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?