Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Festive Fallout

.... is what you get when you've overdosed on Christmas. I hope everyone had a lovely day, not too many arguments around the Christmas Table and finally telling your brother-in-law you think he's a real plonker, granny getting drunk on the brandy butter and all the usual delights that accompany this wonderful family day.

Ours was fairly par for the course. The cat got stuck up the Christmas Tree, the dog set her tail alight (candles on the hearth and Golden non-retrievers don't seem to be a good mix) and DS got an electric shock from the Christmas Turkey...... don't even ask! But we all came through it none the worst for wear and with all working parts intact and better still, on Boxing Day we even had snow! Yes, we do get snow here in deepest South West France. What we don't get though is gritters or snow ploughs so it makes for interesting times in the car.

Yesterday was my birthday. It's a crap time to be born, to be honest, and I think my parents could have maybe thought a bit before they... well, you know what I mean. It's all very well to go gooey eyed on my brother's first birthday and say 'Darling, I think we should have another baby' but a quick count up should have flagged up the warning 'Christmas Baby'. Still, my mum's birthday is 23rd December, so I guess she just wanted to make someone else suffer. DS's birthday is 15th December so that's not too close and he was 2 weeks late so he's only got himself to blame really. My grandma was the best though. She was born and died on 25th December! What's the odds on that I wonder? Didn't make for a very happy Christmas that year though.

I have to tell you about one of my birthday presents as it was truly sublime (Hmm, is that really the right word for it?)

Anyone here in France will probably be familiar with the annual 'Les Dieux du Stade' nude calendar that the French Rugby team produces each year. Here are a few photos from the last calendar which some of the girls may enjoy and will have the men rushing to dig out that old Bullworker...

Well, not to be left out, some of the gorgeous hunks of French manhood in our area have produced their own version 'Les Dieux du Quercy Blanc' (The Gods of the Quercy Blanc- that being the name for our region of France). Now, I think they are using the word 'Gods' in it's very loosest sense. One of the photos is of a local cattle dealer posing naked with one of his cows and to be completely honest I found the cow more attractive.

Really, it's just a bit of fun and I take my hat off to them but I do have a few tiny suggestions for the next one...

1. Take your socks off well before the photo shoot so you don't have sock indentations round your ankles

2. A week before try to get an all-over suntan as the preponderance of 'farmer's arms' was just a little unattractive
3. Dreadlocks are just a little bit 20th Century

4. If you haven't got the confidence to go completely naked, make sure your underwear doesn't show in the photo

If anyone would like to order a copy of the calendar I'm sure I can track one down for you and if nothing else it makes a nice change from the usual cute, fluffy animal or views of France.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's Christmas Time.......

So I have a cold. It's a regular feature of our Christmas. Just as the torn muscle starts to heal nicely, I catch a cold so now when I sneeze it goes something like 'Aaaaachooouch! Still, the chronic lack of sleep is leading to some interesting dreams when I do manage to catch 40 winks. Last night I was managing a premiership rugby team and handing an impending nuclear holocaust. Any dream analysers got an idea on that one? My interpretation on that is that while I'd like it to be like a well-oiled machine, it will more likely be more reminiscent of Chernobyl on a bad day!

Anyway, enough moaning, that sort of spirit didn't get us through the Blitz did it?

Well, it's now Christmas Eve and are we ready on The Homestead? Of course we are....not!

The Christmas Tree is up - all 12 feet of it (or 3.6 metres for those who've adjusted to metric better than me!) Yes, I know it's showing off to have a tree that big but it was a present. Our dear friends, OnlyMe and Carlos Fandango asked if we wanted a tree from a friend's garden. "Oh yes please, we said. And make it a big one!"

Of course there is big and BIG and this is BIG.

The turkey is in the fridge ready for the oven but.. and it's a big but... forgot to order DD's and the CH's christmas presents! I could come up with lots of good reasons for this little oversight but they'd all be lies. I just forgot. Could happen to anyone and it happens to me a lot. Anyway, DD will get an IOU and in these credit crunched times, she'll have to be grateful. Seriously though, she has other presents so she will have something to open on Christmas Day.

At this time of year among the overseas community the most often asked question is 'Are you going to the UK for Christmas?'. Normally for us it would be yes but we are still traumatised by our last trip back for Christmas two years ago.

It's a long story, so pour yourself a glass of wine and pull up a chair.......

It all started a few weeks before Christmas when the Grand Gasguzzler started making a whining noise. I'm used to most whining noises (well I have two children don't I?) but this was different.

We took it to Monsieur L who has serviced our cars since we arrived in France. He kept it for the day, fiddled a bit and returned it to us. Still it whined. We sent it back, he fiddled, it came back whining. He thought it might be the gearbox but wasn't sure.

This carried on for several weeks until two days before Christmas. I went to collect the car.

"Is it fixed?" I asked in my bestest French.

"Erm, actually no" he replied in his bestest French

"What do you think it is?"

"I think there's a problem with the gearbox" he replied

"A big problem?"

He shrugged his best Gallic shrug

"The thing is" he said "I don't actually deal with automatic gearboxes. Don't really know a thing about them"

I tried to keep calm. What on earth had I been doing for the past weeks wasting my time with a garage that doesn't 'do' automatic gearboxes. I could have been sending it to a garage that did!

"You do know we are driving to the UK in two days?" I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. "Do you think it will make it?"

He shrugged another Gallic shrug.

I dashed home, looked at the huge pile of presents, cases of wine, food and other goodies we were planning to take, checked out the cost of flights (surely that must be the price in Chilean Pesos or something, it can't be sterling!!), had another quick panic and realised that we really had no other choice. There was no Plan B.

On 22nd December we set off, the Grand Gasguzzler stuffed to the roof with all our goodies. We decided to go for it and do the journey in one day, taking it easy to give the gearbox a fighting chance.

All went perfectly until just south of Rouen when suddenly the car started missing gears. The CH drove on, a smile (or more of a grimace) fixed on his face. I eyed him nervously.

"Should the car be doing that?" asked DD

"Don't worry, it's fine" I replied, my voice just a little too loud and high to be convincing.

Gradually, it started missing gears more and more. Finally, we came off a roundabout and it wouldn't move out of first gear. We limped along, to the annoyance of the other drivers, for a few kilometres until we found a layby and pulled in.

"Bugger, bugger, bugger" I said (or that's roughly what I said anyway)

We called the breakdown service who arrived within minutes. The mechanic did much sharp intaking of breath and pulling of chin.

"The gearbox is foutu" he said. (See earlier post for a translation of foutu)

"I could take you to Calais if you want. It would cost..... let me see..... 900 euros..... cash"

And a Bloody Merry Christmas to you too, I thought.

I phoned the insurance company (in France, breakdown insurance is included in your car insurance). They told me they would put us up in a hotel for the night then hire a car for us to go to Calais but from then on, we were on our own as they only had to take us as far as the French border.

The car was towed to a garage where the owner had a quick look, confirmed the diagnosis of a gearbox foutu and said, at a rough estimate it would cost 10,000 euros to repair.

I can't think of a suitably onomatopoeic word for somebody having a heart attack, but you get the rough idea!

"You have to be joking! I don't think the car is worth that much" I said, rapidly losing the ability to speak French.

He shrugged his Gallic shoulders.

The CH and I looked at our enormous pile of luggage and realised that there was no way we could get it all back to the UK as foot passengers on the ferry. With heavy hearts, we handed over a case of decent wine to the garage owner. Had we known that he would eventually charge us nearly 200 euros for 'parking' at his garage we would have been less generous!

A taxi (a large one) came and took us to a nearby hotel. The driver was lovely and terribly sympathetic with our plight. So we gave him a case of wine too .... but he deserved it.

At the hotel, everyone had heard of our disaster.

"Don't worry" said, the receptionist "It could have been worse" (how exactly?)

We arrived in our room, exhausted and not a little stressed. The children were wonderful. Not a word of complaint. We still seemed to have the equivalent of an EU wine and food mountain with us, not to mention the christmas presents.

"I don't know how we are going to get this lot back to the UK" said the CH, mirroring my thoughts. "Let's just hope they get us a big hire car".

Early the next day, Alain from the insurance company phoned.

"The news isn't good, Madame" he said

God, what did I do in a past life?

"There are no hire cars available in the whole of the north of France"

"What do you mean? No cars available"

"Well, actually, as it's Sunday all the offices are closed"

Damn France and its Sunday Trading laws!!

"Don't you have an emergency number or something?" I asked hopefully

"I'm afraid not. There's no car"

"Just give me a minute and I'll call you back" I said.

"What did he say?" the CH asked, knowing it wasn't good

"There are no bloody hire cars available!"

"So what do we do?"

Well with all these boxes of wine we could probably build a flaming raft and sail the Channel!

"I'm phoning my Mum" I said.

"I don't think now's the time....."

Oooooh, be quiet and give me the phone.

"Mum, can you check out the Eurostar and see if there are any seats available"

Hah! What a clever girl I am. All is not lost after all.

Eventually Dad called back to say there was space on all the Eurostars, we just had to get to Paris. Right, now we have a Plan B.

I called the insurance company. They said they would book us tickets from Rouen to Paris, arrange all the transfers and even better, it was free of charge. Hallelujah! There is a God after all.

"Right," I said to the CH. "We need more suitcases."

We dashed down to reception who confirmed there was a supermarket open for the next hour which might sell suitcases. A map was drawn and the CH and DS set off.

Nearly two hours later and they hadn't returned. That's it, they've been kidnapped by gypsies. It's all over. I'm a widow now. (Well I was just a teensy bit stressed)

They finally arrived back dragging two suitcases.

"It took longer to get there than we thought" said the CH "and the receptionist forgot to mention the 6 lane motorway that runs between here and the supermarket!"

"So what did you do?" I asked nervously.

Turns out they had to run across the motorway. Thank God it was Sunday so there was hardly any traffic. We sorted out the presents and food and made a 'Must Go' and a 'Can't Go' pile.

The insurance company rang back. No seats on the train till tomorrow morning.

"That would be Christmas Eve then, the 24th?"

Cutting it far too fine for my liking but we had no choice. The following day we packed up our 7 suitcases and assorted carrier bags. We distributed our bounty to the hotel staff, who all collected to see us off. The nice taxi driver turned up and we set off for the station in Rouen.

Now Rouen is a biggish place so I imagined it would be a bit like Waterloo Station or something with a few bookshops and a couple of nice places to keep warm and have a coffee.

Wrong..... it was a dreadful place, full of drunks, completely open on one side so it was freezing and the only cafe, which was decidedly grotty, was closed.

Never mind, only 2 hours to wait ... on cold metal seats. A girl could get piles like this!

Eventually the platform number came up. It was the only platform that was on a different level.

We took the children and a few suitcases down first, then left them there, with strict instructions to speak to nobody, and dashed off for the rest of the luggage. They looked like little evacuees with their suitcases and carrier bags slung round their necks like gasmasks!

After several trips we finally had all our bags and children on the platform waiting for the train.

"Gosh, you have a lot of luggage" said a lady standing next to us.

"Yes, our car broke down. We are on the way to the UK for Christmas"

The train arrived, we hauled all our stuff on with the help of some other passengers.

"Gosh you've got a lot of luggage" they said.

"Yes, we are on the way back to the UK for Christmas and the car broke down."

We smiled weakly and collapsed into four conveniently empty seats by the door. After a few minutes the CH asked about a sign above our heads.

It said 'These seats are reserved for pregnant women and people who were mutilated in the war'. Honest, that's what it said! Just let them try and move me, I thought..

We arrived in Paris with three Eurostars still left. All that remained was the short transfer between stations. We phoned the insurance company to make sure that there was a people carrier to transport us, spelling out exactly how much luggage we had. No problem, we were told.

Any my biggest mistake was to believe them.

We were told to go out and wait at the taxi rank. A man was standing there holding a plaque with our names on.

"Is this all yours?" he asked, indicating our luggage.

"Yes, you have got a people carrier haven't you? I specifically asked for one"

"Well, not exactly"

He led us to a large saloon car and one look was enough to realise that not even half our bags would fit in it. He said he'd call the office and get a bigger car and not to worry as he would wait until it arrived.

I called the insurance company to make sure that the message was relayed that we needed a BIG car.

"No problem" said Alain. Now where have I heard this before.

I reported back to the CH and the children that the taxi would arrive any minute. The taxi driver confirmed that his colleague was on his way, he wished us Bon Voyage and left. By now it was starting to snow and was bitterly cold.

Half an hour later we were still standing there, DD's lips were now a very unbecoming shade of blue. Right, I'm ringing the insurance company again. I took out my phone. Damn, the battery was dead. I took the CH's and rang the number. It rang a few times before starting to beep and the screen went blank. Both phones were out of battery.

I went off to find a payphone with instruction to sit on the taxi driver if he arrived while I was gone. I found a payphone which took credit cards, the only one in the station. Of course that meant it was a popular spot for making those last minute Christmas phonecalls to your extended family in Djibouti. I waited patiently in line while the caller spoke to most of her hometown before I was able to make my call.

"Alain, where's this taxi? We've already missed one Eurostar"

He went off to check.

"The taxi company says it's at the station"

Great. I ran back expecting to see the CH loading up our bags into a nice Renault Espace but no, they were all still sitting on our cases in the snow like a family of Romanian refugees.

Back to the phone and the next caller to Djibouti. I waited again

"Alain, where is this taxi?" I was starting to get annoyed.

He went off to check.

"He says he can't find you"

"Tell him we are the family sitting on a mountain of suitcases at the side entrance to the station. He can't miss us." I gave him road names, landmarks and apart from satellite coordinates I couldn't do any more.

"OK. He'll come and find you"

I went back to the frozen ones, stopping just to make sure that DD hadn't frozen to death. I checked my watch. Another Eurostar had left.

"I don't bloody believe it! It's going to be Christmas in Paris at this rate" I shouted.

"Mum," came a tiny, frozen voice "I don't want to be in Paris for Christmas. I want to be at Grandma's"

God bless them but it was the only thing vaguely approaching a complaint that either of them had made.

Another 15 minutes passed. Right, now I'm really angry!

I rushed back to the phone. Physically removed the poor woman who was using it and rang the insurance company.


"There's no reason to be angry, Madame" he said.

"Au contraire, Alain, there is every reason to be angry! I've waited for nearly 3 hours in the snow. I've told you exactly where are standing and still the flaming taxi driver isn't here. I don't want to spend Christmas in some shitty little hotel in Paris. Now get this sorted out!"

I we back to where the others were, literally, frozen to the spot. Within minutes a taxi driver arrived..... on foot.

"I'm parked on the other side of the station. Follow me"


He ran off like a scalded cat and several minutes later arrived where we were waiting. In a delicious irony, he was driving a Grand Gasguzzler!.

He whizzed through the Paris traffic to the Gare du Nord. I could feel myself visibly relaxing. We were going to make it!

We rushed into the station which was heaving and headed for the ticket desk. Us and about 200 other people. We only had 20 minutes before the last train left there was no way we'd get down the queue in that time.

I left the others in the queue and went to investigate the ticket machines.

'All tickets' it said. That must include the Eurostar then!

I put in my credit card, selected the last Eurostar, pressed the button for 4 tickets, blanched slightly when I realised it would cost us 500 euros and in a whirr of machinery, they dropped into the slot. You could hear the whoop of joy across the station.

We grabbed our three luggage trolleys and headed for the Eurostar platform.

'One suitcase per passenger' the notice said but they were obviously in festive spirit and let us through.

"Gosh you've got a lot of luggage!" they said. "

Yes we have, haven't we" I said through gritted teeth.

We ran to the platform.

"Come on love," shouted the Eurostar man. "Let me give you a hand. Hey, Ern, come and give us a hand. Gosh you've got a lot of luggage...!" AAAARRRRRGGHHHHHH!

With literally minutes to spare we were on the last Eurostar out of Paris on Christmas Eve. Our epic journey was nearly over. We were going to be home for Christmas!

So now you see why we don't go anywhere for Christmas now.

Well, the CH is downstairs making mincepies and Nigella's Nursery Fish pie for supper so I shall just wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope all your wishes come true in 2009.

Thanks to everyone who reads my sometimes demented ramblings.... you really should try and get out more.... it's been fun to write my blog this year and even more fun to read all those other clever, witty and just downright talented writers who are out there. Bon continuation as they say in these parts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Just a quick message to say that I'm poorly sick on two chairs. I've had a nasty cough and have managed to tear a muscle in my side. It's incredibly painful and has left me temporarily disabled and typing (or in fact anything) is like being hit very hard with a large baseball bat.

I will return soon with lots of fun posts on the 12 foot Christmas tree, Fun at the Forum, the world's most expensive water leak and, of course....... The Piano Exam (which went pretty well so thanks for all you good wishes which I will respond to when it hurts less!)

VLiF xx

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Positive Thoughts needed

DD has her Grade 1 piano exam in Toulouse tomorrow - at 16.36 precisely! All positive thoughts for correct fingering, perfect sight reading and of course virtuoso playing gratefully received.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Vive le gilet fluo.........!

While the rest of the world sits head in hands, contemplating global financial implosion, the French have got better things to do.

"C'est jaune, c'est moche, ça ne va pas avec rien mais ça peut vous sauvez la vie" (it's yellow, it's ugly, it doesn't go with anything but it can save lives) shrieked fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld from the thousands of posters that littered the French road network.

What could he be talking about? Ugly, yellow? Christina Aguilera's latest hair colour hair colour? A mutant kangaroo? No, it was, of course, the high visibility jackets that became a legal requirement in all our cars from July 1st (Well, October 1st really as the French aren't always that quick to take things up).

Theory and practice have long proved that the use of a celebrity to endorse a product generates a lot of publicity and attention from the public. Perfect for a road safety campaign.

And here he is, looking all cool and mysterious, sporting his fabulous 'fluo gilet'

The stuff of nightmares!!!

But even he couldn't have foreseen the fashion trend that he'd be inadvertently leading. The PASSENGER SEAT IN FLUO JACKET effect.

Everywhere you go in France, drivers by the thousands have kindly put a little fluo jacket on their passenger seats. But who started it? And why? What made everyone else do the same?

On auto forums across France they are asking the same question. "C'est quoi cette nouvelle mode avec le gilet de securité?" (what this new fashion with high visibility vests?)

Photos are being posted .......

Here's one fashionista ......

and another

and another

This one's just plain

Oooh, a different colour

Everyone's getting in on the act.....

Be proud of your Ch'ti heritage with this high visibility anti-
spitball jacket (ideal for footie matches!)

Even the dogs want one ....

They're mad for em!

But why on the back of the passenger seat? It's one of those strange conundrums that maybe we'll never understand.

But I'm not the only one that thinks it's a ridiculous fashion, second only to

This or this

or this..(although I
rather thought the CH
looked quite dapper!)

But it's not just me that hates this new 'fashion'. So far it's spawned over 200 Facebook groups
"Contre ces blaireaux qui enfilent leur gilet fluo sur le siège passager !" (against these idiots who stick their high visibility vest on the passenger seat). Some have over 30,000 members.

Who needs 'La Crise' (not Le Crunch as some anglophones call it - that's a chocolate bar folks!) when you can occupy yourself with 'real' issues!

No fluo gilets were injured in the making of this blog

Monday, December 1, 2008

It drives me flipping mad!

Oooh err! December already! That means one thing..... by the end of the month I'll be another year older, something I find immensely depressing, not to mention a little bit galling because twice now I've thought I was a year older than I was.

"So, how old will you be on your next birthday" asked a neighbour of my parent's politely a few years back (and I'm not saying how many!)

"36" I answered confidently. After all, I'm a mature, intelligent person, educated to degree level, held some fairly high powered jobs in my time. I must know my age mustn't I?

"No you're not", said my mother

"Ummmm" I replied slightly less confidently

"You were born in 19XX (see, I'm really not telling) and this year is XXXX that makes you 35 next birthday"

A quick add up and damn, damn, damn, I am in fact a whole year younger than I've been telling everyone. I feel cheated.... I've missed a year of my life. Just think what I could have done with that year? I could have found the cure for warts (I won't go so far as to say AIDS), I could have been the first British astronaut in space, I could have invented some fabulous object that would have the Dragon's Den drooling. I could have been a double agent for MI6 and been parachuted behind enemy lines in Afghanistan (except I don't think there were any then), I could have directed a Bollywood blockbuster......I could have done so many things. But the year was lost so I did the decent thing and did nothing for the next year as I bemoaned my fate, to be 36 two years running!

A few years later and 'rebelote', as they say in France. I did the same thing. So now I've lost two years of my life.

Anyway, this year we're feeling the pinch a bit as the CH's last employer has failed to pay him. A minor oversight I know but not one they seem in any hurry to sort out. It would, of course, be churlish to 'name and shame' them and I'm far too mature to do that.

Bugger it, no I'm not! I lost two years of my life, does that make me two years younger do you think? Young enough to say GRAND PICTURES IN DUBLIN, you know who you are. Stop fannying around being media types and pay your poor freelancers or I'll put a hex on youse. An old Tinker's curse, so your Orla Kiely bags will turn to potato sacks and your account card at Brown Thomas will turn into a Netto storecard, you'll become invisible when you go to Lily's Bordello and Bono will forget who you are. Be afraid........ be very afraid.

So, no power tools for me this birthday or Christmas and the poor little offspring are really looking forward to their Christmas IOUs.

Anyway, it's great to have the CH back on the same landmass as me for a prolonged period. Ask me again in a month and I might be saying different. When you spend a lot of time apart you have to get used to each other again. He needs a gentle reminder that I watch every single property programme on the TV and that CSI is de rigeur (sorry, I'm letting myself down now!). That the world will keep turning if he misses an episode of 'Deal or No Deal' (I think it's his addictive personality that's responsible for his obsession with this dreadful show - given to us by the French actually).

But most of all he needs to know that adverts aren't evil and the homestead will not be permanently polluted by consumerism if he allows one to air. He has an almost bizarre (actually, there's no almost about it!) dislike of adverts and the minute they come on, he rugby tackles the 'holder of the remote control' (even though it's most likely him) and starts manically flipping through the channels. To be doubly annoying, he flicks through all the channels we can't even get so the TV shows a montage of 'You need to subscribe to watch this channel' and 30 second clips of the different programmes that are airing while we invariably miss the first few minutes of the next part of whatever we were watching. How can this be less annoying than adverts?

Answers on a postcard please.....!

Monday, November 24, 2008

(Totally) Lost in Translation

I thought I'd share with you some highlights of the rather charming French translation of our house details on the website of a supposedly bilingual estate agency. Read it and weep.........

"Pretty ensemble of properties of the stone well hidden near the end of a step through a road with little or no passage traffic"

So, now you know exactly where it is. On to the house...

"The house has three levels with a large attached barn, a charming gite (so far so good) and another stone building ideal for a artist of studio"

(uh, oh!)

"The business possesses equally two swimming pools and of about 1 hectare of gardens enclosed with two other distinct parcels of land close by ideal for holding up a horse or two"

Holding up a horse or two? Hmm, well I suppose you could prop up quite a few if you felt like it.

"Spacious and light 'L' in form of living room with good height under ceiling (insulated) and all is a grand room is very cosy and welcoming thanks to it's focal point which is the former fireplace with woodburner (written in English). The floor is former pine."

Former pine? Which makes it what now exactly? Chipboard, MDF...

"Dining room - I can vouch that this room has a lovely probably the feeling of being the heart of the house. A fabulous work fireplace is the focal point in cast iron with behind plaque, the renovation of the original tiles (word for roof tiles used) terracotta fired and two lots of french doors supplying lots of light at the same time at the front and at the behind which give access to a magnificent terrace for the lots of al fresco or to eat barely to sit and enjoy the view of big reach."

I'm all for lots of al fresco but what' this barely eating business?

"Access starting from this room to the former old original door. The stages e (don't know what the e is for) to the cellar and wine store with lots of space for stocking."

Hmm, it's that old 'former' business again. It's a minefield this French language! And lots of space for stocking. The CH will be pleased!!

"Kitchen with tiling and a half the walls of roof tiles, walls and floors cupboard (in English again) united and the windows in two parts providing again lots of natural light."

Tiling and a half? As in "Wow, that's tiling and a half!!" and the roof tiles on the walls, what a charming Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen type idea. But hey, it's great to know that it has walls, not to mention united cupboards.

"This bedroom has a gudgeon (the fish!) partition wall of the dining room and if desired could be open to provide a huge dining room kitchen."

Now, I've looked and looked and there are no fish in the stud wall between the kitchen and the dining room. I mean, I'd know wouldn't I? Wouldn't I?

"The bedroom of the master (don't tell the CH that. It'll go right to his head!) with wooden ceiling and in french doors giving access to the bathsroom which is very private and has lots of natural light thanks to it's windows to have three sides. "

"First floor with two double bedrooms of which two Velux windows and exposed beams and parquet floor."

Hooray! I almost understand what they mean!!

"Bathsroom with the quality of Villeroy & Boch, here including the bath accessories and more of shower sink and WC Velux lovely window and painted wood floor".

A WC Velux? Does it swivel or what?

"Guest chalet (Chalet? Chalet? My lovely 200 year old guest cottage?!) with the lovely by the slantwise of the lounge/dining room and kitchen with bread oven function of agreeable fireplace and two bedrooms a shower room and WC French window drive to a private garden with lifted up terrace."

First WC Velux, now WC French Window. This house is truly inspirational!

"Of gas the central heating is installed. This business is private together far from the main house and has it's own garden and swimming pool chlorine."

'Of gas the central heating is installed' - slight Wordsworthian overtones don't you think?

"The property has a good file in course of rental of which the owners would be happy to discuss with you (if we knew what you were talking about of course) .If you don't wish to rent the chalet he would be ideal for the individual property, either the parents or old people is all on a general level or for an enlarged living family"

Well, thank god they are living. The idea of my cottage stuffed full of cadavers is mildly worrying.

"Joined at the present is of property of another immense building at the front FACIA (hmm, no idea here!) of windows offering an airy bedroom and to have exposed beams and stone walls. This property could be stretched into the guests house or by default an autonomous gite in itself or a handsome artist's studio."

OK, I'll hold one end, you lot hold the other. All together now. PPPUUUUUULLLLLLLL!

"A lovely characteristic of the property is the gardens well stocked which offer a lovely selection of roses, lavatera, campsis, silk tree and Indian runner beans tree, the walnut, the ornamental cherry, the apple, the almond and the plum tree."

I love the Indian Runner Beans Tree. Is it perhaps a tree that grows ducks and beans together. It's practically a ready meal!

"The gardens surround the house totally and the gite offers a totally private space for the gite if you wished to take paying hosts this will not be an obstacle to your enjoyment of the the principal house or the reasons."

They used the word 'motif' meaning reasons/grounds as in grounds for divorce to mean grounds as in the garden. Heehee. It's a minefield!

"There are lots of secret idle zones far from the long hot days of summer. Long raised of bridge zone the houses of the second swimming pool which even has swimming"

A swimming pool with ..... swimming. Who'd have thought?!

So, any buyers then.......?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Come on baby light my fire....

I reckon I'm pretty good at lighting our woodburner now. I had a few dodgy moments in the early days with wood that was too green

"Mais bien sur, Madame, I cut the wood last year and it has been drying in my barn since then"

More like he cut the wood last week then left it out in a field a monsoon-type downpour.

And chucking a bit of paraffin on to get it going was not my cleverest idea.

WHOOOOOOOOSH! An almighty roar and the door flew open.

Flaming (literally) hell, it was like my own private 'Backdraft' !

This morning I was laying the fire ready for the evening. Lots of nice dry paper, some kindling and a few small logs and off we go. Easy peasy, citron, squeezy!

The newspaper was in short supply (since I've given up reading the odious British offerings) so I happened upon an old telephone directory. Perfect! Several hundred pages of nice flammable paper.

I started tearing it out and screwing it up.

"But Mum......" said DD

"Quiet dear, I'm busy".

I carried on tearing and screwing up.

"Ummm, Mum" she tried again

"Just a minute"

More tearing and screwing up.

"Muuuuuummmmm" she shouted finally, "That's this year's telephone directory".

"What? Oh don't be silly. Look, it says 2000 and...............8"


So, if you live in a village or town beginning with A,B,C or D, I won't be phoning you or at least not until after the delivery of the 2009 phone book.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Quote of the Day....

"Mme VliF, Mme VLiF, your dog is stuck to the door"

Yup, we're doing DIY again!


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm not a celebrity but get me OUT of here!

So, the 'Perfect Storm' came and turned into a bit of a damp squib and not even a whisper of George Clooney to make it worth my while.

When the CH suggested this mystical place 'Out' I stupidly believed the Wikipedia definition - and we all know that Wikipedia can't be trusted.

I was assured that I would go somewhere nice, have great adult conversation with my beloved CH, some delicious food and fine wine, then home and a long, long lie-in without the dear offspring making dawn raids of the duvet.

Well, we went to our village café which is indeed nice but it kind of stopped there. It became clear fairly early on that the point of going OUT was to give him a semi-legal way of catching up with his cronies without getting into trouble for leaving me home alone.

We got the offspring ready for their sleepover and I was looking forward to a nice long bath, a bit of primping and preening, a clean housecoat and wellies and a bit of slap. With minutes to go before he left to drop them off he called up the stairs...

"Are you ready then?"

"Ready for what?" I replied

"To go out"

"Erm, I thought we were going out later. It's only 6pm"

"No. Let's go now"

Ahhhh. He just wants to spend more quality time with me. I grabbed a clean housecoat (Kath Kidston for going out of course) and banged the mud off my wellies.

We dropped the kids off (slowing down just a little bit to shove them out of the car) then set off on our big adventure.

The café was heaving when we arrived, as you'd expect for a Friday night in a little French village in the autumn. We said 'Bonsoir' to the three people at the bar, Monsieur V, with whom I once had a very cerebral conversation about Molière, Monsieur C, fresh from working the fields and Monsieur J, always aimiable but usually drunk, then bashed our way through the crowd of...... OK, OK, there wasn't anyone else there. I'm just trying to make it sound more exciting!

CH ordered a beer and I had a glass of water. (I'm a really cheap date if anyone else wants to take me out!).

A few more people arrived but the trouble with the new No Smoking-in-a-public-place-unless- it's-the-Hotel du-Midi laws is that most people being smokers (The French haven't quite cottoned on to this lung cancer business) they stand outside. Me, I don't smoke and I'm not about to stand outside in the cold with them that do.

So that left me inside. Me and a man sitting next to me at the bar.

Well, when there's just the two of you you have to talk. It would be rude otherwise. Now I can usually chat to most people but........

Mme La Patronne had previously dropped into conversation that he was a Professor.

"So what are you a professor of?" I enquired politely

"Art" he responded monosyllabically while looking at me eagerly - and a little bit needily. I'd already noticed that he'd booked a table for one so he was clearly on his own.

"Oh really, and where do you teach?"

"I'm a professor. I don't teach, I profess"

I wasn't entirely sure if he was trying to make a joke or not. This was going really well..... not!

"So, where do you profess then?"

"University of XXXXXXX" he replied.

Oh yes, XXXXXXX Poly that used to be called. I remember doing a Humanities course there once. It was a memorable weekfor two reasons: my dog died and I learned how to say 'F**k Off' in sign language, a skill that has been put to regular use ever since.

"Oh right. And what's your discipline?" I asked, thinking that maybe I could wow him with my knowledge of obscure Irish art (some of which hangs on my walls) or even regale him with the stories of my Marky Robinson collection.

"Video art".

Bugger! What the hell's that?

I looked at him, he looked at me, I looked at him some more.

"I'm sorry but I don't have a clue what that is"

Here endeth the conversation.

"Your table is ready Professor S-J" called Mme La Patronne.

Phew. Saved!

The CH said he reckoned he was a most likely a janitor and not an artist. Still, it would have been rude not to Google him when I got home.

'Professor S-J', it said. 'Internationally renowned artist.......'

Maybe I should have tried harder!

So the evening wore on. The CH ordered more beers, then a carafe of wine. I sipped on my water (See, I really am a cheap date.....) and wondered when we might eat.

Mme La Patronne bought us the menu. Hey, things were looking up.

"It's our new one. What do you think?"

I think I'm so hungry I'm going to start chewing it very soon and by the way, it says November 2007 not 2008 at the bottom.

"Sound nice though" she said, politely prising it out from between my teeth, I was that hungry. Things are looking down again!

The CH retired outside for another cigarette but fortunately the Nutty Professor was engrossed in his meal so I didn't need to try and make polite conversation so I chatted with Mme la Patronne, discussed the new salsa classes that are starting in the village - Whohooo! and noticed a very drunk Monsieur J fall over quietly.

"I am living the Dream...... I am living the Dream....." I chanted silently to myself.

The CH returned.

"I hope you don't mind but I've volunteered you to take Mrs X to the doctor's tomorrow. She's got a 'women's problem' and she can't explain it in French. You don't mind do you?"

Great, this is going from worse to worserer still!

"No of course not". I smiled, always happy to help out with the old lingo, especially for Mrs X, a true delight, of whom I have fond memories of being the 'naughty girls' at the back of the French classes when I first arrived. "What time?"

"I think she said 9am".

There goes my lie-in. Still, I will, no doubt, be rewarded in heaven.

Eventually, the CH disappeared into the kitchen.

This is it! He's going to order something really special for us.

He returned a few minutes later clutching a cling-film covered ramekin.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Creme Fraiche. I thought you could make a pork strogonoff when we get home"

A hex on Wikipedia. If this is 'Out' then next time I'll stay 'In'.

So, who wants to come out with me next time?

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's not that easy being 'Green'

It's one of those once in a lifetime, rare, natural (or maybe unnatural), phenomena. A Perfect Storm of sorts.

The offspring are both on a sleepover tonight and the CH is on the same landmass!

"What shall we have for supper tonight, beloved?", I asked (because whatever it is, you'll be cooking it)

"I was thinking that as the children are away, perhaps we could go out" he replied

'Out? Hmm, what is this place 'Out'?"

I looked at him quizzically then rushed inside to consult the oracle.

I thumbed through the dictionary.

"M, N, O....ob......op.....ot.....ou........out. OUT"

Blimey, apparently it means that I leave the homestead after dark (and it's not to collect the offspring from one of their many social events) with the CH on my arm and we go 'somewhere' and be all grown up. Out.... we're going OUT!

How exciting. Where shall we go? Good point, where shall we go? Living in the deepest, darkest France Profonde and it being November, that's drastically reduces our options. No gourmet food markets where we can sit under the stars on a balmy night munching on some local delicacy (like the unmentionable parts of a goose) or going all 'foreign' with a Paella. No open air concerts around the lake watching shooting stars and listening to Country and Western, or maybe a bit of Country and Western, or even some Country of Western.

Still, our local cafe is open and it's also very good. Occasionally in these little villages you find something quite surprising, like a chef who trained with John Burton Race and worked for Rick Stein and at the River Cafe.

This is such a rare event that I shall have to brush up on 'things to talk about' but hey, at least I won't have to watch 'Children in Need'. I'm not being uncharitable. We always give money but do I have to watch it?

I've just checked the calendar of events and, thank goodness, they don't have a 'Soiree Anglaise' tonight. That would really finish me off. I shall report back later on the success, or otherwise, of this leap into the unknown.

In an effort to reduce our carbon footprint/electricity bill* (*delete as appropriate) I've replaced all our bulbs with energy efficient ones and even poor Prudence, our golden non-Retriever, is no longer allowed to have a nightlight on. She thinks she's afraid of the dark so think of this as aversion therapy.

The only trouble is that our light switches seem to be in the wrong place. Come bedtime, I have to turn off the light at one end of our lounge then make my way across the room to get to the bedroom. How difficult can that be, I hear you ask. Normally not very, but with the arrival of autumn and chilly nights all the livestock (chickens excepted of course) are now spread out on the rug in front of the woodburner, a living, breathing assault course.

On the first night of our new energy saving routine, I make a mental note of where each little body was before I switched off the light. Dark here is really, really dark. There's no light pollution to help you out.

Off went the lights. I negotiated the sofa successfully, before stepping into the void that is the rug in front of the woodburner.

Step 1 Miaaaaaooooooooo! Ooops, a tail

Step 2 Yeeeelpppp! Damn, that was the dog

Step 3 Oowwwwwouuuuuhhh! A hatrick!!

Three out of seven animals trodden on in under 10 seconds!

I've also invested in some Washing Nuts (quiet at the back!) Anyone tried them? I don't know what I was expecting, but they really are nuts. Brown, sticky things that stink of vinegar but apparently very 'green'.

For those that don't know about them you put a small handful in this little environmentally friendly unbleached cotton drawstring bag. Put in your washing then bury them in the middle, turn on and... voila!

Your wash ends, you spend 20 minutes searching around in your wet washing for the tiny drawstring bag mumbling "bugger this Green nonsense, next time I'm buying a big box of Fairy" (I've found our little bag under the washing machine, in the garden, in my knickers - not while they're on me of course) then another 20 minutes trying to prise open the wet drawstring bag - major design fault - to change the nuts. Exasperated, you stick the bag in the tumble dryer, thus cancelling out any benefit you've gained from using a 'green' alternative. Your average time spent washing has now increased by about 50% but at least you're saving the planet.

The CH is busily building an extension. Those that know him, pick yourselves up off the floor, it's for the chicken house. He busily sawing and screwing and even has a pencil behind his ear.

I built our chicken house out of reclaimed wood, (very green!), having baulked at spending 400 euros on a purpose built one. I mean, they're chickens for heavens sake. They don't stand around with their wings folded saying "well I'm sorry, but it's just not as des res as Martha's down the road", do they? (Do they?). It's the first thing I've successfully made since domestic science days at school - and thinking about it, my successes there were few and far between. I'd never get a job as a carpenter's mate and the slight Leaning Tower of Pisa effect probably can't just be put down to the slope in the garden but I was so proud of it that I even shed a tear.

Unfortunately, our chicken population has increased and so it's now time to build a small extension. It also had a couple of design faults in that the sliding panel at the back through which you collect the eggs, swells up in the wet and you can't open it to reach them. I had a mini EU egg mountain in there last week.

So, the CH drew up plans, discussed practicalities, site visits were made and eventually a design was agreed and approved. He's been working on it day and night (well, day at least) for two days now and it's nearly finished. Watch this space. (Not this one..... that one!).

Well, I'm going to sign off now. By the law of Sod, I have a nagging pain in my head, I'm typing words backwards and have the vaguely nauseous feeling in my stomach that often heralds a migraine. Just my luck. I want to go OUUUUUUUTTTTT!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Slugs and snails and nasty wiggly things

Well, my attempts not to chop wood until 2010 have come to naught and I was finally forced to swing my axe today (which is not secret expat code for something either sinister or sexual, despite the reputation our village apparently has for swinging - still waiting for my invite!!) .

Now, after a couple of years of practice I can swing an axe with the best of them. In fact, I was asked to appear on the documentary currently showing called 'Axe Men' but I thought it wouldn't be fair on the nutters, sorry, lumberjacks to show them up in front of their wives.

But I would challenge them to achieve what I managed today.

I brought up some old wood from the field to split for the woodburner. It's from an old elm tree that came down a few years ago. On closer inspection it was obvious why. It was covered in large oval shaped holes.

I placed my log in position, took a swing, nearly missed but managed to shave off a small sliver of wood. Sticking out from the very thin piece of wood was the biggest, yukkiest looking white grub I've ever had the misfortune to see.

Meet Hylotrupes Bajulus, otherwise known as the House Longhorn Beetle (not in my house mate!) or in France, a Capricorne (or he will be when he grows up, which of course he won't now)

Handsome fella or what? 'What', I'd say! He grows to a whopping 30cms and I'd say he was every bit of that, probably bigger, nearly a metre even (OK, so I exaggerate).

But what was really clever was that he was completely unmarked by his narrow shave with my axe. I mean, how brilliant is that. What an undiscovered talent! I'm like Annie Oakley with an axe!

(Sadly he fared less well when I fed him to M. Javel, one of our cockerels, who thought him a very tasty morsel indeed.)

Anyway, I've been on at the CH all day to let me try and 'chop' a cigarette out of his mouth but he won't let me. What a spoilsport but never mind, DD is currently strapped upside down to an old cartwheel and I'm going to 'chop' matches from beneath her toes blindfolded - me that is, not her toes. She's such an amenable child!

We have a lovely array of bugs here in the Southwest of France. There's Ammophila

or Thread Waisted Wasp

Then there's lots of these

The Praying Mantis (no-one's told him that France is now a secular country)

There's the very pretty Potosia Cuprea

otherwise known as the Rose Chafer, who flies drunkenly around, often crashing and landing upside down.

Really, the list is endless and fairly revolting. We have wasps that are big enough to carry off a small dog, big black bees and grasshopper that can run off with your dinner - and sometimes do!
(It's not very clear but he's running off with a bit of pasta!)

But at least we don't have this

Blattis Orientalis or 'THE COCKROACH'

Cassoulet Cafe has recently posted about her nasty Roach experiences which brought back some fairly horrible memories of my time in the Middle East, where Sheikh Blattis bin Orientalis was somewhat endemic.

Our weekly shop was not complete without several large cans of Raid Cockroach Killer. But did you know a cockroach can live for 2 weeks without it's head? What chance a mere can of noxious chemicals?

I remember a particular occasion, which I related to Cassoulet, when I went into my bathroom to see a pair of antennae emerging from the sink. I recoiled in horror and watched the biggest cockroach in the Orient climb out. He definitely was nearly a metre long.

I screamed for my flatmate. She recognised the 'Cockroach Cry' and came bearing Raid. We sprayed the beast liberally. He shrugged it off, mooned at us with his little cockroach behind, and shot across the floor and up the door jamb until he was hanging upside down over the top, effectively trapping us in the bathroom. We both screamed!

There was NO way I was going underneath him. I just knew he was waiting to drop down my neck the minute I ran past.

Bravely standing on the toilet, we sprayed him again. He laughed, stuck up two fingers and ran into the bedroom. We charged out of the bathroom and jumped onto the bed. We sprayed him again and he tried to climb onto the bed. We jumped up and down and screamed some more, until he gave up and headed for the hallway.

We cornered him by the front door and finished off the can of Raid, screaming as he ran round and round in circles. My flatmate ran for backup. More Raid appeared and we emptied a second can on to him. 20 minutes after our first meeting he was finally lying on the carpet, legs turned up, dead, most likely drowned rather than killed by the Raid.

Bang, Bang, Bang on the door.

We opened it to find the Police on the doorstep. Our neighbour had reported a 'domestic disturbance'! We showed them the corpse, hoping that we wouldn't now be heading for the Island Prison of the coast of Bahrain, where murderers often accidentally fall from the helicopter en route.

'He was trying to escape when he fell Sir'

'Really, that's the third this week. Wouldn't you think they'd learn?'

But my best cockroach story came from our neighbours, Drunken Eddie, the lovely Nick and Jerry of the Pink Pimpmobile. They really were the best neighbours. If I ever have time, I'll tell you about them.

Jerry found a cockroach in his bathroom. He sprayed it with Raid then, when it was looking faint, he picked it up and threw it down the toilet. Just to make sure, he sprayed more Raid down the pan. Now Jerry was an architect, but years of expat life (for that read alcohol abuse) had rendered him a little 'vague'. Relieved to have safely despatched the cockroach, he lit up a cigarette, chucked the match into the bowl and promptly blew up the toilet!

What a boy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sacré Bleu..... le couscous qui s'explose!

Phew, what a week! That's the last time I let my computer tell me what to do. It asked me to download Microsoft Service Pack 3 and instantly my whole computer crashed, everything from the mouse to the monitor. Quelle horreur! It's been as if I'm missing a limb.... me, who spends my whole time lecturing my dear curtainclimbers about the perils of too much computer use.

Anyway, with the help of a borrowed monitor and a spare mouse and thanks to the mysteries of System Restore, I'm finally back on line. Hallelujah!!

So what's new in VLiFWorld? Well, I spent a great half term in the UK with my lovely friends and family, got my hair cut at a half decent hairdresser (not a aubergine coloured head in sight) worshipped at the temple of Mammon which is The Bentalls Centre (who's credit is certainly not being crunched) and even survived two flights on RyanScare where my inflight needs were looked after by Agnecza, Szylvia, Evana and a motley crew of Eastern European slaves....sorry air stewardesses who have indentured themselves to the 'la raclure'*, Michael O'Leary. (ooops, another lawsuit!).

The CH is back on the same landmass and slowly working his way through a list of 'must do' chores, just in case he is spirited away at short notice. I'm determined to get through the winter without having to chop any wood. Ah, my needs are so small!

Despite a wet week (while we were away, whoohoo!) the temperatures for the past few days have been up to 19 degrees with sunshine - sorry to all those who had the horrible storms today. See, you need to buy my house and move out here.

But now we've returned to France so it's back to the important stuff..... exploding couscous.

Now, we all know that there's nothing the French, those guardians of culinary excellence, can't stick in a jar or a can - although Jaywalker has suggested cheese and to be honest I still haven't managed to find any tinned cheese and it's not for want of looking. But who'd have thought that a tin of couscous could turn you into some sort of French suicide bomber?

Apparently, cans of couscous sold under the brand name Garbit (garbage?) have been discovered to exhibit a 'phenomène de bombage' - what a lovely expression, even if you don't speak French.

On opening, it's been reported that the contents can shoot out, narrowly avoiding taking your eye out and liberally plastering your kitchen in coucous royal with chicken and spicy sausage. Strangely, the newspaper story was illustrated with a photo of an old man, shopping in his slippers and seems to have no bearing on the 'couscous qui s'explose' whatsoever - although it is of course very de rigeur in some parts to shop in ones pantoufles!

As a precaution, the manufacturer has recalled 80,000 cans of potentially explosive couscous as they don't want anyone to be injured 'even if you wouldn't normally open a jar where the security button has popped' said a spokesman.

Well, you wouldn't normally change a lightbulb while standing in a full bath but that didn't stop the French musician Claude François, who originally penned the song 'My Way', with the inevitable result!

* well.. what do you think this means?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

French toilets suck!

I'm so glad I pay French taxes because this has enabled the local council in Vileneuve sur Lot (yes, it should have two ls but it's so much more descriptive with just the one!) to carry out an enquiry into the state of toilets in the local schools.

Questions were asked, facilities visited and the results finally published.

Young children are afraid of falling down the squatty Turkish toilets.

Whaaat? They spent all that money and came up with THAT?!! But I could have told them for free!

The town council has promised to remove all these toilet from schools and replace them with the more commonly used 'sit upons' which hold less fear for the littlies. From here on, generations of English exchange students will no longer be able to chortle to each other and say 'you won't catch me using that thing' or 'well, which way do you stand then?' . A real piece of French life will be gone forever.

And I also think that it is overlooking the valuable additional facilities these toilets offer.

The Welly Washer

The flush on the toilets is often rather over-enthusiastic, given the space in which it has to work. Water cascades down from the high level cisterns and out through an angled pipe at the bottom, barely skimming the bowl of the 'squatter' before emptying over your shoes if you haven't moved quickly enough.

It's perfect for washing muddy boots after a hard day in the fields, rugby boots after a particularly muddy game and even school shoes if you are careful. From now on, irate mothers the length and breadth of the country will be heard shouting 'Oui, Jean Luc (or more likely these days Thibault-Christophe) get yer muddy boots out of the sink, I'm washing the lettuce for supper'.

Pre-Ski Fitness

So, you are looking forward to your annual week in La Mongie/Bareges/Bagneres de Luchon but after a soft summer swilling chilled rose wine and floating around on your blow up poolchair complete with convenient receptacle for holding you glass, let's be honest, the old muscles are a bit slack.

A quick search of the internet brings up a selection of pre-ski fitness exercises, using involving squatting down with you back pressed against the wall.

Come on, isn't it obvious? If you'd spent the year squatting in a Turkish toilet (OK, not the whole year, obviously) you'd have thighs like an England forward (Mmmmm!) a butt to match and you wouldn't spend the first few days rubbing Deep Heat into your overworked gluteous maximus - or even someone else's but then I guess that would be quite fun.


No, it doesn't mean that you can use a squatty toilet as a channel to the other side. This is the acronym (and boy, do the French love their acronyms!) given to games lessons at school.

Now, the French have never had a Conservative government to sell off their playing fields, so this is one thing we really can't blame Maggie Thatcher for. Most schools have little or no open spaces, no doubt because EU subsidies mean it's far more economically viable to plant wheat on any areas that could possibly be designated for school physical education and in any case, the relatives of Farmer LeBlanc, who's field abuts the school playground, are probably still fighting over their inheritance 35 years after his death, meaning that the local council has no chance of negotiating either purchase or use of the aforesaid land.

Still, there are the Turkish toilets...

How about this for a fitness regime. Each child must go into the toilet, lock the door, have a wee (or not if they don't feel the need), holding the squat position for a minimum of 30 seconds, pull the flush and get out of the locked toilet without getting their feet wet. You could work on it every week until the entire class can managed to stay dry. And, it would mean that the schools could keep the toilets locked all day (oops, apparently they do that anyway) to ensure cleanliness of the 'petit coin' as the little darlings would be able to have a pee during a supervised lesson thus avoiding the many hours the janitor has to spend cleaning spitballs off the ceiling and fishing the toilet paper out of the plugholes.

An invaluable aid to building up their speed and dexterity on the playing field - if they had any -but I'm sure it has some use during Greco-Roman wrestling, which fortunately they do fully clothed, unlike their Greco-Roman counterparts.

Jockey Training

The French like their racing as much as the next person. How about using the Turkish toilet to improve their position and balance? I can just imagine it.... a queue of French pixies in racing colours waiting to take their turn over the yawning abyss.

And finally.....

It's a useful tool against bullying because you really can't stick someone's head down the toilet and pull the flush. I don't know this for a fact as neither DD nor DS will volunteer however much I try to dress it up as a bona fide scientific study but just looking at the approximate dimensions, it would certainly be difficult.

Come on France! Think outside the box!

How is it though, that while many societies have evolved (except for the readers of Nuts, Closer and Heat magazine of course) French toilets actually have taken a step backwards.

For example, the personal privvy of Jean Sans Peur (John the Fearless), Duke of Burgundy in 1409, had a padded seat, was heated via a chimney and had a system of air circulation to combat odour. It had a 25 meter drop from his bowels to the bowels of his castle and the medieval septic tank can still be seen. It had a primitive filtration system which allowed liquid to run away and solids to settle on the bottom, to be removed from time to time by a Monsieur Fifi (honest, it's true!)

However, one has to feel a little bit sorry for the passenger on the TGV the other day who dropped his mobile phone down the toilet. In trying to retrieve it, he accidentally pressed the flush, which works on a suction system, and found himself with his arm firmly stuck down the pan. He had to be rescued by the fire brigade who had to cut the toilet out of the train and then remove him on a stretcher with the toilet still attached to his arm.

Silly man! Those of us in the know have always been aware that French toilets suck!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Une histoire anonyme.......

I heard a really funny story the other day but the person involved threatened to delete my blog if I wrote about it so I'm going to make it completely anonymous.

Once upon a time, there was a blogger who didn't live in France, didn't have a part-time husband and didn't have two lovely children - that bit at least is true!

The son known as The Blue One, who was nothing like his mother for getting caught undressed at inapproriate moments, hated using the toilets at his school so would always wait until he got home.

One day, his sister, known as The Pink One, suffered a monumental breakdown in communications which meant that he was delayed getting home while he waited for his sister's school bus in a little village that wasn't in Southwest France.

He told his mother that he was going to use the village toilets. He must have been truly in extremis to have even considered this option as the village toilets are notorious for being fly-infested, disease ridden holes in the ground, not to mention the fact that just getting to them requires belays and crampons, being as they are down a very narrow, steep track.

His mother carried on chatting to her neighbour who was also waiting for her daughter to arrive. After a quarter of an hour, The Blue One reappeared, walking strangely and announced he was 'going to the cafe' which isn't called the Cafe du Centre and isn't run by a Franco-Australian couple called Michelle and Jean-Marc.

Eventually, he reappeared looking a lot more comfortable. On the drive home, it transpired that the following had happened.

Using a convenient pair of crampons that he had secreted about his person, The Blue One had managed to reach the fly-infested, disease ridden toilets where nature played a cruel trick on him and he needed more than a No. 1. His first mistake was not to check for the (albeit unlikely) presence of toilet paper. The village toilet is generally cleaned once a year on the Maire's birthday at which time half a roll of toilet paper is also added to last until the following year. No self-respecting person leaves the house without at least two rolls of Charmin in her handbag, but having a complete flake for a mother, she had forgotten to impart this vital part of 'life in rural France' (where of course he didn't live) to him.

The deed being done, he looked around for the toilet paper, only to discover that there was none. A quick check of the pockets revealed them to be devoid of any useful bottom wiping equipment, so espying a conveniently large leafed tree, he waddled out of the toilet, trousers around his ankles, only to come fact to face with a couple of hikers.

Wishing them a cheery 'Bonjour' even though he didn't live in France, he grabbed a suitable looking leaf and waddled back into the toilet. Unfortunately, it being autumn, the leaf was a bit dry and not really 'fit for purpose' and promptly disintegrated in his hand.

A brief panic ensued before he decided that the only thing for it was to head to the toilet in the Cafe (why oh why didn't he go there in the first place?) while trying to ensure that there was minimal damage to the insides of his jeans. So, underpants half way down his thighs and hands in back pockets pulling jeans away from his posterior, he waddled up to the cafe which, in a miracle of 21st Century techonological development had both toilets you could sit on and a nice, soft roll of toilet paper.

Equilibrium restored!

This is, of course, a work of complete and utter fiction and any similarity to any person living, dead or soon to be dead (that'll be me!) is purely (un)intentional and just for the record, the photo shows a representation of a village toilet, not the real thing, as I wouldn't even consider entering it without full HazMat protective clothing that's of course, assuming I knew where it was....... which I don't.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gens d'armes and Scrumping French-style

With my Ma Chère Voisine complaining that she's disappearing under a huge mound of unused tealeaves because her dear neighbour (that's me) never has the time to pop round, I promised that I'd be there over the weekend, come what may.

When I arrived there were two gendarmes sitting on the terrace. Knowing my history with the local constabulary I assumed they had come for me. I thought I'd grab the taureau par les cornes and cut to the chase.

Bonjour, monsieur, madame, enchanté. Je suis la voisine de MCV. Je suis sûr vous me connaissez bien. C'est moi que vous arrêtez toujours.

Hello, pleased to meet you. I'm Ma Chère Voisine's neighbour. I'm sure you know who I am. You're always stopping me.

Je veux te faire savoir, par contre, que mes phares marchent bien, que j'ai pas de pneus lisses, que l'addresse de ma carte grise est à jour et j'ai mon gilet et mon triangle dans le coffre

I just want to let you know that my headlights work, I have no worn tyres, the address on my vehicle registration document is up to date and I've got my high visibility vest and warning triangle in the boot (apart from the last one, all recent misdemeanours for which I have been alternately warned/told to report to the gendarmerie/had to pay a fine.)

There we are. That should sort things out and save them getting up from their cup of tea. I consider standing up against a wall with my legs apart so they can frisk me but maybe that's a step too far.

Bah non. On est venu pour les balles.

Oh no. We've just come for the bullets.

MINCE ALORS. Je suis foutu.

Good gracious me, I've had it!

I thought guillotining was the French way? They've been practicing if for centuries. Even Anne Boleyn requested the services of a French executioner when she was to be beheaded. It's the firing squad for me apparently.

But no, of course not. Ma Chère Voisine had found a load of live bullets in her barn so they'd come to collect them for the démineurs (bomb/bullet disposal experts). Should you ever find live ammunition, just give me a call because I now know what to do with it.

Apparently old bullets, particularly if they've been lying on damp ground can become quite unstable so what you have to do is half bury a bucket in the ground, put the bullets in and cover them with another bucket. Then call the Gendarmes.

Me, I'll be legging it down the road screaming 'Run for your lives'. Sod the buckets!

I returned home looking like Waynetta Slob. I'd already gone out with my top on inside out, much to the chagrin of DD, who doesn't accept my plea of 'but this is the SouthWest, we shop in our slippers!'. Now it was liberally splattered with tomato pips from her delicious tomatoes, raspberry juice and clutching some strange spaceship like vegetable, the like of which I've never seen before.

On the way home I met J-P, a local farmer, who was scrumping. Of course scrumping French-style in October means lots of figs, big, black and juicy! There's a communal fig tree in the hamlet so (now clad in a thick cardi which I'd left at MCV's at an earlier date) we stood underneath it, passed the time of day and munched on as many as we could reach. I was probably the only person in the area wearing a heavy cardigan in 26 degree heat but while I don't mind looking like Waynetta in front of close friends and neighbours, J-P is on the village council and I didn't want to be an item on the agenda.

It might go something like this......

Numéro 5. L'habillement de nos voisins anglais (the dress of our English neighbours)

Tu connais Mme VLiF? Je l'ai vu hier. Son tenu était déguelasse?

You know Mme VLiF? I saw her yesterday and her clothes were disgusting.

Beh oui. Je le connais bien mais elle est normalement déshabillée.

Yes, I know her well but usually she hasn't got any clothes on !

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I've seen Debs Lehner's boufadou!

Back at home in front of the computer after a lovely day spent with the lovely Mme Lehner of The Lehners in France where I was honoured both to see her 'boufadou' (oooh, you dirty minded lot) and get a peep at the new blog. No, don't try to bribe me, wild horses would not drag anything out of me. Blogonimity must be maintained. We had a laugh looking at some or our favourite and not so favourite blogs, I met the full gamut of lame and sound livestock, had a lovefest with the gorgeous Sam (the horse) and went on the piste - not literally. I had the tour of the house, which is quite lovely despite being almost empty now, Mme Lehner has been a busy beaver, packing up ready for the big move.

I'm only sorry I met her two weeks before she's due to leave for the UK where she will be the one with pert breasts in her new, well fitting M&S bra while I'll still be boobling around in my French-made bustenhalter which is clearly not fit for purpose but I feel we've not seen the last of each other, indeed I hope not. We had loads in common and it was so nice to meet someone normal, no drink problem - at least not one she was admitting to, no desire to be 'more French than the French' and clearly a much loved member of the small rural community where she lives.

Spurred on by the lovely home-made bread Debs brought out for lunch (we both share a dislike of baguettes - give me appalling belly ache) and slightly embarrassed that I was so desperate for a pee that I didn't stop on the way home to buy any bread and cereals for DS and DD breakfasts, I decided to finally use that 'bread mix' from the German Deli (Lidl) which has been languishing in the back of the cupboard since my last 'I must be like my French neighbours and make my own bread' lapse. Fortunately, these lapses are rare because they invariably end in disaster.

Pour half the packet into a bowl, add 350mls of warm water and mix in a food processor for 4 minutes at maxiumum speed to make a nice smooth dough (it said in French)

How difficult could that be?

I rummaged in the back of the cupboard until I found my 1970s vintage Kenwood Chefette, bequeathed to me by a 96 year old former neighbour and the nearest you'll find to a food processor in my kitchen.

I duly poured half the packet into a bowl and added the water.

Within 30 seconds I had a revolting gloopy mess which had more in common with melted rubber than 'a nice smooth dough' and was busily wrapping itself around the whisks which were struggling to turn it.

The nasty burning smell which shortly emanated from the old Chefette was enough to convince me that it wasn't really up to the job and quite possibly, neither was I.

OK, time to resort to manual kneading which I vaguely remember from my home economics days at school.

I lifted the dough out of the bowl and tried to detach it from my hands. It wasn't playing ball. The more I tried to get it off, the more it stuck. What I need is more flour but how to pour it in when this godforsaken mess is still firmly glued around my fingers. I'll just have to do my best.

I picked up the packet and poured in more flour. That was the easy bit. Trying to put the bag back down was less successful. On top of the gluey dough I now had the bag of flour stuck to my hands. Time to try the CH's 'strudl pastry flick' (more on that later). It's all in the wrist action you know. A few sharp flicks and the bag detached itself and took flight across the counter spilling most of the rest of it as it went. The dough became marginally less sticky but still didn't look like a nice smooth dough. The more flour I added the more sticky the bag became, the more flustered I became........and then I got an itch on my nose. Why does this always happen?

"DeeeeeeESSSSSSS, DeeeeeDEEEEE, I need you!"

"Uggg" responded DS

"Whaaa" responded DD, neither making any attempt to help me.

Damn, I'll just have to scratch my nose myself. So now I have sticky bread dough up my nose and I'm going to....... to......... to....... SNEEZE. Not pleasant!

Eventually, with almost all the bag of flour added to my measly 350mls of tepid water I had something vaguely resembling a 'smooth dough'.

Time to put it somewhere warm to rise for half an hour. Blimey, in 30 minutes I could drive to the shops and buy a loaf of bread, but, not deterred I stuck it in front of the woodburner. Half an hour later, no change.

The instructions say I must now put it in a greased loaf tin and leave it to rise for another 45 minutes. Ah, that could be a problem. A loaf tin? Who do they think I am? Martha Graham? I find a brand new cake tin lurking in the cupboard. Must be one of the CH's purchases. There's no way I'd waste money on a cake tin. I mean, then I'd have to make a cake! Still, it will do.

Another 45 minutes later and a quick inspection reveals that it may have risen a millimetre or two. I seem to remember Debs wafting round the kitchen with a tray of very blousy dough. Still, she probably didn't buy a bread mix from the German Deli.

Into the oven at Gas Mark 4 for 60 minutes. 60 minutes? My oven has two temperatures. Off and Crematorium. If I put it in for 60 minutes it will be a charred, blackened lump. Let's try 25 minutes.

And, voilà, an almost perfect loaf of bread. Blimey, I'm going to change my name to Marie-Claire and buy a 2CV!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Le Retour de Stéphane et la tondeuse volante

Those of you who've been reading for a while will remember the shenanigans when the suave Stéphane came round to value the house and I was caught in a delicate position and my booty exposed.

Weeellll.... he's coming round again on Wednesday at 10am to take some more photos. So what I want you all to do is, wherever you are in the blogosphere, at 9.30am French time is to send me lots of telephathic messages to say 'Get your knickers on VLiF'. It'll be a bit like one of Uri Geller's worldwide cutlery bending extravaganzas except that we'll be willing my knickers into position rather than bending fork tines out of theirs. Don't forget. I'm relying on you all.

One more thing. Can you keep a secret? You mustn't tell the CH though. No, I haven't take a French lover. Blimey, talk about one track minds you lot!

You remember the lawnmower, the Green one. Well I was mowing the lawn yesterday and well, I did say it only has two speeds, MACH II and stop and I also did mention that our house is built onto the side of a steep slope. Well, the lawn goes right up to the edge at one point so you can guess what happened. The mower went over the edge in true 'Thelma and Louise' style, narrowly avoiding taking me with it.

I got it back up again. It wasn't easy and my back's a bit sore today but the lawn looks nice!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Autumn in the Seoune Valley

There's something rather magical and mystical about this time of year in our valley. The two little rivers at the bottom of the hill, coupled with the abudance of lakes, means that the valley is often shrouded in an early morning mist when I take DS and DD to catch the school bus.

On the plateau you can see for miles and miles and the chateaux and fortified villages hang above the mist like little islands.

Down below is a monochrome landscape of greys, blacks and blues and as the sun burns off the mist it's as if an unseen hand is slowly filling in the colours.

I go to the village shop for my morning croissant, often arriving before the boulanger's van, so I catch up the village gossip with Gilles and Sandrine who own the shop until the white van pulls up and we are hit by the glorious smell of fresh baked baguettes.

We're having the most glorious Indian Summer here in France. Day after day of cloudless skies, temperatures in the mid 20s with a gentle breeze, chilly nights drinking hot chocolate on the terrace and watching the stars. You can see the Milky Way here and there's nothing better than lying on your back watching the millions and millions of stars. I'd never seen a shooting star till we came here but now, on a clear night, if you watch carefully you might see half a dozen. I've wished on so many of them but so far that Euromillions win has remained illusive! No seriously, I always wish for world peace!

The trees are all putting on their autumn colours and the woods are a riot of reds, lime greens, brown and oranges. The plane trees that line the road, with their exzemaic trunks, turn the most glorious colours in October.

Our little departement, created by Napoleon himself, is without doubt, the most lovely in France. I've travelled all over and found nothing to rival the beauty of the undulating hills, ancient oak forests and lake filled valleys. Sometimes I stop on the hill down from the village just to take in the view. It's truly uplifting. Many times I've tried to capture it's beauty on film but it's just too big and too wonderful to do justice to it.

It always amazes me that so few people have even heard of it but on the other hand, it means that in the summer we arevnever overrun with tourists like the Dordogne and the Charente. It's known by the discerning few who return year after year and our little village café with a reputation that spans continents, is bursting at the seams with a multitude of different nationalities all chatting away in a maelstrom of languages, sipping chilled rosé or thick, dark coffee.

In the fields, the farmer are busy, working late into the night harvesting the maize while the droopy-headed sunflowers finally give up their seeds. Then it's clearing and ploughing ready for the spring sowing when once again the fields will be filled with yellow rape, golden corn and a multitude of sunflowers.

Wherever we end up, our house and our little valley will have left an indelible mark on my heart and the last time we drive down the hill, past the pond and the gurgling waterfall, past the buzzards who regularly fly down with us, past the deer grazing in the fields, will be bitter-sweet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My name is.....

DD called me from her school trip to Arcachon where they eventually arrived. The coach, booked to leave collège at 6.45am on the dot finally showed up at 8.15am. I'm soooo glad I got up at 5.30am so she'd get there on time. She's having fun, having climbed up and rolled down the Dune de Pyla several times. This is the biggest sand dune in Europe.

They are staying at a place run by the nuns of St Vincent de Paul and so far haven't been beaten (as I told her they would be) or fed drugged spaghetti bolognaise (as DS told her they would be). When he stayed there he said they were given the most disgusting spag bol ever but they couldn't stop eating it. Proof positive that it was drugged apparently! She also reports that the nuns liked her nun jokes.

"Which ones did you tell them sweetypie", I asked nervously.

"Just the 'what goes black/white/black/white/black/white? A nun rolling down a hill. What goes black/white/haha? The nun that pushed her' one. "

Oh god, she's clearly inherited her mother's predilection for inappropriate comments! I can't pass a nun without swearing or blaspheming, neither of which I normally do. It's just something about being in the presence of one that sends it spouting forth from my mouth.

And not many can claim to have insulted a veritable British institution. I remember having lunch in the restaurant at Shepperton Studios while a certain Michael Caine was filming the Muppet Christmas Carol.

"God, how far has his career gone down the toilet? He's reduced to acting with puppets!" I pronounced loudly, swinging back on my chair and catching the one of the man sitting behind me.

"Oh, sorry.............Mr Caine"I apologised, red faced, and withered ever so slightly under the force of his glare.

"Do you think he heard me?" I whispered to my fellow diners.

They nodded in unison.