Monday, February 23, 2009

Stoopid things.....

For a few days now, a noxious odour has been emanating from the Grand Gasguzzler. Considering that it's little more than a dustbin on wheels at the best of times, noxious odours are not uncommon. But this was really noxious... stomach-churningly, dry-heavingly noxious.

"Vile smell in the Gasguzzler" commented the CH. Nothing gets past him you know!

No amount of window opening and letting the fresh air rush through seemed to help.

"Maybe it was something I'd driven through (or over) " I mused.

Eventually, I decided that there was nothing for it but to take a short trip to the Lavage and give the Gasguzzler a thorough going over.

The CH doesn't like me wasting money on the car wash when he thinks that I could just as easily wash the car in the driveway. As if....! Washing the car is only marginally less hideous than doing the ironing.

The Grand Gasguzzler is, of course, far too large to go through the automatic car wash so it has to be done in a jet wash. In a slight nod to his wish to economise, I've now got it down to a fine art and, like a whirling dervish, I can pre-wash, wash and rinse for about 3 euros. It's quite a good workout too as I have to do it at a run but I do also occasionally wash the person in the next bay in my hurry to get a pre-wash and wash out of a euro.

So, washed and worked out, I parked up by the vacuum cleaners to give the inside a good old clean. Now, I've been known to have so much crap on the floor of the car that I've actually burned out the motors on these industrial beasties in the past so I always park carefully betwixt two vacuums, just in case.

First job was to throw out all the accumulated rubbish and try to locate the noxious odour. The wash had done nothing to lessen it so everything was pointing to something inside the car.

I emptied out the boot, stacked up the 7 coats I found in the back, collected up assorted sweet wrappers and empty drink cans - soft drinks ladies, in case you were going to ask - and dumped them. But hang on..... what's that stuffed underneath the back seat?

Bloody hell..... it's DD's dead hen!

And then it all came flooding back.

Poor Rietta (Hen-Rietta. Get it? Oh never mind) shuffled this mortal coil several days ago, much to the distress of my poor sensitive child. Now, you can't flush a chicken down the loo and in a moment of weakness I promised DD that I would give Rietta a proper burial. All very well, but we live on ground so rocky that growing potatoes needs the services of a mini-digger. The chances of excavating a suitably large hole for Rietta were about as likely as, well, slim to say the least. I had visions of poor Rietta's little body dug up by foxes and other assorted vermin, not to mention Prudence the Golden non-retriever, who makes up for what she lacks in retrieving skills with her digging abilities. The Somme-like look of parts of the garden is testament to that.

Being the terrible mother I am, I made a grave-like thing in the flower bed with a little handmade cross and told (alright, lied to) DD that that was the lasting resting place of her lovely French hen.

Meanwhile, Rietta was rather unceremoniously chucked in a plastic bag (after a short eulogy of course) and stuffed under the back seat for disposal next time I drove past the bins.

Only trouble is... well, I've got a brain like a sieve at the best of times and, well, I .... sort of forgot.

So there was Rietta decomposing nicely in the back of the car and emitting some fairly foul (or should I say, fowl) odours. I have to admit this isn't a first for me. I was once given a brace of pheasants for my mother which I put in the boot of my old mini, only to find them a week later, crawling with maggots.

Still, there was nothing else for it, I picked up Rietta's putrid remains, slung them in the bins a drove off pretty sharpish.

Well come on, what's a girl to do?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Awards Night

And you thought that only the Brits were on tonight!

Many thanks for Shakespeare's Housekeeper for this lovely lemonade award....

and to Debs Lehner very belatedly for this award.....

You are all far too kind.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The day we ate Bambi and Babe

Sunday was our annual 'Repas de la Chasse' or 'Hunter's Lunch' where the good hunting folk of the village share their bounty with those of us who have spent the past few months ducking at the sound of gunfire and wondering whether Helmand Province would be any quieter.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the chasse. Love them when they are hunting a long way from us and hate them when they are hunting on our hill - which fortunately isn't too often. But hey, Napoleon gave them the right to hunt so who am I, a mere immigrant and a woman to boot, to tell them they can't?

My lovely parents sent the CH some money for us to go out for a meal to celebrate his recent half-century, having extracted a promise from us not to spend it on paying bills.

It being the CH's birthday, I imagined a lovely diner à deux at our favourite restaurant, La Maison sur la Place, or perhaps even a family meal at our own Cafe du Centre but no, the CH chose the Hunter's Lunch at our local village hall. Soup, four courses of meat and finished off with cheese and a pastry - it's a bloke thing!

"We're going out for lunch on Sunday" I announced to the offspring, working hard to maintain my smile

"Yippeee!" they shouted in unison "Where are we going?"

"The Hunter's Lunch" I replied brightly.

"Ah, actually I think I'm busy" said DS.

"You're only 13," I replied "What could you possibly be doing?"

"My homework"

DD was marginally more cheerful about it.

"Well, it is Dad's choice as it's his birthday.... but I'm NOT eating Bambi.... or Babe".

Never mind, I thought. There's always the cheese.

So Sunday midday found us spruced up and ready to go. Usually they bung all the English people together but being a last minute booking we were on a nice mixed table of ver pleasant French, Dutch, a Pole with a squeaky voice and a mad Belgian woman.

DS sat down and immediately plugged in his iPod flicked his long hair over his face and looked about as approachable as a Grizzly bear with an ingrowing claw

"It's like a day trip from the Maison de la Retraite (Old People's Home)" he moaned. "There's no-one here under a 100"

"Well I'm here", I joked but he just looked at me with a 'see what I mean' sort of stare.

To be honest though, he did have a point. The younger set were markedly absent this year. I wonder why?

DD, knowing that she was in for 5 hours of meat, primarily Babe and Bambi who's remains she had sworn not to eat, was at the bar troughing down plates of crisps and bemoaning the lack of children.

Replete, she returned to the table to try and find a way to entertain herself for the next 5 hours (Yep, that's how long it takes). She found it

The first course arrived.

Soupe de Gaston. I don't know who this Gaston chap is but it's about time he learned to make another soup because this recipe is getting a bit tired. It's a funny mishmash of garlic.... lots and lots of garlic.... baguette and Emmental cheese. It's quite nice but always lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

"Pipi de Chat" (Cat's piss) announced La Belge Folle, tipping the remains of hers back into the soup bowl. Ah ha, things were looking up!

She introduced herself as Pia.

"I'm not French" she said firmly "I'm Belgian".

We did our introductions and I apologised for the fact that the CH speaks little French.

"Ah, but you speak it very well" she said "you can translate".

The second course arrived.

Endive Salad with Roquefort and Walnuts. Very nice, but I'm afraid I can't even look at an Endive these days without thinking of Jaywalker and all the wonderful things she manages to carve from them.

"So, why did you move to France?" asked La Belge Folle. Hmmm, a question I often ask myself but I vaguely remember it was do with a change of lifestyle, leaving behind the rat race, hamsters on wheels running like buggery and not getting anywhere.

"How about you?" I enquired.

"My health. I have very bad asthma. Hate the bloody French though"

I looked round nervously but fortunately all our other French neighbours were deep in conversation and seemed not to have heard.

"More wine?" suggested the CH (To her, not me)

DS was, by this time, sitting with his hood up.

"Soup was revolting. Don't like endives" he said before returning to his music.

This was going really well.

The third course arrived.

Paté de sanglier (boar) and bread.

"Bambi or Babe?" demanded DD

"Babe", I sighed.

She pushed it to one side.

The waiters came round with paté de chevreuil (venison)

"Let me guess... Bambi" she said.

"Uh huh".

She pushed it to the other side.

"So do you like living in France?" asked La Belge Folle.

"Well yes" I answered.

"But they are such peasants round here. Look, they even make us eat off the same plate. It's like going back to the dark ages. Belgium and the UK are such modern countries. Why is this place so backward?"

I looked around nervously but she seemed to have got away with it again.

"More wine" asked the CH.

I kicked him under the table.

The fourth course arrived

Daube de sanglier which is boar in a very rich red wine sauce. I was starting to flag.

"Bambi or Ba...."

"Babe" I said, pre-empting her.

I reminded her how much the tickets had cost and how it would be really nice if she'd eat something.

A Dutch friend appeared and suggested a quick walk around the village to let our food settle. Great idea! We had a nice walk and a chat. It was lovely day, clear blue skies but cold, cold, cold. I asked where here daughters were.

"Oh, they hate going to a repas only slightly more than they hate going anywhere with us. It's great that you've still managed to get yours to come"

I thought back to DS sitting at the table with his earphones on and his hood up - a picture of adolescent ennui - and DD resolutely refusing to eat anything that had previously walked this fair land and smiled weakly.

Back at the hall, the fifth course had arrived.

Saucisse de chevereuil (venison sausage) and flageolet beans.

"It's Bambi before you ask" I said to DD.

In my absence the CH had clearly been regularly refilling the glass of La Belge Folle, who had developed a bit of a list in his direction and her previously impeccable French was starting to show signs of it's Flemish roots.

"So whydya bring your kids to France for? There's nothing for them to do here"

DS nodded emphatically.

"Yeah, it's sooooo boring"

He's not even 2 months into teenagerdom and already he's got it down to a fine art.

"I'll tell you what. I live near the town so you can come and stay with me and I'll take you out to all the hotspots. I've got three bedrooms and two extra beds"

DD looked faintly worried. "Do we have to go, Mum?" she asked under her breath.

"Gosh, that's a kind offer" I said thinking if you think I'm going to entrust my darling offspring to you then you must be, well, mad or even well mad!

"Have another drink" suggested the CH.

By now he'd knocked back so much himself that his shins were anaesthetised.

Course number six arrived. Hooray..... cheese!

I've never been so pleased to see a piece of brie in my life.

"Neither Babe nor Bambi so EAT it!" I told DD.

By now La Belge Folle was starting to slide off her seat. She and the CH were giving each other mutual language lessons. I think it's fair to say that his Flemish and her English have made little improvement.

Enfin, the end was in sight. One more course to go and, assuming La Belge Folle didn't get us killed by the local populace that she was declaiming so loudly, we were on the home straight!

"Your kidzaneyer gonna have sush a lotta fun" she slurred.

"Muuuuum, do we HAVE to go and stay?" DD whispered

Time for some fun...

"Bah oui, cocotte. The nice lady has offered so it would be rude to say no!" I answered

She shot me a look of pure horror, mentally recalling the number of Allo Enfance Maltraitée (French equivalent of childline).

"Have another drink" said the CH, helpfully.

I smiled back sweetly.

I ate my brie (with knife and fork, French-style, bien sûr) and looked forward to the arrival of....

The LAST Course

A slightly dry looking sacristan (a sort of twisted pastry thing) was thrust in my hand along with a cup of steaming, stomach stripping black coffee (I'm a sissy latte girl, me) . We'd done it. We'd completed the 2009 Repas de la Chasse.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In La France Profonde no-one can hear you scream!

I'm sitting here on a windy, rainy night babysitting for the lovely guests in our cottage, Rob and Heather, and their gorgeous little girl Amélie.

Now before you start debating the relative merits of leaving your most precious possession with someone who regularly exposes herself to the local population, I should say that this is the first time ever I have babysat for any of our guests. Thing is, they are so lovely, and also expecting another baby and I know myself how precious time together is. So, here I am.

I've not really spent an evening in our cottage before and while I'm very used to all the creaks and groans and wildlife running about on the roof of our house, I'm not used to it here. Consequently I'm a nervous wreck! The rain is battering the roof, the wind is lifting the roof tiles and I'm sure I keep seeing someone looking through the windows out of the corner of my eye. Every few minutes I'm jumping out of my skin 'Wassat?', 'Wassat?'.

It's just occurred to me that..... in La France Profonde, no-one can hear you scream! (in a miracle of comic timing, Rob and Heather walked through the door at the exact moment I typed that resulting in my literally jumping a foot of the sofa. Rob professed it to be an impressive jump!)

I could be bludgeoned to death, chopped up into small pieces and fed to the chickens (mine having confirmed cannabalistic tendencies) and no-one would know.

Eventually when the children ran out of bread and cheese for their toasties they may possibly wonder where I am before returning to the computer/Wii/TV/reading a book.

The CH might eventually ask 'well where is Mum then?' but by that point I'll have been recycled by the chickens, probably in large blobs all over the terrace for prospective house buyers to slip over in.

Anyway, apart from angsting about whether or not I'm going to end up as a statistic (probably the only one actually) in the local crime survey, it's given me an opportunity to watch French TV.

We have UK TV in our house but we've never bothered to install a satellite dish at the cottage so it only has French TV.

Well, what a cultural feast I was rewarded with. I thought it would be hard to find worse TV than we have in the UK (except for anything the CH makes of course) but I can tell you, it won hands down.

I watched two episodes back to back of a CSI type copy which was so plagiarised as to be almost litigious then a bizarre thing called La Methode Cauet, a sort of poor man's Friday Night with Jonathan Ross but with a talentless bald man who's idea of 'funny' was to dress up as a woman and do an out of tune duet with the winner of Star Academy. Could this really be the same country that has the Académie Française to safeguard the French language and stop all these 'infernale' English words slipping in? Could it be the same country that produced Satre, Zola, Daudet and Molière? I think their problems lie much closer to home!

Even better, if you go onto the show's website you can leave a message. At the moment the only 'commentaire' is the address of a porn website!

But the worst thing was the colour of the guests. I've never seen so much orange in one room since the last X Factor auditions! And to make it worse, they sat with their backs to the audience who all looked to have the general pallor of microwaved sausages against their celebrity ubertans.

At one point I thought I might even have slipped through a gap in the space/time continuum and ended up in the 1980s such was the over application of hair gel by the men and the big hair of the women.

It was truly, truly awful but sadly like car crash TV so you just had to keep watching... and watch it I did!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Another year passes....

I meant to post this on the 26th of January, the anniversary of our arrival in La Belle France but the great god EDF had other ideas, so, a bit late but as they say, better late than never.

Actually, looking back over the years 26th January has often 'not been a very good day'.

January 26th 1996 - house was burgled

January 26th 1997 - bag stolen in Woking with car keys and house keys in it.

January 26th 2007 - CH made me drive to Toulouse so he could catch a flight back to the UK. It had snowed solidly for two days and with a paucity of grit and snow ploughs, it made for a hairy time

January 26th 2009 - Day 3 of Tempête-imposed black out and SERIOUS BAD HAIR DAY!

Hmm, I'm starting to see a pattern here.

Anyway, back to my story.

On January 26th 2004, after 3 months of living with my parents, which was probably only marginally more traumatic for them than it was for me, we packed the Grand Gasguzzler, bought specifically for this journey from e-Bay, and set off for our new life in La Belle France.

We waved goodbye in brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies for the short journey to the Eurotunnel. The new in-car DVD player worked a treat, the children were happy, the CH and I were excited and all was well in our little Universe.

A short hop under the Channel and we arrived in..... Narnia (but without Aslan and the prerequisite wardrobe). Calais was submerged under a thick blanket of snow, the roads were practically impassable, lorries were jackknifing left right and centre and thus began my long love affair with Meteo France.

We'd planned to stop around Orleans and had booked into a nice looking hotel run by an English couple so we slowly inched our way down the autoroute, wondering as we went where the gritting lorries were. Oh, the naiveté! Outside of a ski resort you'd be lucky to find one, but of course we didn't know that then. It was also my first introduction to the quaint customs of 'pipi à la français', or open air peeing - by the men of course. More than once, whilst stuck on snow bound motorways, we were treated to the man in the car in front nipping to the side of the road (if we were lucky) and making yellow snow.

'Ohmigosh', proclaimed DS loudly, 'you'll NEVER catch me doing that'

'YUCK' shouted very proper DD.

Eventually, many, many hours late, we limped into the car park of the hotel we had booked.

"Hello" said M. le Patron "who are you?"

"Ah", I answered. This wasn't looking good. "We are La Famille VLiF. We have a reservation".

"Yes, for tomorrow night". Bums, after all that, we were early!

"Surely some mistake" I said but he brandished my e-mail reservation which clearly stated that we had booked for the following night. The thoughts of having to take to the road again in the freezing cold and find another hotel were almost too much to bear.

"Well, I do have two rooms but they are not interconnecting as you requested" said M. Le Patron

"That'll do" I said, rather too hastily. "We'll just get our things".

"In the meantime" he said kindly "let me get you a drink. You must have had a hellish journey"

"Oh how kind," we said placing our drinks order. Had we known that he'd charge us Mayfair prices, we might have thought again.

So, duly checked in, we settled down in the bar while he plied us with drinks and peanuts and we consulted the menu for our evening meal.

The rooms were comfortable enough and we slept well, despite the appalling smell of glue coming from a room next door which had just been fitted with a new carpet.

The next morning, we got up early and had a nice continental breakfast, packed up and got ready for the second leg of our journey. While I loaded up, the CH paid the bill. He returned to the car looking faintly pale and sweaty.

" The bill was over 300 euros for 10 hours in his bloody hotel. Every single last peanut he offered us was charged for, the miserable git"

The remainder of the journey was uneventful, unless of course you count the suicidal bird that wandered into the fast lane of the motorway a few metres in front of the car and the suicidal man trying to throw himself off one of the huge viaducts in Correze. Maybe I should have seen it as a sign.

Eventually shortly after dark, tired and hungry, we arrived at our rented house. We'd rented it through the estate agent we were buying the house from. She'd shown us round a half finished house with a garden of mud and a large concrete hole where the pool was going to be.

"Don't worry, it will all be finished by the time you arrive and we'll have it fully furnished" she said cheerily, so imagine our surprise when we pulled into a half finished house with a garden of mud and a large concrete hole where the pool was going to be.

"The key will be in the postbox and I'll put the heating on" she'd told us the day before. Only problem was there was no postbox. Surmising that the lump under the doormat might be said key, we had a quick look and there it was. Hallelujah! (the Leonard Cohen version by the way.... I'm a purist!)

We went inside what was to be our home for the next three months. Now this really was like Narnia.... bloody freezing! 'The heating' turned out to be one small panel radiator to warm (or rather not) this cavernous room.

"Where are the lights," shouted the CH who had started unloading the car. I turned them on and went to explore.

"You're not going to believe this", I shouted to the CH. "There are only two beds"

"But there's four of us..." Well yes I know that!

"Never mind, we'll double up for tonight".

"You're not going to believe this", I shouted to the CH "There are no cupboards in the kitchen".

"Oh bloody hell... well, while you're there, put the kettle on"

"You're not going to believe this", I shouted to the CH, "There's no kettle".

"Well use a saucepan then" he replied.

"You're not going to believe this....."

"Well what the hell is there then?"

"Err, there's a gas hob" I answered


"Err, that's it"

"Right, get me the bloody agent's phone number"

He's usually a calm sort, the CH, but he wasn't a happy kangaroo at this stage.

After a terse conversation with the agent, who apologised profusely and explained that there inventory lady had been ill, more stuff was promised for the next day, including extra beds.

We slumped down on the sofa and took stock of our surroundings.

"God, it's arctic in here. Shall we turn on the other heaters?" asked the CH.

I contemplated the blackened, frostbitten ends of my fingers and agreed that this would be a good idea.

So, on went the one in the bathroom and the one in the bedroom....... and off went the power. We found the fusebox and reset the trip switch.

On went the heating, off went the lights. So, we can have heat or light but not both. Evenutally, after several goes of trying different combinations of light and heat, the power went off for good.

In desperation/frustration/depression we decided the only thing was to go to bed. Which we did... all in the same bed and fetchingly dressed in hats, coats and gloves. It really was that cold! (6 degrees we later discovered).

The next day, we were roused from our near cryogenic state by rays of wintry sun streaming through the window. We hacked off the icicles and got up to have a better look at our surroundings.

The view from the windows was stunning, although having to chip off the ice from the insides of the glass spoilt it a bit and chattering teeth made it hard to hear the birdsong.

A knock on the door heralded the arrival of 'the inventory lady' with extra beds, a kettle and some saucepans. Sadly, no oven or microwave was forthcoming.

We explained the problem with the electricity and she promised to get someone round to look at it and true to her word, within half an hour, a lovely man with a big droopy mustache (who unknown to us would eventually be our next door neighbour) and a big smile was on the doorstep brandishing his toolkit.

I tried to explain in my best rusty French what the problem was but I hardly know my disjoncteur from my fusible in English, never mind French, it took a while. Eventually he understood what I meant and showed me where to find the main junction box. Outside in the garden on a lamp post. Of course! Silly me. How could I not have thought to look there? He fiddled around a bit (in a manner which I worried was totally illegal!) and the power came back on.

He promised me everything would be fine now and true to his word, we could have light and heat at the same time. Result!

The lounge had the biggest stone fireplace I'd ever seen so that seemed like a good bet for extra heat. We phoned the estate agent again who confirmed that the fireplace was working and even sent someone with a pile of logs for us.

Having managed to heat the house up to a heady 9 degrees, we couldn't wait to get the fire going. Now if there's one thing I know how to do, it's how to lay a fire. I just knew it would come in useful one day.

Fire duly laid, I struck a match and lit it. Within minutes the house had filled up with thick smoke. We opened all the doors and windows to let it out and with it the little bit of heat we had built up. After a while, the smoke subsided a bit and while it was always a pretty smoky fire, it did give off a bit of extra warmth.

DS, while out shopping, once commented "Isn't it strange how everywhere smells of woodsmoke?"

"DS, I think you'll find that it's us!" I replied.

So that was home for the next three months during which time our savings ran out, the CH had to return to the UK to work and we managed to heat the house up to a tropical 15 degrees!

Ahh! Living the dream!