Saturday, March 15, 2008


When an icon crumbles, it is only human to feel the tremors in your own feet. Terry Pratchett has always been with me, either in a current book or reference, usually, but not exclusively, shared with my daughter Lucy, who has inherited my own passion for his writing.

His most obvious and saleable talents; prolificacy, humour and wry perspicacity have relegated TP to zone 'popular' , but he is in fact a great philosopher and his humour is grounded in a detailed knowledge of philosophy. That he should now be silenced by a rare and virulent form of Alzheimer's is too cruel an irony to dwell on, but in compensation he can say that his time as a writer will persist well beyond his time as a living being. In addition, his writing has earned him enough to be able to contribute half a million pounds to further research of the disease and hopefully help future sufferers - another prolongation of his presence. I wish I could leave behind so many, valuable souvenirs, but in our own small way I suppose we are trying. PDF continues to stretch us on the rack of technological torture, but we will sort it out and our guide books will help a small number of people find the via Francigena with less pain than we had to go through. After another day lost, it looks as if Paul may have found the solution. I am trying not to think about the fact that this requires a copy and paste of the whole book into a single document.

This morning I went to Laval to pick up the export documents for our 'girls' and this afternoon I cleaned up the schooling area (something I should have done long ago), prior to them being collected tomorrow morning. When I went into the tack room and saw their saddles and bridles I nearly broke down. The next few days are going to be very hard.

On the way back, I discovered an element of France - the housing situation - that had passed by our comfortable, closeted existence. Here in the country, supported by Paul's pension and income from my own property, the notion of 700 euros a month rent paid by teachers earning only 1200, seems utterly impossible, but apparently not. The item featured a number of action groups, particularly one that is exposing the practice of landlords to demand sex in return for 'reduced' rent. All of which reminds me that our time in France could include far more than our own, very personal aims, and adds a metaphorical post-it to all the others randomly scattered in the jumble of early-morning (still in bed) ruminations.

I rejoin this draft blog with at least two of the items superseded by new events. The 'girls' have gone and the moment was predictably painful. We groomed them and winced when they so obviously appreciated the attention. I wrote a long, last letter to Emma, listing more of Gwen's eccentricities and urging her to love our horses as we have done/do - though I don't think there will be any doubt about that. Then the lorry came and now we have the Marie Celeste. Even Vasco was visibly disturbed by their departure and refused to leave the road until I had to pick him up and carry him inside.

Our Printer Proofs for the Volume One have been rejected again, so we are no further. But, on a lighter note, yesterday I received the second half of my mother's day present - tickets to see Evasion, Femmes de Plein Vent, a French a Capella group who defy any distinct classification. Singing in a variety of languages, Portuguese, French, Italian, Arabic and African dialects, they managed to transform their voices and persona to mirror every aspect of the individual cultures - movement, facial expressions and interaction with each other . We were all agreed that it was an amazing spectacle, not only because of the quality of the performance itself, but also because it was in a tiny village hall with no more than 200 in the audience - only in France, long may the subsidies last.

Next on the list of icons - Hugh Sykes, reporting out of Baghdad, so obviously engaged with the people there, speaking some Arabic and relaying what I believe to be the most accurate impression of life in Iraq. I recommend it to anyone who has not yet listened. Radio 4, a 5-minute item in PM or his blog:


Meanwhile, the apartment is acquiring layers of paint and a new landlord. Perhaps it is good news, perhaps he/she will want to re-decorate our depressing and odorous hallway, and perhaps he will want to mend the leak in the cistern. We can only hope so, but we will meet him next Tuesday and probably get an impression of which way our luck will swing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sod's Technology Law

If it needs to be done fast, if you are working against deadlines, if people are waiting for the output, only one law will apply - Sod's Technology Law. Having sorted out the maps, typo's, layout, colours, content and photos to our satisfaction - a long and painful exercise - we are now at the stage where all - a word with such a comprehensive sense should have at least 40 letters - all we need to do is convert the Quark files to PDF and send it off to the printer.

First round - it all flips into landscape and is sent back
Second round - the PDF convertor we are using is not 2001 compliant
Third round - we have purchased a new convertor and Paul is battling with it as I write this blog. In fact this is the only reason I can write the blog, because every other minute is usually taken up with Vol. 2, painting the apartment and otherwise trying to do all the other things that need to be done.

Meanwhile, the storm to beat all storms has just crashed over England and slopped its left-overs on France, which means we and more specifically our horses are looking for an ark (two by two). And on the subject of horses, it is all change here too - faster than we had expected. For anyone who is unfamiliar with our story, I will just say that Gwendolyn and Lubie are no ordinary horses. Having been left on the equine scrap heap here in France, they got back up again and carried us 1,500 km to Santiago de Compostela and then 2,000 to Rome. Friends for life, but also due better treatment than we can give them when we finally move into our new apartment. Fields and willing helpers are plentiful, but what our 'girls' really need is daily contact and care, so we have had to make a major decision with regard to their future. In short, I put an advert out on the web, explaining what we/they are looking for in terms of a new home, and now it looks like the perfect person is offering just that - albeit in England - how ironic. If all goes according to plan, they will be leaving here at the end of this week, which is wonderful for them (10 acres of fields), but heartbreaking for us.

Meanwhile, Lucy's kittens, Marx and Nell, have been to the vet for the 'op' and we find that we in fact have Marx and Engels - a shock, but cheaper.

Lucy is poised on the brink of a new future, applying for universities, trying to get it right first time and summing it up so perfectly by commenting that she is doing such 'grown up' things without really feeling grown up at all. Nevertheless, I envy her and wish I had used my 'lead-in' time more usefully, but of course it is too late for regrets and I still have time to write that book everyone is supposed to have inside them.

In the wider world insanity reigns as usual. Today Lord Goldsmith proposed "to make schoolchildren take part in citizenship ceremonies (swearing allegiance to the Queen) and a new public holiday to celebrate "Britishness", established by 2012". If it wasn't for the lack of lions and wardrobes I would swear we are in Narnia. Or perhaps Lord G is in fact the real-life version of Uncle Andrew. Either way, he would benefit from taking a good look at today's Britain, where the Queen has very little relevance for anyone (least of all teenagers forced into some sort of Baden Powell-style ceremony) and Britishness is the kind of embarassing condition most of us avoid talking about.

And continuing the theme .... insanity that is ...

Following a week-long training seminar for priests in Rome, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti has announced that the seven new mortal sins are to be:
Environmental pollution

Genetic manipulation

Accumulating excessive wealth

Inflicting poverty

Drug trafficking and consumption

Morally debatable experiments

Violation of fundamental rights of human nature

But if anyone out there (politicians especially) is about to check ebay for fire resistant suits, don't panic because Pope Benedict has already sourced the problem and the solution.

"We are losing the notion of sin," he said. "If people do not confess regularly, they risk slowing their spiritual rhythm."

Ergo, a bit more effort in the confessional area will speed up our spiritual rhythm, enable us to rediscover our notion of sin and ensure we avoid all those deadly new ones.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Back to Blogdom

Having decided that letting my blog go is a sign of letting my thinking go - I will now try to make at least two or three blogdom forays per week - even if no one reads them.

Top of the thought list for today is the death of yet another teenager, this time at the hands, or more accurately the knife, of another teenager, her friend, a girl, high on a mixture of cocaine and alcohol. Maybe it is just my age and long distance contact with current reality, but for me the anomalies in this list are too obvious to brush over with the usual demand for curfews, prohibition, ASBO's and 'good parenting'. No, I don't have any solutions, better or worse, but perhaps these can only come from looking at the source of the problem, rather than trying to attack the symptom. There has never been a golden age, my childhood was as miserable as the rest for a range of archaic reasons, but in spite of all this, I do not think we had reached the vortex vacuum society seems to be careering round today, with the consumer power being the only power available. Am I onto something here? Is the solution perhaps in the very doom and gloom of the economic down turn everyone seems to be predicting? Or do we need an ongoing 1984-style pseudo war to keep us on the right track? Is this why Bush feels the need to be in perpetual conflict? Is he in fact a great less stupid than we think he is? Am I fooling myself that Barak is the answer? Probably.

So, a very fairly random start, but a start nonetheless and a break from our 8/9/10 hour days spent working on the guide book - which can be a fairly mind-numbing process. Nevertheless, volume one - Canterbury to the summit of the Great St Bernard Pass - is with the printers, proof expected back in about 15 days, and Vol 2 - Great St Bernard Pass to Rome - is halfway done and people are clamouring to buy them, so it's not all a wasted effort. No, far from it, in fact those nights spent dreaming about cover designs and typos seem to be paying off, because the PDF version really look quite good, something to be proud of. No matter how small a drop in the ocean of publishing and guide books it may be, it is our drop and someone out there will benefit from its existence.

Meanwhile the rest of our life is in flux, as usual. Yesterday, we bought some light fittings and dropped them off at the apartment, along with coffee, cups and toilet rolls, in preparation for the days we will spend there painting and putting our stamp on it. As we slogged up the shabby staircase, bringing back memories of my student squats days, it occurred to me that such a basic accommodation choice is strange for a couple of our ages to make. In fact, most of our friends, especially our Rotarian friends, would think we are completely mad, if we let them see it, but actually we, Paul and I, are probably as excited about this move, as we were when we initially came to France. Fougéres and our apartment are a bridge to the place we have been hankering after, without even knowing it - regular social contact, shops, cinemas, the theatre and in particular the Coquelicot bar - all within five minutes walking proximity. A lifeline for this ageing hippy who once said that only a desert island would suffice. How times change. Given enough sun, I suspect we would forgo all plans of moving south (post voyage to Jerusalem and back) and buy something here, but these are only the emotions of the moment and no doubt I will be recording something completely different in my blog a few tomorrows ahead.

So, as finger fatigue sets in, I feel a minor sense of accomplishment because I have managed to write reasonably freely and a sense of guilt, because I have spent all of ten minutes away from the guide book, but I cannot close without mentioning the Rosebud Blues Sauce band ( saw at the Coqueclicot last night. Too big for the venue, and only a small, though enthusiastic audience, but a great rendition of old blue numbers nonetheless, with a saxophonist who left me vowing to find a teacher in Fougéres. Thank you Patrick (Coqueclicot owner), another great evening.

And to close …. A blog recommendation for anyone who needs to be reminded that there is another worked out there Dr Mona Al Farra, physician and human rights and women's rights activist in the occupied Gaza Strip.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pilgrimage - a challenge to everyday life.

Pilgrim History
The ancient notion of pilgrimage, present in almost all the world's religions, reflects a human desire for fulfilment. Throughout history, the pilgrimage has been a religious phenomenon that set people on a physical journey in order to yield spiritual results. All of the world religions have some sense of pilgrimage. Jews and Christians visit Jerusalem, Muslims travel to Mecca or visit the tombs of Sunni saints, Buddhists journey to Tibet and Hindus go to Benares.
Catholicism has a rich history of pilgrimage, dating back to the medieval period when pilgrims travelled to major churches or visited sites where saints had lived or died - Assisi and Santiago de Compostela being good examples. During the 12th and 13th centuries the religion of the time encouraged people to think that by just visiting a shrine or relic some of the holiness would rub off on them. As a result Europe saw of frenzy of Cathedrals and churches being built around these relics - in fact if all the splinters of the True Cross were gathered together, there would be enough timber to build Noah’s Ark.
Christian pilgrims have travelled across Europe since medieval times and for a variety of reasons. The majority would have been heading for three main sites of devotion, mostly on foot, covering anything up to 20 or 30 kilometres a day and usually carrying one of the three pilgrimage emblems: a cockle shell for Santiago de Compostela in Spain, keys for Saint Peter in Rome and a cross or palm leaf for Jerusalem. For some the motivation would have been entirely religious, but for many others it was far more basic and earthly. The sick hoped St James would cure their bodily ills. Criminals chose the long haul in preference to a prison sentence imposed by a court of law, while a large percentage of the other pilgrims would have been aiming to enhance their credibility and social status back home by displaying the St James cockle shell as proof of their grit and devotion.
The hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, dates back to the Prophet Abraham and is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation bringing together Muslims of all races and tongues between the eighth and the 13th days of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Muslim lunar calendar.
Until the 19th century, travelling to Mecca usually meant being part of a caravan following one of three main routes out of either Egypt, Iraq or Syria. Nowadays hundreds of thousands of believers from over 70 nations arrive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by road, sea and air every year.
The earliest centres of Buddhist pilgrimages were the places associated with the life and Teachings of the great Master. These four places are Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kusinara. Lumbini, in what is now Nepal. The others are in India: Bodh Gaya was the place, under the pipal or Bo tree, where the Buddha was enlightened after practising meditation for several years. Sarnath was the scene of His first teaching and Kusinara was the place of His death or final Nirvana.
After the death of the Buddha, the relics of His body were collected from the funeral pyre and divided into eight parts. These were distributed to the claimants and stupas and burial mounds, were erected on the relics. The practice of pilgrimage in Buddhism probably started with visits to these places, the purpose of which was to achieve personal advantage such as rebirth in a good location, as well as to honour the great master. Thus the custom of pilgrimage has been widespread among Buddhist for many centuries and is common to both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions.
Darsan means seeing in Hindu religion and when people go to a temple, they say they do not go to worship but to see the image of the deity. The deity is believed to actually be within the image and beholding the deity image is a form of worship where through the eyes one gains blessings. The pinnacle act of Hindu worship is to stand in the presence of the deity and to look upon the image with their eyes, because darsan is believed by Hindus to be far greater and significant than that which can be granted and given by holy men - sadhus.
Pilgrimage Today
Whatever the motive, a pilgrimage is a journey, which meets a deep spiritual and emotional need and is made out of the recognition that there is more to life than just the humdrum daily grind of existing.
Deacon Trevor Jones, Pilgrimage Director

As recent statistics show, the pilgrimage experience is experiencing a renaissance. In 1986, just 2,491 pilgrims collected their Compostela certificate in Santiago, but by 2006 these figures had passed the 100,000 mark - an increase of 6453 from 2005. Of these 250 were over 75 and 40% of the total were women.

I did not set out on a Spiritual or religious journey - but it ended being that way - accident? I don't know... maybe that is just the Camino de Santiago at work.
From a Pilgrim blog.

Today's pilgrims also travel for a variety of reasons other than the strictly devout. Some view it as a trial of manhood, others want to get rid of extra kilos and meet some interesting people in the process, while for many it will be a far more fundamental opportunity to achieve personal goals or pause before making a major life decision. But ultimately, whatever the original motivation, everyone will find themselves changed by the experience, including the people living along the route who will profit from a cross-cultural exchange and of course the pilgrim trade.

We don't know which memories we are to cherish, which ones we are to etch with deeper lines so they will stay fresh when we call them time and time again. Now we pause during a run or a walk and ask, Do you remember...?
From a Pilgrim blog.

Travelling as a Pilgrim can only ever be at the speed your own body and mental attitude will allow, which may initially seem like a restriction, though even the most cynical and reluctant newcomer will quickly realize that this is in fact a first step on the road to freedom. Clearly there will be days when you wonder why the hell you are there, but rest assured, this is only a temporary condition and you will find the answer in the people you meet and the memories you take away.

Today, just as at the height of its popularity in the 1300's, travelling on the St. James Way can be a commercial affair. Pilgrims bring much needed revenue and the route is sometimes diverted to maximise these opportunities, but the flip-side is that in return they enjoy facilities that make the difference between unacceptable hardship and an enjoyable challenge. The only, all too obvious, disadvantage of this popularity is that some sections of the St James Way are being ruined by pilgrim detritus: plastic bottles, bags, tissues, sanitary towels, toilet paper … an unsightly mess that is also extremely damaging for the environment. How to safeguard the physical integrity of the St. James way, and other pilgrim routes that will become increasingly popular, is an ongoing problem and an issue beneficiaries must be prepared to tackle - but that's another story.

To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life.
Phil Cousineau - the Art of Pilgrimage

Friday, December 14, 2007

Can we come and join you Flower Smellers?

This blog is about to change its identity, a fairly earth shattering event for me, though but probably not for the rest of the world, yet.

Joining the Flower Smellers community means that I have a wider audience and have to widen my personal whinge space to include my (and partner Paul's) main reason for being - travelling and mapping ancient pilgrimage routes - and the daily activities that go along with that. We understand that maybe the subject does not grab everyone straight away, but if you can last a few more paras, perhaps you'll get a sense of what brought us to this bizarre, and on occasion incredibly satisfying, place we find ourselves in now.

Paul and I are drop-outs - must be - because once upon a time we were in and now we're out doing our own thing, as opposed to someone else's. A healthy change, but a change only made possible by years of earning our crusts and, to be honest, enjoying the process - 90% of the time.

Five years ago we opted for early retirement. Freedom! Except that we didn't know what to do with it, so we took time out and rode two horses on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, hoping that something would occur to us on the way.

Result? Well, not exactly. Paul learnt to ride, I learnt to live without a watch and we made some great friends along the way, but by the end of the journey we still did not know what to do next.

So we went on another pilgrimage, this time 2000 horseback kilometres to Rome and for some reason - probably the suffering - suddenly everything became clear. You see, for us it's all in the journey - taking time out from the familiar to test relationships and boundaries, meet people like-minded and not, discuss, think, re-think, evaluate, re-evaluate … and in our case, perhaps enable more people to do the same in the hope that they can gain as much as we have from the experience and maybe even promote, in a very small way, the kind of relationships that can lead to global understanding - peace across borders and religions, protection of the environment above commerce.

And here we are, three years later, heads down and writing our first pilgrim's guide to Rome - hopefully the first of many that will inspire and enable everyone to benefit from the pilgrimage experience, irrespective of age, fitness or belief. Alongside this, we are also devoting a great deal of our time to Pilgrimage Publications, a not-for-profit organisation with 4 clear aims:
1. To enable walkers, cyclists and riders to follow pilgrim routes all over the world.
2. To ensure Pilgrimage Publication guides are as current as possible and to use pilgrim feedback as a major source of information.
3. To use recycled materials for the production of guides, travel books or any other materials.
4. To promote eco-friendly travel.

We are looking forward to exchanging news and views with anyone who is interested and maybe even inspiring some of you to follow in our footsteps. For more about who we are and what we do take a look at our other websites and blogs.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Life is Full of Surprises

Life is full of surprises, some good, some bad, but invariably their occurrence provokes a ripple far larger than the original impact. This week I was surprised by William Blake, a name I had previously consigned to the poets read at school category - which ranks only marginally higher than poems written by boyfriends during puberty - and subsequently forgotten about. Yes, the Tiger, Tiger stimulated a few cerebral whiskers, but never enough to change an innate impatience with poetry, so my conversion to born-again Blake Worshipper is indeed, a great surprise.

And the ripples?

The discovery that Blake's poetry was only half, perhaps not even that much, of the entire man.
Jerusalem, the nationalistic schmaltz anthem that, previously, I could not hear without rising bile, was in fact a fierce criticism of Victorian society, its stifling of ideas and its materialism. So far from being a eulogy, it is a lament, something I can understand a great deal better. Blake rejected all forms of imposed authority; indeed, he was charged with assault and uttering seditious and treasonable expressions against the King in 1803. The charges were brought by a soldier called John Schofield after Blake had bodily removed him from his garden, allegedly exclaiming, "Damn the king. The soldiers are all slaves." According to a report in the Sussex county paper.

To add to all this, he was a musician, artist (see example in photos) and best of all he preferred to live inside his head, rather than with everyone else in the rest of the world. I do not behold the outward creation... it is a hindrance and not action."

His relationship with his wife, Catherine, was unique for the time. For a start, they were truly in love. He taught her to read and one day a friend walked into their garden and found them both sitting naked while reading Paradise Lost to each other. Can you imagine anything more romantic, aesthetic and impossible in Victorian Society?

I could fill pages on this one theme, but it would only be more on the same and tedious for the unconverted, so I will close and leave you to guess what is on my Christmas list for this year.
Christmas .. now really close. We have sent out cards out promptly, thanks to Lucy who wrote them all because my handwriting is so illegible, particularly when it is involves boring repetition - Love from … have a good one … hope everything works out in 2008 … I am trying to be upbeat about it, but Christmas with a family of three and one of them a teenager is not a great prospect. A theme that could lead me onto wishing we had a wider of circles of friends, wishing I had done this and not that so that I wouldn’t be doing this and not that now, but I won't.
More upbeat, this is the second week of wearing multi focal contact lenses and I can see! The first few days were tough, with long sight being fine while anything close resembled jelly in a fog, but both ends of the frame improve by the day and we have decided that Paul should have a go too, which has to be a good move. Ten new pairs of glasses every 6 months is a big addition to our tight housekeeping budget.
And so to rainbows, without even an attempt at linking subjects. Gorron, our local town, was engulfed in rainbow colours just a few days ago, with the church picked out in indigo, a truly stunning spectacle that should have been recorded for posterity, but of course I did not have a camera. In fact it was so stunning that I drove all the way home to get one. Needless to say, it had gone by the time I got back. Still, not wanting to let the magic moment go, I have come up with the, probably ludicrous, idea of collecting rainbow photos and putting them on a website. In fact I have gone so far as to float the idea on the GoSmelltheFlowers website, so depending on the response, I may have given myself yet more to do.
Meanwhile, the rain hammers on, the horses continue to look miserable and I have got a cold to beat all colds. Paul is coping with my misery, but I sense a trip to anywhere but here is on his mind, which reminds me … we have said that we have accepted Vlad and family's invitation to stay with them in Russia next year - something to really look forward to.
The guide book is growing and we have reached Langre, a milestone in Paul's mind, though not mine because I haven't a clue where it is in relation to all the other places we are writing about. How about this for a closing quote?

You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life. Albert Camus

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lies, Fatties and Kittens

So much to do and so little time to do it in, let alone write about it. During the week I note subjects I think are worth expanding on and now have a long list of items, though many of them are so cryptic I can't remember what they refer to. Perhaps a reflection of my life in general.

Having passed the health check (obligatory in France) I have no excuse for not going to the gym and battering the flab, other than laziness and embarrassment, both of which last night's viewing of recent wedding photos have overcome (wish the gym could sort out the wrinkles too). Paul and I have agreed that the midday slot is the preferable option, because no one else will be there to witness the tragedy.

On Saturday we went with Emile and his wife (retired and very typical French farming couple) to a horse fair - an event I would usually avoid like the plague (horse events, of any kind, have lost their allure since I ended my own semi-professional episode as a rider, but I also know that this particular agricultural type of fair will also involve various attitudes I will find hard to ignore), but two days later I am still cursing myself for not taking a camera.

The sense of walking into a dying world was written on the faces of men and women and embodied in the Percheron horses - beautiful, immensely powerful beasts strutting their stuff for the judges, but without purpose in the mechanised farming world. They are the souvenirs of a bygone age that these people are hanging onto for as long as they can afford to - a posture I admire, even though their treatment is rough and all too whip-ready. Less easy to bear, for this sappy southerner at least, was the line of bottom rungers - horses and ponies either too old or too ugly to be of interest to anyone except perhaps for meat. I wish I could have bought all of them, a large rangy ex-race horse in particular, but just the thought of our own 'girls' struggling in the mud back home put pay to that. Still, I wish I had brought a camera to record what must be the last rope maker in France, the farrier trimming a hoof with the circumference of a car tyre and faces only wind, rain and age could produce. I would have put them on this blog for … possibly posterity.

And on animals - we have two more. Kittens to be precise and in direct contravention of my own law - NO MORE CATS. My excuses were Lucy (she will need company when she is on her own) and the cold, both of which are fairly plausible. Our friends, Barbara and John, have gone back to England for the winter, leaving a stray cat and, formerly, six kittens behind. Barbara, who claims that she is "not a softie" and believes in nature taking its course, left buckets of cat biscuits in a green house and deviously ensured I got a glimpse of them before she left. Enough said, after a series of extremely cold days and nights (during which a local footballer collapsed with hypothermia) I went back to check their progress and found only two survivors, now Nell and Orpheus (Lucy's pretension not mine) and currently asleep on the rocking chair (see photo).
Moving down the list and lifting my gaze from its currently, dangerously navel level, I feel the need to comment on the latest furore about labour donations and political funding in general. After so many years of 'ends justifying the means' rhetoric by Blair/Brown, this revelation is hardly surprising. In fact the only surprising part is Cameron's willingness to wade in and criticise, when he must know that the spotlight will inevitably turn back on the Tory party's shenanigans in that department. Perhaps there is a case for restricting election funding and allocating a proportion of our taxpayer's money to the purpose, if only to stop the kind of carpet-bagging we are seeing now, but this in itself raises another raft of issues that I have neither the time, energy nor interest to debate here. Much more fundamental and more disturbing is the general sense of dishonesty in politics and society, though even as I write the nagging thought occurs tome that it has always been thus, just better concealed. Do I have a solution? No, of course not.

On a higher, no scrub that, infinitely lower note, has anyone seen the new reality (though God knows I wish it wasn't) TV programme; Fatties Go To Borneo, or some such title? I'm not sure which aspect I find the most shocking and/or repulsive, the sheer size of the teenage fatties themselves or their behaviour. Perhaps it is all one and the same. Rude, ungrateful, spoilt …. The adjectives, similes and metaphors don't exist to describe them. In fact the only comparison available is another programme of the same ilk - Tortuous Teenagers (correct title escapes me) involving distraught parents and kids who deserve to hung, drawn and quartered (this from a passivist who has have never even resorted to smacking). Lucy and I have our problems, my weight and wrinkles, her growing up (which incidentally she is doing beautifully and of which I am immensely proud - wish I could take the credit), but we have never behaved like that lot. What is the world coming to? I ask myself and the rest of the world.

So who else is in today's metaphorical firing line? No one actually, because yesterday left me feeling warm and much-loved. Everybody should have a bossy friend prepared to turn up unexpectedly and tell it like it is. Denise and Eric have found happiness in Portugal after a fairly miserable 12 months here in northern France and I am more than happy for them, in spite of my own, very current need of someone to dump on when I am feeling pissed off. They were only here for a couple of hours before rushing off to somewhere else, but long enough to remind me of who I am and why I am here … which brings me back to the present and my responsibilities … I have a guide book to write and the Guardian to read … so here endeth the latest diatribe on the trials and tribulations of being an overweight and grumpy retiree in northern France, where it is, of course, raining.