Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Let it snow!

Returned to Newmarket area (Cambridgeshire) to house-sit for a week. Bondi had his first snow-day in nearly 3 years as temperatures dropped across East Anglia. He obviously takes his snow seriously.

[*] After sending in an application letter (as requested) to the French consulate for a long-stay visa to study and travel, I received a set of forms (in quintuplicate) to complete for moving to France and no cover letter to clarify how the form was to be completed in the context of my application. It's like banging your head against a wall (in quintuplicate). The form also asks you to phone a particular number for an interview appointment, but that number simply has a recorded message saying that phone applications are not accepted, and to write. Goto [*].Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 26, 2005

I saw, over the trees on Primrose Hill, the fighting machine from which the howling came.

Took Bondi up to Primrose Hill for a romp. He chased down a squeaky starfish toy and chomped it into laryngitic submission. Unfortunately, not long after this picture was taken, a little hound attacked Bondi and was all set to tear a large chunk out of his snout until its owner's belated appearance to remove its grip before I jumped on the thing. In my rush to get Bondi away from it I dropped my cellphone and spent nearly half an hour scanning leaf-strewn grass before I found it again. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Glass & Stone Xmas Tree

[Saturday 24th] Only a slight hangover after last night's trials. It was a beautiful looking day, so Bondi and caught the DLR into central London, where we had a pleasant little wander from Marble Arch to Seven Dials. Looking down at the sleeping hound now, into his second session of deep REM and RNM sleep for the evening, it seems that he got a lot out of the day.

Found a CD of Casella & Respighi playing 4H arrangement of "The Fountains of Rome" at Harold Moore's (where my little companion is always well received). Was also delighted to find a DVD of the Merchant Ivory farce Merci Dr Rey. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 23, 2005

The seal on my fridge has worn out

Checked into hotel near Canary Wharf, in London's Docklands. Went out for a drinks evening in Clapham, followed by more of same at the Casbar. I think I must have had more grog than any time I can remember in about 8 years. Towards midnight I left to get train back to the hotel, but missed my station and then discovered sometime after 1am that there were no more trains back to Canary Wharf. A fellow passenger had a similar problem, so - with no taxis available - we walked from Canning Town along an overpass looking towards the lights of the Dockland office towers. I dropped her off near her hotel and then promptly got lost in the maze of overpasses, underpasses, bridges and waterways. Dropping into a police station yielded directions that got me even more lost. Ditto with security guards and then the porter at the Marriott gave me a map and set me on the correct road. After an hour of wandering the local roads, I got back to hotel room (and a sleeping Bondi) around 2.30am Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Shepton Mallet

Not far south of Bath are the towns of Shepton Mallet and Ashwick whence some of my Golledge ancestors of 3-400 years ago resided, and undoubtedly subscribed to the Scrumpy & Western biweekly newsletter. The family of my first convict ancestor hailed from these parts, and it appears that the crimewave has not diminished over the succeeding two centuries.

Today's newspapers were full of interesting detail:

We spent the afternoon in Bath, where the proprietor of its smallest pub, the Coeur de Lion took a real shine to Bondi. I was invited in for free mulled wine while Bondi lounged before the fireplace. Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bristol & surrounds

Got into Bristol very slowly due to Xmas shopping traffic nightmare. We parked ourselves in the Broadmead shopping area for a while and youknowwho got the usual amount of attention. A lady in a faux leopard skin coat - looking like a Crylic de Vil - was especially enamoured but was able to take the heat off me by memorising the answers to all the usual questions ("What's the unladen ground speed of an Alaskan..?" etc) and repeating them for all and sundry.

Next few days were spent relaxing at some stables in Gloucestershire (above). Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Worcester Cathedral - oh vo-de-o-do*

 Made our way down the M6 and M5 for a few days in Bristol and Bath. Pulled into Worcester for coffee, and Bondi cleaned off the plaque in front of Elgar's statue. Ed is facing towards Worcester Cathedral, which accompanies him on the £20 note (wrapped around a comb). John I ("the Magna Carta guy") is buried in here.

*yes the song is about Winchester Cathedral. Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 16, 2005

Hail the kinkering kongs!

Around lunch time I was sucked into the vortex of the local ASDA biodome as crowds stocked their trolleys with budget gadgetry for stocking fillers. At least the cashier lines move along faster than in Spain, where the '10 items or less' refers to topics of conversation that you intend to cover with the cashier before the next person gets a turn.

Whiled away 3 or 4 hours at the Wigan cineplex watching Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong. The point has been made before that there is probably a shorter great movie lurking within the longer almost-great movie up on the screen. Nevertheless, only a complete curmudgeon could deny the presence of beautiful moments in the beastly length.

Watch for Howard Shore as the conductor in the theatre where Kong has his NY debut. Since he was replaced as composer for the film during post production - by James Newton Howard (oops almost wrote James Newtown Hotel) - I wonder if he was conducting his own music, or had the latter's played over his arm-waving.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A day's humdrummery

I'm using my time in Wigan to reconsolidate and have MOTs on everything: Bondi's done, the car's done (but ouch on the price!), and I had my first eye-test in 5yrs to get some new distance spectacles. I ordered a new Tablet PC convertible as well, which will not only get me around the decay of the current hardware, but reduce the amount of USB appendages I'm dragging around. Anything to reduce luggage!

A letter arrived from France, confirming my enrolment at a Parisian language school. I was thus able to send a letter onto the French Consulate in London to ask for an appointment for a long-stay visa. If I can get that sorted, it means I can plan further jaunts into the continent with greater confidence. I'm earmarking time in August for the 20th anniversary of the Rarities of Piano Music festival - held each year in Husum, Schleswig-Holstein. I can imagine passing through there either on my way to or from Scandinavia.

I slipped into Manchester this afternoon for a haircut - the first since my #1 cut in September - so I'm looking a little less wild and woolly. Sadly, my fave cafe there Love Saves the Day seems to have closed down, so I'll have to look to more obscure places for a decent coffee in the north of England.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

But all of it's going to burn...And your mind, your tiny mind

Slow departure from London this [Monday] morning, stopping to shuffle luggage in and out of storage, before getting onto the M1 around noon. It wasn't long before we spotted the plume of smoke from the oil depot fire in Hertfordshire, and indeed the depot's flames were visible from the motorway. From space:

We had our smoothest run up the M1/M6 ever, and so I phoned ahead to Bondi's vet to get him booked in for a late afternoon session of overdue medications. Posted by Picasa

Leaving the continent

Left Cherbourg without the best of memories. The manager of the Ibis hotel refused to pay for the doctor they ordered for me after becoming ill from a meal from their kitchen: "I'm not responsible for my guests". Couldn't even get the cost of the meal deducted from the bill ... the manager only left the option of complaining to Accor (the hotel group that owns Ibis, Mercure, ...).

This picture is on the ferry in Cherbourg port, just before 9am. Travellers were asked to check-in at least 90 minutes before departure, but no one turned up from Brittany Ferries to man the entrance gates till less than an hour before departure, so we were left huddled in our cars unnecessarily as the temperature hovered around freezing.

Thankfully it was a very very smooth voyage to Portsmouth, and we were London bound by 1.45pm. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Unwellness of Cherbourg

Biding a couple of days in Cherbourg until the next morning ferry to Portsmouth. Bondi had to have some medications 24-48hrs prior to fulfil UK re-entry requirements of his European Pet Passport.

After a late room-service dinner at my hotel, I fell victim to gastroenteritis, and after a pretty terrible night, a doctor was summoned. So I need to lie down for the rest of the day and will miss the local sight seeing I had planned :-(. Posted by Picasa

3 months on the continent

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Mont Saint Michel

Drizzle all Thursday made sight-seeing along our route unattractive, so I drove directly from Tours to Mont St Michel, stopping only for a quick lunch and coffee. Well not exactly coffee - that seems to have turned to bitter mud since I crossed over from Spain. The road-side cafeteria run by hypermarketer Carrefour had an Italian-style coffee-counter, serving up an expensive Grand Creme, that was really a Gigantic Crime.

My mood wasn't improved at MSM. It looks great at a distance, a medieval Emerald City cast adrift off the coast of Normandy ... but really a very grey place dominated by Lourdes-style souvenir shops and pizzerias. There's a long spit-road from nearby (drab, cheap hotel-dominated) Beauvoir, so that you are above the reach of tides licking the flat marshland for miles around the rock. I read somewhere that it is now only surrounded by water about twice a month. Not much else is on in the immediate area, apart from a Reptilarium where they raise staff to run ticket gates at MSM.

I returned briefly to the spit the next morning to get some better pictures as the wind was blowing so hard on Thursday that I couldn't hold the camera steady. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 08, 2005


20051207 - 1 Saumur, near Loire R (2) 

Out of Angers, for a day of château-spotting. Angers is a sister-city to Wigan, obvious from the fact that I can’t understand what denizens of either are saying. Admittedly the French do have a better line in fountains.

The Loire was completely obscured by fog until I reached Saumur, en route to Fontevraud.


20051207 - 1 Saumur, near Loire R (1)

l’Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud

20051207 - 2 Abbaye Royale de Fontevaud (9) 20051207 - 2 Abbaye Royale de Fontevaud (6)

The 904 year-old Abbey Royale de Fontevraud is where Eleanor of Aquitaine and some of her contemporaries are buried. The surrounding village is beautifully quiet, and the huge abbey grounds with their white-walled cloisters are a tonic for the soul. The abbey has been used for a large number of choral and instrumental CDs*, and must have been a major recording studio during its heyday in the middle-ages.

20051207 - 2 Abbaye Royale de Fontevaud (1) 20051207 - 2 Abbaye Royale de Fontevaud (3)

* Sorry, Mr 'uxley: no Original Cloisters Performance of Nunsense. The Abbey was a prison for all of the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, so I could imagine an inmate's performance of (no, not Prisoners of Love!) Madame Butterfly... Ah Pauvre Papillon! But enough of such nonsense, I'm trying to type in a freezing carpark in Beauvoir (near Mont St Michel) where I can get wireless internet access and my hairy hand is frozen.

20051207 - 2 Abbaye Royale de Fontevaud (8)

Oh Chenonceau... I long to see you, upon the rolling river

20051207 - 3 Chenonceau (9)
Forging eastwards I found myself low on petrol, and used almost all of my reserves driving around Chinon to find a service-station. I stopped in at a cafe and gesticulated while murmuring "l'essence?" after which I was directed to a very well hidden purveyor of l'essence next to a LeClerc superstore. Rolling up to the pump, I was dismayed that the completely automated station would not take any of my credit cards. I trudged up to the main store to find a solution … which involved waiting around for 30 minutes until a human was available to accept payment.

20051207 - 3 Chenonceau (12) 20051207 - 3 Chenonceau (26) 
I finally got going again and reached Château de Chenonceau, east of Tours, at 3.30. It’s an incredible fantasy edifice built bridge-style over the river Cher. A single hall fills most of the space on the main level across the river, with kitchens sitting amongst the spaces in the tops of the bridge piers. Even mid-afternoon, the place was amazingly cold.
Chenonceau interiors
20051207 - 3 Chenonceau (25)I’d booked a little hotel in Chambrey-les-Tours, described as a village outside Tours, but which turned out to be an ugly snarl of highways, superstores and neon. I circled the area for another half-hour before I finally found the hotel, also a far cry from the description. Too tired to look for anything else (and I’d prepaid) I turned in for a very early night. Of course, as soon as I checked in, I had to cough up for all the extra charges that are typical of French hoteliers' checkout procedures. I wish there was a code of conduct for advance disclosure of charges. The hotel clerks simply abandon their earlier fluent English and ignore any protests.
20051207 - 3 Chenonceau (1) 20051207 - 3 Chenonceau (5)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Where am I?

I haven't uploaded a map in a while, so here's a quick 'n' dirty route cobbled together on my tablet.

I've just read that scientists have identified the dog laugh. " It's that excited panting along with a big smile you see when a dog greets its people, has a thrilling rabbit chase, takes an invigorating swim in a river or sees its buddies at the dog park. " Posted by Picasa

The language merry-go-round

3 days after leaving Spain, and I'm still instinctively replying (to French) in Spanish. I've rehearsed the old Je suis desole. Je ne parle pas Francais. schtick so I don't stutter like an ignorant boeuf.

When I have Bondi with me, then the situation is a little different.

Random Jacques: Jeneparapluijesuispamplemoose [I mean it can only be ONE thing]
Malamute de Alaska.
Random Jacques (emboldened): [in French] How did you find the final volume of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu ?
Me: [I have no idea what he said, so maintain beatific smile]
Random Jacques: [thinks:] Ah! a philosopher! A true Frenchman! [says:]
alouettegentille alouettealouettejeteplumerai. [more unintelligible nonsense]
Me: [getting older and more exasperated]
Je suis desole. Je ne parle pas Francais.
Random Jacques: [taps temple several times]
These Frenchmen are crazy!

I had a brief CD shopping orgy in FNAC, ending with me carrying off a new Vivaldi opera, some Satie rendered by oud, lute & chanter, a sprinkling of jazz piano trios and some other on-a-whim. I'll get to properly hear them in the car tomorrow when I'm following the Loire eastwards. Posted by Picasa

Just had a brainfart to check on availability of Robert Lepage's Far Side of the Moon on DVD - an adaptation of his fabulous one-man stage-play. I recalled that it had screened a film festival somewhere and I had missed the opportunity to see it. Anyway, in typical scary universe fashion, it turns out that it was released on December 2.

The last time I had a brainfart like that, was when I was trying to remember the names of some books I'd loved as a child, about an elephant in an incredible castle (not Babar!). Well I finally recalled it was the Uncle series by J.P.Martin, illustrated by Quentin Blake. That month they were reprinted for the first time in nearly 30 years! That is, two out of six books were - the publisher refuses to do the others on the grounds that they are dated and classist. Just like the other books they've been compared to: Alice in Wonderland et al. They also pop up on nearly every published list of the greatest English children's literature, but still they are largely unknown to those under 40. The originals spiral ever upwards in price on eBay and with book dealers - luckily I tracked down a set before they became unfeasibly expensive. More about them here.

Look back at Angers: Details of the Apocalypse

Some close-ups of the tapestry - from top left clockwise we have the apocalyptic scenes:
* My baby-sitter used to be a man
* My bigamous husband swapped his wives' children at birth
* I played golf with the beast of the apocalypse
* My son is having an affair with a novitiate

Today I found this little gem:
If you open your heart to a cat and love it forever, it will eventually love you back. Posted by Picasa