Saturday, 24 March 2018


Marechal Ney, one of Napoleon's heroes
After 6 years I walked out of Oman Customs on 12 March, ending 35 years as a Customs Officer. The end! Well not quite, you see I had made it known that I would be finishing with Oman Customs and the Oman Government authority for logistics let me know that if I wanted to keep working......... In short we agreed to an 18 month extension, with me holding the title of lead Trade Facilitation. It's a whole of Government role that will keep me busy working with Government and trade. All good fun and challenging, with a change in focus.

It may not be gold, but I got a retirement watch
The certificate says thanks

Katrina and I left Oman on the 13th for a break in France, I return to Oman shortly to take up the new role and Katrina will be a little later because of visa requirements. Fortuitously or not I start my new role on 1 April!

Queen Mathilde in Jardin Luxembourg

When in Paris

It's been a busy little while since we landed in France. Normally we would opt for a night flight to arrive in the morning and catch the train to Normandy, but this time it was the day flight, meaning evening arrival, all too late for the trains - so a night in Paris. We booked into a lovely little hotel in Montparnasse for the night. The Hotel Villa Modigliani, it's tucked back from the street, with an arched entrance to a courtyard. Nice and isolated an oasis of peace and quiet.

Coffee with the Slushers in Paris
On the first day of "retirement" we went out for a morning walk around Montparnasse, including a wander through Jardin Luxembourg, before meeting up for coffee with one of my international colleagues (Randy Slusher and his wife Julene) who happened to be in Paris on holidays.  It was fortuitous to catch up with Randy as I hadn't been able to say my farewells to the Americans, because of their Government shutdown driven by their dis-functional government.

After that we caught the train to Normandy.
The Normandy Flag

Normandy in spring? Well kind of, it's been a long winter this year and in the first week there was even a day of snow! Fab, but it has been cold and most days have rained. Mind you trees are budding, primroses are blossoming everywhere and the farmers are disgorging huge tanks of watered winter manure on the fields - it's enough to make your eyes water as you pass through the miasma.

Snow through the eyes of a Kangoo (the rental)

See snow

Since arriving it's been rather busy. We've bought a car (a silver Renault Kangoo), stripped out a toilet in preparation for replacement hot water service, tiling and toilet fittings. Today has included demolishing the end wall in the downstairs bedroom. What we uncovered reveals that this room was once the kitchen. Interesting colour scheme........... Won't be staying like that. In reality we could have left that wall alone, but there was a curiosity about what lay below. Now there's some repair work to be done, but nothing major, thankfully.  Or possibly some more excavation to uncover the rock wall as a feature wall for the master bedroom - possibilities.
That wall aint staying like that

Our Kangoo
The original plan for this visit had been to tile the floor in the master bedroom. To that end, we bought some second hand (old, old, style french tiles) which we collected on day two. This saved hundreds of euros, but comes with the downside of having to clean them off before they can be used.  Cleaning, then laying had been the plan. With everything else to do, apart from being stacked in the garage, they've not been touched.  Mind you the guy that runs the local dechetterie (rubbish and recycling depot) is getting to know me and seems amused or impressed by the amount and variety of stuff coming out the back of the little rental Kangoo.  Wood, plaster, tiles, foam insulation, carpet and underlay.... Sadly on my second trip today I got there to find the dechetterie was full and I had to take the Kangoo of stuff back with me.  Sigh.

Caricature anyone?
It's not all been work though. We did make a run across to Argentan for the Normandie Cultural Festival, which was a bit of fun. It was somewhat akin to an Australian agricultural show, except without the sideshows and in a much smaller space. The main focus was food! Artisanal food stuffs! Yummy foodstuffs....  We may, or may not have spent a bit of money. There were even some lace makers for Katrina to chat to.  Center stage was held down by a cartoonist, happily doing caricatures for all and sundry. Some of his works and books were on display, I'm guessing that he's locally famous.

Carve some for me please
Some Lace
I have decided that this French country living and shopping is good stuff. Many of the villages have their weekly market day and you never know what you'll find. Tools, antiquities, fresh produce and artisanal foodstuffs. I am especially fond of the saucisse sandwiche, avec mouttarde - BBQ sausage, served in a chunk of baguette, with mustard, great stuff, now if I could find a nearby market for each day of the week......

Apart from that our only outing was a trip to Charleroi and back - on  a matter of principal! Recently the rules changed and you can't board an international train with a knife in your suitcase. I discovered that the hard way in January when the rail police in Brussels x-rayed my bag and took my knife away - "no, no sir, you can't have a belt knife wrapped up in your locked suitcase!" Sigh  "But you can have the carving knife and fork set wrapped up in your locked suitcase!" The belt knife blade is maybe 10cm, the carving knife a good 25cm, coming to a much sharper point. Anybody else detect some cognitive dissonance here? Anyway I have my knife back and the rail police feel satisfied that security theatre was upheld! I maintain that anybody who wants to work in security shouldn't be allowed to. Mind you I would have happily paid a small fee for railway staff to carry the knife for me to destination, like airlines do.

Pre-dinner drinks
We did at least get to have a very nice night out in Charleroi. For those that know us through the SCA you will understand the appropriateness of the Brasserie for pre-dinner drinks. After that we found a Brasserie La Manufacture Urbaine and had mirco-brew beers along with local and artisanal foods. Great stuff!  It was a very hispterish place, but we couldn't care and the price was actually quite reasonable. Not sure if it was for us, but a lot of the music played was 70's and 80's vintage rock. I was rather amused that all the blokes in the brasserie (bar me and one other) hung around the bar and the women sat at the tables, mostly out of view of the bar.

Hmmm, which one first?
And yesterday the Tour of Normandie came through the village. At 3:30 we duly traipsed off up the hill and stood around with the village residents, waiting for the race to come through, which it duly did, after what seemed every morotcycle Gendarme in Normandie. I've never been that close to a peloton before. And then they were gone, off towards the days stage finish at Bagnoles D'Orne - a rather picturesque spa/tourist town nearby. Only to be followed by another host of motorcycle Gendarmes.

Here comes the Peloton

There goes the Peloton

Just a few Gendarmes

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