Sunday, 15 July 2007

14th July - Party on Dude

A big thanks goes out to our very good friends in Lymington - Rob and Beck, oh and Alex, for their fantastic hospitality during the week we spent back in the UK. Always good to hook up with friends you've not seen in a while and even better when they organise a party so that you can catch up with loads of people you have not seen in a long time. I guess the nice thing about going back to the new forest (our friends moved there a couple of years ago) was the break from city life in Montpellier - I did not realise just how much I dislike apartment blocks and the concrete jungle. I always find it amazing how the Mediterranean's have adopted to apartment high rise life yet in the UK sky rise blocks are synonymous with poor, run down lifestyles... Maybe that says something positive about French mentality??

Moving on briskly - our week in and around the Solent was a really great break. We had the good fortune to get to ride on Solent Charter Ribs and spend a morning on a pretty deluxe motor cruiser which came right out of the blue and was the icing on our cake for our trip. The weather was very agreeable considering the amount of rain the UK has had in the last couple of months, so a special thanks also goes out to Alex and Stuart for their nautical hospitality.

It's been a while since I posted my last blog and the most noticed difference between time spent back in the UK and now being home in France is the added strain of having to think about everything you say in French. You soon forget how effortlessly it is to communicate in your mother tongue as you have nothing to compare it too once you are in a foreign speaking country. Whilst I was back in the UK every thing was second nature, just like driving a car - you're on auto pilot all the time when you speak consequently conversation is a real breeze and a joy. My French is reasonable after 2 years of living here, and being married for 10 years to a French chick, so I can communicate about any number of subjects; yes I make grammatical errors but I've grown used to that and so have the people I speak with. I suppose the the flip side is that one has to continually think whilst speaking a second language and this results in being slightly more worn out at the end of the day - if you're having to use your brain continuously it's bound to have an effect on wearing you out that is until you achieve a fluency with the language where you don't have to think so much (I'm hoping that will arrive in the next 12 months, the sooner the better :o)

Yesterday the fireworks were firing on cylinders - freedom, liberty and fraternity. Yes 14th of July is Bastille day and the French certainly know how to burn the publics dough when it come to firework displays. All of the ports along the bay of Montpellier had massive shows. Some even did Friday and Saturday night!! I was with some friends between Lunel and La Grande Motte and the sky was ablaze between 10 and 11.30pm in fact it sounded more like military arsenal than a celebration. 1 hour and 15 minutes approximately at La Grande Motte - a gigantic WOW factor and goodness knows how much of the local public purse strings were burnt. However, on the flip side the visual spectacle must have been incredible - I unfortunately pitched up for an aperitif with some French friends which turned into a full blown dinner with another couple and six week old baby!! Tricky one to get out of so I missed the fireworks - I must be going soft in my old age.

We're now into the Estival season - so all of the local villages have their fetes and bull running craziness through the streets. I've have tried to comprehend why without any success on numerous occasions so I just accept that this is part of the culture and bulls running in the streets is perfectly normal for this part of the world. On the flip side - if you down here visiting make sure you park your car outside of the village centre when there is a fete taking place otherwise... You run the risk of having your car severely battered by a wild 'toro' (bullock) in a charging madness.

All fun and games and completely normal for the south of France - long live the Pastis and Charging Toro.

PS. My buddy Pete Close is climbing onto his bike tomorrow for an really tough Charity ride - the most difficult leg of the Tour de France through the Pyrenees Mountains - his link is on the left, he's trying to raise in excess of £1000 for prostate cancer so please log onto his site and make a donation every penny counts and I'm confident that he will succeed in this extremely tough challenge that he's set himself. Good luck buddy.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Summer Rain - No Thank You

Today was the last day of school for my son in his class of CE1 - I think it stands for Class Elementary, what a terrible parent I must be by not knowing the translation of his class title. However, I know that he started in CP, progressed to CE1, should be going on to CE2 but instead is jumping a year and as of September will be starting his new academic year in CM1 (class middle). We are very happy parents because he's worked terribly hard and we feel that he more than deserves to jump an academic year. I suppose it would be very easy to gloat and say well our boy is intelligent hence the reason he's being transferred but he's been finding his class for the last two years not overly challenging but the flip side is of course he will be losing the social group that he's known for the last 3 years - so it was a tricky decision on our part to say least. I guess we'll find out the real result in the fullness of time.

Education here is, from my limited experience of one school, very, very good. Our boy attends a private French Catholic school. Sounds very hoytee poloytee but the fees are nothing like a British private school - less than 200 Euros a month and that includes a canteen school dinner most days! It's considered quite elitist to pay for education in France consequently, the parents of most of the children at this particular school are from professional backgrounds. Surgeons, Doctors, Professors, Teachers, Business professionals etc. In our fast changing world I believe it's not necessarily what you know but who you know therefore paying for good quality education and mixing with families who make the wheels of the system turn hopefully gives you a distinct advantage throughout your life. This is my personal opinion I have to stress and I appreciate that its a tender topic for many people.

I never had a private education but I do recall good old school dinners and the super huge trays of spotted dick and anodised battered jugs of thick lumpy custard - mmmmmmm now they were deserts to die for. I know that my son's canteen doesn't operate in the same fashion with the same traditional stodgy puddings + creme anglais (as the locals like to call it) but they do have a varied menu and my boy likes the food.

So a big congratulations goes out to our son as it was made official yesterday and his classmates learned about it today from the headmistress of the school. Here, the temperature continues to hover around 28º to 32º and we don't have any rain, unlike the UK. I know that the land doesn't need it and feel confident in stating that the locals don't want it so we're looking forward to a damp rainy week on the South Coast of the UK and then returning to Montpellier for a sweltering hot summer.

Of course the flip side is - I will most probably have to install that Air Con system once it gets ridiculously hot, as I mentioned before.

Chin, chin and bottoms up for Wimbledon - doesn't look like any chance of finishing on time this year...

Monday, 2 July 2007

Carbon - isation

How time flies when your having fun. I just realised that it was the 2nd of July and the last time I consciously looked at my diary it was May! Woooooooooh.... These last couple of days I spent some time in the Pays Cathare, so excuse me for not adding any further blogs in June. We didn't have a telephone signal, let alone internet connection. This is a region between Carcasonne and Perpignon in the foothills of the Pyrenees, so it's like stepping back in time a good 30 years, if not more. My parents have retired to this area as you get a much bigger BANG for your buck down there than in the UK. There is a sizeable UK community of Ex Pats. who have gone the same route as my folks or bought second homes as it's a truly beautiful luscious green scenic area - with easy connections via Stansted - Carcasonne.

The flip side of course is that we get to see my folks more frequently than if they lived in the UK and that's really cool for my son 'cause he gets to see both sets of grand parents.

Absolutely incredible, I just received a phone call from a friend I was at Poly with right out of the blue who I have not spoken too in the best part of 8 years - Martin you've really made my morning, thanks for the call and looking forward to hooking up with you when we get back to the UK in a few day's time. Yes, it's back to good old blighty on Thursday the 5th so I may not get to put together an update blog for a week or so after the 5th. We're all going back for a family holiday but primarily we'll be hooking up with friends who we've not seen for while. That's one of the things that changes dramatically when you relocate - we've become lazy in staying touch with good friends and like wise once your out of site your also out of mind. I don't believe it's anyone's fault but everyone has STUFF going on around them and it becomes very easy to lose touch and drift apart. However, the real friendships stay rock solid and whenever you hook up it's as if little or no time has passed - I think everyone knows what I'm talking about there.

So how was the Pays Cathare? Why was I there? Well it wasn't just to visit my folk's.

The annual velo club weekend was organised in January so together with 21 other guys we headed to Rennes les Bannes right in the heart of the Cathare countryside. Very, very breath taking scenery - when seen first hand on a new lightweight bike. I forgot to mention that my new juicy carbon Cannondale bike had materialised; so it was a somewhat special outing for me and the bike! Let me tell you there's no stopping me now.

Like all new toys they seem so fantastic at first - this bike seems to pedal itself. Effortless hill climbing that is until you get to a really long 10km steep number and then you realise that ultimately it's not the bike but your legs that count. We covered about 100km on Saturday with 4 - 1100m climbs, it was a blast of a day, tough but most enjoyable and a very fond memory that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Plus the bike is awesome, I've never had a carbon framed bike before and it is responsive, light, climbs like a demon and descends at break-neck speed.

So how does the picture of me and my boy in the kitchen relate to this blogspot?

Two guys in a kitchen is a dangerous formula. The flip side result being burnt or carbonised biscuits !!

Enjoy the week and until next time - tally ho.