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Month: January 2004

Last night

Last night

Well, we find ourselves at the end of our little break. It’s been cool – relaxing, peaceful, and I can honestly say I have worried about work exactly once, when my phone told me I had voicemail. Luckily it wasn’t work, so I could get back to holiday mode quick enough 🙂

Today we went to the castle at Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. For €6.60, you get to wander around, look out of the canon holes, and marvel at the medieval weaponry, small and large, including an array of pikes (“stupid boy”) and possibly the biggest crossbow I’ve ever seen. They also had a small collection of siege machines – or, as they’re more commonly known, “big slingshots”.

If you look at the pictures, you might see a familiar looking castle in the background now and again. That’s because Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is about 5 mintues away from Beynac, the castle we went to last time. Seems a little strange to me to have so many castles so close to each other. Maybe that part of the Dordogne valley is particular important. Or maybe it was just a case of keeping up with the Jones on quite a grand scale.

(These castles were all English up to the 15th century, by the way… when do we get them back?)

We got back to the gite around 6, and had steak for dinner. Drank wine, listened to music, and I got stuck into Northern Lights a bit more – those poor dæmons!

Lasting impressions of France?
• Strange driving. Old Renault estates that seem to be limited to 25mph. Older renault hatchbacks driven by 12 year olds that seem to need the slipstream from the car in front to keep going. Roundabouts that sometimes work like those at home (only back to front) and sometimes don’t. A culture of “overtake because there won’t be anything coming”. There usually isn’t.
• Unhelpful banks. See earlier post.
• Rolling countryside. Some people just see France when they hop over to Calais for cheap beer and nicotine. The real France is much prettier.
• Spare land. It just seems like there’s land to spare. In England, it seems that every spare square foot of land is being used for something – farming, housing, commerce, industry, *something*. Here, it seems like there are whole fields doing nothing but looking nice. Strange. And it seems to apply to the towns, too. Agen, for example, seems to be quite a prosperous little place – about the size of Canterbury, I’d say – maybe a little bigger. But there are empty shops, closed cafés… maybe it’s the season, maybe it’s that the population of France is so much less dense than the UK – places feel big and empty.
• “There’s a hill – build something on it!” 🙂

I found myself sitting at the table this evening reading some leaflet or other, and realised that I wasn’t consciously translating it as I read, but understanding anyway. “Picturesque walks in the forest, kayaks for rent, good food”. Simple stuff. I got to thinking about how long it would take before everything was like that – conversations, newspapers, novels, everything. Language is so deeply embedded in our psyche – how much of ‘you’ do you lose when you take it away. How much do you change when you replace one language with another?

Maybe I’ve had too much wine 🙂

Well, we are supposed to be out of here by 10am in the morning. Looking around, I can’t really see that happening… there’s stuff to clean, stuff to pack… 10am is a bit optimistic, I think. And anyway, I doubt there’s anyone here straight after us – they can cut us a little slack after making us stay at a hotel the first night 😛

Bon soiree la France – au revoir.

Warmth! (And Bon Anniversaire, Maman!)

Warmth! (And Bon Anniversaire, Maman!)

Yes, in a stunning reversal of fortune, we are sitting here in warmth! But that would probably be because dad has spent the last hour or so nursing the usually reluctant fire. It’s actually too warm to sit too close to the thing now, which is nice 🙂

Lack of entry yesterday as we didn’t really do much. We headed into Agen to get some €1 coins for the electricity meter and some postcards. Postcards were easy enough, and I even managed to get stamps too, but 1 Euro coins? Nah – there’s a shortage or something, apparently, and banks don’t like to give them out. Seems strange to me – go to any English bank and they’ll give you change. They’d probably even make an effort to understand a foreigners poor attempts at English, but no, not here… Oh well, we ended up getting some from Anita anyway… She says she can’t understand their reluctance either.

Today, we headed south-east to Montauban – a medium sized town which, according to autoroute, “is essentially a market and industrial town, with a good shopping centre but scant remains of the medieval bastide”. (So now you know)

We parked next to the river, which, judging by the assorted debris deposited in the trees, had been substantially higher in recent days – high enough to submerge the car park we were in, even. We walked through the town which was strangely alive for a lunchtime compared to Agen which seems to close up and shoo everyone away between 12 and 2. It’s a bit of a college town with lots of kids hanging around or queueing up for their sandwiches. We walked through a park, and back to the car along the river, and headed back to Agen to get some provisions (wine) before heading back to the gite.

I was informed (by various text message and phone call – thankyou) that it was snowing at home last night and today. Which was nice to know as this was our first day of actual good weather here. Proper “sunglasses and open window” weather. 🙂

Half way to heaven?

Half way to heaven?

Another good night’s sleep, and a bit of a lie-in this morning, till about 10:30. We got up, did our usual morning stuff, and headed out to Penne-d’Agenias. This is another little village built on a hill with a church at the top (see earlier post) but, for some reason, this place has two churches – one half way up the hill and the other at the top. I think the top church was built first, and then the lower one built later, maybe because none of the locals could be bothered to trudge up the hill anymore. We parked at the lower church and walked up to the top one, wandered round, and walked back.

There was a little café near the first church, so we stopped in for some food and to remind ourselves that we are not, in any way, shape, form, linguists… We managed to order ourselves a couple of sandwiches and coffees without too much trouble. Neither of us could work out what the last question was though – did we want what with our sandwiches? No idea, at all… However, the sandwiches arrived without butter, so maybe that was it.

This reminds me… The first time we went to France we went to a boulangerie to get some bread, and, if possible, some butter. Dad knew very little french at that time, so all the talking was up to me, the 11-or-12 year old son. I got some bread very easily – “Un pain, s’il vous plait?”, and then moved on to the butter… “et du buerre, s’il vous plait?”. Blank look. “Du buerre?” I repeated. “Pain?” replied the baker. “Non, du buerre…” I replied, accompanied with a little mime of spreading the aforementioned dairy product onto bread. Several rounds of charades later, the centime dropped with the baker. “Ah! Du Buerre! Non, c’est un boulangerie… La supermarché!” and I was pointed to a little supermarket down the street. The thing is, to our untrained ears, the sound the baker made when he said “buerre” was identical to the sound I made when I said “buerre”. Dad’s theory is that it was a meeting of two diametrically opposed accents… I think he just got wind of the fact that I wasn’t a native, and decided to be obstructive… Maybe if I’d looked more french it would have been ok – stripey jumper, beret, string of onions, hoofing great truck blocking the way? 😉

Anyway – we ate our paté sandwiches (no problem understanding that particular word), drank our coffee, paid the particularly reasonable bill (nowhere near yesterday’s extortion) and headed off home. We went via Agen to have a look round, but it was raining so we decided against it.

Now back at the gite, and we have had a dinner of almost-spaghetti bolognese followed by chocolate and coffee eclairs, and have just about finished the night’s wine. Stevie Ray Vaughan is singing Jimi’s Voodoo Chile, and almost everything is fine.

Climbing things…

Climbing things…

Hello again. Day 3 and all’s well – although that certain someone is never far from my mind. It appears I do have it bad – so sue me.

The first night in the Gite went well last night – sleeping bags did their job and we were cosy enough, so good nights’ sleep all round. We got up around 9, had breakfast, and headed out to Saint Cirq Lapopie – a little village about 90 minutes drive north east from the gite.

There’s a strange thing about the French – they like to build big, hard to build buildings on top of hills. These buildings are usually religious, and I think it’s a combination of wanting to be closer to God (maybe their prayers will be answered quicker if God doesn’t have to strain to hear them?) and wanting to prove just how worthy they are by making the already difficult task of church-building that little bit harder. That tends to preclude the fact that the people actually doing the hard work weren’t the people deciding where their church went. The people actually building the thing were probably wondering: “Why does that mad git want me to lug stones up this bloody great hill?”. Whilst the mad git himself was probably thinking: “Ooh, God’s gonna love me, look at this wonderful monument I’m having built in His honour”.

I wonder if God takes these things into account? 🙂

Anyway… Saint Cirq Lapopie. It’s a little village built on the side of a valley, overlooking the Lot River. It seems to relish its medieval-ness, with a spattering of houses seeming laid down at random with tiny streets weaving between them. At the top of the hill is – of course – the church, pointing north-south overlooking the valley. It all seems a bit of a shame to me though. It’s become a bonafide tourist trap with little shops selling little souvenirs all over the place. All closed this time of year though, so we almost had the place to ourselves. But you could tell the village was entirely devoted to looking after the tourists who surely flood the place in the summer. It’s not a village anymore, it’s one big sideshow. Shame.

We parked at the top, (and sat in the car whilst we got rained on) and walked down into the village, up to a viewpoint, back down to the church, then back up to the car. It sounds so simple, but my poor little legs didn’t know what had hit them, and by the end of the little excursion I was worn out and starving.

On the way back we stopped off at the first semi-open looking bar-restaurant we saw and had possibly the most expensive chicken and chips ever (€35!) and then back to the Gite via a supermarket.

And so, here we are, drinking wine, The Eagles on dad’s MP3 player (“…sweet summer sweat, some dance to remember, some dance to forget…”) and a bottle and a half of wine down. Relaxed is one word, pining is another.

I am three quarters of the way through Microserfs, and have just started Northern Lights. Microserfs has got me wanting to write code for me again. “One-point-oh” code. Northern Lights just has me wanting my own dæmon. 🙂

We’re in!

We’re in!

Yep, just after I’d finished my entry last night, dad got a call on his mobile from Anita, the woman who looks after the Gites. She said she’d be at the gite in the morning, and we could go and get the key from midday onwards. Relief all round, really.

So after a quick breakfast of coffee and croissants this morning we left the hotel and went to have a quick look round Agen. We parked up and wandered down to the river, which looked very swollen with trees half submerged on its bank. Further up the river the trees weren’t so sturdy, it seems, as 2 or 3 quite sizeable trunks floated past as we watched. We wandered back to the car through the mostly-closed town, and drove the half hour or so to the Gite, where, sure enough, the key was exactly where it should have been last night. Woohoo!

The Gite is comfortable enough. Downstairs you have an open-plan kitchen/lounge/diningroom affair, with two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The lounge has a nice log-burning stove which puts out a little bit of heat, and there are 3 or 4 electric heaters dotted around the place. I like it 🙂

After about an hour of settling in, Anita made an appearance, along with her cat and (nice) dog. She said the first she’d heard of us being here for the week was our phonecall last night, and she seemed very apologetic. It sounds like there was just a breakdown in communication between the English and French side of things.

Where would we be without a bit of drama, hey?

Where would we be without a bit of drama, hey?

The day progressed quite well really. We were taken to the airport by the daughter of one of dad’s running buddies, and the flight went without a hitch. I even remembered to take my asthma inhaler out of my pocket for the metal detector so didn’t have to be frisked. They even passed my bag through without comment despite it’s ridiculous ‘electronics to normal stuff’ ratio – laptop, cd-drive, assorted chargers… I thought I was a sure thing 🙂

We were on a RyanAir 737 – it seems they can’t afford real planes so have to make do with model ones – and it didn’t even have a poncy girlie name! 🙂 It was my first experience of low-fare flying (jeez it was my *second* experience of flying, ever), but it just seemed so much less of a deal. You get on, you choose a seat, you read a book, eat a sandwich and you’re there. Inbetween times you take off and land, and marvel (again) at just how much of the wing becomes the flaps when you land. And should you really be able to see through the wing? (yes, I know you should – it still makes me grip the armrests though).

Things I like about flying:
• Take off – I wish my car accelerated like that.
• Contrails – Calming, aren’t they? I like seeing the flow of the air over the wing – makes all those physics lessons real.
• Clouds – From below they’re ugly, but from above they look like a huge expanse of cotton wool. Note to self – get window seat on flight back and remember to take camera out of luggage before sitting down…
• Landing – I find it amusing to hear people swear for no good reason – “Sh******t”. And I wish my car braked like that.

Things I don’t like about flying:
• Checking in – I’m always convinced my bag is gonna be too heavy, too bulky, or just too ugly or out of fashion or something to be allowed on the plane.
• Legroom – or lack thereof. I am NOT the tallest bloke on the planet, but even at just over 6′ I get about 3″ too little legroom to be truly comfortable. So I apologise now to the people in front and behind as I fidget for 2 hours… I dread to think what it’s like for ‘really’ tall people.
• Security – This is a bit like my dislike of checking in, but what is it about airport security that makes you *feel* guilty? “Oh no! I have some nail clippers in my hand luggage, they’re gonna lock me up!”
• Being sold stuff – I am on a plane, on the way to my holiday. Why would I want to buy aftershave? And how come a sandwich costs £3? Starbucks is cheaper, and that’s saying something…

Anyway – flying rant over with… As I say, the flight was fine, clouds were beautiful, and boy do those things leave the scene 🙂 We got to Bergerac on time, and then hung around with the rest of the English masses whilst Hertz took an age to issue the hire car keys. Our car is a silver diesel Peugeot 206 – which is fine – 0-60 if there isn’t a blockade of irate truckers in the way, and – ahhhh – enough legroom for me! Unfortunately (or not, depending on your point of view) I am a month too young to be able to drive it, so dad gets all of that pleasure. Driving a left-hand-drive car looks fun – I lost count of the attempted gear-changes in the door pocket 😉

And so on to our place of residence for the next week. South for about an hour and a half from Bergerac to Pechdou, which, for those of you unfamiliar, is a little place run by a donkey sanctuary as an additional way to raise funds. Dad paid something around £100 years ago and gets the use of a gite every now and again for about £50 a week. Not a bad deal. But then things started to go wrong. We got to the gite and went to get the key which should have been in one of two pretty obvious places. It was in neither. The house where the owners live was empty. There was no-one else around, apart from a couple of cats having a scrap. Nice. So we tried to phone the company, except France is a big place and probably has about as many mobile phone masts as East Kent…

And so I am typing this in a small hotel room in Agen, about half an hour’s drive west of Pechdou. We eventually managed to phone the company, and left a message on their answerphone. Maybe we’ll hear from them tomorrow. Maybe we won’t. Things aren’t all bad though. We’ve had food (something akin to a Croque-Monsuier but with more mushrooms and less ham), and are slowly polishing off a bottle of wine purchased earlier from an Ecomarché. Dad remembered to bring an mp3 player and speakers, so the room is full of Bob Dylan’s dulcet tones, and I have my charging chain set up and working – laptop in power adaptor – phone in usb in laptop. Cool. (Thanks Garry).

And there, I think, I shall call it a night. Hopefully we’ll get into our gite tomorrow, and be able to settle in properly. However, we are in a hotel, in France, with wine. Sounds like a holiday to me 🙂

Missing someone lots. No surprises there.

Consult-a-clones™

Consult-a-clones™

There are two things sat down the end of our office. They are humanoid in shape, but sometime during their manufacture their creator forgot to add that something that makes things turn into people. I mean, they have two of everything down the side – arms, legs, eyes – and one of everything down the middle – head, nose… but it’s as if they were spawned rather than born.

Consult-a-shirts, consult-a-suits, consult-a-cufflinks, consult-a-hair.

Parlez-vous Français?

Parlez-vous Français?

(It’s ok – that’s all the French that’s going to make it into my blog)

Right – I think I am just about set. I have:

• My laptop with travel adaptor, and power supply which I am satisfied will work in France.
• A natty phone charger which can take power from a USB socket (thankyou Garry)
Lots of batteries for my camera.
• A new sleeping bag that I can just about fit in – fun and games there 😉
• My passport (thankyou Kary)
• A healthy supply of my asthma drugs, mm’kay?

I hope that’s just about everything.

I am off up to my dad’s tomorrow evening, then to France on Saturday. We are staying about here in a gite attached to the Pechdou Donkey Sanctuary. Despite it being a bit further south, I am led to believe the weather is going to be much as it is here, so we’re talking a break from work nice wine as opposed to suntan 🙂

Can’t shake the feeling that I wish a couple of other people were coming along too, though. Next time.

Anyway… I shall be keeping a holiday blog on my laptop, ready to be uploaded on my return. Watch this space for 7 entries saying something along the lines of ‘Went out, came back, drank wine’ 🙂

Take care…

Blog blog blog…

Blog blog blog…

Lunchtime and a break from stuff for a little while.

A couple of links that have been brought to my attention recently:
Smack the pingu – Pointless fun. My best score is 577.6. 🙂
www.pixy.cz – Nice geeky personal site by someone who knows far too much CSS for their own good. Including a nice page on CSS buttons.

This afternoon? Hopefully a release will go out, an update meeting, and the wonder that will be my timesheet.

End of day edit – Ooh, my to-do list has shrunk down to 8 items now… and only 4 of them are red (i.e. late)… and that release didn’t go out… 🙁

Well, hello…

Well, hello…

…and welcome to my new blogging site.

I have decided that my home-grown blogging stuff was a little too limiting and adding functionality to it doesn’t seem worth the hassle when you can head over to moveabletype.org and grab this nice little system, and have it set up and running in about 10 minutes. I have some work to do to it to make it fit into the rest of my site, but then I am thinking that this could, very easily become my site. Maybe the gallery will stay as it is, though.

Anyway – proper blog-type stuff… erm… Oh yes, for anyone else who I’ve forgotten to tell, I am off to sunny(ish) France next week. All is set, I think – I have a sleeping bag (which I can just about fit in), a travel adaptor for my laptop, and travel insurance. It will be nice to get away from the stress of work for a little while, but I am really going to miss someone in particular. You get so used to them being a click or a phonecall away…

Oh – interviews. They’re great, aren’t they? At the beginning of them, everyone in the room wants the candidate to get the job, and it sort of gets to the end and they’ve managed to talk themselves out of it. Or maybe I start at the wrong end of the scale – maybe I should start by not wanting to give them the job, and let them talk me into it… Either way, they are time consuming, and it boils down to a bit of a lottery. It always helps if they bloody turn up, though…