French history

I had to stay in today in order to take delivery of my new laptop. Amazon has this procedure for high value items. They send the customer a one time password, which you have to read out to the driver before he hands the parcel over. I’m not sure what happens if you’re not home. Presumably they don’t deliver it.

I didn’t find out because I was at home when the driver arrived and I took possession of a lovely new Dell. And, of course, it took me hours to get it up and running the way I like it.

And the rest.

While I was waiting for the driver, I took down all the Christmas lights. It was raining, but not a lot, so I only managed to get damp rather than drenched. Of course, it didn’t take very long, and I soon had the many strings of lights spread out on the extension floor, drying out like so much freshly gathered seaweed.

I’ll tackle the tree tomorrow and, hopefully, by the beginning of the week, we shall be festive free.

After such an industrious morning, we decided it was a worthy reward to have lunch at The Holly Bush.

I had the Camembert with maple syrup which was excellent, followed by the haddock chowder which was lovely. Mirinda had the salt and pepper squid which is always superb and the steak. All washed down with beer and rioja. The best kind of Saturday lunch.

The place was pretty busy and the girls were treated to a bit of a fuss by an older couple sitting behind us with their family – it was their son’s birthday.

Back at home, I returned to setting up the laptop and Mirinda worked in the library.

There was no need for food so, having finished the laptop as far as I could at the dining table, we settled down in front of the TV for our new Saturday ritual of watching a movie. And this week, it was Marie Antoinette, written and directed by Sophia Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst.

What an amazing film. We saw snippets of it when we visited Paris with Bob in 2019 and went to an exhibition in the Conciergerie. I’ve wanted to see it ever since and, only this week, it arrived on Netflix. It would be fair to say that I absolutely loved it.

Another thing I loved was the fact that Mops, the dog, won the Palm Dog Award at the Cannes Film Festival…which was great given the fact that [SPOILER ALERT] she had to stay behind when Marie went to France.

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Martin got married

I met Andrew for coffee this morning. We had the usual two hours of chat and laughs. He told me an extraordinary story which I don’t feel I can repeat, and lots of stuff I can. The story I want to tell, however, is one told to us by a chap sitting next to us.

Andrew, as I think I’ve said before, knows everyone. He’s incredibly friendly and can’t walk ten feet without someone saying hello. It’s his jolly and sunny demeanour that makes people smile when they see him. Martin was one of these casual acquaintances.

We’d been discussing weddings and funerals when Martin joined the conversation. Andrew said his luck at driving for weddings wasn’t good. Out of 13 he’d chauffeured for, 11 had ended in divorce. I suggested that Andrew should have some sort of loyalty scheme where your fifth wedding is free.

Then Martin told us the story of his wedding.

He and his fiancé didn’t have a lot of money when they were married, so the whole thing was pretty low key. Not that that stopped people having a great time. Mind you, it didn’t get off to the best of starts.

The priest (they are Catholic) turned up at the wrong church for the service. Subsequently, the bride-to-be turned up at the church before him. She sat, waiting and had a couple of vodkas, something that continued throughout the day.

Eventually, the priest turned up and the wedding went off without any further hitches. It was then off to the bride’s parents for the reception.

When it was time for the traditional toasts and speeches, they couldn’t find the priest. They also couldn’t find one of the bridesmaids. They searched the house, eventually finding them, together, and about to commit a sin that priests are supposed to avoid completely. They had only managed to get started with a clinch and a kiss, otherwise this would be a much funnier story.

Martin described the bridesmaid as willowy and very sexy. He didn’t describe the priest.

So, the speeches went off alright and everyone went back to enjoying the party. Except Uncle George. No-one could find Uncle George.

Now, George was a big man who, sober was lovely and jolly, the life of the party but, once he’d had a few drinks, he would become sleepy then more than a little argumentative. And he was missing. A search was organised.

I should add that throughout the reception, Martin’s new bride had been gradually finishing off a few bottles of vodka. I don’t think it had anything to do with Martin; I think she just loved vodka.

The search party eventually found Uncle George, sitting against a fence in a back alley, an almost empty bottle of whisky in his hand, his eyes closed. Having ascertained that he was merely unconscious and not actually dead, they attempted to get him back into the house. This was not easy.

As well as being somewhat weighty, Uncle George started carrying on, flailing his arms and refusing to walk. He was quite happy in the back alley and didn’t want to move. I told Martin they should have left poor Uncle George in the alley. And possibly given him another bottle of whisky.

Anyway, it came time for the bride and groom to head off for the bridal suite of a nearby hotel. There was the big farewell circle, which his new bride managed to stagger around. There were the customary kisses and hugs all round and, finally, they were out of the house and on their way. Martin hadn’t had a drink all day, but his wife was pretty much off her face.

They turned up at the hotel and Martin checked them in. Given they were staying in the bridal suite, everyone knew what was happening and there were smiles all round. Martin, feeling quite pleased they were about to be alone, helped his wife to the room. She fell on the bed and suggested he go down to the bar and get a bottle of bubbly so they could celebrate in style.

So, Martin headed back down and secured a bottle and headed back up. He was gone maybe ten minutes, but it was more than enough time for his bride to become comatose on the bed. He tried to wake her but she refused. She was, in his words, ‘spark out’. He went back downstairs.

He then spent the rest of the night with a fruit machine in the bar. He said the worst thing was the fact that everyone in the hotel knew what he should be doing but couldn’t help hiding smiles because he wasn’t doing it.

After we stopped laughing, I asked him how his new wife was the next day. He said she was very apologetic.

I hope I’ve done Martin justice with my version of his story. It was really very funny when he told it.

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Sudden and unexpected death

Today started bright enough but, as the day wore on, the clouds came in and, eventually, the rain started again. It seems we were only allowed one really cold and bright day. Stupid Thor and his buddies.

But the weather faded into the background for much of today. I had a Talking Newspaper session with Susan which I had to prepare, edit and record. As usual, on my hybrid, I clipped the stories from the online edition of the Herald before heading out to the office to begin editing. Except I couldn’t.

My faithful old laptop, the one I bought in 2016, shortly after our return from Budapest where I spilled coffee in the older one, had an odd message on the screen. Not quite the blue screen of death, it said it couldn’t boot up. I tried a number of things to fix it but, eventually, had to leave it alone and work out a different way to do things.

For reasons too numerous to go into, I wound up recording in the bedroom, using my hybrid and snuggled under the doona. As it turned out, the recording went very well and we finished early so I could get back to trying to resuscitate the laptop.

But there was nothing I could do. It was terminal. While I have the hybrid for a lot of stuff (like this blog), I really need a full machine in the office.

So, I looked for a new one.

After checking out around 300 laptops, I managed to find one that meet my rather exacting criteria. I ordered it and it’s due to arrive on Saturday. I guess that means my weekend is now taken care of as I get it up to spec.

Mind you, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Apart from software, everything is on external drives and everything is continually backed up (I use Backblaze which is excellent and well worth the money). For that reason, I’m not at all concerned about losing data. Because I won’t.

And here’s a photo taken from the greenhouse looking back towards the house for no reason other than it’s better than one of a dead computer.

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Happy Gary day

A complete stranger, having greeted me yesterday, assured me that the weather was set to improve. When I asked her in what way, she said the clouds would go, the temperature would drop and there’d be no rain. And, for today anyway, she was totally correct.

Then, by sheer coincidence, I saw her again today. I told her she was clearly some sort of oracle and did she have the lottery numbers for this week. Actually, what I said was that she could predict the weather whenever she liked if it was going to be so perfect.

And the day remained perfect for the whole day. In fact, it was so cold that Mirinda didn’t open the greenhouse doors, even when the temperature inside topped 13°. Outside it was only 6°, but the sun on the greenhouse glass sent the mercury soaring. With the door open, it would have plummeted very quickly.

I always find that, following weeks of incessant and annoying rain, a beautiful day like today makes for a very happy Gary. I spent most of the day smiling while doing housework, general admin and the researching of a few dead soldiers. I find that doing a bit of one then the other just breaks the day up; stopping any one thing from becoming too much of a boring chore.

Mirinda took the girls to Thursley for a lovely sun-drenched walk in the early afternoon but otherwise, was ensconced in the library, working.

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Tradition has gone out the window

I saw a fox in the garden this morning. I was sitting at the dining table, typing my blog post when, suddenly, I spotted a flash of red. At first I thought it was Emma but quickly realised it was bigger and redder. I quietly headed for the doors and found her in the Wildflower Patch. She leisurely moved down Carmen’s Sweet Escape, so I carefully followed her.

Obviously, as soon as I rounded the side of the office, she spotted me and was off like a shot. But she wasn’t quick enough to prevent me seeing how beautiful she was. A big bushy tail, pretty face, everything you’d expect in a healthy well fed fox.

It reminded me of a conversation we had in the car coming back from the football on Sunday. Nicktor said that Dawn was boycotting the Hogs Back Brewery because they support fox hunting. I have long been a fan of their beer but the fact that they support such an awful thing as fox hunting has made me reassess my loyalty.

To that end, tonight saw me drink, what could easily be, my last Hogs Back Brewery beer. Their excellent IPA.

Such a shame but, in all conscience, I can’t condone the cruel tearing apart of a frightened animal by a pack of country toffs with nothing better to do than show how big and clever they are by killing a defenceless animal in the harshest way possible.

I’d be in favour of a Fox Hunt Hunt though, where workers on quad bikes, with a pack of baying hounds, chase down toffs and rip them apart in a hedgerow. It seems only fair.

The ‘tradition’ of fox hunting in this country is abhorrent. Unlike other traditions, I’m surprised it hasn’t been removed.

I was reminded of Christmas traditions this morning, when I left the house to go shopping. The house across the road, the newest residents of our street, has had all of its Christmas decorations removed. I assume it was done because of the weekend. I guess expediency is more important than tradition.

As most people (should) know, the lights and decorations should be kept in place until Epiphany, more popularly known as 12th night, or January 6. It’s the day that the three kings were supposed to have arrived with gifts for the baby Jesus.

Anyway, I wonder why the lights came down a week early. Why not wait for the next weekend? I’m never going to find out, I know, but it does remind me of the wonderful Christmas lights we experienced in Sweden, where they came out in November and lasted into February. It really brightens up those long, cold Winter afternoons.

I guess another Christmas tradition is the making of my mince pies. And, in order to finish off my fruit mince, I made my final batch today. And, in Mirinda’s opinion, they were the best EVAH! We plan to eat the last ones on 12th Night.

I have to agree with my wife’s judgment. They were seriously good. I think it’s one of my best pastry results.

Speaking of cooking, tonight was also our first vegetarian dinner. As I wrote on New Year’s Day, we are trying to have two vegetarian meals a week. The first one came from Sabrina Ghayour’s Bazaar. It was her very Persian flavoured, tray baked vegetables, to which I added watercress and feta as accompaniment. I thought it was delicious.

And weather wise, while it rained for most of the morning, early afternoon saw a return of blue sky and sunshine. The day was also nice and cold with the thermometer outside my office never rising above 8°.


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Mexican delight

In July 2020, we had Scott, Cori and their boys over for lunch. It was an excellent day. I’d not met any of them before (Mirinda knows Scott from work) but I felt I’d known them for years by the time they left us to g0 home. Finally, after much cajoling and allowing for the various vagaries of the virus as well as our global location, we went for a return lunch today.

Mirinda decided we should go via the countryside rather than the sterile motorways, so we set off on our long drive across country. And, to be fair, while it was a lot longer, it was very attractive. Mind you, I think the dogs were concerned we were headed for Sweden again given the length of the journey.

We finally arrived and sat around chatting before Bridger had to leave for a friend’s place. Cade was studying, but Asher was very much in attendance. In fact, he’d made the excellent guacamole, which was decimated with numerous corn chips. It was seriously good. In fact, it was so good that I didn’t get a photograph quick enough for anything but the final scrapings.

It went beautifully with the tortillas and various Mexican bits and pieces prepared by Cori. I do love Mexican food. I particularly love the fact that it can be eaten with fingers. So much more satisfying than a knife and fork. Mind you, when I mentioned to Scott that I think it’s perfectly okay to eat your food with your hands if it’s possible. Scott asked about fillet mignon. I see no problem in that as long as it’s not too hot.

Speaking of meat, I particularly loved Cori’s shredded meat. A lot better than my usual Mexican-ish mince concoction. Clearly, I’m going to have to up my game when it comes to our next taco night.

Having stuffed ourselves with food, it was time for a very muddy walk with Susie, Emma and Freya. Freya had been a bit wary of the massive Susie but, once a walk was announced, she forgot any misgivings and headed for the door.

I didn’t go. It was considered a bit too muddy and uneven for poor, unbalanced old men. I sat, happily mud free, sitting on a chair, reading and drinking beer instead. It was very pleasant as the house was very quiet, not too warm and the chair was very comfortable.

In front of me was a mysterious door with a guitar and a ukulele hanging on it. I later discovered that it was a door off Cori’s grandfather’s house. The house she’d known well from her childhood, was torn down and reduced to nothing but memory. Well, apart from one door which she asked if she could have. It has since travelled the world with them.

Most people have somewhat smaller mementos, but I really love the idea of the door. One can easily imagine it’s the entrance to childhood, with your grandparents just the other side. Cori added the stringed instruments.

After the muddy walkers returned we were delighted to devour dessert. Asher had outdone himself with a chocolate brownie pie with pecans. It was unbelievably rich and worked very well with ice cream. I’m not sure I could have created such a glorious baked thing when I was 11. He is a wonder.

Over coffee, we all chatted about various things, including how Asher felt about Buffalo Bill Cody and his buffalo killing spree. Ash thought it was very enlightening that Cody felt more empathy for the wild beasts than the Native Americans he wanted to get rid of. His legend is a lot kinder than the reality, according to the exhibition in the Yellowstone National Park museums.

Sadly, it was eventually time to pack up the puppies and drive home. The trip was a lot shorter because we took the M25.

What a splendid time we had. I am now planning a Swedish meal for a return visit.

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My special Lucozade

Today was the return match between Aldershot Town Football Club and Woking Football Club. Following the awful game on Boxing Day, we hoped for something a little better; a bit more exciting perhaps; no red card and some decent referee decisions. Well, we certainly got some of that.

Nicktor picked me up at about midday and, accompanied by James, Alice and Joe, we headed for Woking where we met Biggsy in the small car park outside the Old Wokingians Football Club which they had opened specifically for the thirsty, hungry Aldershot fans. There was also heaps of very handy parking.

(Note that I was going to link to the Old Wokingian’s website, but the link isn’t working.)

We spent a little while at the clubhouse, drinking and eating, then headed for the Woking ground.

In previous years, the barrier at one end of the ground has been destroyed by Aldershot fans. It was probably accidental the first time but subsequently, a lot of the fans saw it as a challenge. For this reason, security is generally pretty tight. To that end, we had to wear wristbands. I’m not sure how wristbands were supposed to prevent the destruction of the barrier but, somehow they worked.

Mind you, while Woking knew how many people were attending – pre-booking a ticket was the only way in – they didn’t have enough wristbands for everyone. People who arrived after us were all proudly displaying their naked wrists. I was astonished that no-one was jealous of our adornments.

Possibly a greater annoyance than the wristbands was the confiscation of umbrellas. Particularly Nicktor’s. While it was a freebie from an old client, he felt aggrieved. He was definitely upset when the rain started as we stood on the terrace with no shelter above our heads. Though his mood plummeted even further when we spotted a Woking fan across the pitch from us with an umbrella.

Not that the rain lasted very long, and didn’t really make anyone very wet. In fact, not long after the rain, the sun came out, drenching the vocal Woking fans behind the goal. This sudden sunshine encouraged them to sing louder with a lot more swearing.

And they had every reason to. Although both teams came out of the blocks fiery and determined, Woking scored quickly and, at half-time, the score was 1-0.

Things were a bit quiet in our terrace as we dissected the first half display. There was also a fair bit of chat around the umbrella confiscation. A man in front of me proudly said that, while he was frisked down like the rest of us, the security guards had missed his three Lucozade bottles secreted throughout his voluminous jacket. He assured us it wasn’t Lucozade. He claimed that everyone who knew him knew about his ‘special Lucozade’.

Soon enough, the players returned to the pitch.

And I don’t know what the manager said to them but one minute into the second half, the Shots equalized. It looked like game on.

Then the referee started making odd decisions. Every man around me was equal in his condemnation. I’m sure no-one was biased at all. And, to be fair, the referee also penalised Woking in equal amounts of bad decisions.

Then, for reasons known only to the referee he awarded Woking a penalty. We were too far away but were assured by everyone else who was also too far away that it was not a penalty. Mind you, the Woking fans, who did have a clear view, were convinced it was. Who knows. All I know is that the goal went in and Woking took the lead again.

This whole, sorry paragraph was repeated a short while later at the other end. In a repeat of the Boxing Day game, our penalty also went in, and the score was 2-2.

Our fans could see a win approaching as we pushed towards their goal, attacking relentlessly. (That might be a slight exaggeration.)

After the 90 minutes, the fourth official held up his board with the number seven blazing out across the ground. Needlessly, the tannoy said there would be an extra seven minutes which was mostly caused by the referee holding up play during the Aldershot penalty.

Woking fans started leaving, clearly under the impression that it was all going to end in a draw. Then, six minutes later, Aldershot scored a winner and the Shots fans went insane. 3-2 and a glorious win for the away team. There was a lot of very loud singing and taunting of the Woking fans but they’d mostly all gone and missed it.

We were a happy bunch that headed back to the little car park for the trip home. The best performance by an Aldershot team that I’ve seen in quite a while.

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Speaking in percentages

I have made new year’s resolutions in the past and, I think, I have a 100% record for not keeping them. For that reason, I’m not that sure I should write anything about a new one. Still, why not? By the time the resolution is broken, this post will be as forgotten as music in Afghanistan.

So, we have decided to drop meat and/or fish from two meals each week. In other words, we are having two vegetarian meals out of every seven. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly because we feel it’s good for us but, secondly, because it makes economic sense.

I keep a running total of how much we spend on groceries each week, broken down into categories such as Fruit & Veg, Meat, Fish, Cheese, etc and, the largest percentage cost each day is given over to meat.

In November, for instance, Meat made up 12% of our daily grocery spent and Fish was 8%. Fruit & Veg, on the other hand, was just 7%. It will be interesting to see how that changes for the month of January.

I spent a lot of time today, scouring through my plethora of recipe books, looking for delicious vegetarian options. Sabrina Ghayour‘s Bazaar was very profitable as was Motay Ottolenghi‘s Plenty More, a book that Sharon gave me when they were last over, visiting.

I’m quite excited about this new culinary direction and looking forward to creating a change in kitchen direction.

In the meanwhilst, tonight was not a vegetarian night. Instead, we indulged in Lamb Messina style which combines two of my great loves: lamb chops and red wine.

I could never go full-on vegetarian.

By the way, our Cheese consumption is at 4% which is probably pretty high but non-negotiable.

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Big smile and a cheap dress

For the final day of 2021, the weather gods saw fit to bless us with some blue sky. While the clouds were there at the start and, half hour before I went shopping, the rain was pouring down, this turned into a very fine drizzly rain before stopping altogether. Then, unexpectedly and unrecognisably, this happened:

Mirinda took advantage of it and headed up to Hankley with the girls while I washed things and did general housework and admin tasks.

On one of my walks by my office, I noticed a disturbing sight.

As well as the almost constant rain and leaden sky, we’ve also had it unseasonably warm. This is happening more often as the planet adjusts to the awful shit we’re doing to it. The evidence for a warming planet is obvious when you see the daffodils starting to appear on December 31.

A lovely thought to end the year on. So let’s not. Instead…

Being New Year’s Eve, we were booked into the Chesil for the annual taster menu. Obviously we missed out last year (being in Sweden) and we were determined to make up for it tonight.

I booked before the menu was decided. We knew the food would be excellent, so who cares what we were going to eat? When the menu was decided, I was emailed with the tasty news. It all looked delicious.

This image is of the menu transcribed by me because we didn’t have one at the table for me to photograph as I usually do.

Anyway, our booking was for 9pm so we got our glad rags on (I was in my suit, and, as usual, I’m amazed that it still fits) and headed out.

The night was not clear. There was misty rain all the way, on and off at least, between Farnham and Winchester. Not that it bothers Max at all. We parked up and headed down to the restaurant, where we were greeted by a woman who recognised us to the extent that she showed us to, what she called, our usual table.

While the food was superb and the various glasses of wine I indulged in were excellent, I have to say that a highlight of the night was our waitress. She had the biggest smile and was great fun. At one point she told us her dress had not been that expensive, which was an odd thing to throw into a conversation.

And I missed the perfect comeback. I should have said that she looked a million dollars. Mind you, I did manage to get a reaction when I told her I didn’t like the crab. In my defence, I have never liked crab. Even so, I did eat it.

Something I did like (apart from the lamb which was very, very good) was the caramel slice with clotted cream ice cream. Not too sweet, it was the perfect dessert.

Then, of course, we finished with a cheese course.

And then there was a sudden thrum of activity as the clock ticked around to 2022. Everyone wished everyone else a happy new year. Except for our smiling waitress, who seemed to have vanished. I was ready to slip her a grateful note of monetary satisfaction, but she never returned.

We paid and wandered out into the night, back to the car park and drove Max home, to a frightened Emma (fireworks) and sleepy Freya (Freya).

A splendid night, as usual. The Chesil does a great NYE dinner.

Then, as a start to the new year, I watched a stupid waste of money on Netflix. It was the worst zombie movie I could find. I loved it, it was so bad. It’s called Day of the Dead: Bloodline. As an indication of how bad it is, here’s a link to some reviews. As one reviewer puts it: “If Zombies are out for brains, they will not find a lot here.

I didn’t get to bed until 3am. I might be old, but I’ve still got it.

Though I might need a grandpa nap tomorrow…

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Back when thieves were called colonists

Mirinda met Sophie today in Amesbury. They met in the car park and wandered around for a bit before going to lunch in a lovely pub. Mind you, there was a close shave when Mirinda noticed a nice looking pub quite close to the car park. When she pointed it out to Sophie, she shook her head and pointed at the menu in the window. The food was way too cheap. When Mirinda told me it was the Bell Inn I told her she was indeed lucky because it was a Wetherspoon’s.

The pub they did eat in was a bit outside Amesbury in a small village and was a delight, Mirinda said. They are thinking of meeting up for lunch more often and Amesbury looks like a good, halfway option.

Interestingly, an early American colonist by the name of William Carpenter, came from Amesbury (probably). He settled in Rhode Island in the 17th century and did very well for himself. And his wife and kids. He owned a big plantation (presumably stolen from the natives) and became wealthy and influential.

Carpenter built a big old block house on his property because he (rightly) feared attacks by the original owners of the land. All the other settlers would run for Bill’s Block House at the first sign of danger.

They were gathered there during King Philip’s War (1675–1678) when quite a few settlers were killed, including Carpenter’s son, William junior. Incidentally, a native American who got on quite well with the original pilgrims, changed his name from Metacom to Philip, which is why the war is called King Philip’s. Mind you, I’m sure there’s quite a few descendents that call it Metacom’s War. Though, I’d be tempted to call it The War Against the Imperialist Bastards Who Stole Our Land.

I don’t know if William Carpenter has a blue plaque in Amesbury because Mirinda didn’t say and I’ve never been there.

Of course, with Mirinda being away, I had a day at home, alone. Well, apart from the girls. And the rain, which didn’t stop all day. We really have had one grey day after another but, unlike the leaden skies we had in Sweden, these ones leave everything wet and muddy.

Of course, one of us spent a lot of the time on one of the red dining chairs.

And, naturally, Emma spent most of her time on the library window sill, telling people to keep well away from the house. Or just saying hello, for all I know.

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