Saturday 31 May 2014

Day trip to Castres

Following on from previous post.
On a Day Out by myself, I would generally be pulled in the direction of the sea but I left it to Ezra to choose. 'Either Mazamet or Castres', he suggested.
My only recollection of the former was being lost, hungry and that no shops were open. The latter . . . an extremely run-down, and therefore interesting to us, hotel with purple-flowered wallpaper and a mysterious bidet on wheels.
The drive was supposed to encompass a viewing of the now-disused gold mine at Salsigne to the North of Carcassonne. We couldn't find it due to an absence of notices saying Gold mine this way, but I suppose the local population wouldn't want people wandering about in the hope of finding an overlooked nugget. Also, we were too hungry.
I pulled in Starsky and Hutch style on spotting this restaurant on the D118. I love places like this - suspended in a 1960s/70s time warp; the original bar/restaurant sign, the owners disinterest in tarting the place up and an emphasis on good, down to earth grub.
It was better than I expected: friendly waitress, a menu at 13 euros - including rabbit in mustard sauce - and an authentic non-designer interior.

After 'mimosa eggs', the afore-mentioned rabbit and chocolate banana tarts, we paid and continued happily along to Mazamet with that wonderful benevolent feeling that occurs after a great value and overly-ample meal.
Mazamet was a rain blur through the window. Apart from a brief scuttle through a downpour to look at a train (Ezra's request) we moved on, driving through the river valley and observing the various factories, used and disused that had once established the town as a textile centre.

My vague memory of Castres being a place with a crappy hotel and wheely bidet were rapidly replaced by realising that it's a smart town, a little like a small-scale Gerona with its riverside houses. Perhaps it has come up in the world since our visit; it certainly seemed so. The buildings looked well-cared for; the Goya museum, fascinating, except we arrived five minutes before closing time; and the formal gardens clipped and obviously loved.

We Took Tea in a very sumptuous shop that had a menu of a million teas or thereabout. My Assam (presented with egg timer to check brewing time) was perfect and Ezra's Matcha tea milkshake thing deemed to be fantastic.
After this we visited a sinister church, which we liked a lot, where some florists were attempting to brighten the interior for a wedding with huge vases of white lilies.

Shopping never being high on the agenda, I did manage to drag my son into an opticians as he really needs sunglasses. My opinion of Castres being a charming place was confirmed by an excellent example in The Art of Shop Assisting. The young woman spent about twenty minutes assisting Ezra with style, information about lenses etc; then adjusting our final, small budget-choice's arms/frames etc to give perfect vision and symmetry.

Altogether, a good Day Out.

Building number 40

Road diversions can be useful things if you are not too pressed and have an open mind about exploration on a non-dramatic scale.
Yesterday, Ezra and I set off for a day of exploration in Mazamet and Castres, about an hour and half East of the Hothouse.
Somewhere, in the deep woods of the Black Mountains (Les Montagnes Noire) we were diverted away from The D118 to a vertiginous route following the river towards Mazamet, (which I have just noticed while doing a bit of research, is home to a B and B that calls itself France's leading Bed and Breakfast . . . quite a label).
This route towards the town is listed on Google maps as being 'the route of factories' and was indeed littered with various breeze-block/corrugated edifices, some in a state of functionement, (if this isn't a word, it is now) others not, like this one with its gravity-defying chimney stack and angry Venetian blind.
I stood around and wondered, as I always do, as to when the door finally closed on the work-force and why nothing ever happened to the building afterwards.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Bucolic car boot sale

Or as we say here: Vide Grenier - emptying one's attic.
Compared to the boot sales I remember from the UK days, most V.Gs are set in small villages, usually on sunny days, where you can wander, perusing the usual glut of hastily bought and subsequently dumped Get Fit equipment, clothes, shoes, fois gras funnels, records, video cassettes that nobody wants, terrible paintings, plants, kittens, jam, fondu sets, etc, etc.
The last V.G I went to before departing back to the UK for a few days (where I didn't go to a car boot sale - not for the want of trying) was in the grounds of a local church edifice: the Basilique Notre Dame de Marceille    
I paused before walking across the grass, stunned at the tranquility of the sight before me; each stall of utter crap transformed momentarily in the morning sun to a lost scene of pastoral beauty as happy peasants traded their goods for a few rustic coins, and the purchasers wandered contentedly back to their donkeys, (large 4x4s).

Saturday 17 May 2014

Controllers of the sun

In our small, runt-dogs mind, yes we are.
Satie barks for many reasons: guarding the house (!) food time, for needing a pee, and, at other dogs while out for a walk.
I realised this year (in the early summer) that he also barks when the sun goes behind a cloud. It's not just general frustration at suddenly being cold; he obviously thinks we can do something about it.
He looks accusingly at me through the glass of the front door as soon as the the brightness fades into ambient light, and barks continuously, until either the sun reappears, or I let him in again to the safety and warmth of the sofa.
I never really thought about dogs and their conception of the elements surrounding them. We know (some more than others) about clouds, sun, wind, and why we feel hot or cold; they presumably don't.
Cold or hungry means, woof, and hopefully an owner will do something to provide warmth and food.
A friend of mine used to have a dachshund that would lie in front of the fire until it was nearly roasted. It would then yelp until someone moved it, seemingly unable to equate, fire = equals I'm too hot - better move.
Luckily Satie is not that daft, but the 'sun/large heating system in the place above me', obviously remains a total mystery.
Here he is, about to emit an exasperated bark as the warmth fails again.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Removal man

Since posting a ramble about Brotherhood of Man a couple of posts back, I have been plagued by that tune; no I'm not going to let myself recall it. One bar and it's hopeless: brain-imbedded.
Yesterday, whatever I played, the tune came sloped back, sugary and sticky, well and truly stuck.
Today I randomly opted for a couple of favourites on Youtube to try and dislodge the 1970s residents in my head. Thought I'd post this one of Christopher Walken dancing elegantly to Fatboy Slim in a plush hotel.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Broadly speaking

Hurrah for beans, especially these fat, satisfying ones.
Broad beans (according to Wikipedia) have bean, sorry, been around since about 6000 years BC. Certain hieroglyphs actually refer to beans on toast being a staple of many diets.
We have seldom succeeded with over-winter crops, but last autumn, I duly dug, sowed and covered over a packet of beans, and then forgot about them.
Lo . . . with the first tentative notes of song from the hardier birds, shoots appeared, then whole plants, then pendulous pods and FREE FOOD - well, for the price of a packet of beans (about the cost of an imported tin of Heinz baked beans).
What a delight: crammed with protein, vit C and fibre, they take seconds to cook, can be frozen or dried easily, and taste wonderful.

Today I will harvest them, (as certain wily caterpillars have discovered their delights too) and attempt to dry a few of the pods for next year planting.
On such a subject: I was given thirty or so baby tomato plants yesterday by a gardening activist.
A collective of people here are saving vegetable seeds, then growing and distributing to friends in order to keep seed stocks available, and to get people into the habit of storing seed from their own crops.
They envisage a day, not far away, when Monsanto and other mega companies may control food stocks by rendering vegetables and fruit 'barren' and thus forcing gardeners and farmers to buy seed only from them.
1984 - esque perhaps, but probably accurate.
Get into the garden/allotment/balcony.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Eurovision money burning exercise

In time honoured tradition, we settled down armed with nibbles and sarcasm to watch this years song offerings from across Europe.
I did find that most of the time I was roughly calculating just how many euros had been, and were being, flung at this sparkling celebration of . . . what, really?
I believe the original aim of the contest was to heal war-created wounds and provoke love and friendship; the object now appears to be to spend as much as is humanly possible on one evening of terrible music, elaborate sets and crazed light displays.
It's not the same watching in France as it used to be in the UK. Terry Wogan was a master of the piss-take, and I believe Graham Norton is following in his footsteps most satisfactorily.
The French maître de cérémonie was far too serious, believing, or at least doing a good job of believing, that France's entry from Twin Twin were going to carry France to certain victory.
I must digress to say that this group of small maniacs with big hair were not destined for great things on the evening. The song seemed to be about wanting a moustache: possibly along the lines of the now-disgraced Rolf Harris's All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth (remember that? I think I do, or maybe it was a surreal dream I had).
Ezra looked them up on Spotify, and, apparently they are very popular here. . . but perhaps not in the rest of Europe, coming last of the 26 countries with just two points more than the various nul-pointers of previous years...

So, the highlights, or what I can remember of them between Ezra shouting: Mum, Dad, go to bed! as we nodded simultaneously like two faded, nodding dogs on the back shelf of a car.

1/  Well he had to win, didn't he: a bearded diva in a gold dress. God knows what he was singing about but it was all fabulous, especially his teeth.

2/ Poland. Dressed in traditional costume, singing about their hot Slavic blood - Miley Cyrus-like, but worse, with a huge-busted wench at the front of the stage pounding a milk-churn with a phallic-looking pole thing.

3/  Mad people from Iceland, all dressed in bright blue/pink/yellow suits - a bit, OK Go-rip off costume wise, but we liked their cheery lyrics about getting rid of prejudice etc - different as most songs consisted of adjectives, but with absolutely no meaning.

4/ A group of handsome young men singing utter drivel, but we liked the whistling and especially the banjo playing. Norway?

5/ The Dutch one was quite good apparently, but I'd gone to the loo.

6/ UK entry, worse than Bonnie Tyler.

7/ No vampires for Roumania this time, but a teethy man standing inside a circular keyboard while a woman warbled on about knitting, love or something - can't remember.

8/ The hamster-man in a large wheel, think it was the Ukranian entry.

9/ Twin Twin front man's Eraserhead hairdo.

As I sat, jaw slack with disbelief at the awfulness and cost of it all, I thought back to the 1970s when I used to watch the programme in London with my godmother.
Yes it was bad, really bad, but there was something homely and village fete-like about it then: white teethed, keen young folk singing about innocent things.
I searched for a memory of something cringingly-bad, and representative of that time, other than the planet-conquering Abba. Then I remembered Brotherhood of Man.
Of course there it was on uncle Youtube, a glimpse of 1976 Eurovision: teeth, hairy chests, flares, dog pissing on a tree-inspired dance routine, and REAL orchestra!
I read on Wikipedia that in 2004, there was a ban on groups playing their instruments live . . . why?
The best part of the event this year, we felt, was the introductions to each country and group - inspired in fact. Each team apparently going though some art process which would then reveal the flag in various ways: dominos, sweets, coloured motorbike exhaust, ice pucks, lilos in a pool, embroidery, etc, etc. It was worth watching for that.

I had loaded up a vid of Brotherhood of Man but it's been removed from Youtube.


Saturday 10 May 2014


Our personal one here in The Hothouse at the moment is the emerging summer sounds of nightingales, who also sing throughout the daylight hours, the next door's cockerel - clearly not on the correct timer - who calls throughout the late morning, their goat, various parrots, the donkey-birds (see post last summer, swallows and various chorusing frogs.
This small green one, hidden in the pampas grass was making an electronic beeping noise. It emerged onto the terrace - much to the cat's interest, and I picked it up to have a closer look.
Isn't nature a totally incredible thing? That colour, the eyes, the toes. It just sat there calmly while we stared at it, amazed that such a tropical-looking creature had appeared in our European garden.

Sunday 4 May 2014

Building no 39

One of my strongest childhood memories, along with the one of sitting in the Launderette with a copy of the Beano and a sherbert fountain, and the time I took my three mice into the chip shop with me and a woman fainted, was our daily trip down to the beach at Canford Cliffs, when we were on holiday.
The trick was to go down when everyone else was leaving, all sandy and tired, clutching stripy windbreaks and rolled towels. Then there would be space to park, the beach deserted apart from a few intrepid old folks taking their regular evening dip, and gulls picking over ice-cream wrappers.
On the few times we got down there earlier, this curved, 1950s? treats place would still be open. If Mum was feeling unusually flush, she would allow an ice-cream. I can remember seeing the blue and white facade looming each time we walked onto the promenade from the steps down the cliff, and wondering if this might be a 'flush day' or a 'make do with a wrinkly apple' day.

When I was very young I would choose a Fab. I don't know if these are still in production, but I have fond recollections of the fake strawberry taste and the crunchy 'hundreds and thousands'.
If gran took me to the beach, she would get a cup of tea and ask me to choose between crisps and chocolate (an agonising choice for a seven or so year old). Then we would sit on the sand, backs up against the promenade wall; gran with her skinny legs under a tartan blanket, pale lilac perm blowing in the sea breeze, fag, tea and the Daily Mirror.

Friday 2 May 2014

five star graffiti

On a trip yesterday to our favourite seaside place (Cerbère), I spotted these skull studies, confirming my idea of this tiny town being quite an odd place . . .