Saturday, November 15, 2003

15/11/03 So far, so good ... this is not an advertisement for Viagra

Although I'm sure, with the special offers that keep pouring in, I could get you some cheap if need be.

Anyway, we made it back from Croatia - of which more later - to find Jeremy's bedroom destroyed (it had, as planned, turned into the landing) and our putative bedrooms upstairs accessible via a ladder. We quickly arranged a hotel room for Jean & Leigh that night, and then for the rest of their stay we managed to park them at Sue's place, she and the kids having gone off on holiday. We squatted on mattresses on the floor for a month until, coming back from Pesselière, we found the stairs had been put in, so quickly painted and moved upstairs before Jean and Jean-Michel (the builders) could have second thoughts.

Right now it's almost over, and we even had the builders round for dinner last Saturday to celebrate. I got the kids' bathroom finished last weekend, after heroically wrestling with lino that didn't really want to fit in such a small space, and now there's just our ensuite to get finished: painted, silicone all around the shower box and the lino to go down. I hope to get the painting done tomorrow, and I am not looking forward to the lino.

Still, we're living up there, we're very pleased with it - lovely and luminous with all the windows - and at last we have a bit of room. And when - in a couple of weeks - our bathroom gets finished, guests will have their own bathroom on the first floor which doesn't have to be shared with Malyon wanting to wash her hair for three hours.

My office - what used to be Malyon's bedroom - needs repainting and shelving putting up so that I can move fifteen years oif BYTE magazines and a cubic metre of junk off the floor, but that can wait. Who knows, I might even find time to get it done over the winter. There's a staircase to be varnished and a couple of windows to be done as well, which is probably higher priority.

Margo's been busy: put crépi up in what was our bedroom and turned it into her sewing/junk room, which has allowed us to empty out the library and the living room downstairs. She's also plastered and then waxed the walls in the first-floor living room, and at long last the TV has moved up there. The walls are a warm terra-cotta, and we're planning on painting the skirting-boards in a sort of raspberry-crush: we like it, even if the kids don't. We'll sell the place before they can inherit, so their opinion doesn't really count.

There are still about five zillion things that need doing: the skirting boards upstairs, light fittings to be bought and installed, pictures to be hung and half the first floor to be redecorated (finally get rid of the incredibly kitsch "Venetian Festival" wallpaper!) but I think we'll slow down a bit for the next few months. Done enough. Shagged out. Bored witless.

There have been no fatal accidents during the renovations so we're all alive and kicking. Work's going nicely - although I may have to head off to some godforsaken hole up North, near Metz, on Tuesday to look at some problems for the SNCF - and Margo's working fewer hours, which seems to please everyone. Malyon is a teenager starting to suffer from the "oppressive parents" syndrome - mind you, we managed to send her off to England for ten days a couple of weeks ago, for a walking trip in the Lake District with cousin Mandy, and very nice it was too (for us, mainly) - and Jeremy is still Jeremy. He asked to see the school psychologist a month or so ago, and the upshot of their interviews is that he's a bright kid, not particularly at ease in his body, and afraid of failure to the point where he has two primary and five backup reasons as to why it wasn't really his fault. Runs in the family, I suppose. Still, Margo turned out OK in the end, so there's no reason he shouldn't.

France is - slowly - modernising and with luck ADSL will arrive at St Pierre sometime next year (according to the Mairie, "very soon. Like, December 2004". We must have different ideas about the meaning of "soon"). When it does I shall jump upon it and get the place outfitted with a router and radio network, and waste a weekend getting it all set up Whilst waiting I've done something I've been thinking about for a while and ordered a webcam, the idea being that I can then waste another weekend installing it and the necessary software for doing video over internet. Then, assuming that Jean & Leigh pay someone to install things at their end, the kids will be able to chat with their grandparents.

The grape harvest is done and the wine is bottled, we're enjoying a beautiful Autumn and I'm going to bed. After a bit of cut'n'paste, to give you the few follwoing paragraphs -

As for Croatia - which we loved, to the point of seriously considering heading back next summer - what follows are my admittedly terse notes made at the time (you try writing a novel on a Palm):

Well, here we are - Margo and I, the kids, Jeannie & Leigh and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, comfortably ensconced in a villa in Trogir, Croatia. We left rather later than planned - as usual - on Friday morning, leaving the house in the hands of the builders after extracting a promise that it'd still be standing on our return: they were going to attack the electrical renovation of the first floor during our absence and if we've any luck the staircase up into the new part will be there too when we get back. The dog is staying with friends - hopefully she won't walk straight into their swimming pool without noticing it, as she did last time - and a neighbour is looking after the kitten.

Did the trip down in two legs, probably just as well as it took fifteen hours rather than the twelve that Michelin rather optimistically planned. Not really Michelin's fault, just that the last 400 km we did at an average speed of 45km/h, rather less than I'd expected. Everything went swimmingly down to Trieste (apart from losing our way around Turin and taking the southern bypass rather than the northern, but that only cost us 30 km and it seems that everyone gets it wrong) and then we went through Slovenia and into Croatia and found a zimmer for the night with a shade under 400 km left to go, but the next day we attacked the coast road between Rijeka and Split. As did, apparently, 90% of the planet's population, with the majority being Dutch people with caravans. A very scenic - dare I say it beautiful, if a bit desolate - road, but what in France we'd call a departementale, and poorly maintained at that. I am so glad that air-conditioning is standard on modern cars.

Anyway, we made it to Trogir - not as early as I'd hoped - and got shown to the villa, settled in and took the kids down to the Adriatic, about 50m from the doorstep. Where they plan on going at least twice a day, or until they get sick of it. Tomorrow we might make it into the old town - if we can find a park - and wander around so that I can play with my brand-new digital camera, an Olympus C5050 that the company thoughtfully bought for me just before we left.

As far as I can see, the economy of Croatia seems to be based on renting out one's house to tourists over the summer. Oh, there's doubtless other things, but that does seem to be the principal activity. Godnose where the actual people go - into the cellar for the duration, perhaps. Or perhaps, like the house we're in, they build 'em specially with an extra floor, to be rented when possible and used as extra living space when not. Maybe they decide to spend summer with the grandparents - maybe they go somewhere even poorer - Albania, say - for their holidays. I really don't know.

Whatever, in France you'd be paying probably twice as much in rent and general living expenses, to find youself on a dirty beach with twice as many people around, so personally I'm not inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Trogïr is a walled mediaeval city on an island just 30m from the coast, classed world heritage by UNESCO and effectively extremely charming, quaint and touristic. Also no doubt expensive by Croatian standards but dirt-cheap by Frog ones. It boasts a small port, a drydock and a marina where you can find lots of small craft, ranging from 20m schooners to small Italian motor yachts - small meaning 30m long minimum, three floors above deck, a couple of radomes that'd put NASA to shame, two or three gorillas bulging out of their suits and registered in the City of London. I suspect we're talking serious money here. Split, about 20km south, is also a world heritage site, as is Dubrovnik, about 200km south. The country seems to be festering with them. We made it to Split -via public transport - but didn't really want to try taking either cars or the bus to Dubrovnik - especially as the thermometer didn't get below 40° during our stay.

Oddly enough, Margo arranged everything over the internet - that's not odd in itself, I know, what's odd is that it all turned out so well. The villa was all it was represented as being, if not more; the guy (Mario?) that ran the tourist agency was charming, honest and looked after us above and beyond the call of duty; one or other of the grandmothers (couldn't tell which one, I think they're interchangeable) of the lessors inundated us with tomatoes and cucumbers ... which is odd really because in Croatia the vegetable seems to be a protected species. When you order your meal it will be copious (as are the beers: the small glass is 50 cl) and will generally consist of a half-kilo of meat, some chips, and a lettuce leaf. Unless you've ordered salad on the side, in which case you'll get a trough of tomatoes. Think to order vegetables, which will get you (in our experience) a half-dozen wisps of barbecued aubergine.

Mario also arranged us cut-price tickets on a boat trip (his boat) to one of the islands about 10km offshore, and that's where I'd like to go back, if not next summer then the year after (whenever we have some cash). We stopped in at one end, at a bay which had fairly recently but quite tastefully been set up as a vacation center - small 2-storey villas hidden amongst the trees in a ravine leading back from the bay - and then, at the northern end, at a small port. Which had a big auberge, a few shops, and that was about it. Apart from the deserted bays, in one of which I nicked Malyon's schnorkel and mask and had more sheer pleasure than I've had on holiday for a long time, just diving around in crystal-clear water annoying the fish. I think I could happily spend a couple of weeks there, perfecting the art of doing nothing.

The trip back home was relatively uneventful, apart from managing to lose one another - godnose how we managed it, but we wound up with Margo a hundred km ahead of me. Of course her cellphone didn't work in Croatia, and Malyon's phone chose that moment to run out of credit for voice calls and would only do SMS - unfortunately Margo had Malyon's phone and Malyon was in my car and Margo couldn't work out how to write SMS on Malyon's phone (it uses T9 and is set up for Frog). But we managed to catch up with one another and stayed at the same zimmer we'd stopped at on the way down. The owner was quite chuffed (it was, incidentally, very nice - large rooms opening out onto a huge private balcony) and pressed a couple of bottles of Croatian grappa onto us as we left. (And extremely nice it is too.)

Then of course we made yet another wrong turning around Turin (which, as already noted, everyone does: a lack of clear signposting does NOT help) and arrived home under the first rain for months (literally) to find that the entire first floor had been rewired, the staircase was not yet in, and Jeremy's bedroom had turned into a landing. So we put Jeannie & Leigh into a motel for the night and camped on the floor.

Trevor & Margo

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