Monday, November 15, 2010

What, you may well ask, was I doing at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon, drinking beer with a half naked French farmer and his toothless wife?

It wasn't some sort of bizarre 'swinging' thing, although I am reliably informed (by several very unreliable people) that there is an active swinging scene around here. I'm deeply offended that I've never been asked to join!

Before I continue though, I should say that this couple, M et Mme de B are some of the nicest, sweetest people you'll ever meet. They are, however, true French agriculteurs with a rundown farm full of rusting machinery, countless half wild dogs and cats and lots of fleas!

In actual fact I was going to pick up an old school friend of DS who moved to French Guyana a few years ago, but comes back here to spend his summers. Wish I could find someone to have my little darlings for 2 months! The maximum security summer camp is only for a week.

So, we dutifully turned up at 3pm to pick him up from M et Mme de B, with whom he is staying. They invited us in and we sat down at the kitchen table. M, due to the incredible tropical heat we are experiencing, over 30 degrees in the shade yesterday, was stripped down to his shorts. That's the half naked bit sorted then.

We chatted away, or at least they did and I tried to decipher Mme's accent. Its the sort of local accent that you could use to cut granite and the lack of teeth doesn't help. Every other sentence I was whispering out of the corner of my mouth to DS 'whasshe saying?

We talked (I think) about how DS's friend was passing his 2 months in France, had we met up with his Mum when she was over in the Spring, wasn't the weather hot. All the while, waiting for the appearance of said friend. Eventually the son arrived (he's like a mini Sylvester Stallone) so we discussed the impending arrival of his partner's baby, her Braxton Hicks contractions, how difficult it was to be pregnant when it's so flaming hot! Still no friend.

I nodded my head, put in the odd 'oui', 'non' and 'd'accord' and apparently at some stage of the proceedings I said yes to a cold beer. I don't really drink and certainly not during the day in the heat so when it arrived, I explained my misunderstanding and said no to the beer. M de B was having none of it. 'Don't worry, there's no gendarmes around here' he said. Just as well because it's a standing joke among friends how I get stopped by every single gendarme I pass.

Only a few weeks ago I arrived at school with 3 carloads of gendarmes following me.
'Oh look' commented a friend wryly 'here come VLiF with her police escort'!

Eventually, after about 20 minutes of pleasant chat and still no sign of Friend from Guyane, I mouthed to DS 'he's not here is he?' 'No' replied DS.

I backtracked on the conversation and managed to deduce that he was most likely with a Croatian family in the village with an unpronounceable name.

'Ah, il est encore chez Draganononovinic' I slurred. (Told you I can't drink at lunchtime!) 'Oui' they answered in unison, not for one minute wondering why I was, therefore, sitting in their kitchen and not in the kitchen chez Dranogoanivinicic.

We bid our fond adieus, jumped up and down a few times to knock off the fleas and left to try and find chez Dargonvinicicic.

The trouble with Croatians is that they are like policemen, they go everywhere in twos, so we arrived at the little lotissement where live les Dragonvincicivivnics only to find that in our tiny little village, there are, in fact more than one. There are three.

Eventually we were reunited with Friend from Guyane, instantly recognisable by all the flea bits on his legs, which he politely insisted were mosquito bites, and all was well with the world.

Back at the homestead, Mellors the gardener was quietly expiring in the sub-tropical heat but godammit, he still had his shirt on. What's the point of employing a 22 year old gardener if he doesn't at least get his kit off (not all of it you understand)? Note to self to re-write his employment contract. Just my luck that the only bit of chest I've seen today belongs to an elderly French farmer with a paunch you could balance a tray on.

'Gosh, this is like the heatwave in England in 76' I comment. He looks at me blankly. The penny drops. 'You weren't even born then were you?' I ask. 'No ma'am' he replied. (OK, OK, he didn't say ma'am)

I went inside feeling every bit of my 40 something years.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Saturday, August 22, 2009

And now the end is near........

Well this is it folks, my last hurrah as Mme VLiF. The 24th August is fast approaching and it's time to draw my French blog to a close.

After almost 5 years here it's been a great adventure which I don't regret for a moment but it's time to move on. So, here are a few thoughts and ponderings about our time in France

What do I love?

Our valley

The views from the village

The weather in summer - not this summer. Too bloody hot!

My friends I've made here who I'll miss like mad but who hopefully are already planning their next trip to Wiltshire

Croissants from the lady in the village market on Sundays - but then they probably account for my expanding waistline

The fields when the wheat turns gold

The vast swathes of rape in Spring - apart from the coughing and sneezing it brings!

Sitting on our balcony watching the Milky Way and the shooting stars

What do I hate?

The nastiness that exists on some France forums
The weather for the rest of the year,

French customer services. Actually, that's something of an oxymoron, French and Customer Services!

French TV -- I really tried my best with it but it's pretty awful

The word 'integration'

People who say 'it's like the UK in the 50s' - what with malnutrition, polio, inequality of the sexes, backstreet abortions and hidden domestic violence? It's like France in the 2000s!

The word 'expats', we're not expats, we're immigrants. In fact, most of us are economic migrants really having moved to France so we could buy a bigger house. We are the Poles of France, except most don't actually have to work!

What drives me mad?
That you can't find things in the shops that have been available in the modern world for years - and I don't mean Marmite and Baked Beans, I mean, like ordinary things.

Paying for something in a shop and despite them having a drawer full of change they always want the odd centimes, even if there's 97 of them!
The lack of joined up thinking that seems so prevalent here
So not that much really!

What makes me smile?

The gallic shrug as the answer to everything.

The fact that Barko Sarko seems to be the world's biggest Francophobe, and he made Prez

Monsieur L's dancing

My lovely neighbour for whom I really hope life takes a turn for the better

What has been most suprising?

That despite everything you read it really is the same merde just different shaped bread. Maybe for the retired it's different but for me it just isn't. I'm quite convinced, as I have been for some time, that the authors of these 'Living the Dream' books are all taking mind-altering substances.

How few bilingual British people are actually employed in France.

How many people are prepared to live in absolute penury and accept things they absolutely wouldn't accept in their home countries just to live in a bigger house in France. I mean, it's great but .......

What has been most disappointing?

The education system. Dull, rigid, outdated. It's intended to produce drones who will work uncomplainingly for the ruling elite. So much for Egalité. One of the main reasons we are leaving is because our children, are so unhappy in the school system here. They can't wait to go back to 'proper' school in the UK. Let's hope it's not a disappointment.
Being ripped off by supposed friends. It can happen anywhere but it happened here.

The realisation that French couture doesn't really exist outside Paris. I can happily spend a whole day shopping and find absolutely nothing that I like. Shoes are the worst, hence my attachment to my Crocs

Hairdressers - I've lived in fear of coming out with aubergine or orange hair, or even both

The lack of opportunity for our bilingual British children. The French still seem to prefer to employ a French person with limited English than an English person with fluent French.

Best of times?

Christmas with some of our closest friends at the Chateau de L'hoste, Marchés Gourmands, time spent with friends, barbeque chez OnlyMe and Karlos Fandango, trying and largely failing to win the Quiz night (but we won this week, Allez les filles!!), the childrens' music concerts at Beauville Arts, listening proudly under the shade of the lime trees in Jon and Claire's garden, the High Security Music camp shows and singing my heart out with OnlyMe and of course, the Last Hurrah - our leaving party last weekend, of which I haven't had time to blog, sadly.

Worst of times?

Chopping wood in the winter, in fact anything to do with the winter!

Seeing good friends go through bad times and not being able to do anything to help.

Losing my beloved Mad Baz and Teabag and (whisper) accidentally running over DD's cat on the way to school one day. There.... I've said it. My name is Mme VLif and I've killed a family pet.

Telling the CH that I don't want to live here anymore because he loves it but he must love me more as he's agreed to move back. Aaaah!

Life in France vs Life in the UK?

UK for me I'm afraid. I try really hard to be a good 'expat' but I find after 4-5 years I realise just what a great place, despite everything, the UK really is and what opportunities exist for my children. France is, undoubtedly a great place to retire to but I'm not sure it's the place for families. All the reasearch I've done shows that most children brought up in France return to the UK. DD and DS are keen and very happy to return to the UK. There's lots I could add that has contributed to our decision to leave France but much of it is personal and not for sharing. All I would say is before passing judgement on someone's decision you need to walk in their shoes. I'm sure those of you desperate to leave the UK or whereever you live will think I'm bonkers but don't forget I was you 5 years ago. Sometimes it takes time away to make you realise what you had and also what you want.

Well, that's all folks, as they say. Thank you so much to everyone who has read and enjoyed my blog, to those who have commented and especially to all those clever people who's blogs I enjoy. I shall remain forever indebted to my Mum and Dad for encouraging me to start 'What French Dream'. It will serve as a permanent reminder of our French Adventure, assuming the Interweb doesn't get sucked into a black hole! Au revoir........

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Easter Chicks..... (not for those who are sensitive about religion)

Once again our two cockerels have stepped up to the plate and performed their cockerelly duty so we have three new chicks. One black and two yellow ones that look like Easter chicks.

We decided to give them names that are synonymous with Easter so I give you......


Mary and Joseph!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In which my equilibrium was unbalanced by the sight of so many men in Speedos.....

Eeeuwwww! The French and their speedos!

Today we went to a fabulous waterpark up in Dordogneshire. It was a last jolly for les enfants before we head back to the UK in just over a week

Now, in France they have these funny hygiene laws in swimming pools. Here you can use the toilet and not wash your hands, then go and handle the fresh fruit and veg, you can go to a Marché Gourmand where they will use the same utensils and chopping boards (wooden of course) to handle raw and cooked food, but you can't wear surf shorts in swimming pools. You have to wear speedos.

Now, it's apparently for hygiene reasons, though every time I've asked the pools to clarify this, they can only spout the pre-printed script, but then that's very French.

Now, wearing speedos is fine if you look like this...

Trouble is, most of them look more like this......

Now, in actual fact, as this was a waterpark rather than a swimming pool, the speedo rule wasn't actually being enforced but hey, like Romeo and Juliet, you can't separate a French man from his speedos so they were there in abundance.

Now, it's not easy to eat a baguette when confronted with bulging men's genitals stuffed into lycra and after the first hour I felt that my equilibrium had been well and truly upset. Now, with some men, the promise of what lies beneath might be quite nice but with the majority, what lies beneath is definitely not for my eyes - or anyone else's.

To be honest, I think men's genitals were one of God's little jokes. When left with three small pieces of whatever it is that man is made from, he thought to himself 'now what can I do with these that would be really silly? I know......'

But of course he hadn't banked on a Scotsman emigrating to Australia and thinking, now what can I make out of this little bit of nylon, or on French men embracing the end result with such fervour.

You could tell the French men in speedos. They were the ones who strode around, puffing out their chests saying 'I'm French and proud of my baguette' while the British men, forced into such revealing swimwear, crept around looking and feeling slightly foolish, generally with hands cupped protectively, or maybe just to shield their manhood from prying eyes.

The trouble is, regardless of how unattractive the man, when confronted with 'Man in Speedos' ones eyes seem naturally drawn downwards only to arrive 'youknowhwere', at which point you are suddenly overcome with nausea and horror because to be honest, you don't really want to be reminded that these men.... well... you know what I mean don't you ladies?

Recently, a Muslim lady was banned from wearing a burkhini in a public swimming pool under the same hygiene rules. Personally, I'd like to see all the fat men in speedos forced to wear one in public so I can enjoy my packed lunch in peace.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A lovely blog award

How ungrateful am I? Hadriana over at Hadriana's Treasures gave me this award last month and I clean forgot about it.

So I would now, in the final weeks of my blog, like to do as she did and pass it on to some of those who have commented on my blog. These will be my final awards so enjoy them!

So, here goes......

Take the award and pass it on......

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What is it with men.....?

We're now in the final throes of our French adventure and with only three weeks left here we have a mountain of things to do for the lovely tenants who are taking over our house.

Rooms to repaint, airing cupboards to make, kitchen worktops to replace and...... oh God, I can't even bear to think about it..... the cellar to sort out. That in itself will take several days, as we have to sift through our impressive collection of 'hors-service' printers, children's schoolwork dating back to the days when we could legally send them down mines, empty boxes, christmas decorations, halloween decorations, duvets, dead mice and other assorted miscellania - or rubbish some less enlightened folk might say.

Every day I'm up at 7.30am, packing boxes, sorting out stuff for charity or dechetterie, or persuading DD that she really doesn't need to take all of her 180 books, of which she claims to be reading 'every single one'!

On top of that we have holiday guests until the day before we leave so pools still need to be cleaned, laundry to be done, guests to be looked after, hells teeth.. .I'm wearing myself out just typing it!

Around 9.30am I kick the CH out of bed (note that I've already been up an at it for 2 hours) whereup he makes a pot of coffee then spends the rest of the day doing the flaming garden!

Now, you have to bear in mind that we've had no significant rainfall since April and the garden already looks like the aftermath of some mad dictator's 'scorched earth' policy or even the Somme without the trenches. There's barely a thing alive. The grass is a fetching shade of yellow, the trees have a certain autumnal hue about them and the garden is ankle deep in dead leaves, dropped walnuts and windfall plums.

What little colour there was has either been dug up by Prudence the golden non-retriever, in her constant search for a cool place to lie, or eaten by the chickens, who are testing my patience to the maximum at the moment. On the promise of rain last night I put all my window pots of geraniums on the lawn to soak up the (as it turned out) non-existent precipitation. By this morning I had an attractive array of stalks. I can also boast dahlia stalks, petunia stalks and verbena stalks if you're interested.

So I ask you, what's the point? It will all grow back in the end.

I know the CH doesn't want to leave France, but he seems to be in total denial and I foresee a mad, crazy panic in three weeks time.......