Sugar Free Cereal Bars For Halloween??? Are you crazy???

Hollowing out a pumpkin – a messy and fastidious business and probably the closest I’ll ever get to brain surgery – anyway Mr Jack O’Lantern is now on the windowsill burning into the dark Halloween night. I can’t say he looks scary, more of a stupid smile …

Sweets are ready too – a big bowl sitting by the front door, awaiting the hordes of ghoulish kids that will soon come to darken our door.

I’d swear that sweets are getting smaller – in comparison to the chocolate or candy bars of my childhood, today’s offerings are tiny – or have I just got bigger? – of course I had to test the merchandise, so few chocolate bars went my way) chomp, one bite, two bites and they’re gone. Increasing obesity levels, rampant tooth decay and a massive hike in cocoa prices – the trend is away from large bars – but no kidding, the size of today’s bars … it’s a joke.

This year, I bought decent « branded » candies – I guess it is in a reaction to all those years I went trick or treating with my daughter and her friends – traipsing round the neighbourhood with a coven of kids in tow, in search of candies – and some people occasionally gave decent sweets, but the result was often crap – cheap candies with near-sounding brand names, from the discount supermarket or the leftover sweets from last year – it doesn’t seem right to have to look at the « use-by » dates on the candy wrapper before your kids can eat it. And what is worse than last year’s Halloween candies? Why, the box of cheap chocolates you got as a gift at Christmas but never got round to eating – stale chocks with « white » surface markings, loaded into your kid’s

Halloween bucket by some seedy-looking old guy – has he washed his hands? DO NOT EAT THAT! You scream at the kids.

There were those Halloween’s of old when I would buy the sweets and then « plant » them with neighbours in the afternoon.

« Oh, the lady at number 21 gave us looooaaaaads of coooool sweets, » my daughter and her fellow witches and wizards would enthuse through mouths full of chewy toffees and bubble gum. (Yeah kids, but that’s only ‘cos dad planted them with the neighbours this afternoon.)

My Halloween nightmare was the lady giving out sugar free cereal bars – what the hell, this is Halloween! A fistful of marshmallows ain’t going to get my daughter tipping the scales.

Okay, I can see some ghosts floating down the drive, better go and fill them full of candies.

Happy Halloween readers.

Make mine a Doner

Just finished painting the bathroom, and I now finally have time for a “photographic” post. The theme is fast food. A report this week in the UK press that fast food outlets are gradually taking over main shopping streets in the UK. In some parts of the north of England, almost 45% of businesses  on some shopping streets are fast food restaurants. According to the report, fast food is also fat food – UK obesity rates are soaring – so, the report has inspired me to post a few fast food clichés – restaurants in France and the UK. I hope you enjoy them.

Kebabs with everything

Kebabs with everything – this is the Kebab House somewhere in north east London

Run Chicken! Run!

If it isn’t kebabs, the it’s chicken with everything or everything and chicken. Here welcome to the Chicken Run, somewhere behind Wentworth Street in East London. And here is more chicken by night.

Chicken by nite

Chicken Cottage

 

And if you an’t get fast food, try the all nite supermarket

All Nite Cost cutting

 

Tradition British fast food – Fish and Chips – used to be the Friday night working class treat – a bit of cod or haddock fried in batter and a huge portion of chips, soaked in salt and vinegar – Take away and eat at home – traditionally it was all wrapped in newspaper. Ok, fish is expensive nowadays and the humble Friday night staple is now a rare treat – for connaisseurs  and fish and chip nostalgics – a plate of Fish and chips and a couple of Fish and Chip shops or “chip pies” as we used to call them. These Chippies are on the Fulham road in London.

Great British food???????

Closed down

Light House near the Fulham Road

 

Fish and Chips (with a kebab on the side)

 

Another traditional form of historic UK fast food – the ice cream van. This one is taken near St Paul’s cathedral in London.

Ice Cream Van

The first McDonald’s restaurant opened in London in 1975. I remember my fist bite of a Big Mac, it was – a revelation – far better than the traditional British high street Hamburger chain “Wimpy” – Here are  few McDonald’s clichés from the outlet on the Strand in central London.

Traditional American food on the Strand

Here are a few punters

Love is sharing a burger

If you don’t fancy burgers, kebabs or fish and  chips; try the other great British staple – breakfast – a trend of theses recent years, cafés and even bus, serving an “all day breakfast.” Here is the Big Breakfast in Beckenham in south east London, where in December last year I had an excellent breakfast and a lovely cup of tea (a cuppa) all for under ten quid – I’d recommend this place to everybody.

Big Breakfast in Beckenham

And the original fast food outlet – this one is near Aldgate in London

Original fast food outlet

Okay, the Brits love their curry, and when in London, do like the locals and head off down Brick Lane for a good old Ruby Murray (Cockney rhyming slang for curry)

The Sheba

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend curry for breakfast, but this place down the back of Petticoat Lane market used to do a tandoori breakfast.

Tandoori breakfast???? No thanks.

And you though only the Brits had fast food. Here is kebab outlet in the small village of Mourmelon in eastern France – the only kebab in the village, it does a good trade from the massive army base nearby.

Kebab (à la française)

Yep, we’ve got Kebabs in France – Ten years ago you couldn’t get a Kebab in my corner of small town France – and now ???? I’ve got five kebab restaurants all within a ten minute walk from my house

Kebab in Bourges

Kebab at the end of my street

Kebab restaurants are like Irish pubs – there isn’t a single town or city in the world without its ersatz Irish pub – well there ain’t a town or village in France that doesn’t now have a kebab outlet.

And that was my fast food photo trip. I’ll leave with one final photo – Leyton High Street, where I once bought a very tasty kebab whilst waiting for a bus.

High Street Leyton

Of Satellite TV, Advertising, Barbecues, German supermarkets French Wine, Napoleon, British Bangers and the Metric System

I love my satellite TV – over 300 channels and I can still say (hand on heart) that there is nothing to watch of en evening. Take out the news channels, the plethora of religious channels, the shopping channels and TV reality channels – there isn’t much choice left, BUT, I do get British TV. I have a direct window on British news, views and contemporary culture . I can enjoy some excellent drama and also follow my favourite soap operas. Best of all, (and the best indicator of social and economic trends) I get all the ads –

British ads are so different from the French TV commercials. They are funnier, quirkier and far more professional than their French equivalents – There is nothing better tan the humble TV commercial to highlight the cultural divide between France and Britain.

On this, the hottest weekend of the year so far, when common sense would dictate that we all crawl under a stone rather than stand outside in the blazing sun, the good folks don my street are all firing up their barbecues. Midday was the sound of popping corks, as neighbours « unplugged » their rosé wine, and come early afternoon – following a long aperitif, the air was thick with the irresistible odour of sizzling meat.

I daresay this scene is being repeated across the Channel – everywhere in the UK is enjoying unseasonably warm weather – And on both sides of the water, there will be people crawling in to work tomorrow morning with hangovers and red raw flesh burned by the sun – Yes folks, never get too drunk on a hot day like today, and never snooze off in the sun for a drunken post BBQ nap.

Back at the commercial break, I am watching an ad for that German discount supermarket with an unpronounceable name – Lidl –

The ad is doing the hard sell on BBQ goodies. I am told that at Sainsbury’s supermarket, a good bottle of French Champagne will set me back £30, BUT for the same price at Lidl, I can get a second rate bottle of French fizz, a bottle of French white and French Rosé wine, several slices of Italian ham and a Moroccan cous cous, all for £29,95. Now I am not sure that the advertisers have actually understood what a cous cous really is, and they perhaps mean Taboulé – notwithstanding that’s quite a bit of food and booze for just under thirty quid and it’s all FRENCH – Oh thank you European Single Market. Oh thank you EU trade deals. Oh thank you EU. On this, the day before Britain sends a delegation to Brussels, to being Brexit negotiations. AH, all those European garden party goodies. How much will they cost after Brexit? Food for thought indeed. BUT if you are enjoying beer, burgers and sausages – yes they might be British bangers made at your local butcher’s, but they were made in regulation with EU-inspired food and hygiene norms. As for that beer, are you sure it isn’t a continental lager ? Perhaps from Belgium?

And that was a tenuous link into my next rant which takes you (dear reader) to Belgium) and the small village of Watterlot, known to the Brits as Waterloo.

Before we head to the site of the famous battle though, a quick final word on TV ads – you would never get that Lidl ad on French TV. Under national French TV regulations it is illegal to advertise alcohol on TV.

Off to Waterloo, which was a battle that gave its name to a London mainline train station and the 1974 Eurovision- winning ABBA song.

Napoleon cartoon wih more than a littlle hint of Mr Stallone

So the Brits named a station after a victory against Napoleon, well the French did the same – Austerlitz train station in Paris, named after old Bonaparte’s December 1805 victory over a Russian/Austrian army under the command of Czar Alexander 1st (Austerlitz is situated in the boundaries of the modern Czech republic)

Now we have a phrase in French –«  C’est son Waterloo » – meaning that it is a person’s last heroic but futile stand. Ironically (more Brexit) Britain begins Brexit negotiations tomorrow (Monday 19th June) in the Belgium capital of Brussels, just 30 kilometres from the battlefield of Waterloo. Will this be the British Waterloo – in the French sense ?

Napoleon – love him or hate him – left us a few daily reminders. He was the guy who introduced the metric system to France and eventually to Europe. I noticed this week, after the tragic events at Grenfell House in northwest London, all the journalists, fire fighters and assorted experts were giving their measurements in metres.

Back t the weather – on Sunday June 18th 1815 it was raining and the battlefield was heavy going for the cavalry. On Sunday June 18th, afternoon temperatures in my corner of France hit the 34°c mark. On the Friday night BBC London News bulletin, a very voluptuous lady informed viewers that Saturday temperatures would hit a 32°c high – no more Fahrenheit on the BBC, although wind speeds are still given in miles per hour.

Meanwhile back at the Lidl advert, the bottle sizes are being quoted in centilitres and the weights are in grammes and t is all for French wine. Perhaps Napoleon did win in the long run.

Okay – time to sign off and uncork a bottle of French Rosé. Later on, I’ll be having my Father’s day treat of a juicy Aberdeen Angus steak with good old Mc Cain oven chips made in the Netherlands.

Before I go, this Sunday is polling day in the second round of French parliamentary elections – this isn’t one to bet on, Emmanuel Macron’s « La République en Marche » party is set to wipe the board a forecast puts him at over 400 seats in the 570 seat French parliament. I can’t help thinking of a recently elected British prime minister who would love a similar majority – no snuggling up to the nasty Unionists.

Of course, voter turnout has been low, everyone here is too busy at the BBQ to go and vote.

Ok it is officially wine time.

Cheers

IN PRAISE OF THE JAMBON BEURRE

It is the time of year when professional organisations and lobbies get together in interminable, self-congratulatory ceremonies and hand out awards – from films, to sport, to music and even agriculture, there have been innumerable ceremonies since the start of the year. Not to be outdone, I have decided to hand out an award, so ….

In the category of THE MOST UNLIKELY STAR OF THE WEEK IN FRANCE, the nominees are …

François Fillon, French Republican Party candidate in the up and coming Presidential election, for is role in the complicated and long running saga « The man who will not be President. »

Isabelle Huppert – gorgeous French actress for her role in the film – « The Lady who missed the Oscar »

The humble ham sandwich for its role as « France’s favourite lunchtime snack. »

And the winner is

THE HAM SANDWICH

Yes, amidst all the current political and social turmoil in La Belle France, the nations media found the time to spare a few minutes and column inches for the humble ham sandwich

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Last week, the French fat food industry held its annual Professional show at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre on the edge of Paris, and this year, as every year, journalists went along looking for a few off beat stories to lighten the load in what is currently very heavy and depressing national news coverage – but why the ham sandwich?

Well, long before anyone in France had ever heard of hamburgers or kebabs, or any kind of « fast food » for that matter, the humble ham sandwich was the staple « fast food » Easy to make, quick to eat and highly affordable, the ham sandwich was the lunchtime standard for many workers – wolfed down in a matter of minutes whilst standing at the bar in a café, and highly affordable – just a few francs. The ham sandwich is an iconic, national institution.

So, all you would be French speakers out there will be toying with the translation of « ham sandwich » – sandwiche jambon ??? sandwiche au jambon ??? You are all wrong, this lunchtime staple which represented 51% of all sandwich sales in 2016, actually goes under the name of « le jambon beurre » – ham and butter sandwich. This presupposes that if you just ask for a « sandwiche au jambon » you won’t actually get any butter – and a long time ago, you would have been right.

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A SANDWICH IN 76

A personal memory from the long hot summer of 1976 – mum has taken us to France for our annual Gallic camping trip. It is a sweltering day in Perpignan, around lunchtime, and as with lunchtimes of old, everything is closed from midday to 2pm – great if you want a long lunch, but lousy if your car has just broken down – which is the case of our crappy old Renault 6. Luck would have it that mum has found a couple of strapping young men, willing to push us a few hundred metres from where we have broken down, to the forecourt of a local garage, which is of course closed for lunch. It would seem a good idea to have lunch and wait. We head to a nearby café and order (in our best broken French) « un jambon sandwiche s’il vous plaît monsieur. » The wrinkled old, wine soaked patron, with a Gitane stuck to his lower lip, disappears into the kitchen, emerging a few minutes later with the ham sandwiches. First bite – NO BUTTER –

« Où est le beurre monsieur ? »

Consternation from the « patron » who gesticulates wildly and shouts « beurre » a few times. We understand that if we wanted butter we should have ordered butter, so we do, and the café owner disappears in a new fug of Gitane smoke to spread butter on our sandwiches, and when the bill comes, he charges us for butter.

Howls of indignation

« He can’t charge us for the butter! » exclaims mum, but he does, because we ordered a « Jambon sandwiche » and not a « jambon beurre sandwiche », when our humble ham sandwich became a ham and butter sandwich, we had to pay the dairy differential.

SANDWICH STATS

In 2016 the French chomped their way through a staggering 1,2 billion ham sandwiches, though this figure is 3% down compared to 2015. Consumed in Cafés or bought at the bakers or the local supermarket, the average national price for a jambon beurre (JB) is 2.93 Euros. The cheapest JB is to be found in the northern French town of Lille (2,52€) whilst the most expensive JB in France is not in Paris, but in the eastern town of Montbélliard (3,52€), there are however unconfirmed reports of a JB in the west coast town of Nantes retailing at 4€ – add to this the price of a drink, around 3€ and you are starting to look at an « expensive » lunch when you consider the alternatives –

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JAMBON BEURRE VS HAMBURGER

Take that other « fast food » – the hamburger. At McDonald’s you can get a whole Happy Meal for 4€ (burger, fries drink, dessert and even a toy). For the adults there is the « Best Of » menu – burger fries and a drink retailing at an average of 6,30€. KFC, Burger King or even the home-grown hamburger chain; Quick – you can get a standard burger, coke and fries lunch for under 7 Euros.

So, you wanna a traditional sit down lunch in a Brasserie with starter, main course, cheese, dessert and a small carafe of wine. Well big city or small town, you’ll be looking to spend anywhere from 10€ to 15€ – the bar at the end of my street does main coures, dessert, coffee and a glass of wine for 10€ – no wonder the place is always packed at lunchtime.

MASTERCHEF

For all its cultural significance as the French national sandwich, the good old jambon beurre, unlike other iconic homespun French dishes, has never appeared on one of the nation’s TV cooking shows – Top Chef, Master Chef … candidates might be asked for a new take on Bœuf Bourgignon or a Tête de Veau – but none has ever been asked to « revamp » the good old jambon beurre. Why bother though? The JB is simplicity itself – rip open a baguette, butter it up and then shove in a slice of ham. Hey Presto! Lunch!

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY

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National price differentials in the jambon beurre obviously don’t come from labour costs – it’s al about the quality of the ingredients – take freshly baked crusty French bread, apply a generous covering of fresh dairy butter and then a good thick slice of traditionally cured farmhouse ham. You could also do what most people do, buy a cheap baguette and a pack of cheap, watery factory ham from the supermarket. Cut open the baguette without cracking it all (yes there are many bakers who sell freshly defrosted bread freshly baked the day before), apply a thin covering of margarine, whack in a bright pink slice of sloppy ham and …. And this is like to be the sandwich reality of many people.

It is hardly surprising therefore that ham sandwich consumption is falling. Yes the Jambon Beurre accounts for 51% of national sandwich sales, but in 2009 it represented 63% and not long before that it was 70% – but it was probably a lousy quality sandwich so people stopped buying it.

I’ll have to admit to not being a ham sandwich fan – if I do actually have lunch (which is pretty rare); I like something sexier than a humble ham sandwich. I would have to say though that in general, the French sandwich bar experience is a pretty sad one – dry sandwiches with unimaginative fillings.

SANDWICH WATERLOO

A few years back, I accompanied a group of French friends to London – come lunchtime one day, wandering around near Waterloo station , I suggested we head to a pub for a traditional pub lunch – general scowls and mistrustful looks all round, – the Gallic misconception that all British food is bad. A few yards down the road, one friend sees a sign « Prêt à Manger, »

« Ah, un restaurant français » and in we all trooped. Ah not a restaurant, a sandwich bar. Never mind it is reassuringly French- and my friends order soup and sandwiches and tuck in and chomp their way through all manner of sandwiches including Bacon Lettuce and Tomato, a Pastrami Bagel and a Peking Duck Wrap. And they all smile at me and laud the quality of these French sandwiches. I am of course saving the best ‘til last – despite the French name, Prêt à Manger is actually British. AAAAGH Perfide Albion. A sandwich Waterloo moment.

It comes down to ne thing. Apart from the Jambon Beurre, France is not a sandwich culture and the French just don’t make a decent sandwich. Who invented the sandwich anyway and how would you really translate sandwich into French ? Une baguette farcie ??

jambon-beurre

An afterthoughtif the JB’s position of sandwich predominance is being slowly eroded, it might also be in part down the Bagel or Beigel, which I notice, has now even reached my corner of small town France – seems like I’ll be waiting a long time for decent salt beef though.

In Praise of Sensible Cakes.

maxresdefaultThe French call it « Gouter », which for want of a better translation would be « teatime » in English, however, depending of where you live in England’s green and pleasant land, « tea » can be one of several different meals.

So, I am not talking full blown « afternoon tea » – that meal in-between meals enjoyed mostly by tourists, neither am I talking « teatime », that term used in the North of England to describe what us southerners might simply call « dinner » – because in Northern England, « dinner » is actually your lunch.

Back to the French « gouter » which is no more than a couple of biscuits or a choclate bar or some kind of sweet snack that kids wolf down when they arrive home from school.

So, this being Saturday – I hit the supermarket like the thousands of other souls in this small town who shop on Saturday morning, because that is the time that everyone goes shopping. Long lines at the checkout, bumper-to-bumper trolleys in the aisles and … the « phenomen » that annoys me above all else – people meeting and chatting and standing right in the middle of the aisle as they do so, oblivious to the fact that they are blocking the way for everyone. I wish supermarket trolleys were equipped with horns ; I’d honk all thses aisle hogs – worse than road hogs.

Back to cake

It was on leaving the house that my daughter asked me (shouting from her bedroom) « dad can you bring back a cake (gâteau) for the gouter »

A cake – oh please for a real, sensible cake ! A Victoria sponge, a carrot cake, a banana and walnut, a Dundee cake – something copious, solid and sensible. This is France though, and the French don’t do decent cakes (I can hear howls of gastronomic francophile anguis as I write) – Yes the French have Patisseries – icing-covered, cream filled créations hat are better to look at than taste. Oh the chocolate eclair – NO, that is not a cake, it’s an éclair – and worse the coffee cream éclair. I don’t want fancy pâtisseries, I want a slice of carrot cake.

Of course, for the purposes of the « gouter », when the daughter says « gâteau » and I translate as cake, I should of course have understood « biscuit » – yep, this is the country where a cake can be a biscuit and a biscuit – well that’s something fancy that pastry chefs use in their pâtisseries. Confused – you should be.

To avoid confusion we use brand names in my house

Nevertheless – I wandered into that aisle where sweets and biscuits are sold, looking for a real cake. Ginger bread, Brownies, « English » fruit cake, but nothing that I would consider as a real cake in my very English définition.

I might get a « cake » at the baker’s, but the baker is a baker and not a pâtissier, though there are a few fruit tarts (referred to in English as pies) because when the French make an apple pie, it is an apple tart.

Oh for real cake !

Yes, I can get almost real cake in my corner of deepest France, though I have to frequent one of the plethora of tea rooms or coffee shops that have opened up in my small provincial town.

Even then, the carrot cake on offer is a very small « ersatz » affair.

No decent cake. All this in the land where Marie Antoinette told the peasants to eat cake beceuqe they had no bread.

Lost in translation again. Marie Antoinette didn’t actually say cake or « gâteau » – she actually meant Brioche, which is Brioche, because we don’t have that in Britain because it’s French.

« Let them eat cake ! »

Perhaps if they’d given the peasants a nice slice of Victoria sponge and a decent cup of tea, we would never have had all this revolution nonsense.

La Cuvée du Patron or How much will you pay for your wine?

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1000 Euros for a bottle of wine! You must be mad. I could get 50 bottle of really posh plonk for that kind of money or 100 bottles of something half decent or, if I weren’t too fussed about the quality, I could drive home from the supermarket with 250 bottles of table wine. 1000 Euros or a bottle of wine – well you certainly aren’t going to drink it – this is an investment – this is going to sit in your cellar slowly gathering dust until you can sell it on for at least double the price.

closdebeze

The bottle in question – a 2010 Chambertin-clos-de-bèze, fetched the astronomical price at last year’s wine sale at the Hospices de Beaune. Today marks the 2016 wine sale at Beaune and investors will be there to spend silly money on the best that Burgundy has to offer.

The Hospices de Beaune are (as the name suggests) is the town of Beaune in the Burgundy region. The Hospices are (or were) a medieval hospital offering care and alms for the poor, the sick and the needy. Beaune is in the heart of wine country – : Mersault, Pommard, Nuits St Georges, Chatteau Latour, Chablis – legendary wines that fetch astronomical prices at the yearly Beaune wine auction, where all proceeds go to funding the charitable works of the hospice.

In 2015, the wine sale in Beaune netted a record 11.3 million Euros, this year’s sale has only raised 8.4 million, roughly a quarter less.

The reasons are simple, it is not lack of buyers, there are more buyers than ever, it is a shortage of wine and the shirtagr of wine is all down to the effects of climate change. Thanks to weather change, there hasn’t been a decent harvest in the Burgundy vineyrads since 2010. Local wine producers reckon that over the past four to five years they’ve had in total the equivalent of just under two decent harvests. As the wines beome scarcer, intesrest from investors willing to pay serious wine money grows, leaving little place for those «amateurs» who buy the stuff to drink it, rather than keep it in a vault.

Prces of Pommard, Chablis and such have been rising steadily since 2010. In 2012 there was an incredible 50% price hike. 2014 saw a 26% rise and in 2015 prices rocketed by a further 37% rise – all good news for the Hospices (and also the auction house Christies who organise the annual sale). Bad news though for serious wine lovers. This begs he qustion, just how much would anyone be willing to pay for a bottle of wine. Prices are certainly on the rise.

We’ve just «celebrated» the Beaujolais nouveau in France – the «Bojo Noovo» is always released on the third Thrusday of November. Last year it was easy to pick up a bottle of this young wine for around 4 Euros at the local supermarket. This year the average bottle is retailing around 5 or 6 Euros – add on more of you fall the for the supposedly «organic» Beaujolais.

Reasons why people move to France are manifold – the weather, the beautiful countryside, the quality of life, the education system, the excellent health care – however (jokingly or not) most expats will cite the «cheap wine» as one of the reasons. is wine really that cheap?

When I see the silly prices that are paid in the UK, well wine out here in France doesn’t exactly seem cheap, just more reasonably priced in rapport with what you are drinking. My local wine is Sancerre off the shelf or from a local grower, prices are around 10 Euros a bottle – that’s roughly £8 sterling, in the UK though, I’ve seen bottles of my local tipple going for up to £20 UK (that is silly money for a bottle wine though it is certainly less than 1000€.

So, in my what you pay is what you get price guide, I am not sure of the current US$ vs € exchange rate, however for a half decent bottle of Côtes du Rhone – a Beaumesde Venise, a Rasteau, a St Joseph or a Gigondas, you can pay between 7€ and 10€, roughly between £5 and £7 UK pounds. £5 for a bottle of wine in the UK is peanuts, though you are probably buying a French table wine or an Esatern European plonk under the guise of «Bulgarian Country Wine» or «Romanian Bulls Blood» (Yep the marketing guys are scratching their heads to think up quality names for what are ostensibly amalgams of various table wines from different producers all served up in the same bottle with a sprinkling of chemicals.)

For a decent a drinkable «off the shelf» Bordeaux an uninformed drinker will lay out anything from 10€ to 15€ – for sure at this price you are getting something vaguley drinkable to share with guests over Sunday lunch (You may have understood that I am not a great fan of Bordeaux wines – Much ado about nothing)

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And now, my quest

A few years back, when all the British press were waxing lyrical about «Hoooooow Loooooovely it is to live in France,» one Sunday Times journalist said that she found lovely local table wine for just 2€ a bottle – so, with some ex-pat friends, 2 Euros in pocket and no more, we hit the local supermarkets and wine stores to see what we could bring back for 2 Euros – you had to find a proper botte of wine (ie a glass bottle with a cork, no plastic bottles and no screw tops) red white or rosé for 2 Euros or less – the result was «La Cuvée du Patron» retailing at 1.69 Euros – and you know, well as a summer BBQ wine, a sangria wine or a cooking wine, it wasn’t half bad. We later found the same wine on the wine menu of a local restaurant at 10 Euros a bottle – pretty cheap for a restaurant wine, though you might just be better buying a half liter jug of wine for 6 Euros – poured directly out the wine box.

Finally, over the past couple of years in France there has been an explosion of independent wine shops, all dealing with small vineyards and selling proper organic wines for as little as 6 Euros a bottle – little gems and all the better for your guests (and you) because they are kind of exclusive.

In this house tonight, beef stew and to wash it down, a Beaujolais Nouveau retailing at 6 Euros a bottle.

In conclusion, how much wine can you get for 1000 Euros? One bottle of «Chambertin-clos-de-bèze» or about 600 bottles of «Cuvée du Patron;» Not sure what you are drinking tonight, but CHEERS.

Why did the Three Bears Go For a Walk In the Middle of Breakfast?

Hooray, it’s the weekend – that 48 hour blip when we all catch up on life – housework, washing, shoppingn and if you have kids, it’s that time for near-family breakdown as, last thing on Sunday night, your offspring retrieve their schoolbag form where they flung it on Friday evening, and begin their homework.

Hooray, my daughter has finished her formal school education meaning an end to the Sunday night homework stress. Notwithsatnding, as a teacher, Sunday is quite simply the prelude to Monday and is dedicated to lesson preparation. Looking for new and exciting ways to teach English grammar. The wife is working on probabilty, the mays and mights and what ifs and what could have happened … to impart these structures to her students she has hit on the idea of «Unsolved Mysteries»

So, here’s an unsolved mystery – the Mary Celeste. Being a lazy chap, I have «borrowed» the Wikpedia entry on the mysterious fate of this ship and her crew (I have to say it is succinct and well written and I certainly could not have done better.

Mary Celeste (often misreported as Marie Celeste) was an American merchant brigantine, discovered adrift and deserted in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Azores Islands, on December 5, 1872. The Canadian brigantine Dei Gratia found her in a dishevelled but seaworthy condition, under partial sail, and with her lifeboat missing. The last entry in her log was dated ten days earlier. She had left New York City for Genoa on November 7, and on discovery was still amply provisioned. Her cargo of denatured alcohol was intact, and the captain’s and crew’s personal belongings were undisturbed. None of those who had been on board were ever seen or heard from again.

What might have happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste? What could have been their reasons fo abandonning ship? They might have been kidnapped by Aliens? They could all have just decided to go for a swim during the middle of dinner.

Looking for more exploitable and «teachable» unsolved mysteries, I suggest one of the greatest mysteries of all time.

Why did the three bears go for a walk?

Okay, so three bears living reasonably comfortably in a small house* in the woods, suddenly, during breakfast one morning, decide to go for a walk, and they don’t even lock the house when they’re gone.

*I say small house because mummy, daddy and baby bear all shared the same bedroom, so I guess we are in some kind of one up, one down cottage.

Imagine, you are in the middle of breakfast, perhaps not yet fully awake and therefore, not quite in your state of full mental awareness. You are waiting for your porridge to cool down and suddenly you just leave the house and go for a walk. Why?

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I don’t know about you, but I take breakfast as soon as I get up, so I’m still in pyjamas and I certainly wouldn’t go for an early morning walk in my pyjamas, except to put the dustbins out or retrieve my morning paper from the letterbox.

What made daddy bear just walk out the house and what made mummy and baby bear follow him? A strange far off noise or lights in the sky – some distant and untoward event that merited closer investigation? It can’t have been all that «untoward» if the bears later returned.

Perhaps daddy bear just decided he needed a stroll around the garden whilst his porridge cooled down, and mummy and bear simply followed him outside – for we do not know actually how far the three bears went or even where they went or how long they were gone. Obviously they weren’t going far because they didn’t bother to lock their house. However they were gone long enough for Goldilocks to eat their porridge and have a nap.

Of course, the three bears lived in more reassuring times and they lived in the middle of a forest – they didn’t need to be as security conscious as modern bears. Unless of course, they simply rushed out the house so fast that they forgot to lock it or mummy and daddy bear were suffering from mild dementia or perhaps they were just stupid.

What if they had locked the house? Well Goldilocks might never have got in.

This of course brings me to the second unsolved mystery in the Three Bears Mystery. Who was Goldilocks and what was she doing wandering round the forest on her own early in the morning? (I say early because I presume the bears got up early, though we don’t know on what day this happened. Imagine it was a Sunday and the bears were actually sitting down for a brunch, generally taken later than breakfast)

So, at an unspecified time of the morning on an unspecified day, a blonde girl (of unspecified age) is walking through the woods on her own. Why? Is she too simply out for a walk in the middle of breakfast?

In some versions of the story, Goldilocks is a «little» girl. Why would a little girl be wandering around the woods on her own? Is she lost? Has she been abandonned by her parents? We know that Goldilocks is suffering from hunger and fatigue – she needs food and a bed – quite logical that she may venture into an empty house in search of sustenance and rest. If this last scenario were the case, We can assume that Goldilocks has been on the road for some time. Is she running away from some one? The girl needs help though. Just as well she found the bears’ house and not Hansel and Gretel’s bewitched, edible cottage.

Let us assume that Golidlocks is not «a little girl» but a teeanger advancing into adulthood. She might just be crossing the woods as a short cut home form a wild all night party. She might be fleeing from a gang of people smugglers? Or is there something more malevolent in the Goldilocks mystery – is she actively seeking the bears to steal their porridge? Was it indeed Goldilocks who created the diversion that made the bears leave their house?

Fairy tales are good for this kind of probability exercise.

Sleeping beauty for example – why wait 100 yars for a young prince to come and cut your hedge? A good gardener with a decent hedge timmer would have done it far sooner and far quicker.

The Seven Dwarves – They own a diamond mine for chrissake, but they live in a small cottage and all sleep in the same room. They don’t even employ a housekeeper – they wait until a princess comes along to do all the cooking ad cleaning for free. Are these dwarves just plain mean or is their some kind of sexual or masonic motif? Hey they all sleep together then along comes Snow White and no one even makes a play for her.

What if Cinderella hadn’t lost that glass slipper?

What if Munchkin laborers had gone on strike and not finished the Yellow Brick road before Dorothy blew in?

And what if I didn’t manage to find some plausible way to end this post?

And what did happen to Goldilocks?