comparison with the B180, a brand new Renault Scenic, which was also rather disappointing with poor handling and steering, which is odd for a Renault which normally has very precise steeringand reasonable handling, we love the Senic II that my wife drives. The 1.6 diesel engine in the new Scenic was again under powered for the car, maybe the 1.9 with a 6 speed gearbox is better. One thing that did impress me was the full colour TFT dash pod Renault put in this version of the Scenic, its the first time I have seen one on a standard production car. Renault and Ctiroen are always at the leading edge of car design and this Scenic makes the Merc look very dated. Looking at the two cars I have to say I would not buy either, neither of them were really drivers cars, and they had too many negative points.
Still top of my list and just in budget, is the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso despite the wishy washy gear change on the one I had recently. The engine is amazingly strong and economical, the driving poistion is ideal with everything in easy reach of the driver, and it is very comfortable on a long journey. The Grand Picasso has bucket loads of storage and so for the job I want my next car to do Citroen are the manufacturer to beat, at least within my budget. Now I just have to save up the money or find a good 0% finance deal...
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
We have all started to learn the really complicated name of an obscure volcano in Iceland, most of us who travel in Europe have experienced delays and cancelations to travel plans, missed events and even found some ingenious routes to and from various places, all caused by volcanic ash clouds in the wrong place. For me it meant missing my wife's birthday, as I had to stay in London, having worked out a route to get home in time for Franca's birthday I was then stood up by the car hire company, but at least they let me know before I travelled, so Avis are still my friends.
I was expecting to have to stay a second weekend in London, however the volcanic ash clouds miraculously parted, and we were flying again, so I flew back home on Friday as usual on an almost empty plane, as most people had already made alternative arrangements. I a not sure how things will pan out in the coming weeks,volcano wise, we will just have to play it by ear
The weather has been amazing for the last two weeks in France, with almost wall to wall sunshine, my wife and daughter are taking on their summer tanned colour already, and I have been sun burnt, even though I have been working inside this weekend.
We have managed to get the final letting room ready for guests again after our winter drain problems, it seems a long time ago now that I was digging holes in the garden in the snow, though the scars of the work can still be seen in the garden, that is the next job, to fill in all the holes.
Franca's birthday came and went, and somewhat passed me by, as I was in the UK, luckily Franca had her Mum down to stay to help celebrate, and they had a great meal in one of our favourite restaurants, complete with birthday cake.
The B&B is starting to get busy and next weekend we will be full for the first time this year, so things are looking up now that spring has arrived. It is hard to believe that it was still winter just over 3 or 4 weeks ago.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
First things first when doing work on your computer;
Please remember the most important thing regarding computers, ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A BACK UP before undertaking any work on your machine, you never know what may happen. If you are unsure get some who knows a thing or two to help you. Things do go wrong from time to time even when doing the simplest of jobs on a computer, so back it up. As the absolute bare minimum, make sure you have your precious data backed up, remember only doing this will mean a long time sat inform of your machine rebuilding your applications. There I think I have covered my self enough now if something does happen to go wrong, and as you can guess I am not taking responsibility if there is any data loss as a result of follow these instructions, sorry folks but you have to do this these days.
Down to Work
It could be that you have installed some new features or programs that have just tipped you over the edge in terms of available disk space or computer memory, in which case hardware upgrades are probably going to be your only answer.
However you could be having problems because you have not done any housekeeping on your machine for quite a while, or maybe you have never done any. Just a few simple tasks done once a month may keep your life line with the internet in great shape for a bit longer, so here are a few tips on basic computer housekeeping.
I must also warn you that these instructions will vary between the different versions of operating systems and will also depend on which web browser you use; (IT Pros - no haranguing emails please, I’m keeping this a simple as possible)
I will base the instructions on good old Microsoft Internet Explorer running under Microsoft XP,
Round 1 – Internet Explorer clean up
Open Internet Explorer and click on the Tools drop down and select Internet Options from the drop down list, this will open up a box with a number of tabs across the top.
You should see a box called Temporary Internet files with three buttons in it, click on the Delete Cookies button, this will bring up a box asking if it is OK to Delete all Cookies in the Temporary Internet Files folder, click on OK, it will be fine honest, this will take just a couple of seconds to clean out.
This next step, I have seen take up to an hour!! Click on the Delete Files button, this will come up with a scary box that says Delete all Files in the Temporary Internet Files folder, there will also be a tick box asking if you want to Delete Offline content, tick the box and then click OK, this will take time, how long will depend on all sorts of factors but it may take a while.
The final stage is optional and involves the Clear History button, if you want to keep your browsing history so that you can go back to previously visited web pages quickly don’t press it, I clean mine out weekly as web pages addresses and links change frequently.
Round 2 – General computer clean up
This covers a multitude of general file area clean ups… these little apps can be found if you click on your START button, then select Programs then Accessories, and then select System Tools. From the system tools menu select disk cleanup, a little box will appear with a number of tick boxes in it, the following are the main ones to be ticked so that your machine is clean and tidy;
Temporary Internet Files (which should be almost empty if you did the previous step)
Temporary Remote Desktop Files
Setup Log Files
If you are running out of disk space you want to tick the Compress old files box as well
Once you have done this then click on OK, and click on Yes to say you are sure you want to do this, the machine will then go off and clean itself up in a few minutes.
The final thing to do is to organise the files that remain on your hard disk, which you again reach by clicking on your START button, then select Programs then Accessories, and then select System Tools. From the system tools menu select Disk Defragmenter. The disk Defragmenter tool opens up and all you have to do is ensure that the C:> drive is highlighted then click on the defragment button and the machine does the rest for its self, if you have not done this for a long time it could also take up to an hour to run, especially if you are seeing loads of blues, greens and reds, and not much white space in those progress bars. Once you have done this you machine should be fit and ready to go again for a while.
Please remember the most important thing regarding computers ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A BACK UP before undertaking any work on your machine, you never know what may happen. Things do go wrong from time to time even when doing the simplest of jobs on a computer, so back it up, or at least as a minimum make sure you have your precious data backed up.
There are plenty of other things you can do to look after your machine but this will be a good start…
Sunday, April 04, 2010
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I'm cheating a bit by saying eight trains as four of them are tubes, but they are trains none the less. On this particular journey I set off on a damp and drizzly Friday morning to catch the 6.05 from Lee to London Bridge, I think lot of people were taking the day off because I got a seat, which is rare, even in these economically challenged times. Having reached London Bridge on time I joined the dash down to the Jubilee Line to take the tube to Westminster, where I needed change to the District Line to bring bring me to my first destination of the day, Victoria. The jubilee line at 6:30 in the morning is full of the manual workers of London heading for the morning round of cleaning, or getting ready for another day on the building site, I bet they are glad this winter is behind them now. The trains on the District Line are equally full as the come from the outer lying areas of London, the Circle Line by contrast is almost empty, and I invariably get a carraige to myself. A quick jog up the stairs from the platform entitles me to pick up an egg and bacon roll from one of the Italian sandwich shops just outside the station, and then head off to the office to get a few hours work done before heading up to St Pancras to pick up the Eurostar to Paris.
Having not done any of the work I intended to do itis time to make my way back to Victoria station to continue my journey home to France, and this time we take the Victoria Line to Kings Cross St Pancras. There seems to have been building work going on for ever at Kings Cross St Pancras tube station but finally there looks to be a light at the end of the tunnel (could not resist that pun - sorry). A whole new set of tunnels linking the Victoria Line platforms with the main line stations are now open, and they have put the signs up so you know where you are going It is very light and airy not at all like the old underground, so well done one and all. I have one little niggle, its one hell of a rout march from the Victoria Line to St Pancras International, it felt like I had walked half way to Paris by the time I got there.
Since I can't use my Oyster card to get me to Paris yet, I went to one of the Eurostar automated collection machines and printed out my tickets, its a great system you buy your tickets from Rail Europe on the wibbly wobbly web at half the price Eurostar want to charge, and just by putting in your collection code you get your tickets, its great when technology works, that is progress.
Once through the airline style security screening and French passport control we are in the very nice departure lounge which has everything a traveller would need, shops toilets, seats, wifi, power for your laptop even French and Belgian tourist information, but no bins!! We have been through security, surely we can be trusted not to put explosive devices in the bins, or don't they trust their security systems to stop explosive devices being taken into the departure lounge in the first place. I must admit that at both ends of the line the Eurostar security is not as strong as at the airports which always strikes me as odd, given the tunnels track record so far.
Any way I digress, onto train number 5 of the day for the 12:30ish departure to Paris, and I appear to have been placed in a carriage full of people of a certain age, (OK pensioners - by the way aren't pensioners looking young these days) no doubt spending the kids inheritance. As soon as the wheels started turning, out came the foil packed sandwiches and flasks of tea, how did they get foil packs through security? For me and my travelling companion, for this part of the journey, it was out with the laptops and Blackberrys. One small problem here, there are so many tunnels and cuttings between St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel we keep loosing the wireless broadband connection. The arrival at Channel Tunnel signals the end of wireless broadband usage until a return to uk soil, it is still way too expensive to roam onto another network to use broadband in foreign country, thank heaven for wifi hotspots. We flew through the French coutryside towards Paris at a rapid rate of knots, the train line follows one of the main motorways from Calais to Paris and I once did try to keep up with the Eurostar, but not a chance in the car. I am sure the line from the Channel Tunnel to Paris must be one of the fastest in Europe. It always seems to me that the Eurostar travels faster than the TGV, but perhaps its just that the Eurostar makes more noise so feels faster than the better insulated TGV trains.
The Eurostar is a great way to travel between London and Paris, I just wish it wasn't so expensive, but I guess they have the pricing set correctly as the trains are always pretty full. It is nice when I can get a bargain ticket to travel in first class either via a Leisure Select or even Business Premiere ticket. You are served an aperitif a meal with wine, tea coffee and a digestif should you so wish, a very nice way to make your way from London to Paris. First class on the TGV though is a completely different kettle of fish. Apart from a bigger seat you don't get anything extra for your money, but then with the price only being €15 or €20 more than standard class you could not expect much for your money. I stick with travelling standard class on the TGV and take the option of first class on the Eurostar if there is a bargain to be had.
On arrival in Paris at the Gare du Nord I have plenty of time to get across the city to Gare Paris Montparnasse for my train to Angouleme, so I stroll down to the Metro (bought my carnet of tickets from the buffet/bar on the Eurostar to save queueing) which is only a 5 minute walk from the Eurostar platforms. I head for Line 4 and jump on the train. It always amazes me that the Paris metro trains have rubber tyres so the are relatively quiet compared to their London counterparts, and you can even use your mobile on the Metro, certainly the lines I use have been wired for mobile phones.
The Gare du Nord and Paris Montparnasse are two completely different stations, the Gare Du Nord has beautiful facade and looks like a station that is about 100 years old with bags of atmosphere and nostalgia about it, I always get the feeling of starting or ending a great journey there. Montparnasse on the other hand is great big brash modern station all bare concrete and angles, no real sense of nostalgia here, just the hustle and bustle of a very busymainline station serving the south of France.
There is a system at Montparnasse to getting on your TGV should you choose to paticipate in the ritual. The trains to Angouleme normally go from platforms 1,2,3 or 4 and so from about an hour before departure you stand opposite these platforms staring up at the huge indicator board waiting for the platform number to be announced, usually about 20 minutes before departure. Once the platform number is displayed you dash for the train, and why this ritual, firstly to bag your seat in case it is double booked, but mainly because you need to grab a space for your luggage. The French appear not to know the meaning of travelling light and as a consequence if you are last onto the train you will not have a place to put your luggage!! Having taken part in this ritual I found my seat on the 17:40 to Angouleme, settled back for the 2 hour 15 minute journey while the train filled up around me.
I managed to get one of the TGV's that run nonstop from Paris to Angouleme, and true to form all the French use the journey as a chance for some shuteye, or to catch up on their movie watching or missed TV shows. For me, as usual my laptop is out and I am wrting blogs, tweeting on my Blackberry or reading a book. This generally passes the time really quickly because by now all I want to do is get home, this was train number 7 and there is still one more to go after this to bring me to my journey's end. On arrival at Angouleme I need to buy a ticket for the last leg of my journey, if I had bought it from Rail Europe my entire journey would have cost me and extra £150.00, and the ticket is only €6.80. 15 minutes to buy a ticket and locate the train should not be a problem, and so it was at 8:10pm I walked to platform 11 to get on the eigth and final train to get me home, it was one of the old fashioned French local services, with the really deep comfy seats we used to ave in the 60s &70s in the UK, and so it was that at 8:45pm I finally arrived at Jarnac station happy to have got home for the weekend only to do a similar journey in reverse on Monday morning to get me back to work. Making this journey by train is more tiring than using the plane but I like to travel by train, as you certainly get to see a lot more and have much more of a sense that you have travelled somewhere, even if you do arrive tired, but never the less happy to have travelled.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Mastershout 2010 (thanks @fannyingabout for the name), sorry Masterchef 2010, has come a long way from the days of Loyd Grossman and his deliberations and cogitations on the sofa with celebrity guests.
However like so many of these formula (or reality type) shows I think it is about to reach its sell by date. My view is that in an attempt to offer a new angle the show seems to be drifting towards what I would describe as an unhealthy emphasis on presentation first, flavour and ingredients second unless the dish has BIG FLAVOUR (sorry for shouting again), no subtlety here.
Then last night when I thought I had the formula worked out they turned it on its head, the contestant with the best presentation skills and a good grasp of flavours and cooking beats the cook with the same attributes but with no presentation skills. If I'm right and this was a blip in the formula, this person, who does great food, will not get much further.
In an earlier round they did not put any body through from one contest for a quarter final place, a good move as none were good enough, but then in another show 2 excellent cooks went home whilst a couple of mediocre cooks were able to compete for a quarter final.
I know it's a tough job that John and Greg have but I think sometimes they are some what wide of the mark when judging what is in front of them, unless there is something else that we are not seeing.
Then there are the contestants themselves, most, though not all, want to win Masterchef so that they can open their own restaurant, well WHY, oops sorry shouting again, do you have to win Masterchef before you do it, if you are any good and you want your restaurant half as much as winning Masterchef then you won't need the competition to achieve your aim.
So why go on Masterchef, that's a tough one, and I would like to do it, given the time to practice, for me it would be to push myself in all the different areas that you get to experience going through the rounds, you must also learn a lot from the top chefs and just to be in all those different cooking environments working with people at the top of their game, now that would be fun and challenging.
Talking of fun, and this is my point in all this, FOOD SHOULD BE FUN, sorry shouting again, food is something that brings people together, the biggest moments of our lives almost all involve food somewhere along the line and luckily most occasions are happy ones, with the food and drink helping people feel even better about that special event.
Yes food has to look good, but people don't really remember food by saying wow didn't that plate of food look good, no above all it has to taste good, then it stays in the memory, a bad tasting meal also has the same effect on the memory, good looking or not. So far this series there has only been one dish that has stuck in my mind that I want to try and that was John's lobster and crab omelette, and I have been ill every time I have eaten lobster so far in my life!
I have enjoyed, no loved, watching Masterchef over the years but I think the time is approaching where it is time to hang up the aprons, let John and Greg's vocal chords recover from all that shouting, and move on.
Good luck to all the semi finalists in 2010, you have done a great job getting where you have, you are way better than me at the moment, and deserve to be there. My wife and I love cooking, we cook for our guests in our B&B, and we have fun doing it, we hope the guests have fun eating it too because that is what it is all about, there is no better sound than the buzz of people talking and laughing and enjoying, good company, good food and good wine. We come from the Mitra (8th Semi finalist on masterchef 2010) school of presentation, put it onto the plate and let the food do the talking.
We are getting better with our presentation, however we care more about our ingredients, where they come from and how they taste, presentation is second to having a good time cooking with good local ingredients and enjoying eating with happy contented people around the table, THAT'S tops for us, THAT'S what we call Masterchef.
I could go on for ages but I'll stop now and sorry about the shouting
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Enjoy spring time in
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Sunday, February 28, 2010
We were warned that there was going to be a big storm coming through over Saturday night into Sunday morning, and during Saturday evening the storm warning was upgraded from an orange warning to a red warning for some areas, notably the departement that we border, so we knew we were in for an interesting night. After a family debate we decided that battening down the hatches would include for the first time in a long while the closing of all the shutters on the house, something we don't often do.
We were actually watching the unfolding tsunami situation in Hawaii, and when it failed to materialise at around 10pm France time we decided it was time for bed. The wind at this point was nothing special, just a strong breeze, so we all went to bed and to sleep.
At around 2am we woke to the sound of a howling gale and flapping shutters, so I went downstairs to investigate, and indeed one of the shutters had been blown open by the wind, so having secured it again I went back to bed. The wind was so noisy, there was no chance of getting back to sleep, though Fleur slept through the whole thing. Half an hour later, the next shutter broke free, so I went back downstairsto find one of the bistro shutters flapping in the wind, so having secured it again I decided to make a cup of tea and wait to see if anything else broke free in the wind. I was amazed that we still had electricity, since normally if a pigeon burps at out power cable the power goes off, so I was able to tweet with some of the other twitter community in SW France to compare notes. After 45 minutes nothing else was being damaged by the wind but the power was starting to come and go so time to go back up to bed. The wind blew and blew, until about 5:30am, or at least that was the last time I saw the clock before falling asleep until 9:30am. So in the end no major damage for us though on the coast there was extensive damage and flooding, and sadly to date it has been reported that 22 people have died in France, and 45 in total across Europe.
A powerful weekend for mother nature, reminding us who is incharge!!