Monday, 18 July 2016

Meatballs and Méchoui

Hello again, or should I say ‘Bonjour, mes amis.’ For it appears I am now a true exile. Although I, like many others, haven’t the foggiest idea how the British Government’s recent faux pas will affect us in the long term, at present the sun is at last shining, the wine is still cheap and plentiful and I have to be content with the bed we made for ourselves here in South West France. Onwards and upwards
As the dust settled after the announcement of the above referendum result, I had to admire someone making the best of the situation in the name of Frederika Roberts, who claimed to be a professional ‘happiness and resilience expert’. What a great job that would be, trying to cheer people up and wandering around telling folks to smile, ‘things could be worse, you could be American!’ I am guessing she got a job with the England football team after that. ‘Knocked out of the Euros in the first round? Don’t worry about it, you’ll still earn a million quid a year.’
But it did get me thinking, ‘what is the answer to ultimate happiness?’ Apparently it isn’t drink, so that’s my theory out the window! Money? Good health?  Retirement? Well I am reliably informed by Google that it is to ‘spend some time alone!’ That way ‘You can focus on your hobbies, or just enjoy some good music all by yourself to celebrate life.’ Thank you Doctor, I’ll just leave via the 3rd storey window, shall I?
On the subject of football, we have had rather an overdose of it here in France, as optimism for Les Bleus reigned supreme until the bitter end. Not being a huge fan of the sport, I devised a cunning plan. We used the hour and a half during the Final, to go to Ikea. Brilliant idea: all the French would be in the pub watching the game and we could breeze through and collect our Metrob, Firndhort and other unpronounceable furniture, in peace. Sadly what we hadn’t bargained for was the whole place being full of disillusioned English! Although France didn’t win, they still had a good laugh though, which can still be heard echoing around the hills, when they found that Les Rosbif have elected Boris as Foreign secretary. Ha, has he ever been out of London? I wonder how long before his bike runs out of batteries as he tours Europe looking for someone to shake hands with?
So, for the last week or two I have been on the end of an allen key once again, assembling this and that. We now have fully functioning fitted wardrobes, with all clothes filed away in colour coordination, as well as a brand new kitchen on the outside terrace. The latter has replaced the original one, now in its tenth year, which consisted of a rusty gas-ring, a cold tap and a few makeshift worktops. With a field full of decent lambs this year, I am hoping to christen it next week, to celebrate our birthdays with a Méchoui: a French meal which involves a whole lamb, a large fire and a few gallons of red wine. What could possibly go wrong?
By the time this goes to print, we will be gearing up for another Olympics, this time south of the equator in Brazil. I will admit to being a convert to the global tournament, following on from London 2012. Hopefully GB will once again find success, topping up a year of good sport from the nation, which included Wimbledon, Le Tour and others. However, a few of the disciplines bring a slight concern by the fact that the waters in and around Rio are dirtier than Trumps election campaign and anyone falling in is likely to end up in ER pretty damn quick. A couple of years ago we had considered attending the event; South America always being on my ‘bucket list.’ Thankfully we did not book up due to financial reasons, since Typhoid is something I could gladly do without!
Never being one to let the absurd slip by unnoticed, I have to highlight yet another round of lunacy from the French law office. It appears that, as of this month, Paris is now limited to under nineteens, since they have outlawed all vehicles made before 1997 in the city. Yes, if you have a handy little Renault Clio which has stood the test of time, it has suddenly become a death nail in the planet’s coffin. Obviously it is high time you sold it and bought something newer. How about a Dodge Charger, or maybe a V8 Land-Cruiser with twin tailpipes? The reasoning for this prohibition quotes a staggering statistic that car emissions are responsible for 42,000 deaths per year in France. Really? Is there any evidence behind this astounding fact? So road deaths are down to an all time low in this country but cars are still killing us.  I am no scientist but surely the way the French drive, especially the Parisians, may suggest a simpler answer to their problem would just be that everyone just slows down a little, n’est pas? If they would do that around here too it may have saved our poor kitten getting run over on the road last week..

Monday, 20 June 2016

The weegie's shed

    A good few years ago we had a place in the North West near an airbase where they trained fast-jet pilots. As an exercise these guys used to bring a Tornado in to land just so that its wheels touched the tarmac in a puff of smoke and then pull on the burners and take off again. This more or less describes what my last month has been like.
   After some tearing around UK for business, two weeks in Glasgow saw me arrive at a derelict property, remove the entire contents of it and then systematically replace everything inside from kitchen to carpets and tiles to toilets, toiling day and night, mainly on my own. I will admit I didn’t get it completed as I was relying on some tradesmen - you know what those mythical illusive chaps are like - but I did give it a good kick at the ball. This was the first real experience I have had with Glaswegians and I have to admit the locals were a fantastic and friendly bunch of folks. One by one the neighbours would drop by for a nosey, bringing a cup of tea and a biscuit and one even offered to pop down to Tesco to get my shopping.  I couldn’t believe how far removed this was from the reputation that the 'weegies' have for nicking stuff, beating each other up - especially the English - and generally being a bunch of drunken hard-cases. To cap it all, the weather was so glorious for the whole duration, as they enjoyed the first decent summer for a couple of years. Another week is scheduled shortly and I am quite looking forward to it, not least because I am still fed up with the miserable weather here in France where it has rained constantly since Christmas.
    During that trip another thing I experienced for the first time was that of the man-shed - a residence from residence where gentlemen of a certain age while away the hours to get 'oot the hoos!' In this instance, the old guy who had lived there had since passed away but a few minutes in his 'shed' gave me a complete potted history of the chap in his prime, and what a proud guy he must have been. Wooden tools, alphabetically marked draws full of nails screws and obsolete bits of plumbing, a handy work-bench and garden equipment worn thin with age. Back then, and possibly still, a working man would pop out to the pub and have a couple of pints and then wander back home to ponder life in his own domain, safe in the knowledge that his wife knew where he was but wasn’t going to batter his ears for being a drunk and cluttering up the sitting room. In one corner, the tell-tale sign of an aerial socket would suggest that he might just have the footie on in there as well. It almost brought a tear to my eye, especially when a couple of Romanians removed the whole thing under my instruction, leaving nothing but a bare patch of earth to mark the spot.  I have no idea what they did with it after that, some things are better left unasked.
    You might question why I had to use some bogus method of disposing of unwanted stuff but the answer is quite simple - because the local council are so far up their own jacksie they can see the sunrise through their ears! These days local government is so infested by ecomentalists that we are dictated to that absolutely everything has to be recycled. Maybe not so much in the countryside but if you live in a city you will be indoctrinated to pop along in your Volvo estate to the local tip every week, sit in a queue of like-minded folks, awaiting your turn to put you old Kenwood mixer, MFI TV stand or Hostess trolley in the correct container. You even get issued with a map to help you do this which you can take home and be smug about. That is, unless you drive a white van. You see, van drivers are the anti-christ of recycling, hell bent on destroying the world faster than Dr Evil. The fact I merely darkened the door of West Glasgow's 'dump' with my Hertz vanload of nuclear waste was enough to get me a criminal record and a three month stretch in Barlinnie. Despite my protestations that I was carrying nothing more lethal than a used wooden kitchen cut no ice with 'Jock the important' who claimed it was still classed as industrial waste and I would need to pay a few hundred quid to dispose of it. After a futile argument, I succumbed and suggested I would revert back to what normal countryside folks would do - and have a bonfire instead. However, Jock didn’t appear too keen on this either, especially when I started unloading it on the side of the road and breaking out with the Swan Vestas! After yet more negotiations, a ream of paperwork and a few phone calls, I was eventually allowed to drive in and unload it, only to be bawled at by yet more dictatorial custodians of the planet for driving in the wrong lane and parking in the incorrect location. Hence, the whole recycling experience got me so irritated that I have no choice but to revert to the gypsy community with barely a pang of guilt!
    Anyway, a few days later, after another quick touchdown in the French rain, and we are in South West Spain, so far removed from the madness that we could have been on planet Sane. Conil de Fronterra is a place we have been before and one we love, purely because nobody north of the British Chanel knows of its existence. Although only a few hours from Malaga, for a whole week we never so much as heard a British voice, let alone saw a tattoo or fish and chip bar, as I mended my bones in the glorious sunshine, interspersed with gin and seafood, for a whole week.
To relay the pleasure of this experience back to our friends we made an attempt to take a 'selfie' but soon realised we are not very good at this task. No matter how hard I tried, every photo highlighted my burnt peeling nose making me look a bit like a scarlet artichoke. We tried the 'soft-focus' setting on the camera but even a blurred beetroot will never make a red rose.  Someone suggested we used that height of vanity, a selfie-stick, but it appears they don’t make them long enough for the likes of us! Oh well, we know we had a good time, and that's all that really matters.
   PS, don’t be in too much of a hurry to get rid of that hostess trolley, apparently they are right back in fashion. You heard it here first!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

A generation of useless bankers

When we first moved to France folks used to talk about ‘flaming June’. No, not a tradition of setting fire to the village bag-lady but the month, which is supposedly baking hot. Maybe I am feeling old but back then I can recall most of the spring having ‘tops off’ days here in the south west. Well this year we have had ‘freezing Feb, miserable March, atrocious April and murky May’. Apparently this has something to do with the Gulf Stream, a phenomenon which is quintessentially owned and controlled by Britain. So, basically, the blame for this dreary weather can be squarely laid at David Cameron’s door - yet another reason to tick au-revoir in the ballot booth this month!
Seriously though, the seed potatoes have only just gone in the ground – at least two months later than last year - and I have spent the last week building a fireplace on the back terrace to keep out the chill. Thankfully, during the prolonged wet period I have had an indoor project on the go which is now more or less finished: that of building a master bedroom, complete with en-suite. This entity was at the request of Mrs F who pointed out that over the last eight years I have renovated the entire house so that we can sleep a dozen or more guests in luxury but meanwhile the pair of us slum it in a make-shift bunker with the ceiling falling down and a furlong trek to the nearest loo.  She does have a point – maybe it should be called a Mistress bedroom? Hmm, that conjours up an interesting image, doesn’t it? Not only have I spoilled her with a new boudoir, but she now also has a utility and ironing room. No, not quite what you are thinking  as this isn’t a place where she can peacefully iron away the hours but a space where she can store all the ‘ironing’ in a pile out of sight to avoid the reminder that it needs doing on a twice annual basis. Oops, that might have cut my rations!
Moving swiftly on, at least this month I have been exempt from the anticipated continual travels. I was supposed to be in Glasgow for a couple of weeks but we hit a few project delays. And it is here that I feel the need to gripe, nay rant, about the irksome way in which the legal and banking system operates. Yes I know there may be bankers and lawyers reading this claiming that their industry is super-efficient but I have evidence to the contrary. To start with, you can no longer pop into a branch and open an account by filling in a quick form. Now I have been referred to the ‘account opening team’ who handle that process. Since the country got up in arms about all banking staff being based in India this new team consists of a dozen ill-educated teenagers in Sheffield with the collective IQ of my dog, who’s command of the English language is far worse than the whole of Mumbai! Four times Natalie has phoned me up, ‘clearing’ me with a dozen baffling security questions before getting to the point which is to ask me the same things she did last week because she had forgotten what I said. Six weeks on and I still have no account, nor even a piece of paper to suggest it may be imminent. Then we have the archaic paper-laden institution that represents our law; a set of egotistical brain-boxes in expensive suits who spend all day dictating letters to each other at my expense and then ignoring them. Hence simple transactions take months instead of days. In what other business could the whole process grind to a complete halt because Mr Jones is on holiday or paralegal Pam is taking a day off because her precious child has a nose bleed? It is utterly preposterous in this day and age that two or three quick emails can’t conclude a property purchase in an afternoon, let alone 2 months (or, in the case of one nameless local firm, a whole year!) If I was to be cynical I might suggest that dragging out the timeline would be so they could charge more – surely not?
On the subject of ancient things, some may recall that last we year we all trotted off to see the rock band Deep Purple, or what’s left of them. Well, despite my ears still wringing we are at it again, this time to see another depleted relic of my generation, The Who. I am not sure who’s idea it was, over a few shandies, but 12 of us have tickets at the best part of a hundred quid a pop to be shouted at for two hours by Roger Daltrey while octogenarian Pete Townsend customarily smashes up his guitar. The fact that these two of the initial four are still alive is itself a testament to modern science and one assumes their ageing fan-base have between them contributed massively to the sales of hearing aids. I have to admit I am quite excited, although I suspect these days there might be less talking about my generation and more about my operation!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Tata folks

Well, that’s lambing more or less done and dusted. Not been the easiest this year but we have a decent crop of lambs except for maybe the final pair, born to a yearling, which are so thin my wife has quite cruelly named them the Belson twins. Coincidentally, that is not the only reference to that ghastly atrocity of World War II as there has for some strange reason been a statue constructed in the centre of the Marmande bypass depicting the event. Although the origins of this bizarre stainless steel three metre high model are unclear, it shows three hunched people trudging along, chained together, and is apparently a reference to how the town played a prominent part in providing the train service for the crimes. One assumes it was erected to exorcise their guilt.  
April has, for me, been a month on the road, mainly in a hurry. Those lovely people working in air-traffic control disrupted my first trip, causing me to have to traverse the country by train, bus, taxi and finally, air. Just how in this day and age a few dissatisfied workers can cause so much commuting chaos is beyond comprehension but they do, because they can. With a four day business trip to Scotland condensed into three by their subsequent flight cancellations, the hours were long and painful as I also slotted in a 36 hour stint tiling the bathroom in our seaside house. Just 24 hours back home and we were off again to Paris, via Bordeaux, both of which, it has to be said are beautiful cities. This time we took in a rugby match en route. From there to London, the Midlands, London again, Calais and then finally home, for a week in my own bed – bliss! That week is very short, as I try and tie up far too many loose ends – I currently have 4 writing projects on the go – and get some well deserved sleep before it’s on the move once more. Next up Nottingham, Sheffield, Glasgow, none of which lay claim to UK’s best hotspots! Never being one to wish my life away, I certainly will be glad when the month is over and May brings some harmony and sunshine.
Anyway, hours in hotels, train stations and airports do give me occasional time to observe, and then rant. To start with, we have James Martin, that TV chef and apparent sex god who has, among his portfolio, a restaurant in Stansted airport. Ideal for a spot of breakfast you might think? Wrong. Well, not entirely incorrect, just that a big sign saying ‘proper breakfast here’ is not accompanied by that basic requirement, a menu. Me: can I see a menu? Chef: What is it you are looking for, darling? Me: um, breakfast. Chef: well, you certainly are in the right place, what did you have in mind, darling? I resisted the temptation to sarcastically demand a concoction of Belgian Duroc bacon and south Rhodesian hens eggs, in case they might actually have them! Me: errr, ehm, what have you got? This absurd conversation went on so long my flight is being called. Eventually I settled on a bacon roll, with no idea of what I would cost nor what else I was missing out on.  Twelve quid later and I realise that pretty-boy James is not such a mug after all!
12 hours later I am in my hotel room, battling with technology in order to connect to the internet, whilst simultaneously running a bath. Have you ever noticed how powerful the water pressure always is in hotels? No, nor me, really – until not only is the bath full to the brim with scolding water, but the entire bathroom. Stepping through two inches of the stuff in my socks to try and switch the tap off resulted in near third degree burns and then the hour long job of mopping it up, with one towel, took me past last orders for dinner and I have to take the car to a local garage for a pack of sandwiches.
Just four days after that I get another chance for that oh-so relaxing bath but this time a knock on the door disturbed the peace. Obviously the words ‘who is it?’ translate into French as ‘enter’, and in comes a maid, her eyes like saucers as she hastily retreats with a face as red as a London 2-decker. Thankfully she later resisted to opportunity to mention that ‘she didn’t recognise me with my clothes on’ whilst serving breakfast!
Finally a stay in a rather plush hotel near Stansted airport which has an incredibly large wine tower in the centre of the bar. Holding a good few thousand bottles, the only way each one can be collected from its slot is by a ‘wine angel’ - an athletic girl who ascends the tower in mesmerising fashion supported by a couple of thin wires. En-route she incorporates a few well practiced gymnastic moves, swirling head-over-tail like a beautiful starfish until she gracefully lands back behind the bar and hands it over. I have to admit my wine was a little too shaken up when it arrived - especially the tenth bottle!

The next time I write this column it may be as an outcast citizen as the nation goes to the polls. The subject of politics is something I tend to stay well clear of, despite the temptation to ridicule the phoneys who haplessly head up the common government. However, these last couple of weeks listening to their childish bickering on every media has made up my mind – which is basically to bid Britain Cheerio faster the country has said Tata to its steel industry!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Dirty Roger's pencils

    This month I write to you from a land far-far away across the sea called France. Remember it? It is a place that the Brits spent 500 years trying to invade, mostly unsuccessfully, and are now equally trying to break away from. Quizzically the locals in these parts enquire: 'What is this Brexit of which you speak?' The standard reply is that it is 'Les Rosbif waving the forks at you guys across the channel, again,' which tends to get the conditioned response of a Gallic shrug. And quite right too? If Britain wants to revert back to being a standalone entity, with its meat and two veg, let zem get on with eet, we never liked each other anyway. Of course, to us ex-pats, the issue appears a little more serious. While Britain aspires to cleanse itself of an unsalvageable immigrant problem, the migrants who left its shores may be cut off without so much as a return ferry ticket. This will inevitably inspire each and every one of them to flock to the postal polls out of shameless self interest. Of course, we won't have the slightest idea about what a non-Exit vote will mean to the country of our birth, nor even a pang of sympathy. Let's face it, in times of threat, it is every beard for himself, right? What may surprise you to know is that, for once, I don’t really have an opinion on the issue, for the simple reason is that I, nor anyone else as far as I can tell, can really get any clarity on the subject through the smoke and mirror deception of EU politics. However, my 'ce que sera sera' cavalier attitude seems to spark outrage from everyone around me, insisting that I register my vote right this very minute and that, in a democratic society, 'sitting on the fence will only get a spike up my bottom!' My actual opinion is that we ex-pats chose to leave the mothership for personal reasons, and thus possibly don’t even warrant a vote on the matter at all. And that one got me into hot water faster that a Parisian lobster, again.  
    Moving swiftly on, but not very far, I would like once again to quote from that Sunday Times best-seller: '1000 Years of annoying the French,' by Stephen Clarke. This time it is to underpin the notion that, along with their other conquests, America really should have belonged to the French. It tells a tale of a defrocked priest, Rene La Salle, who in 1682, having set up home in new-found Canada near Montreal, decided to embark on a search for a river that would lead him to China. Yes, obviously this was before the Tom-Tom was invented and was, of course, a notion that would undeniably declare him barking mad. No matter, along with the son of an Italian banker and a couple of dozen French soldiers, he wrapped up warm and trudged off through the snow until he found the Mississippi. There he built a couple of rafts and jumped on board in the hope of turning up in Bejing in time for spring. En route he passed through some rather nice fertile land until he arrived, some 1000 miles later, in the Gulf of Mexico! Eventually realising, due to the lack of Buddhists temples and noodles, that this was not his preferred destination, he decided to claim the lands anyway in the name of King Louis, famously naming its southern state, Louisiana. Due to the lack of phones at the time, La Salle then travelled back up the river to coldest Canada, to send a message back home to Louis Quatorze that he had claimed pretty much most of America as a French colony. Somehow though, and there are various conspiracy theories here, due to a religious cock-up involving some Canadian Jesuit priests, the King considered the message as a prank and replied that La Salle was to stop this pointless exploration of anything south of Lake Ontario if he wished to retain his head. Unlucky? Even our Louis (the pointless pointer) isn’t that stupid!
    Bringing the subject of exploitation of China a little more up to date, I recently read an article about a British entrepreneur who surely has to be knighted for his ingenuity. Discovering that some of China's biggest cities are grossly polluted, he decided to send them some air, in a bottle. Yes, for no less than £80 a time, he is selling jars of fresh air from the English South West and Home Counties and people are actually buying it. When interviewed - and this is the best bit - he said: 'Why not? A few years ago, people thought buying bottled water was madness, and now look at the size of that industry.' You have to admit, there is some logic in there somewhere. And so, here it is, my latest brain-child. Instead of all those town-folk cluttering up the local lanes in a bid to get near some greenery every weekend, they will soon be able to buy some countryside smells online to save them the trip. My catalogue of fresh aromas will start with a basic wild flora and fauna, made from a couple of crushed daffs and a few stale mushrooms, stepping up to 'inspiration of spring' - lamb droppings & grass cuttings - to the top-of-the-range: 'that full farm feeling.' The latter will include a mélange of 'cleaning out the cow shed', 'flooded crop-store' and 'bag of deceased lambs',  and will be accompanied by an 'Archers-like' farmer's soundtrack, complete with swearing!
    Meanwhile, back on the homestead, lambing is now underway here at Chauffour, something that we are quite pleased about if only to prove the fertility of Dirty Roger. Some of you may recall that back in October the immaturity of our new young ram was of a slight concern. Well, to open the batting, Lilly had a triplet which she seems to be managing to rear well enough herself without the intervention of Wendy as a wet nurse. Next up, Edith has, er, another set of triplets and my worry now is that a trend is appearing. So, it turns out, not only did Roger have lead in his pencil after all, but seemingly a whole box of crayons in his satchel as well! Careful what you wish for!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Reddybrek's it

   To Brexit or not to Brexit, that is the question - and quite a silly one it is? I don’t know who first came up with the word but it could just as easily apply to us ex-pats who Brexited UK some while ago. Or did we Frexit? And what about those voting for Scottish independence, did they want to Scexit?  Now the UK government has given its citizens chance to vote on whether to stay or go, my mailbox and social media page is immediately filling up with propaganda about what it would mean for us ex-pats if we suddenly discovered we were foreigners in our own land. Will all our houses be given to the French state when we die, or maybe our habitation tax will double on our 'second' home, once we have no mother country's laws to fall back on? Well, despite the scaremongering, the bottom line is that we have no idea. And that, I am afraid to add, is something that is far more scary than the question of EU membership itself. 175,000 ex-pats live in France and, despite us all choosing to inhabit a country where the weather is better and the cheese nicer, we all have a vote on the situation in UK, in the same way that I was allowed to put my cross in a box in 2014 that decided whether Scotland stayed with the status quo or became a third world non-entity. In that particular instance, I did exercise my vote as I believed the 'locals' were being hoodwinked into a historic hatred campaign with no clear understanding of the consequences. In June this year, the same arguments will be put in front of us again? Will Britain get out of Europe because what happened at Agincourt, or Hastings, or the 1958 football world cup?
   Having made my home in France for the last ten years, I have to admit that British politics don’t really interest me but they will to the many who live overseas, to the tune where 2 or 3 million ex-pats around the globe who will have a postal vote. Personally I am not sure that is fair. As overseas citizens do we want Britain to cut us off? Of course not. Would Britain leaving the EU or even re-negotiating its stance be good for us who ran away from its shores? Doubtful. Would it be a good thing for the Brits who still live there though? Possibly so. Democracy is a strange thing when you look closely at it. Letting passionate people with their own agenda and yet very little subject knowledge vote on a matter so important? That can never really make sense, surely. Didn't UK actually vote a government in to make those decisions on our behalf? Despite still holding a British passport, maybe I am one of the few who believes that in this case it is none of my business.  

Monday, 15 February 2016

Mr Spanky stays indoors

I think I invented a new sport last week called gyro-skiing, where you career down the side of a snowy mountain in a gyroscopic fashion! I am not certain it will take off - not like I did anyway! Bruises were incurred. And, to quote Forest Gump, 'that's all I have to say about that.'
Wendy and I did have a great trip in the Alps though, punctuated by an overnight stop in Clermont-Ferrand, an industrial conurbation set in a valley in the Massif Central surrounded by volcanic mountains. Once home to the French Grand Prix, as you enter the sprawling city it is hard to ignore the fact that this is the birthplace of, and home to, Michelin Tyres whose factories dominate the suburbs. However, rubber is not the only black thing in this city as, nestled in its quaint ancient centre, with its cobbled streets and vibrant bars, stands a huge gothic cathedral built out of volcanic rock making the vast black structure appear rather macabre as its two spires extend over 100 metres into the sky. As for their rugby team, well this year's efforts would have been greatly aided if the goal posts had been of similar height, as the fabled yellow and blue jerseys bowed out of the Heineken cup in such embarrassing style that the whole town population were also wearing black to mark the occasion. We were allowed a moment of gloating as it was our minnows from Bordeaux who administered their dismissal.
Yes, of course, it is that time of year when large burly gentlemen pull on bright lycra and knock lumps out of each other in an organised fashion every weekend for a few months. Considering myself a multinational, I will inevitably be wearing my collection of white, blue and red hats throughout the Six Nations although so far it has started well when the Jocks have waved us Sassenachs off home, once again carrying the silverware with us. This annual bloodied encounter between England and Scotland always reminds me of an occasion some twenty years ago when a Scottish rugby playing friend of mine, known affectionately to one and all as the White Shark, was out celebrating a Scotland victory on Edinburgh's Princess Street only to demonstrate how best to take a drop goal. The solid silver Pilkington Cup still has the dent in it to this day as proof. And still he missed the target, although he was quite severely told off for the faux-pas!
We appear to have arrived back to monsoon season here at Chauffour, when 400mm of rain, nearly two thirds of our annual expectancy, has fallen since Christmas, much of it through a leaking skylight window into an array of buckets which require emptying every three hours. Thankfully lambing is not yet underway but it is imminent and we are considering relocating to higher grounds. There are even small trout in the puddles by the back door, not that Mr Spanky would notice as he hasn’t been outside for six weeks. Our lake that was bone dry up until New Year is now a sea and the polytunnel has concertinaed in under the weight and has become a 10000 litre reservoir, should we require it during the dry summer. Let's hope so.
In a recent interview I was asked where I grew up, to which the statutory reply is always the same, I haven’t grown up and have little intention of doing so! However, I did spend my childhood and teenage years in Rock village, when a gang of Fraziers, Notts, Neaths and Whitemans would tear around the lanes from pub to pub in our Minis, taking in discos on Clee Hill, games of spoof in the Alma and the odd fence post on the way home. Next day we would all be back at work, driving tractors or feeding yards of livestock, no harm done. Back then I can vividly recall Bernard Birch senior saying to my Dad, when they heard about the death of their pal John Whiteman senior: 'Jack, they are pulling them out of our pen now.' Well, with the passing of one of our crowd, Fooey Neath, I guess the cycle has just gone around again. A sorry thought, I suppose. RIP big fella, we had some good times.  
Anyway, enough of that; this column wouldn’t be complete if I wasn’t complaining about something and this time it is a simple gripe about the price of Muesli. Up until recently, this isn’t something that would cross my breakfast radar, but of late I have been making a gallant attempt to be healthy. Three euros fifty - that's over three quid - that's what it costs for a box of rolled oats and barley with a few raisins thrown in. I know I am no longer in the farming business but I still have friends in that game, each of whom assures me that a ton of grain sells for just over one hundred pounds. So how on earth does one company manage to pimp the price up to £6000 per ton and get away with it? On every news bulletin we hear that the world population is growing sideways and there is Jeremy Hunt talking about taxing sugar to keep us all healthy, and making sure we get our five a day. Is he missing something here, or am I? Well, yes I am actually, my bacon butties - but not for much longer.

Oh, btw, Mr Spanky is our cat, in case you were wondering!