Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Sunday posts 2012/Teddy Bear

A bear however hard he tries
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at;
He gets what exercise he can
By falling off the ottoman,
But generally seems to lack
The energy to clamber back.

Now tubbiness is just the thing
Which gets a fellow wondering;
And Teddy worried lots about
The fact that he was rather stout.
He thought: "If only I were thin!
But how does anyone begin?"
He thought: "It really isn't fair
To grudge me exercise and air."

For many weeks he pressed in vain
His nose against the window-pane,
And envied those who walked about
Reducing their unwanted stout.
None of the people he could see
"Is quite" (he said) "as fat as me!"
Then with a still more moving sigh,
"I mean" (he said) "as fat as I!"

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at.
But do you think it worries him
To know that he is far from slim?
No, just the other way about -
He's proud of being short and stout.

A.A. Milne.
Photo from the amazing 'Little Handfuls' mini bears.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012/A Dream within a dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

Poem: Edgar Allan Poe
Photo by Alistair.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Holiday Day Two.

On Mondays there’s a great little market in Mirepoix. Now, strictly speaking, or more accurately, being absolutely truthful - Mirepoix isn’t in Aude at all, it’s in Ariege, a neighbouring area, but from the Villa Cabardes in Lavallette near Carcassonne where we’re staying it’s an easy half hour drive away. To miss it is an absolute no-brainer.

Soon we’re parking up on the edge of town and walking the few minutes into the dramatic arcaded medieval square. By the side of the 13th century church, under the window boxes of overhanging painted medieval houses, people are busy buying ingredients for the kitchen; cheeses, bread, sausages, charcuterie, vegetables, fruit and an incredible variety of jams, pickles, honey, mustards - the variety seems endless in such a small place. Mixed in are stalls full of bric-a-brac, clothes, jewellery and antiques, Throw in the odd knife grinder - no I’m not joking! - and street entertainment - and you begin to get the feel of the place. It’s buzzing, yet in a very understated French way. The feel is very much that normality is taking place, as of course it is. This has literally been taking place in the same spot for centuries. Under the arcades, café’s and restaurants are doing brisk trade, offering breakfast, coffee, lunch and any assortment of drinks or snacks to the weary shopper and the overwhelmed tourist. From the shade of the arcade you can enjoy a coffee or a glass of local wine or beer, eat lunch and watch the market at work, see the coming and goings, the meetings and greetings of everyday life take place.


 Fascinating, fabulous and a fan-blooming-tastic way to start the holiday!
A place like this demands that at the very least you experience its vibrancy with perhaps one, preferably two, perabambulations round the square and through the stalls, a walk through even those possibly less fortunate stalls which overspill the main square into the streets beyond and an {ahem} obligatory stop at one of the numerous cafes at the side of the market. We do the full tour…….

The great thing about carrying a camera, is that my hands and much of my mind is occupied; looking for shots; calculating depth of field, ISO, aperture for the light conditions and almost any combination of the above. Distracting and fun as it is none of that guarantees a decent photograph but it leaves precious little time for shopping which suits me fine. I’m not a shopper unless there’s ingredients to be bought for a meal at the end of it. Unfortunately the same is not the case for The Lovely G. who also has both hands and mind free to get up to all kinds of mischief. Thankfully she is as distracted by the sights sounds and smells as I am and we complete at least one circuit without any financial impact whatsoever. The second circuit costs us a few Euros spent on some bracelets she tells me are ‘shamballa’ style, with a curious but clever slide-y knotted fastening to open and close them. This is demonstrated to me but my mind, as I’ve said, is on things photographic and I’m afraid I don’t pay as much attention as I should, or take the obvious opportunity literally at hand. Thankfully my error is unnoticed/expected/forgiven and we move on. My attention is taken by the sound of bagpipes being played to the beat of a drum and I head over to investigate the din and find two highly photogenic men dressed in a blend of Moorish/pirate gear knocking out some very catchy stuff. I take a number of shots trying to cope with the fact they are standing in bright sun beside some of the glariest backgrounds around. Some work, some don’t and by the time I’ve worked it out they - and the rest of the market - have begun to pack up and leave. Was it something I said or is everyone just camera shy???

As the market winds down we too decide to head back to Carcassonne and find a spot just below La Cite where we can park {free} well away from the tourist {expensive} car parks. A leisurely walk up the hill into the citadel via a back gate and a wander through a couple of streets inside the ramparts takes us to one of ’our’ places: La Bar a Vin. It’s a small bar and tapas restaurant under looming ramparts in the walled garden of what has been the house that is itself now part of the bar. The space is shaded by enormous chestnut trees which gives a magical light and cooling shade to the place. We’ve spent a lot of time here over the years, drinking coffee or wine, enjoying the simple food on offer and the comings and goings of visitors. It’s one of my favourite bars in the world and a must visit place during any holiday here. Just one of those great little finds that helps make a holiday special. Today we have a cool drink and share a plate - a crusty bread ‘boule‘, goats cheese and honey. Simple and magnificent in the afternoon sun. The bar is almost empty at this time of the year, very different from the frantic pace of the last few months but the staff are as usual relaxed and funny. It’s a real performance and one that we enjoy.

Soon though the heat is getting to us and we head back to the car for the short drive home. For me, the pool is calling……

See you later.

Listening to:

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012/Jabberwocky


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood a while in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lewis Carroll
Photo by Alistair.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Carcassonne - La Cite

We arrived on Sunday morning, a dull grey affair that was disappointingly little warmer than the wet one we’d left behind in Scotland just a couple of hours earlier. The landing approach brought us in a low circle of the huge walls and towers of La Cite, the ancient medieval heart of Carcassonne deep in the south of France and gave us a spectacular start to our stay despite the weather. Like Edinburgh, Carcassonne sits proud on its rock above the sprawling town below but there the similarity ends. Edinburgh is beautiful and I love her, but beside Carcassonne, with her fairytale princess looks, tanned and tall in the sun, she‘s an ugly sister in a dowdy frock.
Rennes Le Chateau
We pick up our bags quickly in the quiet-now-the-summer-is-over airport and collect a hire car just as efficiently and within a short time are on our way to the rented villa where we’re staying. An acquaintance of G has done us a great deal on her holiday home and we find it’s a short ten minute drive from the airport in a sleepy village surrounded by vineyards. A combination of a strange bed the night before, getting up in the wee small hours and getting to the airport by 5am for the flight has left us exhausted and now, knowing we are within easy reach of at least one favourite holiday haunt here - La Bar a Vin in La Cite - we decide to have a nap for an hour before we head into Carcassonne.
A Great wee bar
The Lovely G and I have been here several times before. I’ve been fascinated by this area and its history for longer than I can remember and had always wanted to see it for myself but somehow holidaying here had never seemed a viable option. I never felt I could afford it and then, after meeting G with her Swiss roots, for many years I lost my heart - and all my available holiday resources - to Switzerland. It was hard not to when introduced to her wonderful relatives and such a stunningly beautiful country. But ultimately chocolate box beauty gave way to an insistent longing to see what I’d been reading about all these years: Languedoc, or more specifically, the Haute Valee area of Aude, the edge of the so called ‘Pays du Cathars‘.
That first visit was six years ago now and since then I’ve been back every year. I found I was instantly and completely at home. Things seemed so familiar, so expected. I wanted to love it and I do, more than I could ever have imagined and more than I can probably explain. I soon laid tentative plans for a holiday home and retirement to the sun but these haven’t happened - yet. For now I have to be content to visit and renew my acquaintance with this unique place, this sanctuary of mine. In the last few years we’ve ranged across the area, from the walls of Carcassonne to La Montaignes Noir, west to the border forests of the Ariege and the snow capped Pyrenees, from Mt Cardou to distant Beziers and Narbonne on the Mediterranean coast. We’ve climbed to mountain castles destroyed in the Albigensian crusades, to Cathar villages, trailed through vineyards dripping with ruby grapes and enjoyed the wines that comes from them as well as the tasty goats cheeses, fabulous breads and honeys that go so well with all. Most of all we’ve followed the quiet river valley of the Aude‘s high valley, from Limoux of the sparkling wines, to Alet les Bains and Couiza and mysterious Rennes le Chateau high on its peak, past the Donjon of Arques, to the spa village of Rennes le Bains deep in its river gorge. All of them have told tales, left indelible marks and made me more fascinated, tempted and haunted by L’Aude than ever.
La Canal Du Midi - Carcassonne
Now we’re here, its time to get started again.
I’ll let you know how we get on……..
See you later.
Listening to:

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

York - Je ne regret rien.....

We sit in the large window of the French style bistro and watch the world go by. The bistro is part of a restaurant chain but despite that we like it and its location on one of York’s tiny medieval streets near The Minster is perfect for us. We love York and come here once or twice a year for an overnight stay; to walk its ancient streets and linger in the tiny old quarter under the massive spires of The Minster, enjoying the old houses overhanging the narrow lanes beneath. It doesn’t matter that those lanes are often choked with tourists or that many of the shops are stuffed with items aimed at the same audience. Its just a place that appeals to us. Restaurants, bars and coffee shops can be found every few yards, yet there are sights to remind you that people live here too; the huge market and butchers and bakers shops doing brisk trade in everyday items.
We came this morning from Berwick upon Tweed by train, a couple of hours on the limited stop service through Newcastle and Darlington and on down the coast. The weather has been atrocious and raining non stop - so bad in fact that I’ve come without my camera - but despite that we looked forward to getting here. We know where we want to go on days like this and the best route to get there. Once clear of the station at York it’s a ten minute umbrella-covered walk into town and Café Rouge, past the world famous ‘Betty’s’ restaurant and tea-rooms - too rich for our pockets today - and on down towards the spires that loom over the buildings beside them. A right turn and a hundred yards takes us to the half dozen steps up to the door I hold open to let the Lovely G pass then shake off the dripping umbrella before closing it and following behind her. The waiter takes the umbrella and our damp coats as he shows us the table by the window and tells us he’ll be back momentarily in appealingly accented English. Within a few seconds we have menus to peruse while he fetches our drinks and we settle in to enjoy relaxing in the warmth of the rustically decorated room with its display of fin de siecle French poster art, dark wood and painted walls.
The window has room for three tables of two - one on either edge and one in the middle - ours is at the left hand side of the three with a view up and down the street outside. The window sits perhaps four feet above street level and is decorated with gold edged, red painted letters advertising ‘Plats du Jour’. ‘Sandwichs’, Baguettes’ as well as ‘Boisson Chaud’, ‘Bierres et Vins’ and other temptations for rain drenched pedestrians.
The rain spattered pavement outside is busy with people coming and going at the accelerated pace of people keen to be out of the rain. It strikes me that this view of humanity has been essentially the same to be had here for several hundred years; people passing by in all weathers loaded with essentials or luxuries. The intentions are the same, merely the clothes are different. We smile across our menus and begin to read. I take a large sip of my red wine and enjoy its mellow fruitiness and perfect temperature as I try to decide what to have. This obvious detail is one of the reasons I like café Rouge so much. Too often a glass of red wine elsewhere is served too cold to taste anything other than wet. But, back in the now, we’ve decided on a light lunch as we’ll probably eat later too, so I skip a starter and choose a steak baguette with salad and thin crispy frites while The lovely G goes for fishcakes, salad and frites. The place has become noticeably busier as the rain continues. We were lucky to get this table by the window.
While we wait we talk idly across the table, looking forward to a more authentic French experience when we go to Carcassonne in a week. This overnight break has been postponed several times when we couldn’t match my time off with availability at the hotel we had arranged and now the deal is about to expire so we have to take it or lose it. So, we’re using it to get in the mood for France and I hope out loud that the weather there will be better than outside the window, where umbrellas are the essential accessory. Out there, in Scots parlance, the rain is ‘stoatin’: the heavy drops creating large splashes as they explode on the umbrellas, heads and shoulders of those unfortunate enough to be outside. We smile selfishly and I raise a glass to the smiling G across the table. Jings! - its good to be warm and dry on this side of the glass!
Some time later I smear the last piece of my medium rare steak with Dijon mustard and close a final bit of crusty baguette around it before crunching down on its savouriness for the last time. Wiping my lips with the napkin I sigh contentedly and look across the table to where G is still some way from finished - she’s a more genteel eater than I, especially when famished. I take another gentle sip of my wine and turn my eyes outside again. The rain’s continued unabated and the street has become heavily puddled by the hammering rain and by old gutters overflowing causing walkers to step off the pavement onto the road here and there to avoid an unwanted shower. Time too has marched on while we’ve been here, the light has slipped to the extent that the occasional passing cars now have their lights on, causing the raindrops hitting the ground to dance like a million diamonds in front of them. Pedestrians seek a safe distance pressed against shop fronts until they‘re gone and now seem slower moving and more hunched over than before despite their umbrellas. I muse whether this might be because of the amount of water their clothing has absorbed or dripped into bags of shopping.
Much later after coffee and conversation as warm as the room we both touch the same topic in synchronicity - should we stay or should we go?
You probably know my answer to that already, don’t you?
I recommend the house red -  preferably a bottle......….and the dinner menu.
See you later.
Listening to:

I'm back!

No - I've not been in the huff. Or been ill....

I've been on holiday to France.

 Unfortunately my laptop was infected by a virus a couple of days before the holiday so it also had to go somewhere to get fixed which stopped me giving notice of the break..

All's well now so you can expect some posts about France very soon.

See you later - and be responding to your comments!

Listening to:

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012/Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer
Photo by Alistair.

The Sunday Posts 2017/Mince and Tatties.

Mince and Tatties I dinna like hail tatties Pit on my plate o mince For when I tak my denner I eat them baith at yince. Sae mash ...