These boots were made for walking

A few weeks ago, I decided that the walking boots I bought last year were due for replacement – okay, overdue. Made for walking they certainly were. I don’t have detailed figures for the twelve months since I bought them, but my fitbit account tells me that, since mid-September 2012, I have walked a little over 5000 km and climbed hills and stairs equal to 22,223 floors (a total climb of 66,669m or 222,230 feet). These boots have probably done two-thirds of that.

P1060351P1060347Made for walking? Certainly. Due for replacement? Absolutely.

We went to Decathlon in Clermont-Ferrand, tried on numerous boots, all of which had the characteristics I was looking for. I selected a pair that seemed comfortable and supportive, rugged and weatherproof.P1060352Damned things nearly crippled me. Where the seam is, half way up the back, felt smooth in the shop. Not so after a couple of kilometres’ walk on rugged, hilly ground. The right foot was fine, but the left was missing some essential covering around its rear extremity, thanks to the rubbing action of the rough seam. We covered the area and went back to the old boots for a couple of days before trying again. Three times we’ve tried so far, with the same result.

I went back to, where I had bought the original pair, but they don’t do that boot any more. I searched for the make and type, without success. I did, however, find one very similar, available from a number of sources, the cheapest of which, by about 10%, was A few years ago, I was having some really unpleasant experiences with Amazon France. During 2007 and 2008 I ordered a few items that were described as ‘in stock’. Each time, the order acknowledgement said the item would be dispatched between ten and fifteen working days later. Each time I cancelled the order, ordered from UK, accepting the extra delivery charge, and having the article in my hands five to seven working days later. How things have changed. I placed my order on Tuesday morning, with free delivery. I received an acknowledgement almost immediately; it showed an estimated delivery date of the following Monday.  Mid-afternoon Tuesday, Amazon told me that the boots had been dispatched, with delivery now expected on Friday. The boots arrived with the post on Thursday morning; a mere 48 hours after I had placed the order.

P1060350Comfortable? Very. If they last as long as the others, I shall not be displeased.

Looking at the wear pattern on the old ones, and on all other footwear I have owned, they could last even longer, were I to learn how to walk properly!

I now know that I am rubbish at buying things in proper shops, but red-hot at purchasing on-line.

The only other event of any consequence this week has, not unusually, involved the hellhounds. This week’s excitement involves neighbour Pierre’s Breton Spaniel bitch, Deanna. Deanna is en chaleur. Although it means exactly the same thing, it does sound so much nicer than ‘on heat’, don’t you think? When Deanna is in that condition, she is desperate for any sort of coupling. Not any type, you understand, it does need to be canine in nature. She neither knows nor, it seems, cares that both Trevor and Ulysse are deficient two in the puppy-making organ division. She constantly appears in our garden, ripping away whatever defences we put up, with all the determination of a Colditz escapee. When we improved the security so she couldn’t make a hole large enough for her to get in, she made a smaller one for Trevor to get out. After more than a week of calling Trevor in, to avoid the risk of his being run over in the road whilst making a futile and ineffective attempt at copulation, we decided to abandon the security, and allow Deanna to enter our land. She brings with her, on occasion, a terrier that belongs to Pierre’s brother.

Our dogs’ relationship with this terrier has gone through three stages. When we first knew him and for a couple of years, he was very aggressive toward our dogs. The natural result of that, was that they went wild every time they saw him, too. On one walk, they chased him down and had a game of tug-of-war with him. Read the full story here. For some months after that, each time he saw our dogs, he ran for cover. Stage three? See for yourself:

P1060364He now acknowledges Trevor and Ulysse as his seniors in the little pack, that exists whilst Deanna is en chaleur. The three of them try to follow the urges of their gender, whilst lacking the size, the necessary equipment and the savoire faire needed to execute the deed.

Meanwhile, in the next house down, Jean-Marc’s dog Hairy (yeah, I know) spends most of his time out-of-doors, on a long lead, in a garden that has no fence for much of its boundary. He is about the same size as Deanna, younger than any of the three stooges terriers, and complete. She has never shown any interest in him. She seems to have eyes only for Trevor, and tolerates the other two. Trevor was castrated as a very young puppy, and has no idea what he is supposed to do, or with what, or how, or where.

It just drives us nuts for a few weeks every six months.

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I know very little about pancakes …

I mentioned some time ago that a large dog, mostly German Shepherd or similar, belonging to one of our local farmers, has taken a major dislike to our terriers and has, on three occasions, charged out of the field in which its master was working, just to attack our dogs. On two of these occasions, our dogs were on their leads, but that didn’t stop this big brute from picking one of them up and shaking it about like a rag doll.

When we take the boys for their daily walk around the fishing lake, we can cover the first kilometre or so using one of two routes: we can drop down to the D988, the main route that passes through St Eloy-les-Mines, Pionsat and Auzances, or we can use back roads; the old Pionsat to Saint-Hilaire road. That choice is usually a very simple one. This farmer is frequently in one of the fields bordering the quiet lane, and although he is very responsive, and puts his dog into the cab of his tractor or the back of his van if he sees us, he doesn’t always see us, and his dog is routinely at liberty in the field. We would rather not subject our pets to the stress and risk of serious injury, so we habitually use the main road for that leg, both outward and return.

The road has no pavement (sidewalk, in those countries where pavement refers to the actual road surface), and the verges, although trimmed a few times during the growing season, are quite narrow with drainage ditches behind them. In the picture above, the road had only recently been resurfaced, and the markings have not yet been repainted. We walk the dogs on the left side of the road, facing the oncoming traffic, and we walk close to the edge. When we hear a car approaching, we generally step onto the grass verge (even when it’s rather long), and stop until the road is clear again.

We have noted a number of different driver types. The majority reduce speed and move out, some even cross to the other side of the road and slow to a crawl. Somewhat unnecessary, but not unappreciated; although were we on a pavement (sidewalk) instead of a grass verge, I don’t think they would do that. Some do what I would expect, which is to treat it like waved yellow flags in a formula one race. They ease back and give us a little space; half a metre or so; but remain on their side of the (not currently existing) white line.

Then there are the others. The tw@s. Let me give you an example. On the image above, you can clearly see a side road going off to the right, just on the bend. Opposite that is the lane we would take, were it not for the big bad wolf. When we reach that point, we enter the lane, and stop the dogs 20-30cm short of the road. They wait for the OK to cross, whilst we listen and look out for traffic. The hedges are quite low to our left, so we can see anything coming, and it doesn’t take a great leap of logic to deduce that if we can see them, they can see us, too. As they approach the bend, they can see that we are back off the road. We stay quite tight to the edge, because some drivers turning in to the lane cut the corner quite tightly (an approach to which I, for one, plead guilty).

Yesterday afternoon, we saw a car coming from the left, controlled the dogs (and ourselves) back from the road by almost a full metre, and waited for the car to pass, so we could continue our trek on the lane opposite. The car approached at a normal speed but, as it approached us, its driver looked horrified, swerved into the centre of the road and made signals including shrugging and palm-to-forehead, suggesting that we were somehow mentally deficient. We get a reaction like that, on average, about once each week. Always, we are either off the carriageway (pavement) or at its very edge. Always, we are taking up a lot less space than someone riding or pushing a bicycle, or a tractor, or a broken-down vehicle, none of which cause any consternation whatever.

Is it because they think that small terriers on short leads are likely to run out in front of them? Is it, perhaps, because it is so unusual to see anyone walking dogs away from built-up areas, and they can’t cope with the intellectual challenge of an unaccustomed circumstance? Or is it, as I suspect, because they are tw@s.

As the title suggests, I know very little about pancakes, but I can recognise a tosser when I see one!

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Of blunders, batteries, beetles and blatant belligerence

I thought I’d start with a picture that I took in the back streets of Dubai at the end of the 1970s. At the end of a short track was a small workshop.08-03-2007 17-49-19_0170It tickled me, anyway.

When I reach the end of the week, I look back over photographs taken, emails sent and activity on social media to see what has happened over the preceding seven days. On occasion, I find nothing. Today is one such day.

Clare’s car came back from loan, and it was clear that the battery has had it. That it wouldn’t start on its own recently recharged battery but started immediately when connected to another battery (that from Lizzie, which has stood idle for many months) confirmed our suspicions. It is clear that we need to buy a new battery for it. Whilst waiting for us to do that, Rob needed to borrow the car again. To our great embarrassment, it needed a push to start it before he could borrow it! Apart from charging, which seemed normal until we actually wanted to use it, we hadn’t done anything to find out the state of the battery. The screw closures that give access to the battery’s cells are hidden under the label, removal of which invalidates the guarantee, so we hadn’t lifted them to see the state of the cells. When Rob did that (with our approval, as I couldn’t put my hand on the receipt to find out if it was still under guarantee) he found that only one of the cells showed a decent level of fluid. No wonder it wasn’t holding charge. Rob has topped all the cells up with distilled water, and we’ll see it if is able to accept and hold charge now. If it does, we will have saved the cost of a new battery.

After Clare’s success with the bee photograph last week, I felt that I had to try to match it with some images of small things. On Monday, I saw some insects behaving in a most lascivious manner, and thought they would make good subjects. Here they are, common red soldier beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) caught in the act. P1060325a P1060326a P1060328a P1060329a P1060330aThese little fellows are 7-10mm (0.3″-0.4″) long, and were photographed with our Panasonic DMC-TZ10 pocket camera. I leave you to decide whether I succeeded in my aim.

During the week, I put a photograph of Trevor on my photo blog at Here is the image I used:SONY DSCNot surprisingly, every response received told me just how sweet he looks – and he does look sweet, doesn’t he? When I suggested, that when Jerome K Jerome said that fox terriers are born with six times the original sin of all other dogs, he was actually referring to Jack Russells, it was not believed. When I quoted Johnny Rivers, from his song Secret Agent Man,

Beware of pretty faces that you find.
A pretty face can hide an evil mind.

it was suggested that the statement couldn’t possibly apply to such a pretty face.

In the interests of balance, and for no other reason, here is that same pretty face in play-fight mode. Not so pretty now, is he, eh?


No humans were harmed in the making of this picture

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This EU thing is not all bad

It is something rather special when a government service works exactly as expected, without query and in a sensible timescale, such as the Winter Fuel Payment that I mentioned a few weeks ago had arrived out of the blue; a very pleasant surprise, and totally unexpected.

Back in February, as soon as the rules allowed it, I put in my State Pension claim. It involved a detailed, twelve-page form and lots of supporting documentation. The earliest date to send a claim is four months before the effective date, and I put mine in exactly four months before my 65th birthday. The idea was to give them as much time as possible to raise and have dealt with any queries they may have. In the end I received a decision in less than a month, together with a set of S1 forms, which I handed in to CPAM in the middle of March.

As I said here on 16 March, I was hopeful, though not convinced, that everything would go through smoothly. The CPAM adviser in Riom did tell me that I would be informed when they sent the forms to the Pension Service in UK, but I have never received this information. However, on Friday, I had two letters from CPAM in the same post. The first told me that I am no longer entitled to universal health cover by virtue of residence, the régime under which we have been covered since our E102 forms expired in 2007; the other one told me I needed to update our cartes Vitales (health insurance cards) to reflect that I now benefit from social cover by virtue of international conventions. What that means is that I no longer have to make income-based contributions for my health cover, as it is covered by UK/France reciprocal arrangements for state pension recipients.

What is astounding about that is that, once again, not only has the French end of things worked, not only has the UK end of things worked, but the two have worked together.

WP_20140625_001Out here in the sticks, it has been an eventful week. Positives are that I finished proofing my niece’s book and submitted the latest assignment to my tutor at Writers Bureau. Not so positive were:

  • niggles on the mail server I use, causing multiple delivery failures – eventually traced to a (misconfigured?) port on the server,
  • the web server I share was down for much of Tuesday
  • the web server used by the Hawk Conservancy Trust was down for part of Thursday, and
  • a repeat of the previous week’s php file corruption problems in my web area, needing another restore. There is nothing in the logs to suggest what had happened, hence we have no idea, having taken every security measure we could think of, how to stop it happening again! The problem this time left the editor for blog posts and pages unusable – no tools, no wysiwyg and white type on a white background. That seemed to self-correct after 48 hours, although it’s still as bad on my MacBook. As my daughter-in-law in Florida would say, “Go figure!”

I still haven’t managed to get out with my macro lens, but Clare saw a bee with pollen covering it like sequins on a débutante’s dress, and whipped off a few images with the little Panasonic, putting me to shame. P1060322Bee on courgette flower. Looks like we could be over-run with courgettes again this year. They do go well in my risotto verde, though.

I have my four-monthly visit to the doctor tomorrow. The results of last week’s blood tests look fine, so I’m not expecting anything beyond the usual check-up and repeat prescription. Then, if the weather looks good, we’ll probably head south for a few days, for a delayed celebration of my 65th!

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My first week as a proper pensioner

We live in a universe that is governed by laws; statements of conditions that are constant through space and time. That they are constant makes possible things like space travel, computers, telecommunications, and navigation (even before the advent of GPS – remember sextants, compasses, maps?)

One of the better-known of these laws is Murphy’s Law, which states that if anything can go wrong, it will. I would add to that a corollary to the effect that the likelihood of things going wrong and the severity of the going-wrong is in inverse proportion to the amount of time available to fix the going-wrong.

So it is, that in a week that I had planned a lot of work – a newsletter and a book to proofread, a set of writing targets and playing catch-up with my Writers Bureau course – Murphy’s Law came into full effect.

On Monday, I lost the ability to send email from my preferred accounts. This is not too much of an issue, as I have accounts on four other email services, in addition to my accounts. However, there are other people using my mail service for their small businesses, so it is a big deal.

I started an on-line support session with my hosts, Webhosting UK. Generally, that gives a fairly rapid and always effective result. This time, I spent more than two hours in an on-line chat with them. They tried to tell me there was something wrong with the set-up on my PC. The fact that others were having the same trouble made no difference to them. They even came in and took over my PC in a TeamViewer session; a session in which the agent demonstrated that she was totally unfamiliar with Thunderbird (the email software I use), even though it is all in English. All she did was the things she told me to try earlier, things that I had done, and that made no difference. I would love to have seen the look on her face when she tried to go into the command prompt and found everything in French! However, she would not accept that the problem was at their end.

Eventually, I said that I had to go out and would need to break the TeamViewer connection. I asked her to email me if she found a solution, or to escalate it if she couldn’t. I also said I would submit a trouble ticket on my return, and refer to this session. She asked me to hold on and, within two minutes, at about 5.30pm, said “Try again”. It worked. I asked it if was a server issue, to which she replied that there was a problem with one of the IP ports on the server.

I mustn’t forget that the on-line support people are unlikely to be skilled support operatives, that they typically have a script, a menu of things to try, and that they don’t have the background to offer creative support. That’s what second-line support technicians are there for; and when they say “give me a minute”, it probably means they are consulting with second-line support, with which I am absolutely fine.

The week settled down after that. I completed a first pass on the book I am proofing, interrupted by other work coming from the Hawk Conservancy Trust. That isn’t a complaint, by the way; I needed to step away from the book occasionally (as I am doing now, to compose this post), if only to make sure I didn’t get so deeply into the book that I risked losing the detached objectivity that I need to do the job properly.

Tania and Romain came to see us on Wednesday, to collect their dogs. We had a pleasant afternoon and evening; they stayed overnight and left early on Thursday morning. We enjoyed having their dogs with us, and we sort of miss them a little.

An then came Friday.

Friday was a bit of a lost day. We had loaned our Astra to Julie, because her car had broken down and she needed to make a few short journeys. Rob called just before lunch on Friday, to say that the Astra had broken down, and Julie was stranded in a shopping area car park on the south of Clermont-Ferrand. It sounded like the battery had failed. Clare and I piled into the Twingo with a set of jump leads, and set off to rescue her. It normally takes about an hour and a quarter to reach Clermont-Ferrand by road but, due to some road works on the AutoRoute, it took an hour and half. No worries there, what’s fifteen minutes between friends? We arrived, connected the two cars’ batteries by a pair of umbilical cords, and the Astra started straight away. We followed Julie at first, in case she had any problems on the way home, but the traffic was horrendous, and we lost sight of her.

A combination of road works, AutoRoute access closed off, and a couple of accidents meant that the return journey took more than two and a half hours; we didn’t get back until half past four, by which time we were thoroughly knackered, and I was in no humour to return to the study. Besides all that, it was time to give Ulysse and Trevor their daily walk, then it was my turn to cook dinner.

I had received a couple of emails in the afternoon that said that emails sent to me from the Trust were being bounced. I looked at the rejections, and it was clear that the server on which my mail system sits had managed to find its way onto the black list of one of the anti-spam services. I checked again; it was no longer there, so I simply put in a trouble ticket, so support would know about it. An inconvenience, but not major. The Trust is aware of the other email addresses they can use to reach me.

Saturday morning, bright and early, I started again.

Things were going tolerably well, until I started receiving emails from a monitoring service I use, telling me that all the WordPress blogs I host (two of my own and three others) were down. I also had an email from one of my users telling me that his site, one of the three, was not reachable. I checked all the sites I host. They were all working except the WordPress sites and the estate agency site that I host.

Time for another on-line support chat. After a hesitant start, we concluded that certain files were corrupt. I looked at a few on the server, and compared them with the copies I have locally. About 50 lines of executable code appears to have been inserted at the top of each file. These files are server-generated, so I had no way of knowing how up-to-date were the copies I have. After the hacking issue we had with the Trust site a couple of weeks ago, I thought straight away that a similar thing had happened here. The support guy agreed, went off for about fifteen minutes, then asked me to try again. I’m happy to report that everything seems fine again. The support guy’s opinion is that an update that I had run in to a WordPress plugin was responsible. To be safe, though, I have changed the key passwords on my server area.

All of that means that I have not been able to spend any time wandering around the garden with my new macro lens, terrorising the local insect population. However, in total acceptance of the saying that “the best camera is the one you have with you”, allow me to offer a close-up of a Five-spot Burnet, taken with my entry-level Nokia Lumia 520 Windows phone (which, you will recall, cost me 1€ new):

WP_20140619_002aand another image that I should have included last week.

Between 10 June and 12 June, the D998, that runs past our road and into Pionsat, was resurfaced. There is a bend with a steep camber on the inside, where it looks like a tipper truck had a mishap. Judging by its registration mark and the pristine state of its underside and tyres, it was probably no more than a few days old. I think it raised its body to tip a load of gravel, but when the body was fully up, the extent of the camber put the vehicle’s centre of gravity outside its track, with the inevitable result.

WP_20140611_003The vehicle was not there the next day, and a few days later, the gravel had (mostly) been recovered from the field – pity, I could have made good use of a cubic metre or two – and the hedge made good.

Who said life as a pensioner is boring? And who said country life is dull?

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