Wogan – the end of an era

It seems to me that Terry Wogan achieved the almost impossible in his BBC career.

He – along with his morning show – actually got better as he got older and how many broadcasters can you say that about?

He surely went out with a bang this morning and getting references to ‘golden showers’ into the last Janet and John story was a stroke of subversive genius.

In fact, that sums up the guy very well – subversive.

When Wossy and Russell get turfed off the airwaves for allowing the word ‘fuck‘ to be said on air – in a pre-recorded show – Wogan stayed broadcasting because he was far cleverer than that. He allowed the listener to fill in the ‘fucks’ for themselves. So, this morning – live and without any interference from the BBC Trust – he left the right gaps so that I and other listeners could ‘say’ ‘fuckers‘ for him.

Furthermore, Wogan wasn’t afraid to upset his bosses at the BBC by speaking out on various matters such as the Urinevision Song Contest and kushy jobs at the Corporation.

Then, there was the unfortunate trousers incident

I’ll come clean now and say that I wasn’t one of Wogan’s most regular listeners, but if he was on and I was up early enough, I’d tune in and listen avidly. I usually did this whilst driving and I’m sure I wasn’t the only motorist who nearly went off the road when fictional correspondents like ‘General Mafeking-Headhurts’ were quoted.

As Ken Bruce said straight after the last minute of Wogan’s final morning show, we will never see his like again.

Thank you, Terry, for some genuinely funny moments and top quality entertainment.

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French roads and food

It’s easy to run this country down – Labour have been doing it for 12 years – but yet another trip over the Channel just confirms my belief that the French do some things far better than we do.

Here’s just a couple for now.

Roads

Sure, France has its share of bad roads, but I’ve rarely come across anything calling itself a main route that wasn’t well-maintained yet unimpeded by roadworks. In about 750 miles of motoring on French roads over the last few days we came across only one stretch of roadworks – about half a mile long – and that was just south of Dunkerque. All the rest of the roads we used – Autoroutes (both with and without tolls), Routes Nationales, Routes Departmentales and minor very ‘rural’ roads – were totally clear of cones, holes and workmen which ensured good times between our various destinations.

Then there’s the Aires de Repos – the rest areas and services. These can range from a simple lay-by with or without loos to a petrol station with a well-stocked shop and a restaurant selling reasonable cooked meals. Yes, just like here the services are pricey but they’re frequent and usually clean and well-staffed.

The frequent 130 kmph (80 mph) stretches of motorway are invaluable for really eating up the distances – France is a big country – and the habit that most French drivers have of using the outside lanes to overtake and then pulling back to the inside means that you don’t get some arsehole hogging the middle lane as if it’s for his own private use as you frequently see here.

Yes, it’s a delight to drive in France – despite long journeys on the major Autoroutes setting you back a fair few euros on the peage sections. Often worth it though for the speed and lack of congestion, although you usually see very little of that except in major centers of population.

Food

Bread…there’s nothing to beat a really fresh baguette from a good French baker. Anything you buy here calling itself a “baguette” is a travesty. Some good cheese – and there’s plenty of that to be found and properly ripe too – a glass of wine and a fresh baguette and you have a simple but perfect lunch.

Many of the better restaurants – and they do take some tracking down, which dispels the myth that all restaurants are good in France – will construct menus that reflect the availability of good local seasonal produce, show off the skills of their cooks and provide an experience you’ll remember for a long while if you’re lucky.

We had a superb meal at the hotel we stopped off at in Neufchatel-en-Bray in Normandy last Friday. It was the 28 euro Menu Tradition and my choice opened with Mousse de Foie Gras, followed by a puff pastry wrap with Neufchatel cheese inside, served with a salad with a 5 spice dressing and strips of magret de canard. There was a pause for a small bowl of apple sorbet with Calvados poured over it – a modern variation of  the Trou Normand – and then the main course arrived: a large piece of beef with sauce echalotte served with oven baked potatoes layered with Neufchatel cheese accompanied by seasonal vegetables. The cheese course followed and I chose some aged Neufchatel, local goat’s cheese and Livarot. To conclude, dessert – a chocolate tartelette with caramelised nuts in it, dressed with honey and creme anglaise.

Expensive? I suppose so, but then again you can spend over half that quite easily on a pub lunch, and there were 6 courses, all beautifully prepared with quality fresh ingredients, nicely presented and well-served by very friendly staff. The only downside to the whole evening was the cost of the wine which was 27 euros for the bottle of 2007 Buzet we chose, but that’s often the case in France.

Christmas was in full evidence in all the shops and things weren’t really that different elsewhere with trees and lights and all the usual stuff set up in the towns.

This notice I saw at one of the Aires we stopped at really amused me:

Any Father Christmas who suddenly exclaimed “Oh, oh, oh!” would get short shrift here in dear old Blighty, that’s for sure…

Away for a wee while

Off for a few days in France.

The agenda includes some Christmas shopping, looking over a possible place to rent while we house hunt, having some good meals out and just enjoying being somewhere different for a while.

If anything looks bloggable while I’m there, I’ll try and blog it – I’ll have wifi access most of the time.

Off to bed soon – up at 3am or so…

Au reservoir, as Mapp and Lucia would say.