Monday, 19 November 2007

Music Makes the World go around

Wow what a buzz to have written and recorded some fresh new songs this past weekend. I had overlooked just how satisfying it makes you feel plus upon listening to the completed tracks it kind of gives you a certain feelgood factor. Of course in real terms the songs will probably only be heard by a number of unsuspecting ears who happen to be in the wrong bar at the wrong time - when I'm out playing live!!

However, the Internet has certainly provided an additional audience for numerous singer songwriters like myself. Not a cat in hells chance of ever getting a recording deal (well not at my age:o) but it has allowed me to share some of my misspent moments with friends and relatives who tap into my site when they feel the need to hear my dulcet tones. All I can say is that they have exceedingly good taste fa nah fa nah...

Well I was taught by my father that Music Makes the World go around so I guess every good, bad or indifferent tune has its time and place - somewhere along the road.

So what's on the horizon apart from getting fully legitimate regarding establishing a business in France and acquiring my slotted identity (I hope the subtle hint of irony was not too strong)? Well hows about this - just about to submit my documents to become a French citizen - wooooooooooow I hear you exclaim! Well the good news is that being married to a French National I do have the right (French Right that is...) to apply for my citizenship whilst living here - I get to keep my British passport so I only see it as being positive. On the flip side of course you need endless numbers of original documents like: Birth Certificate, Wedding Cert., Family Book, Mother's Birth Cert., Parent's Wedding Cert., Son's Birth and School Cert., the list goes on and on; current bank statement showing address with name and RIB and then of course submission of evidence at the local tribunal. So I will keep you posted on that front. Just looking at flying back to visit some friends in the UK for Xmas but Sophie's work commitments and RyanAir's flight availability are making that tricky to sort at present. Failing that we may go out on a limb and visit the Pyrenees and build an igloo that we can sleep in for a couple of days over the Xmas period - yes I know sounds crazy but it's an organised weekend break!!

For 2008, not much lined up at present - thinking about participating in 'le tour d'etape' just cycling the most difficult leg of the Tour de France - don't tell me I know it's crazy but still considering it. The things you consider doing as the years roll on... Spurned on my my good friend Pete on the Ilse of White. I know I can do it now Pete, it's just sheer guts and determination + being well fit in both mind and body. Visiting my friend Doug Miller in Maui as I miss you buster and the years have rolled by far too quickly. Seeing our friends in both Italy and UK more frequently.

Well enough of me rattling on - catch you onthe next wave dudes & dudettes.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Yours Truly

Vanity got the better of me and I thought that you might like to see what I look like. Well I keep posting this blog and to date I only know of two people who are reading it. Maybe it's my web ignorance and I should be spending even more time trying to flip people onto this hot read but you know what, I continue writing because I'm finding it quite therapeutic.

I communicate 80% in French during the day so it's a real pleasure expressing myself in my native tongue. Plus 3 years on since moving here it's still a lot easier to write in English than the ultra challenging French, what a complex language!

Feeling a little lost today, quite a bit of creative graphic and 3D design work stacking up but have to face the mountain of bureaucracy that goes with setting up a business in France and boy I'm not looking forward it. Still has to be 'cause on the flip side if you don't you can not officially send and invoice to anyone!!

Sometimes I reflect and think how straightforward life was in good old blighty...

Aghhhhhhhh well I'll keep you posted on that one. Have a great weekend

Monday, 3 September 2007

The Weakest Link

The biggest challenge I've experienced since arriving in Montpellier is, well there's quite a few so let me list them in order of significance:
Bureaucracy - mindless paper trail
People need to be slotted or put into an envelope for identity purposes
Ragamuffins, their dogs + the dog shit
Egocentric Drivers
The kids school week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
France and the social state
35 Hour working week and ridiculous employment laws

Griping is easy - let's face it, we all do it form time to time. So switching to a more positive not I have to say that France is a really great place but of course there are positives and negatives just like good old Blighty.

So the most challenging thing I've experienced is the mental battle of persistence. If one fails to persist the challenge is lost before it begins. Of course as things materialise one has to continually evaluate any given situation but for me I've found myself giving into situations due to a number of factors that have included :
Lack of confidence with the French language
Lack of understanding of a social system that has huge benefits
Having worked for myself for 20 years I believed I was unemployable
After living in a vacuum for a number of months you loose your confidence
The complexity of the French working system

It has taken me a good number of months to slot things into place and realise that if one grows up with a system - it's the NORM consequently anything outside of this seems strange and uncomfortable. I believe that in direct response to this, most of us have a tendency to fall into the mode of griping and complaining about whatever the subject is, of course it's all verbal bullshit that serves little or no purpose whatsoever because at the end of the day you have to accept it and make the system work for you. The sooner you do it the less painful it is.

Having become a 'veloist', cycling is the national sport of France, the initial challenge was that of fitness. You have to have a certain level of physical fitness if you are going to be cycling between 60 and 120Kms with a group of guys who've been doing it all their lives. But this fitness comes as a natural response to the quantity of pedaling you do. The more difficult aspect is the mind over matter and dealing with the battle that goes on inside your head!!

This has been the number one challenge for me since my arrival in France, if not prior to my arrival. (Maybe it's my midlife crisis..... aghhhhhhh) It's taken one hell of a lot of time to evaluate and put things into perspective though. Things that retrospectively appear straight forward and blatantly obvious but until you realise it yourself YOU JUST CANNOT SEE THE WOOD FOR THE TREES and boy is that frustrating.

It has become clearer over the last 3 weeks - let me explain why...

I received an invitation in March to participate in a Swiss Military event (last weekend in Sept) I've mentioned it previously - invitation only, a very grueling 3 day event but according to the French guy who invited me; once in a lifetime invite. So I accepted reveling in the challenge. As the months have passed by I have used my cycling as a means of getting my cardio fitness to a much higher level however, internally I have been dreading the forthcoming event. I've been thinking that I am going to quit, I won't be able to manage the discipline and all the most ridiculous crap that you could imagine.

There have been a couple of cycle challenges/rides that I have quit; the first was my ascent up Mont Ventoux in May. There were a number of contributing factors including, I wasn't overly fit due to a medial knee ligament injury, it was the first serious cycle ascent I had participated in so everyone has to go through their pain barrier to crack it. 2 Km from the end I was ready to turn around and descend mentally I had given in - I had lost the battle within. Fortunately as a couple of my colleagues rode past me jeering and telling to get back on my bike I took the initiative and completed the ascent but I was momentarily defeated.

Secondly, when my good friend Peter Close came over for some cycle training I abandoned him on La Luzette, another classic difficult mountain ascent, in the Cevennes. Physically I was able but mentally I was well and truly beaten up. Don't get me wrong the ascent was bloody demanding but once the brain starts telling you that it's acceptable to turn around - you loose the challenge to continue and this is where you need to be super strong.

Thirdly, I rode with some of my club mates on a reconnaissance of the Cycl'Aigaoul, a tough 92km ride through the Cevennes (they are the mountains closest to Montpellier) two Saturdays ago. After the third climb I turned around and rode back to the car via the flat valley. I had been telling myself from the outset that La Luzette was a killer, I wasn't up for it, I let my friend down when he came over, why was I putting myself through this torture, I'm gonna quit on the Military weekend, I can't do it, I can't do it, I can't do it. Of course I turned around and came back via the valley and waited for my colleagues who returned an hour and a half after me but they had completed the ride.

Yesterday, 2 September, I sat on the start line of the Cycl'Aigaoul and I was nervous and apprehensive but I knew that I was going to finish. I was not going to allow my brain to become the weakest link again. Boy was it tough and I had paid 26 Euros to do it!!! But the most amazing thing was that I kept telling myself you have to complete the ride. There's no option of quitting, there's no conversation about turning back. This was a personal milestone not only for my cycling but for me as an individual and the confidence boost it has given me is phenomenal. I have been down for a good number of months - I've know about it but not know haw to fix it.

So on the flip side, once your brain becomes the weakest link and your prepared to turn back, give in or just accept the way your cards get dealt the battle is well and truly lost way before it begins. What ever you want, weather it be in France, the UK or any country if you lack persistence it won't happen but if you tell yourself, often enough you're going to make it - it will become your reality.

Have a fantastic day.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The summer kicked in 3 days ago...

Well some time since my last entry, in fact 6 weeks and 3 days!! How time flies when you having fun and keeping an 8 year old occupied during his summer vacation. Full time is not the word as all parents will quantify but hey what fun and something not to be missed for the world.

What can I tell you about since my last entry? The carbon pushbike has now done over 1000Km since I picked it up in July, I'm feeling a lot fitter, I have my first cycle challenge race called the Cycl'Aigoual which is 92kms in the Cevenne, starting off and finishing in Vigan with almost 2000m of ups and downs (in French that's denovolé but in English I'm not sure what the word is - shit only 2 years away and forgetting my mother tongue language!!) Anyway I was feeling really up for it and a couple of friends suggested doing a reckie of the circuit last weekend which I thought was a great idea only one snag - had to quit after the 3rd climb as I was completely shot! So not overly encouraging for the the following Sunday... I'll keep you posted on how I get on.

Only a month before the SRC in which I am participating as Sergeant Middleton - much to say the nerves are becoming more and more tense on that front. My French Captain tells me that there's nothing to worry about and it's a really good fun military training weekend however, I have my reservations... I'll keep you posted on that one also.

Life in France has been pretty good these last 6 weeks, the summer has been really great with temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees but this last weekend has seen the humidy kick in with temperatures of +35 degrees and very, very still making it a killer to do any sort of activity.

My boy is back to school and on that front is AOK so it's off to pick him up before some UK friends hit later today.

Catch you real soon on the Flip Side.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

14th July - Party on Dude

A big thanks goes out to our very good friends in Lymington - Rob and Beck, oh and Alex, for their fantastic hospitality during the week we spent back in the UK. Always good to hook up with friends you've not seen in a while and even better when they organise a party so that you can catch up with loads of people you have not seen in a long time. I guess the nice thing about going back to the new forest (our friends moved there a couple of years ago) was the break from city life in Montpellier - I did not realise just how much I dislike apartment blocks and the concrete jungle. I always find it amazing how the Mediterranean's have adopted to apartment high rise life yet in the UK sky rise blocks are synonymous with poor, run down lifestyles... Maybe that says something positive about French mentality??

Moving on briskly - our week in and around the Solent was a really great break. We had the good fortune to get to ride on Solent Charter Ribs and spend a morning on a pretty deluxe motor cruiser which came right out of the blue and was the icing on our cake for our trip. The weather was very agreeable considering the amount of rain the UK has had in the last couple of months, so a special thanks also goes out to Alex and Stuart for their nautical hospitality.

It's been a while since I posted my last blog and the most noticed difference between time spent back in the UK and now being home in France is the added strain of having to think about everything you say in French. You soon forget how effortlessly it is to communicate in your mother tongue as you have nothing to compare it too once you are in a foreign speaking country. Whilst I was back in the UK every thing was second nature, just like driving a car - you're on auto pilot all the time when you speak consequently conversation is a real breeze and a joy. My French is reasonable after 2 years of living here, and being married for 10 years to a French chick, so I can communicate about any number of subjects; yes I make grammatical errors but I've grown used to that and so have the people I speak with. I suppose the the flip side is that one has to continually think whilst speaking a second language and this results in being slightly more worn out at the end of the day - if you're having to use your brain continuously it's bound to have an effect on wearing you out that is until you achieve a fluency with the language where you don't have to think so much (I'm hoping that will arrive in the next 12 months, the sooner the better :o)

Yesterday the fireworks were firing on cylinders - freedom, liberty and fraternity. Yes 14th of July is Bastille day and the French certainly know how to burn the publics dough when it come to firework displays. All of the ports along the bay of Montpellier had massive shows. Some even did Friday and Saturday night!! I was with some friends between Lunel and La Grande Motte and the sky was ablaze between 10 and 11.30pm in fact it sounded more like military arsenal than a celebration. 1 hour and 15 minutes approximately at La Grande Motte - a gigantic WOW factor and goodness knows how much of the local public purse strings were burnt. However, on the flip side the visual spectacle must have been incredible - I unfortunately pitched up for an aperitif with some French friends which turned into a full blown dinner with another couple and six week old baby!! Tricky one to get out of so I missed the fireworks - I must be going soft in my old age.

We're now into the Estival season - so all of the local villages have their fetes and bull running craziness through the streets. I've have tried to comprehend why without any success on numerous occasions so I just accept that this is part of the culture and bulls running in the streets is perfectly normal for this part of the world. On the flip side - if you down here visiting make sure you park your car outside of the village centre when there is a fete taking place otherwise... You run the risk of having your car severely battered by a wild 'toro' (bullock) in a charging madness.

All fun and games and completely normal for the south of France - long live the Pastis and Charging Toro.

PS. My buddy Pete Close is climbing onto his bike tomorrow for an really tough Charity ride - the most difficult leg of the Tour de France through the Pyrenees Mountains - his link is on the left, he's trying to raise in excess of £1000 for prostate cancer so please log onto his site and make a donation every penny counts and I'm confident that he will succeed in this extremely tough challenge that he's set himself. Good luck buddy.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Summer Rain - No Thank You

Today was the last day of school for my son in his class of CE1 - I think it stands for Class Elementary, what a terrible parent I must be by not knowing the translation of his class title. However, I know that he started in CP, progressed to CE1, should be going on to CE2 but instead is jumping a year and as of September will be starting his new academic year in CM1 (class middle). We are very happy parents because he's worked terribly hard and we feel that he more than deserves to jump an academic year. I suppose it would be very easy to gloat and say well our boy is intelligent hence the reason he's being transferred but he's been finding his class for the last two years not overly challenging but the flip side is of course he will be losing the social group that he's known for the last 3 years - so it was a tricky decision on our part to say least. I guess we'll find out the real result in the fullness of time.

Education here is, from my limited experience of one school, very, very good. Our boy attends a private French Catholic school. Sounds very hoytee poloytee but the fees are nothing like a British private school - less than 200 Euros a month and that includes a canteen school dinner most days! It's considered quite elitist to pay for education in France consequently, the parents of most of the children at this particular school are from professional backgrounds. Surgeons, Doctors, Professors, Teachers, Business professionals etc. In our fast changing world I believe it's not necessarily what you know but who you know therefore paying for good quality education and mixing with families who make the wheels of the system turn hopefully gives you a distinct advantage throughout your life. This is my personal opinion I have to stress and I appreciate that its a tender topic for many people.

I never had a private education but I do recall good old school dinners and the super huge trays of spotted dick and anodised battered jugs of thick lumpy custard - mmmmmmm now they were deserts to die for. I know that my son's canteen doesn't operate in the same fashion with the same traditional stodgy puddings + creme anglais (as the locals like to call it) but they do have a varied menu and my boy likes the food.

So a big congratulations goes out to our son as it was made official yesterday and his classmates learned about it today from the headmistress of the school. Here, the temperature continues to hover around 28º to 32º and we don't have any rain, unlike the UK. I know that the land doesn't need it and feel confident in stating that the locals don't want it so we're looking forward to a damp rainy week on the South Coast of the UK and then returning to Montpellier for a sweltering hot summer.

Of course the flip side is - I will most probably have to install that Air Con system once it gets ridiculously hot, as I mentioned before.

Chin, chin and bottoms up for Wimbledon - doesn't look like any chance of finishing on time this year...

Monday, 2 July 2007

Carbon - isation

How time flies when your having fun. I just realised that it was the 2nd of July and the last time I consciously looked at my diary it was May! Woooooooooh.... These last couple of days I spent some time in the Pays Cathare, so excuse me for not adding any further blogs in June. We didn't have a telephone signal, let alone internet connection. This is a region between Carcasonne and Perpignon in the foothills of the Pyrenees, so it's like stepping back in time a good 30 years, if not more. My parents have retired to this area as you get a much bigger BANG for your buck down there than in the UK. There is a sizeable UK community of Ex Pats. who have gone the same route as my folks or bought second homes as it's a truly beautiful luscious green scenic area - with easy connections via Stansted - Carcasonne.

The flip side of course is that we get to see my folks more frequently than if they lived in the UK and that's really cool for my son 'cause he gets to see both sets of grand parents.

Absolutely incredible, I just received a phone call from a friend I was at Poly with right out of the blue who I have not spoken too in the best part of 8 years - Martin you've really made my morning, thanks for the call and looking forward to hooking up with you when we get back to the UK in a few day's time. Yes, it's back to good old blighty on Thursday the 5th so I may not get to put together an update blog for a week or so after the 5th. We're all going back for a family holiday but primarily we'll be hooking up with friends who we've not seen for while. That's one of the things that changes dramatically when you relocate - we've become lazy in staying touch with good friends and like wise once your out of site your also out of mind. I don't believe it's anyone's fault but everyone has STUFF going on around them and it becomes very easy to lose touch and drift apart. However, the real friendships stay rock solid and whenever you hook up it's as if little or no time has passed - I think everyone knows what I'm talking about there.

So how was the Pays Cathare? Why was I there? Well it wasn't just to visit my folk's.

The annual velo club weekend was organised in January so together with 21 other guys we headed to Rennes les Bannes right in the heart of the Cathare countryside. Very, very breath taking scenery - when seen first hand on a new lightweight bike. I forgot to mention that my new juicy carbon Cannondale bike had materialised; so it was a somewhat special outing for me and the bike! Let me tell you there's no stopping me now.

Like all new toys they seem so fantastic at first - this bike seems to pedal itself. Effortless hill climbing that is until you get to a really long 10km steep number and then you realise that ultimately it's not the bike but your legs that count. We covered about 100km on Saturday with 4 - 1100m climbs, it was a blast of a day, tough but most enjoyable and a very fond memory that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Plus the bike is awesome, I've never had a carbon framed bike before and it is responsive, light, climbs like a demon and descends at break-neck speed.

So how does the picture of me and my boy in the kitchen relate to this blogspot?

Two guys in a kitchen is a dangerous formula. The flip side result being burnt or carbonised biscuits !!

Enjoy the week and until next time - tally ho.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Saignant or Well Cooked

I said I would explain a little about the micro climate that provides Montpellier with circa 300 days of sunshine per year, yes I know how sickening is that when currently in the UK there is flooding and wide scale rain showers. Last weekend there was cloud coverage all over France apart from Montpellier why?? Not really sure and in all honesty I don't think anyone else really knows the real reason. It may have something to do with the fact that to the north lies the foothills of the Massive Central, what we call the Cevennes. This provides a protective 1500m mountain curtain which locks in the clear Mediterranean blue skies. Most of the southern coastline of France has a similar characteristic which is thin band of land coming from the sea and climbing steeply around the Cote d'Azure to the Alps/Dolomites and as you work your way west the band of land becomes wider and the mountains are replaced by Massive of the Cevennes leading into the Pyrenees towards the Spanish border.

Last year was a real struggle in the summer, well I suppose it started around march time really and lasted though until the end of September. Le canicule or heat-wave that seemed to go on and on and on. Numerous people died in all over France and Europe and day to day activities here are most definitely more challenging in 45º temperatures. It's common to have more than 40º so people just struggle through but having been coming here for over 12 years the climate certainly seems to have become hotter combined with a certain dryness which really cuts the throat when you're doing anything that requires physical exertion.

I've become used to perspiration or should I rephrase that and say the glow factor. If I turn to say hi to someone as I'm walking along I know I will glow some more. Air con in your car is a necessity and comes as standard in most new cars - it's certainly more tolerable being in a car than meandering along by foot. If you drive with the car window down and your elbow out of the car window be warned... The sun is relentless and the burn is agonising but of course you don't realise it at the time because the wind cools the skin and the result only becomes apparent when you stop!!

I think this year we may install air-conditioning in our house due to the fact that sleeping is far from easy with super high temperatures. But that's on my jobs to do list so I will keep you posted on that one. I mention it because it certainly better to have it than to be without it. Lack of sleep most definitely screws everyone's working day or just doing what you want to do.

I'm not a big fan of the summer here due to the heat and the numbers of tourists. On the flip side - outside of the peak season it certainly is a great place to be. I've never surfed barefoot in the UK on Christmas day or kite-surfed in January in 20 degrees looking at the snow on the peaks of the Cevenne to the north. I like my steak saignant - which is less than medium but more than rare and in these temperatures the juices of the meat certainly help with hydration.

PS - I've just been wondering to myself, is anyone reading this blog? If so let me know what you think.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Grease, Fete and Cheers

I've been diabetic now for over 42 years and please don't let me hear you pause to think ooh I'm really sorry to read that because, that is a typical French response. Why am I sharing this with you? Well, it's not for the sympathy vote, please let me reassure you but I have during my lifetime visited doctors and hospitals let's say more than most. One of the most positive things I have found since living in France is they do have an incredible health service. It would be very easy to criticise the UK system but this I feel serves little purpose. The system functions in the UK and is a relatively free paperless exercise. By comparison you have to contribute to the system here and each visit 'chez le Docteur' costs circa 25 Euros! Of course you claim it back via your 'carte vitale' and medical insurance but you physically have to put your hand into your pocket and pay for the service. So let me share with you a classic experience.

Now I have mentioned my dearest mother-in-law previously, way back in 1999 I had to visit the Doctor with my son and my mother-in-law. The doctor was a child specialist so she felt she had to escort me. This was the first time I had visited a medical specialist in France. The Doc did his thing checked my boys ears and fiddled about as they do and then towards the end of the visit my mother-in-law turned to me and tapped her bottom. What a strange gesture I thought and it never dawned on me that she was intimating that I had to pay the Doctor. I'd never had to pay my GP in the UK so this was completely foreign to me. She then coughed and repeated the tapping gesture and I shrugged my shoulders and asked what was the issue. I must point out that my French at this point was not particularly fluent. Chris are you gong to pay the Doctor my mother-in-law enquired, in an embarrassed like manner? I felt for my wallet and realised that I had left it in the car, upon trying to explain this there was all sorts of commotion and as I left the room to fetch it my mother-in-law paid the fee! Boy was she uptight that I had forgotten to pick up my wallet, so much to say that I was reminded for several years about this insignificant little incident even though I reimbursed her upon returning to the car. On the flip side I always carry a few Euros with me these days. This was a simple alien incident for me - I'd never had to pay a doctor directly so it was the furthest thing from my mind.

All things are smooth on the medical front here but it also helps when you know people within the system. You get to know who is good and who is not so good. Plus if you know someone who's senior things move just that little bit quicker. Like all things it's not what you know but who you know that makes the world go around. But generally things move quick here by comparison to my medical experience of the UK.

So what's been happening since my last post? Well...

Thursday was the June the 21st and the first official day of summer. Yippee I hear you cry...

Here summer is, how shall I put it... Crowded! The tourists arrive and the beaches become mayhem but hey that's just the way it is and don't forget it can take up to 3 hours to get back from the beach when normally it takes 20 mins. We're in the south of France and its normal during the summer. Thursday was also the Fete de Musique. Party party... We went to the town centre and it was throbbing lots of bands playing, lots and lots of people and a nice atmosphere. Depending upon where you go in the town you can listen to different types of music. Jazz, Acoustic Folk, Hip Hop, Garage, Pop, Classical you name it you can find it with dancers, traditional, modern it is a party that is celebrated all over France on the 21st June. Well worth a long weekend visit just for the party. It happens in every town and most villages at some point over a weekend.

Friday evening was Le fete de l'ecole - boy that was a very smoky evening as I was helping to cook on the BBQ. We must have sizzled 2000 Sausages and Merquez. After seeing all the grease fuel the BBQ it didn't do much to muster up my appetite. Most off putting although the 3 glasses of chilled rosé was most welcomed - cheers :o)

The weekend was warm. Cool Saturday morning, which was great for the 96km bike ride up the back-side of Arboras (a local climb to an observatory - excuse my french!) followed by lunch in town and a some what chilled out afternoon. Sunday was not so good as I had come down with Tonsillitis - ugh. Distinct advantage of knowing your GP really well in France; being able to call him, describe the symptoms and having a pharmacist as a wife who can interpret the telephone diagnosis - antibiotics at 9.30 Sunday morning delivered to the bedside.

Next post I promise to detail how the heat really cooks ones brain in the Micro Climate of Montpellier - bonsoir

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Road Cycling and the Yellow Belt

I have been married for 10 years this September, 10 blissful happy years, not a crossed word nor a moment of discontent - you know how marriage can be so perfect! On the flip side... (I have a big wry smile on my face) Relationships demand continual input from both parties, I love my wife to bits, I know that she feels the same about me and we love our son like - well you can only understand that if you have children of your own.

In fact we were super proud today when our boy received his first yellow Judo belt. 8 years old as proud as punch, in fact during the demonstration put on especially for the parents, my tiger threw an adult instructor over his shoulder on more than one occasion. I guess in reality I was also feeling as proud as him, if not more so :o) Sport in France plays a major part in the lives of everyone - on reflection I think more so than in the UK. This obviously depends on each individual because I'm fully aware that if you want to participate in the UK, it's not a problem. Here in the south of France the weather certainly has it's advantages - endless numbers of good quality skate parks that are used by skaters, skate boarders, roller bladers, BMX'ers, high numbers of ball sport clubs including rugby which features high on the agenda in this part of the world. Watersports care of the Mediterranean and surrounding rivers and numerous outdoor adventures including pot holing, caving, ropes courses, walking and cycling, which is just off the scale. One thing you will have to get used to is that everything stops for the kids on Wednesdays!! Including work for many people. Kids here go to school - Mon, Tues, Thurs and Fri some go on Wednesday morning but my boy has the day off every week. Of course the flip side is it really screws your working week up and some kids have to go to school on a Saturday morning which also screws your weekend! Of course that's normal here so you either like it, lump it or put your kids into a private school. It's just the way it is!

Cycling here, is as I mentioned earlier off the scale. It doesn't matter what sort of riding you like everything is well accommodated. So you're not a sports rider but you like the idea of meandering around town exploring the historic buildings. Fantastic - park your car in the underground parking, bang in the centre of Montpellier and pick up a bike care of the Local Council, (Montpellier Agglomeration) you have to leave a deposit but the cost is less than 5 Eu and you can ride it for as long as you like. There are some 290Km of cycle tracks in and around the city so you can get from town to the coast (9km) if you're feeling up to it. Mountain biking here is called VTT or Velo Tout Terrain and this goes way off the scale. You can choose from easy right through to extreme rides and you don't have to drive or ride that far to be in the Cevennes national park; dropping down some very technical downhill routes. Lots of VTT competitions for all the family that are very well organised.

Road cycling, as you are probably aware, is a national phenomena here. The Tour de France starts in a couple of weeks and this mesmerises all and his dog. TV coverage, radio reports, newspaper articles, talk in the bars it is truly bizarre. However... I too took to road cycling at the beginning of 2006 - I couldn't believe it at first either.

Having realised that I was living this kind of reclusive lifestyle, that I described in a previous entry, I looked to meet other expatriates in the area to network and swap notes (to see if anyone was experiencing the same sorts of frustrations). After contacting the British Consulate in Marseilles to enquire if there were any British business or family associations I was bluntly informed that my best option would be to start one as nothing in this area existed! This was a definite blank. One day I was recounting this to my wife's pharmacy business partner and he suggested going out for ride with his local cycling club. This could serve a number of reasons, firstly fitness, secondly networking and meeting new people, thirdly I would be forced to communicate in French. Not a bad idea I thought.

Problem Number 1. No road bike - solution change the tyres on my VTT (Mountain Bike) Problem resolved.

So Saturday morning 7.30am I pitch up to the meeting car park and wait, of course I'm early and no one else is around but slowly a bunch of guys congregate to form a group of about 25 guys (sorry no ladies in this club yet). Lots and lots of very light very expensive road race bikes and numerous puzzled looks at my Trek VTT with suspension forks and road race tyres. I guess I was the Crazee Engleesh Guy at whom they could mock... So we set off and the speed didn't seem to fast everyone was very polite and inquisitive, simple short bursts of French and then silence whilst we tackled the climbs. 60km later the legs were beginning to feel tired and we still had 30km to go - of course I was completely lost, disorientated and slightly worried about my blood sugar level, as I suffer from diabetes but the guys were fantastic, they had seen it before with nubies and I wouldn't be the last one, so Philippe & Noel stuck with me, talked me home and made it quite clear that I had to get a road bike if I was serious about riding on a regular basis. Thanks guys - it sure was a relief to get back to our starting point - boy did I sleep that afternoon. Well and truly cream crackered.

I never thought of myself as a cyclist, my physical build is far from ideal 90 kilos and large shoulders, plus my diabetes can be fun on those really tough climbs when the sun is cooking everything it touches but I thought to myself this is a great way of networking, getting to know the local lay of the land and building a social circle of contacts, friends + improving my language skills. So one and half years later I ride 2 to 3 times a week, Saturday morning with the club and a couple of early mornings during the week to keep myself in form. My wife's business partner Philippe, ex president of the bike club, helped me in my quest to buy a road race bike by telling my wife it was essential that I had one - he's a good lad and now a good friend. Of course the bike I bought was at the time fantastic but as I have ridden it more and more for some reason one has the impression that the bike has become heavier and heavier. On the climbs like Mount Ventoux (one of the renowned French mountains) every gram in excess weight seems like a kilo so I am gunning for a new bike at present.

The cycling experience has made a big difference to how I feel about living here. 2 years on I can speak and read French to a reasonably good level - far from perfect but my god the grammar is incredibly challenging. The friendships I have formed are not what you'd call rock solid buddies but I now have a network of people I can bounce ideas with. So the flip side to this little experience is without any shadow of a doubt find an interest or a sport and get involved in it asap, if you sit on the side line waiting for things to come to you the opportunities will pass you by and you'll never get the chance to wear the yellow jersey let alone the yellow belt.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Are mosquito's miniature Vampires?

Arriving in a country where the spoken language is different to your mother tongue posses a number of obvious challenges but...

And I have to say, yet again, wait for it...

A number of issues which manifest themselves in all sorts of bizarre ways. Not only is there a challenge with day to day communication; and I thought I spoke reasonably good French, the culture is different consequently you struggle to have a simple laugh. Food shopping takes at least twice the amount of time. You become apprehensive about using the phone to communicate. You feel really tired towards the end of the day due to two major factors, firstly your brain is working extra hard to comprehend what's going on and secondly, the heat. I'll cover how hot it gets here in a separate blog. You can't make innuendoes of any sort because you don't want to upset anyone - my world started to become a droll day to day existence as I found myself living - life behind the blue gate.

In the early stages my life in France consisted of:
06.45 Alarm - shower and ready my son for school
07.30 Breakfast
07.40 Sophie leaves for work
08.00 Undo the large blue entrance gate that protects us from the Rat Race
08.03 Raphaël and I leave for school on the push bike, skateboard, scooter or roller blades
08.25 Huge hug for the day and reminder to listen, do as your told and not but in
08.40 Return home via the blue gate that keeps the Rat Race out
08.43 Yet another day of silence - day after day after day

16.25 Undo the blue gate that protects us from the outside world
16.28 Off to pick up Raphaël from school
16.45 School bell rings and I'm reunited with my son
17.05 Return home via the blue gate that keeps the outside world from us
18.45 Evening meal for Raphaël
19.45 Bed and story for Raphaël
20.25 Sophie returns home from a regular days work
20.45 Evening meal that I prepared earlier
24.00 The banquette begins - eaten alive by those god darned mosquito's

During the day I searched long and hard for jobs, I wanted to to work and continue my career in design and marketing, I busied myself and just found things to do to keep my mind occupied but slowly and unknown to myself I started slipping into a terrible trance like state. I had never experienced anything like it previously. It was a strange mindful eerie development metamorphosing itself as - a total loss of confidence!!

Oh shit - me, a loss of confidence that's impossible, totally and utterly ridiculous. I'm a man of steel, let's have a laugh John, did you hear the one about the three nuns...

But there you have it - I couldn't communicate competently in French and as a result I found myself living a solitary lifestyle at the age of 43 behind our blue gate - and it took me a good deal of time to realise just what was going on. And to top it off the flip side is that my wife doesn't get eaten by those god darned mosquito's; that seem to rule the roost here after midnight, whereas they seem to love the taste of my now confidence less English blood. Or perhaps it has something to do with my christian name being Christopher Lee either way I'm certain those blood suckers are miniature vampires.

It can't get any worse surely?

Monday, 18 June 2007

Wam Bam - Ohana

So there we were, happily or not so as the case turns out, living in Northampton. A small 2 bedroom bungalow with half an acre of land, backing onto a protected spiny, NN1 postal location, everything seemed to be fine and dandy. Of course on the wish list; living closer to the beach was always one of my high priorities but at 42 you kind of just reassure yourself that travelling a couple of hours to the coast was no big deal. You can only kid yourself for so long!

One evening in May 2004, my wife Sophie piped up and told me that she wanted to go back to live in Montpellier. That came right out of the blue, so was somewhat shocking to say the least. Her mother, an infamous Mediterranean darling; who has doted over me for the last 10 years - NOT, had found her a job and she was adamant to get her daughter and grandson back to her home town. To cut a long story short I was left holding the broom to tidy up the loose UK ends, whilst my wife took our son to France so that he would be able to start the new academic year without any hassle.

The flip side to this wonderful UK based decision was that it took over 13 months for me to sell our house and as a result I spent a long time away from my family but like all things when you put the ball in motion you have to go with it regardless of the consequences. Lots of too-ing and fro-ing and of course the inevitable tears for everyone but hey ho it all came good in the end. Well at least that is what I have been telling myself.

I finally got to living in Montpellier full time at the end of July 2005. It was a long old slog and emptying a house on your own is most definitely an arduous task. A big thank you goes out to Corey Adcook who was a friend and a big support whilst my family were not there in the latter stages. Most house owners will appreciate that moving house is supposed to be one of life's most stressful activities, well let me share with you the compounding effect of changing your country residence, tying up all the loose ends, council tax, UK tax office, closing down your business, fiscal details - the list seems never ending when your right in amongst it. But I had my list and eventually it got completed.

On reflection - I guess when I arrived I was slighted twisted and I did feel let down by my wife. This has only just really dawned on me as I write this blog entry. She had walked away and I had independently taken on the task of sorting the UK end out. Grrrrrrrrrr I hadn't realised that I was so stressed by it. Aghh well as you get older I guess you learn to mellow a little. Keeping cool when things get really messy takes a lot of control - oh... and I almost forgot to tell you:

Whilst I was living on my own, the house was broken into and messed up, that wasn't such a problem as most of our belongings were already in France and then a few days later the shed was broken into and my steadfast Cannondale Mountain Bike was stolen - but I kept my chin up because there seemed little point in being any other way. The police confirmed that since the Gipsies had arrived and set up camp in the town, the crime rate had gone off the scale. We had continued to pay our insurance so things were sorted out via claims.

Lots and lots of opportunity to really go off the rails - let me tell you. However, it did come to fruition in the end. So what is the flip side to this encounter of stress, house selling, moving and sorting things out. I guess in essence if you have the opportunity to tackle it together, side by side, in a good old British way, fa na fa na, choose to do it like that because 'Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.'. (Lilo & Stitch - 2002 Disney)

Sunday, 17 June 2007

In the Beginning

So... Why start writing and contributing to the never ending stream of blogs ??

Well I've been living in Montpellier, France for almost 2 years and let me tell you first and foremost I am writing to share with you my experience of frustration, the necessity to communicate in my mother tongue and hopefully paint a clearer picture about 'the Flip Side' of jumping on a plane and living in another country. There are many plusses don't get me wrong but one has to be fully aware that over 60% of the English folks that move to France return to the UK within a relatively short period of time.

I had a distant but good friend come to stay with me last week, Peter Close (I didn't realise just how many things we had in common and I don't think either of us realised just how strong our friendship was), I read with great interest his blog, Etape or Bust, that details his preparation for an attempt to complete the most difficult stage of the Tour de France 07; in the Mountains of the Pyrenees. It was a sporting challenge laid down to him by some of his medical colleagues and as an individual who doesn't like to say no; he accepted it with open arms. He's now cycling to raise money for the Prostate cancer charity so take a peak at his blog via the links - it makes for a very interesting read and if you can please consider making a donation.

So I thought to myself... How can I create a blog that people want to come back to time and time again ?? What can I discuss that people will find interesting, different or stimulating ?? Is there anything I can share ??

And I thought... And I thought... And I thought and I thought..

And then it dawned on me that by sharing my experience of transferring my life to another country perhaps I could help people take a more balanced approach to living in another country. The flip side to 300 days of sunshine and 40 degree + temperatures for me are too numerous to mention in one simple swipe but I can guarantee there are plenty of them regardless of which country you choose to relocate to. I've lived in both Italy and now France so I think it would be fair to say I have a reasonable understanding of how challenging transferring one's life can be.

My intention with this blog is to detail some of the experiences I have found really challenging, keep it light hearted, make it interesting & varied, share things about what makes French life attractive and basically detail the Flip Side of living abroad. Plus I'll be aiming to capture some slightly off the wall pictures to spice it along.

Today, it's fathers day, we have 30 knots of wind, slightly cloudy and it's about 27 degrees. Not ideal if your a sun worshipper however, as a keen kitesurfer that's pretty AOK for me. By comparison to living in Northampton; Montpellier is based 8 clicks from the Mediterranean, so on the flip side I could argue that this location is far more suited to my passion for water sports.