Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Niort to Fontenay

View Niort to Fontenay in a larger map

07:54 start. Tyre sound, or seems so. Air is cool, but sun is hot. Get to Magné in 40 minutes, passing the first Smart I've seen since Paris. In Magné I get distracted by a teen-cat who leaps a wall to avoid having his picture taken, so nearly lose my way.

Coulon after 70 minutes. Tyre OK. Cellette after 2 hours. Tyre still good; but the way the front shocks feel when I get on means that mounting is much squishier than I am used to, which adds to the paranoia. The countryside is flat, with crops of maize or sunflowers, and some wheat, all just knee-high.

I pass half-remembered places that look so different in the full sun. The only clouds are weather passing north, and contrails.

Plenty of frogs croaking in the canals and ditches, with plenty of splashing as I approach. I stop at 10:15 just past Ste. Christine for the traditional marais cattle shot near where I did last year; and soon after I come to where I saw the young cats too; there is a flurry of kittens (10-12 weeks), but mum just stays in the shade.

At Courdault, all is going well, so I take the aside to the port, but it's being worked on and is just a massive excavation, and the road was simply atrocious, pot-holes and grit. Soon after I pass the picnic site I paused to pre-blog at last year. By just after 11:00 I'm past Bouillé on the way to Maillezais, which I think puts me ahead of last years rate. Maybe I ran too fast at the start, or there was too much headwind then; today there's just a refreshing breeze.

4 hours in, and I'm stopped at the picnic place past St. Pierre le Vieux on the way to Souil. I needed to navigate a bit in Maillezais. The roadworks there last year are gone, but the diversion of the road is now a fixture (what was the St Pierre road is a no-entry, and the only decent bit of surface in town). For the first time today I got off and pushed up the hill, having lost momentum while casting around.

On this stretch, I remember places where I got off and pushed, so weary, last year, and now I don't even feel the need to change gears. Even on the way past the walls of the churchyard at St Pierre, which I remember passing with hazy loathing. Then, all of a sudden, when I thought I must have passed it unawares, the leaping stag sign and another remembered picnic place by the bridge.

It's now definitely time for lunch, to finish the bread pud I'd packed, and some local jaffa-cake equivalents. Thoughts of making a long stay in the shade dashed when a whole bunch of other folk turn up, and look rather squeezed around the second, and non-shaded, table, so finish the pud and set off.

The open plain between here and Fontenay that I pushed most of the way through last time is an easy stroll and I can't remember why I worried about the bridge over the main road.

The Rue de Jericho is closed, so thank goodness for previous recon — I just follow the road I'm on to the Avenue Hoche, turn right and follow the signs. It's a little hairy at one of the junctions, but in five hours, and thirty minutes later I'm there on the verandah of the same room as before, drinking a long drink of blood-orange.

After a couple of hours, and a shower, I wander into town for more supplies; drink mainly, and some strawberries for tea. It's too hot to do anything more than flop in the shade; but a bonus is that out on the terrace will be good for dinner.

Millefuile of tomato,aubergine and feta; leg of duck, and a 1/2 bottle of a local rosé (and today that seems to be the tipple of choice, not just my own eccentricity), soft cheeses, then pan-fried pineapple with pepper and rosemary.

While I eat, I see someone hang-gliding in the distance.

By 21:30, the last of the sun is slanting through my room, but it is cool enough that I want my denim shirt over the short-sleeved silk to be comfortable sitting on the verandah and enjoying the last light.

Hotel verandah

Much needed shade at Fontenay

All the pictures here.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Niort Day Trip

Day breaks cool and cloudy, damp. Find the back tyre a little soft, so pump it up and set out — and maybe a couple of miles out, bump, bump bump! Back wheel entirely flat. Ugh!

The tyre is really tight on the rim, and takes all sorts of effort to get off, and it takes a while to find that the puncture is on the inside, where the rim tape is askew, and the holes where the spokes fit have sharp edges. And the first attempt at patching fails to hold.

Wheel back, and fix at leisure — and getting cramp in my left thumb while trying to re-seat the tyre. I walk into town and lunch at a creperie, with a pint of cider being the main objective, as the cloud has broken and it's cleared up.

Afternoon is occupied by a truncated version of the tour, by road to St. Liguiare

Church and one-way system at St. Liguaire

Church and one-way system at St. Liguaire

The back tyre still seems a bit soft, so about 2/3 of the way round I pump it up, but I start to sketch out contingencies for the morning. I can't find a cycle shop to get an extra inner tube, but as the tyre is still firm at 10pm, I will chance the run tomorrow rather than call for aid.

Dinner is a ham terrine, chicken supreme, and fromage frais with chopped chives. Wander into town and take pictures, then crash.

There doesn't appear to be anyone else on this or either adjacent day of the tour.

All the pictures.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Paris to Niort

Weather again better than forecast. and the TV suggests the next couple of days will be good, though it may be (as I'd expected) wet in Niort when I arrive. Today (as I write this sitting near the Eiffel Tower) there is high cloud. Smart cars are very popular, and I've even seen a forfour. While walking here, I've seen a chap leading a string of ponies and donkeys for rides near Invalides, OB units by Concorde for the referendum, the Louvre with virtually no queue to get in (just about 10:00 on a Sunday), a garden growing in the vertical face of the new Museum being built on the Quai Branly (alpines and other flowers, not only creepers). Lots of rollerbladers dicing with the traffic, and the usual women with begging pitches on cards to thrust out at the tourists where there are some to be found. But there are other green places to sit to kill time. And a lot of antiques fairs today, all around where I've walked. But the most eyestopping sight is a woman obviously in her fifties at one of the antiques fairs with hair as candyfloss pink as an anime girl.

The Gare Montparnasse is cleaner and livelier than last year, with a lot of stalls open.

I am not amused to find that the train I've been booked on goes directly to Niort, not needing the gratuitous change at Poitiers that Belle France organised. That's just a delay for no reason.

There is a flurry of rain near St. Pierre Des Corps (Tours). There are blushes of poppies in the fields towards Chatellerault, and more sprinkling of rain at Poitiers as I wait. At least the station signing is good, and I just have to wait on the same platform for the local train (which fortunately is new, and almost empty).

The pavements are damp in Niort when I arrive, and the walk to the hotel cool and dry, by contrast with last year. The bike is already waiting for me, and I just have enough time to change and get back down when the chap arrives to check everything OK. Bike is much the same as last year's.

Now time for a much needed bath, and by the time I'm done, the rain is back and has set in. The weather forecast looks good for the week, though I think I shall avoid the off-road bit tomorrow. Dinner is crab&avocado, chunky pork rib joint with spicy rice, cheese, and the Haut Poitou rosé from last year.

Initial result 55% Non!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Charente Cycling : London to Paris

Last year I went on a cycling holiday in the west of France, and got rained on a lot. So I'm trying it again, later in the season, hoping for better weather. 10-day forecasts on the net lead me to expect temperatures of about 20C, maybe showery at the end of the week; with the hot spell from yesterday breaking down in rain in Paris and on Sunday, violent thunderstorms over most of France.

I make an early start, the 09:15 fast train to King's Cross and then there's nothing much to do in town so I just dead-reckon through the back streets to Waterloo Bridge, and am at the station with about an hour to wait for the scheduled departure. I'm just checked in when the fun starts - a goods train failed at West Dulwich, no ETA for fixing. This turns into a 30 min delay to start.

I'm the first to make the long hike to my carriage when we're finally allowed to board, and the second is the passenger in the window seat next to mine, a young French lass who is amused at the happenstance. We chat a while before traveller's doze sets in (with me having to wake her when the Eurostar rep comes around to find what needs to be done about making connections).

Get into Gare du Nord about 50 minutes late, and I hike through the heat. We'd passed a lot of "Non" posters in the suburbs, and only in the very centre did I see many "Oui" ones.

Room 36 at the Flor Rivoli, this time; and a very welcome shower - though the weather is hot enough that it's a job getting dry.

Check out the little creperie where we ate last October, but it's shut, so head to the Trappiste for food as well as beer. After, I wander past the gardens at the Forum des Halles, and then down to and across the river, to see folk catching the rays, and picnicking.

Parisians basking in the evening sun

There are dance classes in the sunken areas around the sculpture park — salsa, Flemish pipe and viol, old-fashioned squeeze-box driven country dancing; plus some ad hoc bongoing.

Charente waterways

Mediaeval Midi

Friday, May 27, 2005

Nature notes

First unambiguous sighting of house martins (as opposed to glimpses at the start of the month), as well as yellowhammers, on the way in to work. Hot weather now that looks like it will break for the holiday weekend/half-term week. Ho hum.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Book — Games People Play — Eric Berne, MD


The book presents an empirical model of human intractions, starting from the notion that humans are social animals, and that our interactions are a necessary part of our psychology. Very few conversations are actually concerned with the business of transferring information — more usually they are akin to mutual grooming amongst other primates. Of the various styles of such interaction, the term “game” is used to indicate that class in which the surface and the subtext are at odds with one another.

The model used looks at first sight to be a variation on the Freudian id/ego/superego, as Child, Adult and Parent, as types of role that an individual can play, and play to, in an interaction, with natural dialogues being either homogeneous or Parent-to-Child. Games take place when the hidden conversation is between the actors in different roles.

The book then provides a compendium of games across the spectrum of human life, not all of them destructive to the participants.


The book has to be taken in the context of its time, over forty years ago, so some of the emphases, general background knowledge, and social assumptions have changed in the interim — the comments in the book anent homosexuality are a clear example. It is thus necessary to deconvolve the substance of the book from the accidents of place and time. Such accidents may include the frequency with which various of the games arise, and their most frequently manifested form.

It has been said that the book was written in order to present a plain-speaking approach to psychology, or perhaps psycho analysis, and in choosing a model with Child, Adult, and Parent as aspects rejects the Latin encrustations that later workers in the field had placed over Freud's original Ich, Über-Ich and Es. However, this Basic English approach is not carried through the entire work — outside the works of Gene Wolfe, I had not previously encountered any use of the word “apotropaic”. It is also written to be free-standing from Berne's earlier work on transactional analysis, but achieves this at the cost of much forward reference from the overview into the games section.

The tripartite model is where I found the analysis most ad hoc. The Child partakes of both the Freudian id, and is also the Adam Qadmon, the uncorrupted man that is the mindstate to be aspired to; the Parent is severally the position of authority, a repository of canned responses which free the Adult from having to evaluate a situation, and that parental influence summed up most memorably by Larkin in This be the Verse.


The book provides another way of looking at human behaviour, which, as more modern research has shown, is primarily pre-conscious, so for that is another tool for modelling with. The texture of each reader's life may well determine how often any of the classic games are made plain to be seen.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Nature notes

In amongst all the rain and showers, I did manage to cycle to work a few days this past week, and have seen a number of yellowhammers around the farm track on the last stage of the journey to work.

It has been good weather for frogs, out on the long wet grass, even though the newts in the pond have again seen to the frogspawn. The mystery fish still seem to be there in the pond.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Book — Getting to YES — Fisher, Patton & Ury


Negotiation is not just a matter of trying to split the difference between two established positions in a zero-sum fashion, and thus not a battle of wills as to where on the continuum the split is finally decided. Principled negotiation is conducted by rational actors, setting aside personalities; and looks at other factors that reflect the underlying, possibly unspoken, interests of the parties involved, exploring possible mutually beneficial outcomes. Where necessary, arbitrartion, primarily in the form of appeal to objective (or at least disinterested) standards should be used to establish the worth of any components of a potential outcome.

If faced with an uncooperative partner in negotiation, the acceptability of an outcome should be judged by comparison with what can be achieved without agreement. Fixed positions and intransigent partners should be encouraged into negotiation by treating their statements as a sincere attempt at dialogue, whereas attempts to use tricks should be regarded as shifting the discussion from negotiation on the overt matter at hand into a meta-negotiation about the conduct of the negotiation.


It is clear that the book focuses on the negotiator as a rational agent in the sense in which the term is used in the context of economics. Indeed, the whole idea that negotiation can be eased by broadening the discussion beyond a simple zero-sum is fundamental to economics, that transactions take place that are win-win i.e. wealth is created by trade, not merely moved about. The agenda of the book can then be seen as one in which the negotiation is turned into an economic transaction between rational agents, both by the appeal to externally set standards, and by setting aside personalities and any associated non-zero-sum emotional payoffs of the form “They'd rather be right.”

There is less coherence to the second part of the book, which tries to cover the many ways in which negotiations can be subverted. The idea of knowing what the best you can do without an agreement is a sensible one, to provide a well thought out bottom line, to know when an agreement would be disadvantageous. The other chapters primarily suggest a strategy for an appeal to the counter-party's better nature, by attempting to draw them into discussion either about the substance of the negotiation, or at least into “talks about talks”


The book provides a manifesto for straight dealing, backed up with some real world examples drawn from difficult situations. However, despite the optimistic anecdotes from the eastern Mediterranean and from Northern Ireland, the fact that these disputes still remain unresolved to this day shows that there are still limits to the approach. If the parties to a negotiation cannot shake off emotional attachments to irreconcilable positions (either iof their own, or of their constituents), all the will in the world cannot lead to agreement. They may not even lead to a best alternative.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Book — The 59-Second Employee — André & Ward


The book packages itself as an antidote to formulaic management, in particular the One Minute Manager, by looking at the other side of the relationship.


Taken at face value, the book espouses a sociopathic level of manipulation by the employee of his manager. For those with more normal personalities, it is better thought of as a reductio ad absurdum of the pitfalls of one-size-fits-all management. Indeed, by its opening analogy of the employee being like a brick — solid and on the square — and the summary as epigram — “There ain't no one best way!” — make it clear.

The episodes in this book gather together the likely circumstances where sphex-like application of a specific management technique fails; the sheer accumulation in a narrative certainly gives the impression of employee-as-saboteur, which serves possibly to overemphasise the problem. But is it that unreasonable? Maybe we won't all actively work to subvert the system all the time; but now and again, things will not go according to the script. And if following the script by rote is all the manager is doing, and he isn't able to recover when things go astray, that will be a management failure.


Just as the Romans assigned a slave to a Triumphator's chariot to whisper into his ear from time to time “Respice post te, hominem te esse memento.”, so this book should serve to anyone who thinks that having read a text on man-management that they are completely equipped with the winning formula for the purpose.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Book — The One Minute Manager — Blanchard & Johnson


Get the best results out of your staff by giving them succinct objectives, and "course corrections" in the form of brief praise or reprimands directed at their actions.


This is really management by Skinnerian behaviourism; and as such is an entirely valid technique provided that the objectives are explicit and self-consistent; and that the reinforcing praise or reprimands are given in a consistent fashion, as the psychological experiments indicate. In a situation where the objectives are fluid or unclear, or if the technique is applied unevenly — both entirely plausible situations in the modern agile world of business — the efficacy of the technique will be blunted.

To the more reserved British audience, the touchy-feely approach recommended for both praise and reprimand (in the latter case to reinforce that one “loves the sinner but hates the sin”, to put it into faux-scriptural form) may be uncomfortable for the manager, and may make the proper application of negative reinforcement less effective. This is not necessarily a complete loss, as the positive-reinforcement-only form of operant conditioning is also effective.


A well intentioned formula management book; though possibly best suited to handling self-starting individuals who only need this sort of course-correction on an occasional basis, and if clear and concrete objectives can be agreed.

Book — The Innovator's Dilemma — Clayton M. Christensen


The thesis of this book is that innovations arise in two broad flavours: ones that sustain existing enterprises, and ones that disrupt them; and that these categories are not correlated with the technical sophistication required to turn any given innovation into product (or process). Using examples from the manufacture of disk drives over the last couple of decades, of earth-moving/digging equipment over the last century and a half, and retailing over an intermediate period, amongst others he shows where changes have caused significant shake-ups in the appropriate industry and how the responses made by individual enterprises have led to their success or failure in the new landscape.


There are a number of ways that the lesson of these studies can be categorised; but the most obvious is that the process of improvement in product tends to outstrip the demand for such. At some point paying for the consolidated cost of labour represented by an over-featured product no longer makes economic sense when a new, lower featured competitor reaches the level of being adequate for the purpose. On the producer side, however, the lure of the bigger margins that can be gained by selling the incrementally improved version, with the initial risks past and costs amortized, remain more compelling than the high-risk, low rewards strategy of developing and marketing something at the low-end which will potentially cannibalise sales of the main cash cow.

The producer side of the picture is one I have seen at work, during the early 1990s. The company I was working for produced Architectural CAD software for VAX and UNIX workstations; but had licensed some formats and brand identity to a small outfit to produce a compatible product for the PC. The product was sound, and was a true Windows MDI application at a time when AutoCAD was a cumbersome DOS-based single-window program. But the sales force were happier looking for high 6-figure deals with the main product than the low 5-figure ones for the PC program; and development in the main company included a port of the main product to WindowsNT that still showed that it had once been based on two-layer (text and graphics phases) Tektronix vector terminals with fixed screen size and aspect ratio. The native PC-based re-implementation that could have led the market was neglected, and the company eventually imploded. Ironically, the surviving rump of that organization is now focussed around the once neglected PC-based product which is still selling in a few niche markets.


This book can be considered an exercise is spelling out the blatantly obvious (obvious in hindsight, at least); but one that has dug below the surface to examine the responses to change and what distinguished success from failure. In most case, alas, the successful strategy involves a great deal of "I wouldn't start from here if I were you." — the need to maintain rigorous separation between the risk-taking part of the venture and the existing body.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Cherry blossom almost gone already; apple has peaked, lilac is well out.

Weather has been cold, and showery. It was uncomfortable cycling to work yesterday in bright sun, with breath steaming (choice - wrap up warm and get sweaty or have denim over T-shirt and freeze), and this morning, dull and damp was too much. We're in that awkward time where the evenings are long, and light, but too cold to be out.

The front lawn didn't get mown at the weekend because of the showers, and I really wasn't motivated to tend to it even if it had dried out this evening.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Film — HHGG

Mostly harmless.

A collage of US action/romance and the original. A mix of old dialogue and new; sometimes old dialog that had been shorn of its punchline. A better Trillian than the TV & a more frantic Zaphod.

We have a winner :(

Result: Cambridgeshire South - CON HOLD Conservative 45.0% Liberal Democrat 29.8% Labour 19.4% Swing: 1.1% from CON to LD

Blair's majority is cut - so will we see more consensus politics or more rebellions or what?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

What a week

Finally I'm shot of the project I'd been working on since last summer.

In the garden the plum blossom finished, the cherry has just passed its peak, and the apple is starting. The tulips in the rose hedge peaked and are starting to be blown. The clematis is out, replacing the last of the forsythia. The lilac is starting as is the snow in summer.

Bluebells out too, here and in the bluebell wood near work; and I saw the first peacock butterfly as I cycled home Friday.