Alarmed by my mobile phone, we rose at five instead of six this morning. My wife wasn't best pleased, because she'd had one of her 'blips' around three. After an hour, and a game of telephone Scrabble, she'd managed to drift back to sleep – only to be untimely ripped from her slumber. The animals, however, looked upon their premature breakfast as an unexpected bonus.
At least it gave me an opportunity to think about my to-do list for the week ahead. How come there are always elements to carry over from one week to the next? I know I'm not a natural completer-finisher, but it remains one of life's quandaries – like Single Sock Syndrome. I try to put my friend Marek's sound advice into practice and keep the list short enough to trigger action rather than depression, but the brought-forward items always render it unwieldy. Like Jack's magic beanstalk, it grows, it grows.
There were several items to add following Bret's visit on Saturday afternoon. He knows me well enough now to roll me one of his cigarettes to accompany our customary catch-up. Then, ever solicitous and ever caring about hapless friends like me, he unzipped his laptop to give me a quick 15-minute tour of Facebook and Linked In. Now I appreciate the importance of updating my profile, adding contacts, joining groups, marking anniversaries, adding comments and so on. It seems to me like a full-time job, but he assured me that he spends no more than two hours a week. Another proper to-do...
Bret was off to a kind of residual Fête des Mecs, this one chez Christophe, the farmer who sold us the bales for this house. It was a last-minute affair, without the usual organisation that goes into these dos he sponsors. With too many friends crying off, a rump of revellers were going to see in the changing of the clocks. My excuse was dinner that evening with our doctor and his wife.
I'm always a little ill at ease before they come. Perhaps because they're both high-brow and rather religious and my French, I feel, has to be at its crackling best. It was the second time they've dined here at Camp Street and their enthusiasm is so genuine and so infectious that it made a nonsense of my trepidation. Thierry, our doctor, is a delightful man with a boyish giggle. Physically, were it not for the fact of his white skin, he could pass at 20 paces for Barack Obama. Benedict, his wife, despite her greying hair and deeply unfashionable courtly clothes, has the air of a little girl, trapped in an inappropriate era. Together, they come over like a pair of middle-aged young lovers. We got onto the subject of films over dinner and they asked us to draw them up a list of our favourites that they may not have seen. Being a man, there's nothing I enjoy more than a good list.
Later that night, the clocks went back. There's always an initial element of suspense about what this will mean in practice. When will first light dawn? At what time will the shutters come down to seal in the evening? It meant a leisurely morning, fortified by the security of knowing that you've still got an hour in hand. We didn't have to play our joker till after lunch.
It was a leisurely afternoon, too, with an entire American football match to watch on Channel 4. The Atlanta Falcons v the Detroit Lions live from Wembley stadium. Being perennial underdogs, I always have a soft spot for the Lions, even though their defeat would be good for my team, the Green Bay Packers. The uninitiated always moan about all the ad-breaks that break up the action, but they gave me a chance to pepper my self-indulgence with useful things: like updating my Linked In profile and generally making inroads into my to-do list. As it happened, the Lions won by a single point with the last kick of the game.
Watching the battle of the gridiron unfold made me think of My Man in Manhattan, probably busy doing something similar in his basement apartment on the corner of Columbus Avenue. He sent me not one but two marvellous e-mails this weekend. The first, a bit of graphic data showing the correlation between eating cheese and the number of deaths from getting tangled in bed sheets. It's things like this, he suggested, that make America 'the greatest nation in the world'.
In the second, he revealed that he has met Van Morrison twice in his life. The first time at a classmate's house somewhere near the first of our two Edwardian family homes in Belfast. The little portly ginger man wandered into the kitchen, apparently, looking for his sister. On the second occasion, an older and rather more portly songster in Cuban heels stepped in front of my friend while he was riffling through the bins of a New York bookstore. He answered Winston's cheery Belfast greeting of ''bout ye, Van' with some gruff apology. Yer man from Orangefield had some minder with him, so Winston didn't pursue the conversation.
Talking of musicians, I read with a certain sadness that Jack Bruce died during the weekend. Off they shuffle, one by one, my contemporaries... I was never a fan of Cream; I never carried about a copy of Disraeli Gears at school, for example. Nevertheless, they were symbols of an exciting age when re-conditioned American blues ruled the airwaves and I always kept a watchful eye on Jack's post-Cream career. Back then, I suppose I would have considered 71 or whatever it was a great age.
The last weekend in October (already!) concluded with Martin Scorsese's first family film, Hugo. The idea of the director of Taxi Driver and Casino making a movie for all the family seems paradoxical. At what point would the baddies break the young hero's hand in a vice, for example? But no. It didn't happen. The film worked in an Amélie kind of way as a charming homage to the pioneers of cinema.
Alf has his frisky chum, Holly, here to stay for a couple of days. Another hound of uncertain pedigree, she has already helped to revitalise our old dog. The cats have got a little more accustomed to her muzzle now. Even Myrtle, who was traumatised by her predecessor, Ella. Myrtle who subsequently adopted a credo of yellow dog good; black dog bad. The dogs are in their respective baskets right now, sleeping off this morning's indecently early breakfast crepuscular walk.