Sunday, 19 July 2015

Jardin François

The Jardin Francois is about an hour and a half's drive from us, and, having nothing to do this Sunday except take it easy, we decided to go and take a look.  It's in the middle of countryside, in a slightly raised location, and has been thoughtfully and tastefully done.  The owner also offers chambres d'hote in the restored buildings as well, so you can stay on-site and use the place as a base for exploring the area.

The garden is moistened by a spring, and the owner has taken advantage of this in creating a network of small, linked ponds and water features.  And since it is fairly acid, (pH 6.2 or thereabouts, he told me), there are Azaleas, Rhododendrons, and other acid-loving plants.

The garden offers broad vistas, and smaller intimate displays - it works well on many scales.   It is enhanced with well-chosen ornaments, and I liked the small collection of cast-iron hibachi barbecue grills.  I also liked the home-made climbing rose frames made out of the iron rods used for reinforcing concrete (I could do that here!).

A garden well worth visiting.  And as a special bonus, we got to see a collared grass snake that was minding its own business sliding along just behind a piece of border edging material.  I saw what I thought might be a beetle scooting along, and when I peered over the edging, I saw that it was the head of a snake.  We surprised each other, and the snake disappeared promptly under a bush.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

We interrupt this programme...

Congratulations, Mark, your he-male has been selected for the prize draw from GED (Garden of Earthly Delights), Inc, for this month's special offer...... kidney stones!

Boy, do they hurt.  First symptom was a mild general gut pain - I thought I'd eaten something that was going to cause problems later.  The later problem was curling-up pain, and a quick trip to the doctor who said it might be a gut spasm, gave me some pain killers, anti-spasm pills (both useless) and sent me off for blood tests.  After the second wave of pain about a week later, he told me it might be kidney stones, and sent me off to get an ultrasound scan, that I booked for the earliest that I could, at the polyclinic, for a couple of of weeks' time.  After one further wave of pain during the week while I was on holiday, I had no discomfort at all.

So I turn up at the polyclinic, thinking "this is going to be a total waste of time, because the stone has gone now".  And the ultrasound guy says, "Ah yes, you have a kidney stone.  9 millimeters.  You need to have a CAT scan and an X-ray, and see the urologist".  So I asked when I should come back for all of this, and he says "You stay here, we're doing them now"   And they did.

And when I get back to the reception area to pick up the scans, the urologist is there, saying "You're in luck, the sonic shockwave machine that breaks up kidney stones is expensive, and travels from hospital to hospital.  It's here tomorrow.  You get checked in tonight and I'll sort you out straight away."   Which is how I came to spend two unexpected nights in hospital getting fixed.

They only put me out when I was on the machine, it's quite an impressive device, it shows where the shock waves are concentrated, and they can scan it along the length of the stone.  It makes a kind of clicking noise.

Now to be fair, the urologist did tell me they'd be putting in a probe, (they call it a probe (une sonde) but we'd call it a stent), and he told me that its purpose is to widen the kidney tubes so that the shattered bits of stone can come out more easily.  He didn't tell me how it would be going in; that was something I worked out later.  I suppose it should have been obvious.  So the first pee after the op was a bit of a shock.  Unsuspectingly, I just pointed and opened the sluice gates as usual.  Big mistake.   Not only was the output a glorious red, but it hurt like crazy.  Next time I made sure I was on the paracetamol drip, and the release was very carefully controlled.

So here I am at home, taking things easy, on a diet of pain killers, anti-inflammatorys and something that is supposed to make me pee less often. I'm using the time to sit at my desk and do a clean Win7 install on my PC, something I have been meaning to do for a long time, since it has been blue-screening fairly often.

One of the things I like about the French health system is that your medical records are yours.  I have here, the utrasound pictures, the scanner results, and the x-rays.  I also get blood test results; pretty much everything that pertains to my health.   My PC scanner didn't do a very good job of scanning the x-ray picures, but it got the CAT scan results showing the stone shining like a little star in the heavens.

According to the doc, the inserion of the stent is achieved using stiff inserters so that it can get down all the tubes, which is why it hurts.  The extraction, scheduled for three weeks time, is achieved with flexible extractors, is done under only a local anaesthetic, and doesn't hurt.  Yeah right.   I'm not looking forward.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


Toulouse, la cité rose, is the end point for the Canal du Midi, a centre of space research, and a place of historic importance.  There is also someone who reads my blog in that general area.  (Hi!)

We stopped off there on our way to Carcassonne.  I got two nice short-sleeved, collared shirts in the C&A sale for 15 euros (result!), had a nice burger lunch at l'Atelier du Burger, and bought some coffee in the Nespresso shop.  Culture vultures, us.

I've always been impressed by the Nespresso ad campaign.  It seems to combine poshness with a sense of self-parody - a bit of everyday posh, if you like.  We wandered into the immaculate shop, and went upstairs (where the buying and selling and tasting is done), and there was a picture of George Clooney in person to greet us.  All the coffees and machines were displayed in immaculate symmetry of design.  You could even get a free cup of coffee to confirm your preference.

Notwithstanding all that, I'm not sure that Nespresso isn't a bit too posh for plebs like us.  No sooner had we gone upstairs in the shop than I dropped a massive fart, and Anita spilt her free coffee all over the counter-top.  Never mind, as long as they continue to accept us for membership into their exclusive club, we'll buy their coffee cos it's good.

Cheese at Carcassonne

I chose this cheese, a Basque "Ossau-iraty", at lunchtime in Castelnaudary, not far from Carcassonne. It was served with a little pot of black cherry jam.  The cheese had a taste with a sharpness like Danish Blue, but somewhat milder. The cherry jam swamped the flavour, but was effective at clearing the palate to savour the next bite of cheese.

I am spending far too much of my mental capacity trying to think of things that begin with "C" that relate to my holiday.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Archery à l'ancienne

The European championships for prehistoric thrown weapons was held just down the road from us this weekend.  We moseyed on down after our guests had departed this Sunday afternoon, to have a look.

The weapons concerned are the bow and arrow, and the atlatl.  I had to look up atlatl.  By the time we got down there, it was bows and arrows only, fired at a series of targets on which were drawn pictures of prehistoric prey.  These pictures were distributed around the site, to be fired at from various distances.

It was a low-key affair, with perhaps 15 competitors.  It could be of course, that there had been more, and that those eliminated went home yesterday.

I didn't get the impression that the weapons were especially powerful.  It's easy enough for me to say, and I'm not pulling the bow, nor am I on the receiving end.  But I think that although the turkey would have probably ended up in the pot, the competition with, say, the bear, would have been less one-sided.

To my untrained eye, the guy in the foreground above was the best and the most on-target.  He had a smooth technique;  He didn't spend any time aiming with the bow drawn:  he lifted the bow and drew it in the same movement, and loosing the arrow immediately at the end seemed like the natural culmination.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Chilling at Carcassonne

To round off the holiday we had a fine meal in one of the posh restaurants in the medieval city. They served, amongst other things, a cocktail apéro, that, evidently, one is expected to consume by snorting.

The little apartment we stayed in was tiny but functional.  The kitchen had a fridge, hob, microwave and sink but no oven,  but it served us well for the week we were there, and the pool outside was just what we needed in order to chill out after a hot day's touristing.

Corbières at Carcassonne

Strictly speaking, Corbière wines don't come from Carcassonne, but we drank some in the cité, so I'm entitled to the headline.

Carcassonne is within a wine-producing area that is responsible for Corbières, Fitou and Minervois among other lesser-known, smaller classifications.   We couldn't come back without at least a small sample of the local produce.

Our first stop was at the offices and warehouse of Sieur d'Arques in the town of Limoux (Where the scented garden is).  They make a lot of sparkling wine and use the brand name Première Bulle to mark the fact that the first fizzy wine ever produced came from Limoux.

The Champagne system uses a double fermentation to produce a strong wine with great effervescence.  The original (pre-Champagne) method (discovered, presumably, in Limoux) uses a single fermentation and results in a mild (6%) and sweet fizz.   Sieur d'Arques make both kinds, and we got some of each.

Our other visit was to a warehouse run under the name Celliers d'Orphée, who seemed to be just opening for the tourist season.  I was driving so I couldn't take full advantage of the tasting (had to spit the wine out, what a waste), but the numerous gold and silver medals plastered all over the price list seemed well-merited.  We didn't buy a lot, but it's enough to be getting on with.  It might last us a few weeks.

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