Thursday, 18 December 2014


We got this helpful little sheet in the post the other day, explaining to us how there are 35, yes 35 different organisations that manage the retirement pensions in France, depending on the type of work you do.   One of them, Agirc, is, according to Le Parisien, not far from bancruptcy.

The one that we're obliged to pay into is RSI, (about half-way down the list) on account of running the gîte, payments that cover the non-insured parts of our healthcare and retirement pension if we ever get one.  

Perhaps a little simplification is in order?  Not that I like to mention things like debt crises, government overspend, or anything.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The dark side

Had a trip to England to visit friends and swap pressies.   Nice time had by all; a pleasant break.

Though I'm wondering if I'm becoming a bit of a miserable old git.  Twice this break I was accused, in a joking fashion of course, and in the best possible taste,  of being somewhat towards the pessimistic side of things.

The first example was a josh from a good friend that I won't bore you with here.  The second was a gentle chiding from the wife in Marks & Sparks.  The conversation was about these products on sale, called Winter Diffusers (whatever they might be).

Me:  "Oh, look, Winter Diffusers..... now you can enjoy snow, ice, misery and chaos in the comfort of your own living room"
Wifey:  "Or you can marry Mark and it all happens automatically"

Having made a mental note to try to take a more positive slant on life in general, I have to record a failure on the ferry coming home:

Wifey:  "Oh look, we're on a higher deck than usual, deck 9"
Me:  " Hmm, harder to get out if we capsize.

I think I'd better get a grip here.   Marvin the Paranoid Android has nothing on me.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Zen musings

Recently I read a book on Zen culture by Thomas Hoover.   I think it was an Amazon Kindle freebie, since it's not a subject that I would spend money on at the moment.   It seems to cover the subject quite well, in so far as I can judge.  It looks at the political context of the rise of Zen,and then examines the impact on architecture, poetry, pottery, etc.   According to that book, the following haiku is famous:

       An ancient pond
       A frog jumps in
       The sound of water.

Our old cat was not big, but was fearless and took no crap from anyone or anything.   A bit of a thug, if we're being honest.   He was one of a litter abandoned at the vet, last to get given away because he was the most ill.  With a combination of cat flu, and a chlamidial eye infection, his eyes were glued shut in the mornings, but this did not stop him from exploring the kitchen counter whilst being cleaned, until he fell off.

We had a small pond in our old house, it supported a small population of newts, frogs and goldfish, and would tend to get covered in water-weed from springtime onwards.  The first time we took the cat outside, he started exploring with speed and enthusiasm, until, since he had not yet learnt the implications of the different shade of the pond weed from the grass, there was a little 'splash' and he had to be fished out and dried off.

The combination of these random thoughts, whilst driving home the other day, led to the following haiku masterpiece:

     A recent pond
     A cat falls in
     The sound of anger.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Last day

Our last day in Boston started with the standard breakfast in the hotel, then we wandered into town to find some good coffee.  We trolled around the water front, and made our way via the posh district, then through Boston Park with its fat squirrels, to check out the cinema.

The cinema was showing Interstellar in the iMax, and it so happened that the next showing was in ten minutes so we went straight in for the 11 o' clock showing.   A ripping yarn in the normal Hollywood tradition, but what is it about Hollywood and black holes? "Oh look, there's an event horizon, let's go in see what's there".

This left us looking for lunch at 2:30 and we went to the place we had earmarked for our last, special meal, to see if they would serve us at 3 o' clock when we got there.  Well of course they would, this isn't France, you know.   Very nice it was too.  The restaurant, The Chart House was an old customs house so the waiter told us some of the stories relating to its history.  It has some rather fine American Eagles, too.

It was getting dark by the time we left, and we took a taxi back to the hotel to wind down and pack for the trip the next day.   It was the next morning that Anita noticed I had left my hat at the restaurant.  I'm not sure that on a strictly logical basis, it's worth the time and the 16 dollar taxi ride to fetch it, but then, you can't abandon an old friend, can you?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Praise for Brookstone

The internet gives plenty of opportunity for comparing prices of the same goods offered in different countries, and the trip to the USA presented the opportunity to take advantage of this knowledge.

I am hooked on the Ryobi One+ range of portable power tools.   During my most recent DIY project, I found that I was transferring batteries between different tools all the time, so I resolved to get some more batteries.  99 euros each battery in France, 99 dollars for two in the USA.  No contest.   The tools themselves are cheaper too, and I got myself a jig saw and an impact driver.  Both less than half European price.

The nice thing about all of that of course, in these days of equality, is that I can now apply feminine logic on my own behalf.  In the airport on the way back, I was browsing the tech shops and saw (and tested) a nice pair of noise-cancelling headphones.   I bought them with the money I saved on the other stuff.

But what's this?  Dismay!  After very little use, one of the ear cushions has split, revealing the blue sponge underneath.  It didn't even last as long as the batteries!  So I looked up the vendors, Brookstone, on the web and got in touch.   The conversation went like this (I paraphrase):

   The phones I bought last week are broken.  Can you send me a new ear cushion?
   We don't repair those.  Got your receipt?
   Yes, here it is, and a picture of the fault.
   Well we don't repair them, and don't replace them outside the USA.  Want your money back?

Top marks, given the situation.  I have now invested 6 euros on a pair of standard replacement ear cushions, just to see if I can fix them.  Meanwhile of course, the phones still actually work.   So I am confident, in future situations, travelling or not, that Brookstone is a good outfit to buy from.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Boston Symphony

We went to a concert in the Boston Symphony Hall.  The orchestra played "Offertorium" by Sofia Gubaidulina, and Sibelius' second symphony.

Never having heard of Gubaidulina, I looked up the piece on Spotify and YouTube, and was prepared to be disappointed.  The piece is based on the theme from Bach's Music Offering, that is taken apart and then put together backwards.  It was in fact a lot better in live performance than the reocrdings I saw and heard, and if I concentrated hard, I could just about work out what was going on.  I think it might grow on me if I can find a well-recorded version and play it through a decent stereo rather than my PC.

I like Sibelius' symphonies, no problem.

The hall itself was attractive, big in the normal way of these things, comfortable and with good views.  Though I was surprised to see a disposal box for sharps in the gents' toilets.  Perhaps that's more of a requirement for staff safety than anything else.

One thing that I did notice was the casual way the orchestra arrived.  We got there early, and I watched as a flutist ambled on to the stage, practiced the hard bits, then ambled off again.  A harpist did the same.  As the start time approached the orchestra arrived at random, and it was only when the conductor arrived, and the violin soloist, that things started to look organised.   Even in our little concerts at the music school, the band arrive at the same time, in file, to take our seats together.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Coffee americano

As I have noted, most coffee served in the USA is pretty awful; weak, acid and not much caffeine.  This trike serving freshly ground coffee reminded me of one that I saw in Paris a while back that served excellent coffee, and the queue at this one, during the morning commuter rush, no less, promised a decent brew.  We were not disappointed; it was by far the best coffee we had during our stay.   The guy running it was chatty and friendly too.

And I've added another pic of tree leaves, because I like it.

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