Sunday, 22nd July, 2018
Week 500. You have to admit, it demonstrates perseverance/obduracy at the very least. I was pondering on this tangentially this morning. I do tend to commit myself to things. Since 1984, I have bought Honda cars. I have been an IHG member for many years and collected many ‘points’ and ‘free’ hotel rooms over that time. I became hooked on Greece, in general, and Sifnos, in particular, over a period of 35 years. Currently, we have been using hotels from the Accor Group and it has been causing me a bit of angst and a sense of betrayal. I’ve been trying to analyse what it is about my character that leads me into this enjoyment of continuity.
I would like to say that I had the answer but I don’t. I certainly don’t give in easily. If I’m in a fight over something, I will not stop until I’ve won or it is absolutely obvious that I can’t. I am incredibly loyal to people who gain my trust but cut them dead immediately if they betray me. The Blog began to help me record my life and shore up my memories for the final 20/30/40 years (perm any number) and has become a friend in itself. I feel totally committed to it. It will be lovely (for me at least) to begin Week 1000 in 2028 when I am 77 years old and, who knows, Week 2000 in 2048 when I am 97 although I won’t be holding my breath even if I’ve still got some.
This morning, we woke up in our room in the Novotel (Accor Group) Limoge Le Lac – which was still minus Le Lac this morning. We had a wonderful breakfast, returned to our room to download our copies of The Sunday Times and prepare for our journey to Orléans. We loved the Limoges hotel and were reluctant to leave it but we’d booked ahead for the next three nights so couldn’t do anything other than leave.
Our journey to Orléans on this gorgeous, warm and sunny morning was really enjoyable. Just 2.25 hrs of smooth and quite quiet motorway through almost totally empty countryside. Our French hotels are so civilised and check-in time is midday which suits us well. We arrived at our Mercure (Accor Group) Hotel but not before being pushed all around the city centre by road works and diversions that threw our sat.nav. into paroxysms of despair.
We arrived, were provided keys for our room which I insist must be at or near the top so it is quiet with good views. A caveat to that is the availability of a lift and I have slightly questioned the principle after Grenfell. However, that specification is in my membership account ‘preferences’ and I haven’t got round to changing them. Eating a hotel Breakfast in Limoges has left us absolutely podged for the day so we didn’t book the restaurant. We have rested with our newspapers, a glass of white wine and some gorgeous pistachio nuts. We need rest because, tomorrow, we will ‘do’ Orléans.
Monday, 23rd July, 2018
Woke up in a different hotel room and had to find the toilet in the dark. In the previous, Limoges hotel, the bathroom and toilet were separate. I had just learnt that and we moved on. This early morning, I nearly ended up stark naked in the corridor.
Dignity saved for now, we made tea and listened to BBC Radio 4 Today. Before going down to Breakfast, I got dressed. Once bitten ….Hotel Breakfast is judged by the quality of the scrambled eggs and this hotel passed the test reasonably well. Freshly squeezed orange juice is my other test and here it was passed with flying colours. Can’t be doing with hotels that provide ‘long life’ juice from packets/tins.
We ate our breakfast by the side of the pool in lovely sunshine. There were three GB cars in the carpark and near to our table was a family of parents and two, under-fives who were learning all the words of breakfast items in French. They hardly knew them in English. At least Nutella didn’t over reach them. At my age, drinking orange juice, tea and coffee at breakfast has to be followed by a period of rest and renewal before I can venture in to the world inspite of France’s reputation for easy access to public toilets. It gives me an excuse to read my newspaper in peace before setting out to explore the town and its shops.
Would you believe it. Monday is half day opening in Orléans and the shops don’t open until 2.00 pm. We walked in 31C/90F temperatures …. to look at the cathedral. Actually, it is magnificent and infuriating in equal measure. It’s magnificence is infuriating because, when one thinks of the lives consumed in the incredible effort to build that structure and the dwellings they must have lived in set against the cathedral’s edifice, the central futility of the project is laid bare. It is for ‘ruin-bibbers’, as Philip Larkin described us, to walk round on a sunny morning before the shops open and little else.
Tuesday, 24th July, 2018
Up early. We have a 4.5 hr drive to Coquelles this morning. We are going to endeavour to stay on the Paris ring road and avoid the centre of the city this time. I’ve seen enough of the Arc de Triomphe for a lifetime. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been away or how much we’ve enjoyed ourselves, by this stage, we really look forward to getting home. We have one night in Coquelles and then some shopping to do in the hypermarkets of Calais before we go through the Tunnel tomorrow.
Absolutely delightful drive avoiding the Parisian tourist sights but going close to Arras, the home town of a boyhood friend of mine from Grammar School. No problems. No incidents. Smooth driving on clean, clear motorway. As we drove into the grounds of our hotel in Coquelles, the first thing that struck us was the colour of the grass. When we
stayed there 5 weeks ago, everything was green and vibrant. Today, the grass is a brown and dry mat. The temperature is 31C/89F and humid. Rather uncomfortable. We have a suite in the hotel. We use it so often that we even specify the number now.
We shopped for things and then returned to our suite and laid out a buffet of tasty bits – tomatoes, cucumber, Salmon Pâté, Scallop or Saint-Jacques Pâté, Serrano Ham and a bottle of red wine. We relaxed and read our newspapers, watched the UK news and breathed out. Tomorrow, we will do a weekly shop and then go through the tunnel and drive back to Sussex.
Wednesday, 25th July, 2018
When you’re on your way home, you just want to get on and get there. Well, that’ s how we are. Up at 6.00 am on a hot and sticky morning. Showers and down to breakfast. Nice scrambled egg but the orange juice is not freshly squeezed. It will be tomorrow! Coffee in our suite with the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme and then out to the hypermarket. No wine this time just groceries. Auchan had loins of swordfish (Espadon) and we bought 10, large steaks. We also put 16 duck breasts in our trolley. When we thought we could fit no more in our car’s fridge, we stopped.
It is school holidays and we thought the tunnel would be busy. It was quite the reverse. Perhaps people really are taking their holidays at home. We have never seen the Tunnel car park so quiet.
Our car began to think it was superior as it sat in splendid isolation. We listened to the radio and logged in to the Tunnel’s Wi-Fi while we waited for our train. By 1.00 pm (UK time) we were off and into Kent. The drive back was quiet and enjoyable. The temperature outside was 31C/90F but inside it was 17C/63F. That’s the sort of temperature I like to drive in. It keeps me alert.
Back home, we were shocked to find the lawn was brown. When we left it was a lush green. Fortunately, all our pot plants – herbs mainly – were fully grown. There is so much Basil that it will take Pauline most of tomorrow to make Pesto and freeze it. I had set the heating system for ‘Holiday Setting’ which is ‘frost free only’. Unfortunately, very early on in our absence, there was a local power cut and the heating reverted to default settings which meant that the water was kept hot throughout the five weeks we were away. It also reset the burglar alarm. Still, these are things I will consider and address for next time.
Thursday, 26th July, 2018
I was up at 6.oo am. I will be for a while because I am slow to move out of Central European Time. The watering system that I moved to the figs and olive trees has completely revived them so I am now on a non-stop campaign to bring the lawn back to health. At 6.30 am, I was turning on the watering system for a long day of treatment.
No breakfasts now – just freshly squeezed orange juice, tea and coffee. It’s not a problem. I did find breakfast difficult to eat and it made me feel lethargic for quite a part of the morning. Having my hair cut by my wife because it has really grown over the past five weeks. I’ve then got all sorts of jobs to catch up on. I’ve got investment accounts that need renewing/replacing. I have to update our power supply contracts which run out in a fortnight. I have to organise the new smartphones that EE are desperate to give me to keep our business.
We do everything finance-wise on line. While we’ve been away, using insecure Wi-Fi, I haven’t been able to access our accounts. This morning, Pauline is checking and bringing our bank and credit cards accounts up to date. The credit card is one long list of tolls paid and ‘non-sterling transactions’ to accompany them. Most of our spending was in euros to avoid these charges but, at the peage, a credit card is much easier and quicker.
There is a pre-pay system which we may set up for our next, European drive.
The basil was so strongly grown over the past 5 weeks that we decided to capitalise on it immediately before it turned to seed. There is so much herb that Pauline needed a kilo of Parmigiano-Reggiano and of pine nuts before we could start. After a trip to the supermarket for pesto constituents, we harvested the sweet, Italian Basil plants and Pauline set to making the Pesto. I set the watering system up to slake the thirst of the front garden, the pot plants and then the back garden and, particularly, the lawns. I will have them back to their best before we fly to Athens in a few weeks time.
Friday, 27th July, 2018
A very warm and sticky night. If this sort of temperature becomes a feature of our climate, we are going to have to make changes – ceiling fans or air conditioning units in our bedrooms. The main problem is that we have bought a new-build property because of its most up to date insulation qualities. Our use of the central heating is kept to a minimum. However, those qualities are exactly the ones that militate against keeping it cool in the hot weather. Should have thought of that!
I was up at 6.15 am and had the sprinkler system on the lawn working flat out shortly afterwards. I left it on as we went out to shop at Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose. We also went to Littlehampton Marina to the fishermen’s shed to buy crab.
Actually, we bought crab and sea bass. The crab will be mixed with cod loin and some thick yoghurt and herbs, which we bought in Tesco, to make a crab-flavoured, fish Pâté.
Tomorrow, we will make the next batch of Pesto and then the Basil will be fed and watered and persuaded to put on growth for at least one more cutting in mid-September after we come back from Greece. We will also harvest three pots of Oregano, two pots of Tarragon and the Chives. It’s going to be a busy Saturday.
Saturday, 28th July, 2018
The day has started off bright but fresher and breezy. We are around 22C/70F with a strengthening breeze that is bringing screaming gulls in from the shore. All around us, farmers are starting to move straw bales to winter stores and are completing their harvesting of grain. It is still only July. Farmers will all be going on holiday at this rate. It is harvest weekend for us too. Today, we made the second cutting of our herb pots with realistic prospect of at least one more to come.
Today, we harvested huge amounts of sweet, Italian, big-leaved basil and small-leaved, Greek basil. Because of its fragile nature, it was immediately combined with pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and Parmigiano Reggiano to make the most wonderful Pesto you will ever taste. My wife is brilliant!
Of course, I don’t get to just observe. Today, as well as the Basil, we had to crop Oregano, Thyme, and Tarragon. The Dill, which we cut before we went away, has failed to regenerate for a second crop and the Marjoram has died completely. It was my job to cut and strip the Oregano and the Tarragon. It is a laborious and time-consuming activity and I was glad when it was over. In the meantime, Pauline was stripping the Thyme and cutting the Basil.
Although the lawns are very brown, I have watered them virtually non-stop since we got home on Wednesday. Today, I cut them and fed them. We are expecting some rain over night which will help to water the feed pellets in. I am hoping to get it back to luscious green within two weeks.