Saturday, 12 April 2008

Enjoy or be damned.

The Fingers Family don't take many trips out; my work schedule puts paid to a normal family life for the most part, but this morning was different. Faced with a difficult new project on Monday (coinciding conveniently with the school holidays) I threw myself at the recreational mercy of Mrs. Fingers and consorts. Bearing in mind we have no car and that it was already mid-morning we plumped for Carcassonne: not far and containing a medieval fortress we'd never visited.

Carcassonne itself is a pleasant enough little town if you're not too demanding: straight, narrow streets in the centre with the usual spattering of chain stores and a few independent boutiques. Still, the only reason anyone ever goes there is to bypass its doubtless abundant charms and ask for directions to the citadelle. We got there at about 2.30pm after an adequate, pleasantly-served lunch in the centre. It's a stunning sight from outside and really pretty impressive within: everything as it must have looked in the middle ages, presuming medieval fortresses then were packed with restaurants, souvenir shops and pancake stalls. The buildings have been wonderfully restored and maintained without falling into the trap one sees too often in Germany: the Disney Renovation, where 400-year-old houses look like they were just shipped out of Epcot Centre's 'World Showcase'. Some of the restaurants actually looked pretty good and the souvenirs weren't all tat but I couldn't help feeling it all looked a bit like a more natural version of the Las Vegas casino resorts. A few years ago I spent an afternoon in Venice: jam-packed with tourists and impossible to find any atmosphere. 'The only time to see this place would be in the middle of the night in midwinter' I said to myself and - lo and behold - a few years later I had to go there in early February. It was divine: hardly a tourist in sight, wonderful weather (God bless global warming) and the chance to be the only person in a square off the beaten track. I'm not sure I'll have the same luck with Carcassonne, but I can hope.

The train, a TER regional push-me-pull-you, was high on style and low on practicality. For carriages that large there were astonishingly few seats. Add to this the fact that the average train traveller down these parts would rather lick a dead rat than stand for even part of their journey, you wonder who researched the logistics of these things. People squashed and huddled themselves together where it would surely have been more comfortable to be suspended out of a window by their ankles. Personally, I'd rather stand and have a bit of elbow room than get intimate with a home-travelling student with a bag full of dirty washing.

The Fingernails were exhausted after all the walking, climbing and travelling and fell asleep almost immediately their heads hit the pillows. Mrs. F has also taken off and turned the light out, rather scotching my hopes of getting through another thirty-odd pages of Martin Amis tonight, but there you go. It's the internet or sleep for me, now.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Why Buy?

One of the joys of not owning a car is being able to spend hours on the internet, searching for 'deals' which may or may not bear some resemblance to the price you paid the last time you wanted a temporary conveyance smelling of pine and new plastic. Living in the centre of town we've opted for the 'let's rent one when we really need one' school of thought and up till now it's done us proud. That way, we get to test drive a regular variety of the industry's finest smaller offerings in readiness for the day when we may actually get one of our own. The difference in the prices offered are extraordinary and unearthing a bargain becomes almost a pre-bedtime mania. Until it gets so bloody boring that you just want to hurl your computer through the nearest window before going off to do something mildly more interesting, like reading 'Hansard'.

Still, the car search means one thing, and one thing only: we're getting ready to travel, get some fresh input in our daily lives, catch up with relatives and eat motorway food. Germany has a novel system in place in motorway service areas: you pay 50 cents for the use of spotless loos and receive a coupon to that value which you can then redeem for goods and services in the rest of the complex. It's a decent, if somewhat macabre idea: "Here, my two craps and a pee for that bottle of apple juice and a Mars Bar". In handing over your coupons you basically inform the cashier that you have evacuated your bowels and/or bladder not fifty feet from where you're now getting a newspaper and a sandwich. I prefer to keep that kind of information to myself when out and about, but, financially speaking, those bodily functions add up.

Sorry to have mentioned that, but the Fingernails have been perfecting their Jackson Pollock tributes, again. It's gastro-bug time in this fair southern city and our two haven't been spared. Nor have the duvets, sheets or pyjamas for that matter. Nonetheless, they're over the worst and our washing machine hasn't yet stormed out in disgust, so we can consider ourselves lucky.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Late, again.

One of the purposes of blogs appears to be that of wanting to inform a hopefully large readership that the writer has nothing of any interest to say and it is in this proud spirit, dear online diary, that I am blogging tonight. My team have beaten AS Roma 2-0 away from home in the Champions' League, I've received a few nice e-mails from friends and that is basically it. Nothing is left of today except the prospect of my very comfortable bed with, I hope, a pretty interesting dream to follow.

We have very nice neighbours one floor below. Their only drawback is that they possess neither the intelligence nor the wherewithal to recycle. Where we live, this means walking fifty yards to a set of special bins, but this appears to be beyond them. They produce more waste than China and India combined and our bin fills up quicker than a glass dipped in the bath. I try not to get angry about it, telling myself I did the same at their age, but that was in an era and a country which shunned the idea of re-using anything. And no, it wasn't the USA: Highgate, N6 didn't have one recycling bin to its name in 1996.

Enough of this drivel. I'm off to bed.