Thursday, August 15, 2002

15/08/02 A weeks-worth of Valium ...

Here we are on holiday, for once, at Palavas-les-bloody-Flots, Mecca of the Francais moyen. (Not quite true. Mecca is la Grande Motte, just up the coast a way. Palavas is one of the lesser holy places.) Benidorm it isn't, but the coast is built-up, in varying degrees of hideousness, for at least 40km to each side of us.

It's one of those spots where, by tradition, the average Frog-person comes to spend their holidays, and there are many magnificent examples of the species to be observed and even, if you can get close enough to take them by surprise, photographed. The usual collection of bare breasts about, many of which would, unfortunately, be better suited to a museum than a family beach. Still, there are always a few delightful exceptions.

Thanks to the mother of a friend of Margo's, we have a small studio in the casino complex, about 20m from the sea. Directly in front of us is the port, with about 800 boats of different sizes moored at the moment (it's not Monaco either, so don't bother thinking of ocean-going palaces) and just a bit off to the left are the beaches. The apartment itself is a perfect size for two wife-swapping couples, and adequate for us, given that neither of the kids have yet discovered hormones. Be impossible once they develop mood swings and pimples.

Personally I find the water far too chilly for anything more than a quick paddle just to keep up appearances, but Jeremy and Malyon demand to be taken down at least once a day, even if it's only to build sand-castles or, in Jeremy's case, to dig a hole and bury himself in it. The water, it seems, is too cold, and the sand keeps him warm.

We came down here on Monday 5th, hoping to avoid the weekend traffic jams. I suppose we were successful in that, but it didn't stop us taking a couple of hours to do the last 70km of autoroute. Good thing we left reasonably early (or, as far as I'm concerned, unreasonably early).

One of the minor inconveniences of the Mediterranean is the mistral, the south wind which can reach alarming speeds. It hasn't been that bad, but there have been a couple of times when Margo and the kids have been forced to abandon the beach to avoid being sandblasted to the bone.

Anyway, yesterday - Friday - wasn't particularly nice so we decided to go off and have a wander around Montpellier. A charming city. The name comes from the latin "mons pistillarius", spice hill (because the spice merchants - the then masters of the universe - lived there). And the old city is indeed built on a hill - or several of them. Low hills, admittedly, but still hills, or what passes for them around here.

Apparently they tried to do a Haussmann on it in the 19th century and turn it into some sort of southern Paris: luckily they didn't succeed. There is a mini-Opera, more or less a direct copy (in miniature) of the Palais Garnier, and a few grands boulevards, but most of the old city is still a labyrinth of old buildings on tiny cobbled streets and around miniscule courtyards. As luck would have it we went down one of these, attracted by the bridge across the street at the third-floor level, and stumbled across an English bookshop, where we were able to stock up.

Then, investigating a C14 first-floor off-the-wall privy (still, to all appearances, in use, although I imagine that the plumbing has been redone since the installation of the original long-drop) came upon a discreet window with a tasteful display of exotic leather and chain lingerie. The prices seemed excessive for something that was mainly holes. Sort of thing that'd leave nothing to the imagination, were it not that shop dummies have no primary sexual characteristics.

For some strange reason, possibly related to the fact that Margo was with us, we then wandered into the sewing-machine district (yes, there is one, bizarre as it may seem) where Margo came upon a patchwork shop, which made her very happy. The kids do not share her enthusiasm, so the rest of us waited outside in a litte square and amused ourselves with watching grass grow.

Today being fine we spent the afternoon on the beach, making sandcastles, while Margo went off to - guess what - a patchwork exhibition. When that was over she came down and joined us, so I went off to do some serious degustation at the wine fair that took - is, in fact, still taking - place today. As a result we'll be heading home on Monday about 20kg heavier, and that's without counting the collections of interesting shells and the omnipresent sand.

Back home again to discover the lawn overgrown thanks to all the rain we seem to have missed out on whilst on holiday, and the faithful dog is just as cretinous as she was. Jeremy is now all of eight years old, Malyon will soon be thirteen, and the summer is slowly winding down.

On a practical note, some of you may remember Anne-Laure, the young lady who came over with us last time we were in your neck of the woods. She's at university now ( how time flies) majoring in computer imaging, 3-D animation and complicated things like that which I don't pretend to understand. Whatever, she wishes to do her doctorate and for some really strange reason she'd like to do it either in New Zealand or in Canada. Is there anyone out there who knows if such a degree is possible in NZ, and if so where? There's no great rush, but she'd like to know.

Carry on having a really grotty winter: I personally am going to get back to doing some really disgusting things with a DSP (nothing personal, it's for the SNCF, so that must be alright).

Trevor, Margo & everyone else

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