My new windows are in and I’m as pleased as punch. They do a much better job of keeping the heat in, and the noise, dust and wind out. Thanks to the amount of research I did beforehand over the choice of windows and contractor, the process was relatively painless. What’s more, it’s also partly tax-deductible as we’re doing our bit for global warming!

I say relatively because I organised to have the windows installed in what turned out to be the coldest week of the year. Luckily it was dry and largely sunny.

Work of this type is a dirty and dusty process although the workmen were incredibly neat and tidy and did a good job cleaning up after themselves each day. Nonetheless, there was dust everywhere!

The contractors advised the installation would take 3-4 days. We realised after day one it was going to take all week. I however had a fixed price contract so the extra time taken ensured an impressive finish, after I’d established on the first day that I had an eye for detail and would be satisfied with nothing less than the best.

Workmen in Britain typically pitch up and expect tea (or coffee) and biscuits before getting down to any work, and then at regular intervals throughout the day. Not so in France. They’re here promptly at 08:00 am and work through until light falls, saving less noisy work for 12:00 – 14:00 lunchtime period. As it was bitterly cold, I treated them to a post-lunch coffee and slice of fruit cake. I found this helped them focus on that all-important finish.

We spent the whole week swathed in cashmere, something we now typically only wear on winter holidays. But it was the only way to stay warm while daytime temperatures were below 10°C and the windows were wide open. In addition, we had lunch out every day to save me fom cooking or having to prepare food in dusty conditions.

Aside from the dust everywhere, the floors got really dirty, far too dirty for Bob (my automatic floor sweeper). After the workmen departed it was all hands on deck, including my beloved, for a big clean-up. As anticipated, my view now looks even better!


Senior moment

It’s happened and I’m going to have to get over it. Another birthday and my first senior moment. I’m on the slippery slope. Next I’ll be “having falls” and buying slippers and cardigans.

When I travel on business with my beloved, I take charge of all those pesky receipts. You know the ones he loses en route or I find months later in the pocket of something.

Having returned from our recent trip to Toulouse and Castres, I took out all the receipts, annotated and sorted them before putting them into an envelope. Their destination was the “expenses” drawer where I store everything until month end. At the same time I dealt with what seemed like an inordinate amount of post, much of which ended up being vertically filed.

Just a few days later I opened the “expenses” drawer but the documents on top were not the ones I was expecting. Where were the most recent expenses and post? I closed my eyes and indulged in a spot of visualisation. I could see myself getting the receipts out, sorting them but not putting them in the drawer. Had they gotten caught up with something else and been misfiled? Had they fallen down the back of the drawer?

I closed my eyes again and realised later that day I’d indulged in a spot of Marie Kondoesque tidying. That’s right. Anything on my desk that no longer gave me joy ended up in the waste paper basket which had already been emptied and sent for recycling! I can only assume that I had gotten carried away and vertically filed the expenses and post.

My beloved was rather enjoying my discomfort though, of course, he was thankful that it was me rather than he who’d had the mishap. He might be tempted to torment me in the future but he’ll soon forget it ever happened.

Luckily my normally excellent memory came to my rescue and I called the hotel and restaurants to request copies of those invoices which could be replicated. For those that couldn’t, such as tolls and petrol, I fortunately had a record on my credit card. My accountant’s not going to be happy as in France the rule is “no justicatif, no deduction” but I think I can cobble together enough bits of paper to keep her happy.

To be on the safe side, I’ll continue to steer clear of slippers and cardigans.

Fibre Frustration

In our town we live just about as far as you can get from the Orange internet connection consequently our unlimited broadband service has its limitations. For example, when we watch television over the internet it uses most of our available capacity so the laptops and iPads grind exceedingly slow, if at all.

In addition, I believe I may have mentioned that our WiFi service, thanks to our reinforced concrete walls, barely extends beyond the office. Two, recently fitted, very expensive, top-of-the-range, all singing all dancing extenders mean we now have greater coverage but not, of course, if we’re also watching the television.

We have patiently been waiting the arrival of the panacea for all our internet woes – FIBRE. Again, we seem to be the last people scheduled to get it in our town. Everyone else we know has got it. There was a brief flurry of excitement before Christmas, when a notice from Orange on the front door of the building announced the arrival of FIBRE and advising the work would be completed in a few days. Hallelujah!

Quicker than a rat up a drainpipe, I’d booked us an appointment with the Orange Pro advisor at the Cap 3000 shopping centre. We could barely contain our excitement – I know we need to get out more!

Our hopes were cruelly dashed. Yes, there is now a FIBRE connection to our building but it’ll be another six months until we can finally access the service. It appears that they first have to negotiate with the other internet providers to the building and connect them.

What’s the point in being Orange throughout, if everyone else then gets preference? No one could provide a satisfactory response to my question. Maybe they thought I was being rhetorical?

To make matters worse, Orange keep rubbing salt into the wound by emailing us weekly telling us FIBRE will soon be with us. Sadly, just not soon enough!

Things about France that surprised me: the French torch cars

Burning cars is something of a tradition in France, albeit one much despised by the authorities and (unsurprisingly) car owners and, unfortunately since the appearance of the gilets jaunes, it’s on the rise again.

Every New Year’s Eve nervous car owners across France cross their fingers hoping their cars – generally only those parked outside – will emerge unscathed. This is because of a longstanding French tradition where youths in the less celubrious parts of French cities torch scores of cars. The number of vehicles burned this New Year’s Eve totalled 1,031, an increase from last year’s 935.

However stats released last year by France’s official crime data agency (ONDRP) show that the number of cars burned each year has fallen by approx. 20% since 2010 – good news for car owners and insurance firms. The bad news is that tens of thousands of vehicles are still burned across the country each year.

Most cars are torched during the summer, particularly on Bastille Day (14th July) when those disaffected youths mark the annual fête nationale with their own pyrotechnic displays.

The main reason for the overall fall, according to the ONDRP, is the media take much less interest now in the mass burning of cars, which means there may be less of a thrill for the arsonists.

Authorities have previously refrained from reporting on the number of cars burned on New Year’s Eve after it was discovered that a district-by-district breakdown was fuelling destructive competition between rival gangs. In addition, extra police are regularly deployed in sensitive areas on specific nights of the year to try to prevent the blazes.

The stats also showed that the departments most affected by the problem were Haute-Corse in Corsica, Isere to the south east (including Grenoble), and Oise, to the north of Paris. Rural areas of France are much less affected than urban areas, possibly because everyone knows everyone else in small villages and cars are less likely to be parked on the road. Sadly the car owners most affected are generally those in the more hard-up neighbourhoods who may only have third-party cover.

So how did it all start?

The custom of setting vehicles alight on New Year’s Eve reportedly began in the east of the country, around Strasbourg, in the 1990s, in the the city’s poorer neighbourhoods. It was then quickly adopted by youths in cities nationwide.

Cars are often set ablaze whenever there is an outbreak of social disorder, as seen in the 2005 riots when hundreds of vehicles were torched and again now with the gilets jaunes.

According to an article in Le Parisien, there are many reasons why youths burn cars:-

Vehicle fires are often associated with a context of riots and urban violence. It can also be a ‘game’ to break the monotony, or it could be motivated by vengeance after a violent arrest. Or it could just be to get rid of a car used in a crime or as an insurance scam.

ONDRP’s Christophe Schulz

Why do the French really burn cars?

But to get the inside track, I spoke to a few French youths, not necessarily ones who’ve torched cars. I don’t want people to be confused by the title, French people don’t burn cars just for kicks, like: “I don’t know what to do today. Oh! Check this car. Why don’t I torch it just to pass the time?”

Truth is, in a riot, cars are the easiest thing to burn: they’re just there, in the street, exactly where you’re busy rioting. And you’re mad, you want to destroy something, possibly set it on fire, and guess what, there’s dozens of them, full of flamable parts, just sitting there, almost begging to be burned. In other words, don’t park where there’s a riot or likely to be a riot.

That being said, keep in mind a few factors: cars get burned every night for a bunch of different reasons, but they seem to interest the media only on New Year’s Eve. And while it’s true that many more cars are burned on that night (it goes from a few dozen around the country on a normal night to hundreds on New Year’s Eve), I also think that the media played a role, especially in the spreading of the tradition to other cities. If they hadn’t initially made a big deal out of it in Strasbourg, I don’t think kids from other cities’ ghettos would have done it too.

And there it is, the elephant in the room. Those car burnings don’t take place in random streets, most if not all of them are in poor neighborhoods, the projects, the places the French government created a few decades ago to lodge immigrants and has since totally abandoned – we even have a few on the Cote d’Azur. So, not unnaturally, their inhabitents feel excluded, because they are.

As [cycling] club secretary, I used to occasionally attend a meeting in one of Nice’s poorer districts. During the meeting the car park would be guarded to protect our cars!

You might be wondering why folk get away with this. Quite simply because you can’t put a guard on every car or car park. And also, because as previously mentioned, most cars get burnt in the poor neighborhoods. It might be a whole different matter, if it were happening in rich neighbourhoods but that’s where cars are typically parked in secure garages, with video surveillance – like ours – and are much less easy to access.

So, in short, some French burn cars as a protest because they can!

The bionic man is up and running………..well, almost

Post my beloved’s stay in hospital, we’ve quickly settled into a routine. The first 10 days we had early morning calls from the local nurse to administer anti-coagulant injections, and two at home blood tests conducted by a local lab. Every week day, late morning, a private ambulance collects him, and his packed sandwich lunch, and transports him to a nearby rehabilitation centre where he undergoes three hours of intensive physio. Then he’s brought back home just in time for a reviving cuppa and a slice of home-made cake.

The results were quickly plain to see, and in stark contrast to when he broke his leg over 18 months ago. After only four weeks, he can move around swiftly on crutches, even walking and going up and down stairs unaided. He initially found the physio tiring but it’s clear that by the end of these sessions, he’ll be as fit as a butcher’s dog!

After the first two weeks, he began training in the water. No need for the stitches to come out, they’d just dissolved and the bruising had completely disappeared. This is where he began to make exponential leaps and bounds, so much so his surgeon was delighted with the rate of his progress and has advised he can train on the home-trainer – whoopee!

Fortunately, this hasn’t stopped him working which he does either side of the physio though I have had to pick up some of the slack. The best bit is the few hours peace and quiet I get when he’s out at physio working up an appetite for dinner. To keep pace I have been spending more time in the kitchen though that’s something I tend to do more of in the winter. I’ve also been hard at work coming up with different sandwich fillings and cakes for his packed lunch. He likes having something different to eat most days, which after three weeks is proving quite a challenge.

To ensure the daily grind isn’t too demoralising, I’ve organised trips each week-end so that he’s got something to look forward to. Mostly, these revolve around lunch out, a brisk walk alongside the sea or watching some live sport. All of this is building up to a few days away in Paris at the end of his physio when he’ll be crutch-free. Lastly, if all goes to plan, we’ll be out on the bikes over Christmas and New Year.

40 Years of Memorable Moments: frightening ordeal by fire

Recent events in California, with the incineration of a town called Paradise, reminded me of our own close call with flames. Yes, this incident was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The Christmas we moved into our partly renovated apartment, I invited the neighbours round for aperitifs on Boxing Day evening. A number of them bought us small seasonal arrangements, in pots with candles.

Friends came round for dinner in the New Year and, to make the place look a bit more festive, I lit the candles in these arrangements which I sat on some of the remaining packing cases. We’d yet to have the flat decorated, though much of our furniture was in situ, along with the new kitchen and bathrooms.

It was before Epiphany, so the tree was still up and decorated. Against my better judgement, Richard had persuaded me to have a “real fir tree.” We had an enjoyable dinner and evening with our friends who in typical French fashion stayed chatting until the early hours. I’m not a night owl, so could barely keep my eyes open before I headed off to bed. Having tidied the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher, I asked my beloved to extinguish all of the various candles dotted around the apartment.

I’m usually asleep before he joins me in the bedroom but I must’ve been overtired and hadn’t fallen asleep. We chatted for a few minutes and both fell asleep only to be awakened by a loud crash. The bedroom is next to our lounge/diner and we could see that light was pouring onto the terrace. Our initial thought was that someone had broken in and switched on the lights.

My beloved leapt out of bed, naked, ready to do battle with the intruder. He rushed back shouting “Fire!” He flapped ineffectually at the fire with some wet towels but it had seized hold of the contents of the packing cases, all wrapped in plastic bubble wrap. It was sobering to see how quickly the fire spread and the amount of thick black smoke that was filling the flat.

We abandoned the fight and closed the doors on the fire. We scrambled into shoes and dressing gowns before he rushed downstairs to fetch our guardian (a former fireman) while I alerted our upstairs neighbour and rang the fire brigade.

Our quick thinking guardian doused the fire before the firemen arrived and created total havoc with their hoses. We were checked over for smoke inhalation before being advised to sleep somewhere else. Feeling as if we’d just lost a couple of our nine lives, we beat a hasty retreat to our newly decorated, former holiday flat for a good night’s sleep before returning next morning to survey the damage.

The window in the dining room was shattered, I think that was the crash we heard the night before. The contents of the three packing cases – luckily I had a list of everything that was in them – were carbon. A thick black greasy sludge covered all the walls of the lounge/diner – thank goodness we’d yet to decorate. The ceiling and floor were badly singed along with a couple of pieces of furniture and the Xmas tree.

My beloved’s new white, fully tiled, bathroom was also covered in black soot as he’d left the door open. Fortunately, everywhere else they were closed, mitigating the potential damage. Our decorator was scheduled to start work the following week but was delayed while he awaited for the “expertes” to opine. Fortunately, our household insurance covered all of the damage and we hadn’t lost anything that couldn’t be readily replaced. It could’ve been so much worse!

We never did find out exactly how the fire started but thereafter my beloved banned me from having lit candles in the flat.

Amateur cheats

Ahead of the recent New York marathon, an article in The Guardian newspaper made me laugh. It was about amateurs cheating in marathons. It reminded me of when I ran took part in the London marathon and an enterprising young fellow offered to lend me his anorak for a tenner – or was it a fiver? – to nip through a short-cut and avoid running around Docklands.

When I declined his kind offer, he inferred that there were plenty happy to avail themselves of it. I had pointed out that it would’ve been cheating, plus everyone who knows me would have treated my time with disbelief. Instead I had an entertaining day out and even more amusing tales to tell.

Cheating is not limited to marathons. On my first cycling sportif, slowly riding the shorter of two distances, unbeknown to me, I had fallen behind the broom wagon. When I arrived at the feed station, along with a number of riders doing the longer course, it was assumed I too was riding it. I corrected their false assumption and one rider asked why I’d done that as my club would’ve got more points if I’d “completed” the longer ride. I advised him it was cheating and no one at the club would’ve believed I’d completed the longer one.

On another sportif around Monaco and Menton, the organisers used volunteers to block off a number of side roads. When I’d stopped to enquire why I was told that the roads were short-cuts and if they weren’t blocked inevitably some people would cheat!

Needless to stay I find it somewhat staggering that participants would cheat in an event where the whole point is taking part: there are no individual winners. It was only as I started to help with the organisation of our club’s sportif, I rumbled yet another wheeze perpetuated by a number of clubs.

Sportif: Club Volunteers

Most sportifs offer two different courses. Clubs earn one point for everyone doing the shorter event and two for those completing the longer. As these aren’t timed events, the points for each club are typically calculated on the number of participants. As both events are similarly priced, clubs would enter more riders into the longer event though many would only ride the shorter one. I soon nipped this in the bud and awarded points based solely on the length of the course completed.

With this level of skull duggery at local amateur events, where club and personal honour rather than grand sums of money are at stake, is it any wonder that further up the food chain there’s much more sophisticated cheating?


My bionic man

My beloved has been home for a few days after a successful operation to replace the hip he broke over 18 months’ ago which ultimately didn’t heal satisfactorily. I’m back to playing Florence Nightingale, a role to which I am patently unsuited. Fortunately, this time he’s out most week days undergoing intensive physiotherapy sessions for which he’s picked up at lunchtime and dropped off in the afternoon, providing me with a number of hours of blessed respite from fetching and carrying.

Again, I have only great things to say about the French health service. Friends in the UK who’ve had similar operations have generally “gone private” but even so haven’t received the same level of pre and post-op care. My beloved had 10 sessions of pre-op physio along with all the necessary checks such as blood, urine, ECGD and dental before the op, which included a meeting with the aneasthetist where he opted for an epidural – so much less stressful on the body than a general.

The operation went well and he was back to his cheerful self that evening. If anything his time in hospital rather dragged and he’d have liked to come home earlier but because his physio didn’t start until the Monday, he stayed in over the weekend. He amused himself by visiting the other patients and having a chat with those that didn’t have any visitors.

Post operation, aside from the physio, he has daily visits in the morning from a nurse to give him an injection to ensure his blood doesn’t coagulate and in-house blood checks on a weekly basis undertaken from a local lab.

According to my beloved, who’s done his research, his prosthetic is the best and most reliable on the market. He was up walking on the afternoon after the op. and, on subsequent days, built up his perambulations until he was whizzing round the ward with his Maserati zimmer frame.  A ward where he was in a single occupancy room, with en-suite wet room, and there was a very high ratio of staff to patients.

The day he came out of hospital, I went down to the pharmacy to pick up his phenominally large amount of medicaments and crutches. Luckily, no one asked me what happened to the previous pair! Fortunately there was no one ahead of me in the queue but even so I was probably in there for at least 20 minutes. Of course, it didn’t cost me a penny!

He’s trying to minimise the amount of drugs he takes but as the pain tends to be greater overnight, he takes some Tramadol which puts him into a catatonic state and definitely ought to be banned by WADA.

The good news is that my beloved is far more mobile than he was after the previous operation and I’m hoping he’ll be back driving after 4 weeks, able to walk freely around Paris in mid-December and back riding his bike by Xmas.


Marathon madness

Each year, when the Nice-Cannes marathon takes place, I mull over whether or not I should train for the following year’s race. This lasts for all of ten minutes before common sense asserts itself. More so since I’ve learnt that 5 hours is the cut-off time!

This year however I really felt part of the action as my  beloved’s niece stayed with us and took part in the race. This is the relative for whom I recently made a wedding cake. She came with five friends, one of whom stayed with us while the other four were in a hotel in Nice. These ladies are seriously good runners with marathon times ranging from 2:45 – 3:45 hours.

The girls arrived Saturday lunchtime and, having checked their dietary preferences beforehand, prepared their meals and snacks accordingly. They all carbo-load before the race but eat normally the day before. I knew that all these long-legged gazelles would have hollow legs and, if I wasn’t careful, eat me out of house and home.

When mealtimes are uncertain, I ensure I have dishes that can happily sit and wait at room temperature or be cooked at the last moment. I also made sure that I had plenty of snacks to hand for them to eat, particularly directly after the race.

To be fair the catering wasn’t too onerous: lunch and dinner on the Saturday (the day before the race),  early breakfast and lunch on the day, plus post-race snacks and finally breakfast on the Monday. The rest of the time, the six were out enjoying themselves in Nice. And, aside from the snacks for six, I was only catering for an additional two.

The week before the race we’d had torrential rains and high winds which had whipped the sea into a maelstrom, depositing tons of stones and sand on the coast road where the race largely takes place. Fortunately, the weather was fine on the week-end of the race  – aside from the persistent cross or head-wind – and probably warmer than expected.

They arrived at lunchtime on Saturday, ate lunch, dropped off the luggage and headed into Nice to collect their numbers etc I’d made a cheese and onion quiche for lunch which I served with  variety of salads. My beloved adores my quiches but I rarely make them unless we have company, otherwise he has to eat all of it and you really can have too much of a good thing. Dinner was a vegan shepherd’s pie with lentils and mushrooms, not lamb, topped with sweet potato. Dessert was vegan rice pudding with raspberry compote.

I rose early on Sunday to prepare their respective breakfasts and post-race snacks – egg sandwich for one and porridge for the other. I think it’s important to have a routine and eat the same thing before a race so that there’s less likelihood of tummy troubles. I watched the MotoGP races from Malaysia – now you know why I didn’t mind an early call!

Later I watched the runners stream past on the coast road from the relative shelter of the terrace. At that distance, even with my binoculars, I couldn’t pick out the girls as, only just over 10km from the start, the leading ladies are still quite tightly bunched although it does take a while for everyone to thunder past. Had I been watching from the roadside, I would have given plenty of encouragement to the tail-end Charlies, I know what that feels like.

In no time at all they were back demanding to be fed lunch. I’d whipped up an Italian style take on my Sunday roast serving the roast beef with polenta, wild mushroom sauce and spinach, followed by bread & butter pudding. Much to my beloved’s dismay, there were no leftovers. Those girls had worked up a serious appetite! This probably stood them in good stead for a night out in Nice.

Monday they ate a copious breakfast before leaving for a post-race hike in the nearby hills before flying back that evening to Blighty. It’s always enjoyable having house guests, particularly those that entertain themselves. As long as I know when, what and where they need feeding, I’m fine.


I’ve finally shaken off my cold

The past few weeks month I’ve been suffering from a chesty cough and cold. It started towards the end of last month when I had a fever. I took to my bed for a couple of days, felt very lethargic – so unlike me – and had no appetite. I felt so bad my beloved even had to forage in the fridge  for a few meals. I seemingly shook that off but a week or so later developed a cold which flew straight to my chest.

As a child I suffered terribly from catarrh and I remember my mother asking the doctor how to get rid of it. His response: “Move!” We lived in the Midlands in the UK which is famously damp in winter. It’s not been damp here, au contraire, we’ve been enjoying a truly magnificent Indian summer punctuated by a couple of squalls. Though the weather is forecast to turn autumnal this weekend. So I can’t blame it on the change in weather. Someone must’ve gifted me the germs.

Of course, there’s no cure for the common cold though my beloved did bring me some Benylin and Vicks Vapour Rub back from the UK. I’m not at all sure they hastened my cold’s departure but there’s something so reassuring about the familiar. Of course, I could’ve just popped into my local pharmacy, waited for 30 minutes – there’s always a queue – and purchased some cough mixture and lozenges.

The downside to my cold is the chesty cough which keeps me awake at night. I have to sit up in bed to sleep. Less than ideal but then I can pretty much fall asleep anywhere. During the night, I inevitably end up prone, the phlegm collects on my chest, I start coughing and wake us both up. At this point I beat a hasty retreat to the sofa so my beloved can enjoy a few more hours of interrupted bliss.

Typically, I’ll wake at around 04:00am, having gone to bed at 10:00pm or possibly even earlier depending on how tired I feel. I really need eight hours a night otherwise i’m inclined to be snappy and irritable. Just ask my beloved.

I’m only allowed four swigs of Benylin per day so at this point I’ll have a hot toddy (no alcohol allowed) of lemon juice, honey and hot water. I find it very soothing. Sometimes I’ll manage to drop back to sleep on the sofa but if I don’t, I bake. The freezer is now groaning with all sorts of goodies.

I’ve naturally kept a low profile for the past few weeks, no one wants to spend time with someone who’s coughing and spluttering. Plus, I sound so much worse than I feel. There are however some benefits. It’s allowed me to get on with some much postponed chores and keep my beloved company. He’s also been grounded as he can’t walk very far and he has a mountain of work to complete before he takes time off for his hip-replacement op and recovery.

All this has played havoc with my cycling. The weather has been perfect for riding in a short-sleeved jersey and shorts. Most Octobers I’m in my 3/4 bib shorts and a long-sleeved jersey by the middle of the month, if not earlier. In the meantime, I’m getting back into the swing on the home trainer. I’ll go out on the road once my beloved goes in for his operation. No point in rubbing his nose in it as he’s really missing not being able to ride.