Newsletter April 2005

Winter is finished, spring is in the air and it is time for an update on what we have been up to since the last Newsletter. Weatherwise, it has been an unusually cool winter, without there being any really cold spells. It started on 24 January when the temperatures dropped from a mean of around 10-12 degrees to means of 3-5 degrees, with regular ground frosts and often air frosts, and continued until 12 March. Twice we woke to see everything white with snow, but it melted each time before noon. Not surprisingly, many of the plants took exception to this state of affairs, and we have lost quite a lot of shrubs such as plumbago and the ficoids , and the bougainvillea has taken a beating which means no flowers this year. We had put the sensitive potted stuff in our greenhouse where it wintered with no problems, and have just taken it out and replaced it where it normally thrives. We also lost our Parasol Pine last fall - it seems through some sort of fungus infection - and we took it down a few weeks ago. This has improved the view but we miss the tree and will miss the summer shade it used to provide. We anxiously watch some of the other plants like jasmine to see if they have survived and are thrilled when we see little shoots pushing off the stems. I'm sure it will all be back to normal in a couple of months, with help from the local nurseries.

At Christmas we went to Caroline's place in Ferrara for a few days, staying in our usual B&B and spending the days with the family. It was mainly sunny but a tad cooler than we are used to, and we had a day of rain thrown in, but we enjoyed the visit and seeing the girls, and participating in the Christmas rituals. As always we ate and drank well and walked quite a bit around the city. Ferrara looked really good with its Christmas decorations and the Christmas markets, and at night with rain-slicked streets, it looked quite fairylike. The journeys to and fro went off well with no delays due to traffic jams or accidents, although we took a longer route on the outward journey to avoid a possible delay only to find that it was quite a bit longer, and the possible delay didn't happen.

Not long after the trip to Ferrara, Beryl was off to Florida to pay her annual visit to her sister Pam. The day before she was due to fly out of Nice airport, the motorway to Nice was closed by snow and we were concerned that we might not be able to get to the airport, or if we got there, there might be no flights. As it was, the autoroute was reopened later that everning and the airport was unaffected, but the drive was very pretty as the countryside was all snow covered, especially on the higher gound, and the pre-Alps looked magnificent. She had a good trip to Florida via New York, although the incoming flight was delayed which required a rebooking on the flight from New York to Florida, had a good time and an excellent shop in Florida, and a good journey home, also via New York.

Once back again, it was a case of battening down and confronting the weather. It wasn't that it was particularly cold (especially by Ottawa standards!), but that we normally can expect to eat out at lunchtime a large part of the time, and during February and the beginning of March it was too cold or windy to do so. This meant that the odd outdoors jobs got put off and we are now having to catch up on them. However, we decided to put up a pergola on the terrace against the wall at the end, and this involved increasing the height of the wall. We contacted our usual mason, but it turned out that he was living and working in the Bordeaux area so could not oblige, but his (retired) father offered to do the work which he did very quickly and in a very satisfactory manner. I then put up the pergola, Beryl made some pottery lights, I did the wiring, and the job was done. You will find a picture of it on the site. We are very pleased with it and think that the shade it provides will be very useful when the weather gets hotter.

I finally decided that I was going to replace my old Honda Accord - it is now 14 years old and still going strong, but we cannot licence it in France which causes difficulties from time to time. So I ordered a Toyota Corolla, which because I wanted it in white with an automatic transmission, took 4 months to arrive (almost all cars sold in France at the moment are in grey metallic finish, and nobody buys cars with automatic). I got it a few weeks ago and am very pleased with it, but so far have only made local trips in it. We go to Ferrara again at the end of April so it will get a good run-in then.

I have been quite busy with my computer activities (I have about a dozen 'clients' now), as there have been a number of Windows Service Packs to install, problems to solve, Internet connections to make or change, and the arrival of broadband. I have also built a new machine for myself from parts, using an AMD Athlon 64 CPU with 1 GB RAM and 3 hard disk drives totalling 280 GB of storage. My older machine is being fitted up for giving to Caroline, as I want her to have the capability to run a webcam so we can have video sessions with the girls from time to time. (I have run webcam video exchanges with Jim Williams and Gordon Marwood in Ottawa and it works very well.)

As you know, Beryl goes to a pottery class each week at a friend's, and has made a number of useful and decorative items. The lamps under our new pergola are an example. Recently the potters had a 'raku' evening where the essential part of the raku process was gone through (taking the pots out of the kiln red hot and dunking them in bins of sawdust), and then we all sat down to a dinner of chili and lots of wine. A most convivial evening! Picture on the site. That the news for the moment. All good wishes to everyone and we hope to hear from you or better still see you before long. Alan and Beryl.