This is my first post since the New Year, so I’d like to start by wishing everybody a Happy New Year. I hope, if you did anything, that you had a good time.

I had a quiet time last night. I don’t go much past 9pm these days, I managed until about 10pm last night (thank you, Arnie, but I gave up and am watching the rest this morning!) but was sound asleep by midnight. Even some local fireworks (apparently) didn’t stir me. But last night, I also had a little help…

One thing I do like to do on New Year’s Eve is to crack open a nice bottle of wine. I’ve never drunk large quantities of wine, even less now, but it is something which always fascinated me. I used to love going over to France to visit the wine regions and maybe add something to the collection.

Probably our most successful trip was down to Burgundy in 2002. Not only did we all have a brilliant time, it was very warm, sunny weather and the gite had a pool, but I managed to bring back a few cases of superb wines, direct from the producers. My daughter, who was then about three, even enjoyed coming tasting with me (although her sips were limited, and I was driving)! And Burgundy is hallowed ground in wine terms. There is a road between Dijon and Beaune, the D974, and the villages and vineyards along the road read like a who’s who of world-class wines. Before God invented road numbering, it was simply known as the Route des Grands Crus, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

© Ecrivin.fr

But because I found learning about wine preferable to drinking it, once I returned from France, my collection would only decrease very slowly. So this was my treat last night (or, two glasses of it. The rest is there for today, to enjoy with my cheese sandwich):

Don’t let the grubbiness of the label fool you – it is grubby because I have let it sit, untouched, for twenty years. This is actually a bottle of grand cru wine, 1995 vintage. In (Burgundy) wine terms, a grand cru is the highest reputation vineyard. It refers to the vineyard rather than the particular wine or the year, although the vinyard gains its overall status, of course, based on the wines produced there over the years. A grand cru is about as safe a bet you can get for a good wine.

The grower, the Louis Latour company, owns plots in several vineyards in the region, and the Chateau Corton Grancey ranks high among them. I always liked the French appellation system because just these few labels narrow the origin to a specific couple of fields – in the world – not just for wines but all sorts of other foods too. Plus Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status guarantees a certain standard. If we think there is any merit in identifying regional foods, we should be using that system too. In the UK, it exists for very few things but is not widespread – we’ve usually no idea where our food has come from.

Ahhh… nothing better than remembering a decent holiday over a delicious glass of wine! Delicious? I’ve got to say more than just delicious. How about sublime? Burgundy is my personal favourite region in any case – surpassing even Bordeaux – and something like champagne is vinegar in comparison. When I taste a Burgundy, I expect to be transported back, and fortunately this wine did not disappoint. So, let’s say that by bedtime, 2019 was looking better, and New Year’s Day, at least, doesn’t look bad either! I’m sure it’ll start going downhill tomorrow!

Lastly, my featured image. Orange tart. Wine was not all my daughter managed to try out!


I look for plusses everywhere these days.

I was very happy at the weekend. I have a small-ish collection of movies, for a computer geek who stores everything worth anything onto hard disk. Of that small collection, a disproportionate number of them are in French.

I find that Hollywood films (and, by extension, British films) are mostly pretty rubbish, but have found over the years that French cinema has produced some brilliant storylines. I always used to buy films with their original soundtrack, but with English subtitles – dubbing was not for me because part of the process was to pick up snippets of the language to take away with me. My knowledge of French was enough to set me on the right track, and with the help of subtitles the films made sense to me. Even if subtitles aren’t massively accurate. True to form, many of the films were useful just for picking up small phrases and later using them over in France.

But with my eyes not being so good, my collection of French cinema has remained untouched for the last few years. Until last weekend.

I was home alone, my wife away visiting family, so had some time on my hands. So, on Saturday I watched what is probably my favourite film ever, in any language, one called Le Bonheur est dans le Pré (which Google translates as Happiness is in the Field, and who can argue with Google?)

I’m not big on actors, but this film contains one of my favourites, Michel Serrault. You might have heard of him from La Cage aux Folles.

But I’m not going to go into detail about either the film, or the actor. I have them as ideas for future posts, so don’t want to spoil the surprise! Suffice it to say that I got through the film, my eyes and ears kept the pace, and I could follow what was going on.

On a roll, on Sunday, I watched Robert de Niro (and Jean Reno, another favourite) in Ronin. This film is mostly in English, with a scattering of French, so a bit easier. It helps that it is set in Paris and Arles, both of which have happy memories. Again, I passed with flying colours, although I could feel the late night yesterday!

I heart Paris!

I saw a nice surprise yesterday. Way back in a previous lifetime I used to read a particular blog. I shan’t use the blog’s name because, the Internet being what it is, that’ll probably give the author’s identity away in 2 seconds flat! Her tale was interesting anyway, plus she was an English woman living in Paris. I used to love it there and would have liked to have lived in Paris myself, although my choice of career made that impossible. In IT you tend to regard London, New York and possibly Sydney as the places to be, and I was lucky enough to work London *and* New York – something like IT is very Anglo-Saxon and France is, well, French! We must’ve been roughly the same age, had kids roughly the same age, etc. I think mine was a bit older than her’s – close enough at least for me to easily remember what life was like bringing up a young kid. We diverged because whilst I was settled down by then, she was going through the turbulence that is life – maybe that was partly why she was interesting, because she had something different to what I had?

The woman wrote in a time when a good blog could lead to a book deal (maybe it still can? Reading – actual paper books – is too much effort for me these days so I don’t keep up) and she duly published stuff. I definitely remember reading the first, but it was largely a re-hash of the blog, so I think I stopped at one.

At some time later I got myself a Facebook account, and must have said I “liked” this woman – she was on Facebook too but I don’t think she wrote the blog any more by that time. I must’ve re-read her book at some point.

I forgot about it until I logged on yesterday and saw a post from her, linking to a fresh blog she now writes. Lots of water under the bridge etc., and she now writes from the perspective of having bipolar problems. There are parallels there with this blog, where I write from the perspective of having had a stroke, although obviously one is mental and the other physical.

I think a big marker, not really of recovery, but of whether you manage the illness or the illness manages you, is that our horizons get broader – like they used to be before we knew it could be different. Certainly for me – I suppose I can’t speak for anyone else. Health once again became *a* ubject, one of several, rather than *the* subject. I notice these days that I write a lot about politics – I mean, of course I agree with this stuff because I wrote it, but I expect it would bore everyone else to tears! But the point is that the posts have moved beyond the subject of stroke. I always said that I didn’t want the stroke to define me, and political posts show that it doesn’t any more. Politics is a bit of a cop-out, because you can engage from the comfort of your armchair (and I do!) but you’re still contemplating something other than your health and your mortality. Another, more direct, reason for me to blog is to record my physical recovery. One day I walked 10 yards, the next 20, and so on. So to a large extent, I don’t really care how interesting the blog is to other people – it’s a bonus if you enjoy it too, but really, I write it mainly for me. I guess writing on different subjects charts recovery too, but altogether more subtly. I’ve always thought of myself as long-winded, but rather than fitting into a newspaper story, I can use the blog to properly explore issues, so long-winded deliberately doesn’t bother me. My posts are as long as I feel like writing about something.

I scanned through the new blog yesterday and saw posts on what seems like a variety of subjects – there’s certainly been a change over the last couple of years, and seems to have moved away from health. I hope that’s an indicator of recovery from her perspective too, claiming life back for herself. The posts are quite infrequent, so presumably there is a whole load of other shit going on, and the blog is just the stuff she chooses to share with the world. I don’t detect a lot of conscious “recovery” stuff, but there again for something mental, how does one quantify recovery? I suppose that, like me, you set yourself goals, but unlike me thost goals will be mostly subjective. What might be a mountain for one person will be a molehill for the next.

Incidentally…trying to work things out…I think the last time I was in Paris was in 2008.

I used to visit maybe one weekend a month back in the nineties, before I went to the US, before marriage, before parenthood, before flying was bad! I used to live in and fly from Southampton, and home-to-city-centre could be as little as a couple of hours. The areas I knew well were those around the fifth and thirteenth arondissements, a bit out of the centre, the area around the Rue Mouffetard, the Avenue des Gobelins, out to the Place d’Italie, if those places mean anything to you.  I used to stay in a tiny hotel on the Rue Censier, when not with friends.

I used to love going to the Louvre on Sundays before I flew home, first because it was free on a Sunday. and second, because the bus to Charles de Gaulle went from the nearby Opera. Even now, if I had to pick a favourite artist, Corot would be right up there. My wardrobe was mostly French, and as I got better jobs I used to frequent the Rue du Faubourg rather than the Galeries LaFayette. I’d have places to myself when I shopped – Saturday morning was my favourite – because other folk wouldn’t get up until lunchtime!

But Paris was really my bachelor playground and after I got together with my wife, and certainly after my daughter was born, we still went to France regularly, but stays in Paris were sparse. I have a friend who still lives just outside so we would meet up occasionally, and kids with very little else in common (including language!) would play together for a few hours. Daughter and I did the obligatory trip up the Eiffel Tower etc. – if it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have bothered but it was worth it just to see her face when we came out of Bir-Hakeim and she saw the tower for the first time. I think the last time, we took a day trip there – Christmas shopping – from one of our new favourite haunts, Rouen, and had to fight our way through the crowds on the Boulevard Haussmann.

I don’t now know when, or even whether, I’ll get back there given my mobility these days. And, I’m reluctant to travel without money coming in. It’s one of a long list of places with very fond memories, but not really vital to go back to.