Dragonflies, swallows and kir petillant

And still France continues to share its wild life secrets…

A few hours ago, we were sitting outside – taking a smoke and drinks break before yet another stage of the fucking interminable process of putting together an Ikea Hemnes wardrobe – when Mrs Shark exclaimed that she’d just seen the biggest hornet ever.

Closer examination of the ‘hornet’ revealed that it was, in fact, this:

P1010791

It’s a Broad-bodied Chaser – or so Google has reliably informed me – a female.

Never seen one of those before.

Amazing wings – almost like Tiffany glass…

Whilst I was typing the first part of this blog entry – sitting in the dining room with a JPS 100 and another (sic) nice glass of kir petillant – there was a great commotion when a swallow flew in through the doors and Oscar caught it.

As far as we know, this is the first bird that he’s ever actually managed to get between his jaws.

I managed to get it off him and – fortunately – it seemed remarkably unphased and uninjured and flew off out of my hands when I took it outside.

My god, but it was beautiful…

I feel doubly blessed now – and, after my fourth glass of kir – very full of honhomie.

Just call me Mr Congeniality…

…better had, or I’ll twat you one…

Footnote: the photo was taken by me with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 compact camera.

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DIY…demain

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As I’ve written here before, life in France is pretty idyllic, although it has its drawbacks.

I don’t mean to gripe, and I imagine that nowhere’s perfect, but when it comes to DIY stores then France certainly isn’t…

Commonly known as ‘bricos’, most DIY stores here – just as in the UK – exist as part of large national chains.

There’s Mr Brocolage, Bricoman, Bricodepot, Bricopro and Bricomarche, as well as Castorama and many others.

I reckon that we must have visited every brico within a 40km radius – and that’s a fuck of a lot of bricos – looking for everything from timber quadrant to tiles.

Shopping around doesn’t begin to describe this lengthy process and you have to if you want to find what you want at a reasonable price.

DIY supplies are pretty expensive compared to the UK and they also vary quite wildly in price and quality.

But there’s also another problem – availability.

Basically, if you see something you want, and it seems to be at a reasonable price, then grab the fucker!

Our local brico – Bricomarche in Renaze – has ‘supply problems’.

For example, I went in for some lasure – a type of varnish for floors. There were only two tins on the shelf, which I bought. I went in a week later and again there were only two tins on the shelf, which I also bought. This week I went in and there were none.

Strimmer line…I went in for a drum of it – the cheapest way of buying it and they had none. A week later they’d had a delivery – 3 drums, one of each of the common sizes: that’s all. Those three drums are still there two weeks later but there’d be only two gathering dust on the shelf if I hadn’t gone elsewhere in the end.

I went in today to buy finishing plaster for some plasterboarding and they had two bags left, so I snapped those babies up, I can tell you.

Light switches – two weeks ago they had about a dozen; today, two, which I snaffled.

Nobody seems too bothered, either…

But, you know what, I sort of like that.

In the grand scheme of things, if I have to go without a light switch or some strimmer line for a few extra days, it’s not really that serious, is it?

It’s just another reminder that life here is just that little bit more relaxed and, if the brico store manager gives me a Gallic shrug when I say that I need some 2.4mm strimmer line, then I can give one to Mrs Shark when I get a gentle reminder that the weeds in the corner of the garden are getting a bit out of control…

Tomorrow, the world…

Out of the two Maine Coons we have, Django is by far and away the better hunter, with many bird and small mammal kills to his name.

However, Oscar achieved a first today – as far as we know – by cornering a snake.

Whilst we were having lunch in the garden, we saw that Oscar was busy jumping and pouncing on something. On closer investigation, it proved to be a grass snake about 70 cm long which Oscar had got backed up against the trunk of the large oak tree in the center of our garden.

We distracted Oscar so that the snake could escape, although he saw where it had slithered off to and watched that spot for an hour afterwards.

I’ve been wearing gloves to clear undergrowth of stones and sticks before I strim in case of snakes and, having seen the grass snake that Oscar was facing off to, I’m glad I have.

There are adders about, I’ve been told, and although their bite isn’t fatal, I don’t fancy finding that out the hard way…

Stop press, Oscar just caught a frog.

So, that’s the animal kingdom sewn up – Django has the birds and mammals and Oscar has the reptiles and amphibians…

Worst guitar playing ever?

About a million years ago, Deep Purple recorded an absolutely spiffing instrumental titled ‘Wring That Neck’ which I’ve always liked – especially live as I featured here not too long ago.

Well, just now, I was pottering about on Spotify – possibly the best music service ever – and found this. (You can only hear the track if you’re on Spotify, so if you’re not, sign up for a free account NOW!).

I almost fell off my fucking chair when I heard it.

It’s a version of ‘Wring That Neck’ by a band called ‘Global Warming’ and it has to feature some of the worst guitar playing I’ve ever heard – either that, or it’s a work of genius by someone who wants to sound bad – but I doubt that…

The opening guitar takes a while to settle down into keeping the same key but then cunningly loses the key centre in the head, regains it and then loses it again.

There then follows a bit of impro which, quite frankly, stinks – no other term will do – and then gets worse and then, in desperation, auto-wah is switched on briefly before the next impro section.

Somehow, the guitarist manages to top each chorus with even worse playing than the one before – some achievement.

I sort of feel sorry for the bassist and drummer who play adequately and had to suffer this clown on guitar, although they lose points for not telling him how shit he was and then burning his guitar and amp.

Whoever the guitarist is, he has Van Gogh’s ear for music – the one he cut off.

Straight up, imagine Eric Morecombe on piano in the classic Morecombe and Wise sketch with Andre Previn – all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order – and you might get a hint as to the masterpiece of sheer unalloyed crapness that Global Warming have created with this track.

Now, I love music, but this track has to take the fucking biscuit as far as bad guitar playing goes – in fact, it takes a whole lorry load of them.

Please give it a listen – it’s truly shite.

By the way, if the guitarist is reading this, sorry mate but you’re fucking terrible.

Could I do better?

Fuck, yes.

Headline of the century?

 

Capture

Time is an illusion…

…lunchtime doubly so.

 

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Perhaps Douglas Adams had France in mind when he wrote these words, because the 2 hour lunch break is something we’re still trying to get to grips with after over a year here.

Basically, if you want to buy something here from midday to 2PM, apart from lunch that is, then basically you can forget it.

Sure, many supermarkets now have all day opening, but that’s about it.

Even in the large out of town shopping districts – the zones commerciales – finding something like a brico (think B&Q, and of which more in a later blog post) that’s open is a task akin to seeking the Holy Grail and marginally less fruitful.

Want a tin of peas or a lump of cheese?

No problem.

Want a tin of paint or some wall plugs.

Fat fucking chance.

Organising a comprehensive shopping trip has to be done with some care if you don’t want to hit lunchtime and a potential 2 hour wait until the shop you want is open. So, it’s either leave home early so you get there with plenty of time before noon, or set off during lunchtime so you get there for 2.

Then there’s the traffic…

When we were looking for houses early last year, we were told that houses situated some distance from main centres of work weren’t popular as a long lunchtime commute cut into the lunch break too much.

Consequently, properties lying over 20 minutes or so from employment areas are less desirable – although potentially slightly cheaper and less sought after, which may offer a small advantage to potential buyers.

However, those people living close to their work then behave like lunatics on the road as they drive as if their heads were on fire to get home as quickly as possible – and the same disregard is shown going back to work, of course.

But why a 2 hour lunch break in the first place?

Well, it may be due to the working week in France being very short – a statutory 35 hours – but this has been modified since it was introduced and is really just a reference point for calculating overtime. Besides, the 35 hour maximum doesn’t go right across the board:

The 35-hour rule applies to all employees except those with special working conditions, such as sales representatives, executives, limited liability company managers, caretakers in residential buildings and domestic staff. There are many other exceptions, so the main beneficiaries are blue-collar workers and those in large organisations.

I can understand a 2 hour siesta type break as in Spain, because of the heat, but France doesn’t enjoy such good weather – especially in the north.

I’d hate a 2 hour lunch break.

When I became self-employed in about 1990, I used to prefer to work without a lunch break. So, if I was doing a 6 hour day and paid per hour, I’d work straight through from 8.30 or 9 and then try and leave as soon as possible. My philosophy was that I wasn’t getting paid for lunch breaks so I’d rather have any down time at the end of my work. Sometimes having to take a lunch break was unavoidable, however, if the person I was supposed to be seeing was at lunch.

Anyway, there’s no point in resenting the two hour lunchtime here as it’s just something we have to adjust to, but when it gets to 11.45 in the morning and you’ve just run out of paint and you have over two hours to wait to get it, it can be irritating, to say the least!

Zippy for mayor!

The comments section in the online Daily Mail is often worth a chuckle.

Today has been no exception with the news that the UK is about to get its first BNP mayor.

The worst rated comment on the story reads as follows:

What a disgrace. People should not be allowed to vote for fascist parties. The UK is a democracy not a Nazi state.

– Rainbow, Hackney, 12/4/2011 13:30

I don’t think Rainbow quite gets this democracy stuff…