Sunday, November 25, 2007


The signs of advanced middle-age (at 54) can no longer be ignored. I've started wearing my reading-glasses on a string, and DON'T CARE. And I've been rapturising all week about my latest clothing purchase - a Pair of Comfy Slippers. (Look - my Betty Boop feathery ones just weren't sensible, OK? - I kept tripping over them).

And I've started referring to anonymous people on the end of the phone as "bloody twelve-year-olds" - irrefutable evidence that I'm a grumpy old sod.

But is it always without reason?

We had a letter from our bank in London this week saying they'd tried to contact us without success and could we phone them as soon as possible. (Posted, however, with a second class inland stamp and therefore five days old).

Card theft? Identity theft? God! Would there be anything left? We phoned immediately to try and save the dregs, to be greeted by a chirpy adolescent from Eastenders saying "Oh, hello Dolores, just a review really - d'you think you could pop in, Dolores? Ooooh, yeees, the address is in France, isn't it? What's the weather like there, Dolores?..."

It gladdens the heart, doesn't it, to know that one's diminishing dosh is in the hands of such dynamic brains?

Luckily my brain is too addled to worry.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Travels with my Hedgehog

The garden is eight feet deep in beautiful orange leaves at the moment. Forging his way back through them from the log shed last night, George noticed that not all the grunting and snuffling was coming from him. (Most of it was). But the leaves under the kitchen window were undulating in an interesting manner; a nearby cat shot inside instead of taking a swipe, and George realised it was a Busy Little Hedgehog.

What a delight - it was almost humming to itself as it grubbed about. We couldn't help shining a torch to get a better look, and it froze immediately into "you can't see me now so just bugger off" position. So we did.

To ponder upon the rich pageant of life's creatures to be found in the garden, and the even richer one to be found above our bedroom ceiling, now that the summer hornets have died off.

We were sorry when their jolly buzzings declined, and absolutely horrified one day in October when half a cup of reddy-brown goo seeped through the ceiling, right above my pillow. What the hell was that? Redundant honey, overflowing latrine, mass liquefaction?

After half a second's deep reflection we decided to block up the crack and try not to think about it, and I think the bundle of camel-printed kitchen towel and shiny brown parcel tape looks Very Stylish.

Since then though, night-time is rave-time up there. Whatever it is that has taken over the roof space hurtles from one side to the other, scrabbles against the walls and seems determined to dig through the ceiling and leap on top of us.

We cannot tell the size - it sounds like a mouse, a squirrel or a vampire depending on how carried away it's getting. If we peer in through the old hornet entrance outside, we see nothing but blackness.

What can we do? When the noise wakes us up and gets too scary, George gives the ceiling a jolly good battering with a big stick and all goes quiet. For a moment. And then it starts again... just a tiny tiny scratching at first, then more enthusiastic, then quite frenzied, and then George bashes the ceiling again until it gets bored.

I can't help dwelling on all those creepy stories about blood oozing through walls and hearts beating under floorboards... but I suppose it's more likely to be a poor little critter who accidentally got in and would like to go home. Probably.

Why can't all creatures be Hedgehogs? Think I'll go and put some apple down for him.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ode to Winter

Good heavens, it's two months since I last blogged - why? No idea - just Stuff. And sloth...

Anyway, I'm inspired by the fact that the clocks go back tonight, and that this special time of year was celebrated by someone else this morning on Radio 4's Saturday Live - another person who prefers the winter - it was thrilling!

She, too, likes the freshness, the cosy dark evenings, the roaring fires, the comfy winter food. I wanted to marry this woman, I felt such an empathy. In fact, in my excitement I even emailed the programme (fruitlessly, but they sent a very nice acknowledgement and maybe they'll read it next week).

I love autumn for its colours and my birthday. I love winter for its beautiful skeletal trees and the respite from gardening, and the fact that I've just had a clear view of a squirrel bouncing joyously around our grass collecting nuts. (Although as George remarked, he was probably tired and hungry and thinking "Why do they never have pecans?")

Winter is so much more energising! You can wear big coats and strange hats and eat dumplings. You can dress up for Halloween parties, and make Guys and Bonfires and Rich Ginger Cake.

It's wonderful to take a hearty long walk, and to come at last upon the warm amber welcome of indoors from the freezing darkness of outdoors. Then to shut the shutters and snuggle down, revelling in your hot water bottle and box of Kleenex Extra Large Triple-Strength.

And spluttering,"Who's given me this bloody cold?"

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What Lurks Above

What could it be, that nightly scrabbling above our bedroom ceiling? That scratching, digging, pattering about even, right above our pillows?

A mouse? A bat? A lizard? A Thing? Then we started hearing the dreaded hmmmmmm.

Outside, sure enough, we found a sizeable hole high up in the wall with buzzy things happily popping in and out. Careful study suggested that these were not bees or wasps, but Frelons - fearsome Killer Hornets very common round here. They’re like plump flying cocktail sausages, and we’ve been gleefully warned about their agonising sting since we first arrived in France.

Inevitably, the day we spotted their nest was the day before friends arrived to stay, one of whom has had traumatic experiences with bees and is therefore somewhat phobic.

So that evening, we placed a ladder up against the wall (which made them quite angry to start with), and girded George’s loins for battle.

Clad only in woolly hat and welding goggles… Barbour jacket zipped up to the nose, two pairs of gardening gloves and reinforced trousers, George valiantly scaled the first four rungs, then came back down.

However, after sustained encouragement, he wiped his goggles, went back up and squirted half a can of Critter-Kill vaguely in the direction of the entrance, slid rapidly down and we both ran like hell indoors.

I think we reduced Frelon numbers, but the colony was not obliterated. Three days later, arriving home with our houseguests after an evening out, the yard lights attracted several survivors. No need to panic – we scuttled everybody inside without a mention.

Imagine our delight when three of the sneaky little devils suddenly appeared in the living room and started bombarding the light fitting like mobile cigars. Our bee-phobic friend was either remarkably brave, or just dazed by the toxic cloud I hysterically enveloped us all in. Squashing the poor things out of their misery was like jumping on lumps of Crunchy bar, but at least it disguised them.

We got through the rest of the visit without further confrontation, and our happy band of hornets seem content to stay above the ceiling, where we are content to leave them for now.

Unless, of course, they invite Hornets We Don't Know.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Bouncer

I’ve never seen that Albert Finney film, but was reminded of it anyway as I took to my mini-trampoline this afternoon in the lonely confines of the garage.

The trampoline used to live in the Famous Writing Room, ie where the cats sleep, guests sleep and where English conversation lessons take place. A room already well-stuffed. So after falling over it several times and because I never actually used it, George eventually banished it to the garage.

This morning it took some finding in the dark pit that is George’s tools-and-gadgets store, and a lot of beating with a big stick to remove the many creatures who’d grown attached to it.

But I was determined, because today was the start of a new Healthy Regime. I’ve started to notice a disturbing amount of pain and creaking from the mere action of Getting out of a Chair, Gardening, Making the Bed… from Mere Action, in fact.

So first, I determinedly did my Beginners’ Yoga tape (can it really be 4 months since I bought that?), then jogged merrily to the garage for 20 minutes bouncing up and down with Pondering. Because with the jubilant creaking of the springs (and me) it’s no use trying to listen to dispatches From Our Own Correspondent, or to a baffling medical phone-in on France Inter… you have to make your own entertainment.

What did Albert Finney think about? Did he rediscover himself… solve world problems…? Don’t know. And being of diminished brain I can’t do that anyway. I can Contemplate Trivia quite well, and in the small hours I veer readily towards Pointless Angst, when I regurgitate everyone’s problems aeons after they’ve been dealt with and forgotten by the people they belonged to.

From time to time I do try to think usefully. For my healthy bouncing entertainment today I tried a delve into the India/Pakistan situation - it’s the 60th anniversary and George had tortuously explained it over breakfast.

After two minutes I found myself wondering where the hell the spider was that had made that gigantic web across the window… and could it have been that spider scrabbling above our bedroom ceiling at 4 o’clock this morning? Or something with an even bigger appetite… And what can I dish up on Friday evening, remembering that Herbert is experimenting with vegetarianism (one of three people in France)? And why did they decide on Partition, did George say? And blimey, have I only been doing this for one minute and a half?

It is now 24 hours later. I did manage 20 minutes on the trampoline yesterday by launching into a brilliant, if hazardous, Cancan routine. I then wobbled carefully back to the house, had a lie down, and woke up this morning feeling as if I’d run up and down Mount Everest. A friend told me I’d done too much, too soon.

That’s good enough for me. I'll keep my Pondering to the shower from now on.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Blog Day Afternoon

It’s a month since I last did a blog. I vaguely planned to do one a weekish… so what’s stopped me?

Well, anything can happen during the Dog Days of summer, as that brilliant Al Pacino film told us. (I think it was Al Pacino – he was trying to do a bank robbery (in August) and it all went horrendously wrong).

But it’s a well-known fact, apparently, that the sultry days of July and August, with their sweaty discomfort and festering disease, cause people to go bonkers. So there was that to contend with… and the rest of the time I was doing a lot of Stuff – vital Stuff.

And I had to get my hair done. Revitalise the streaks this time – custard highlights and a hint of Fantasy Pink, as Sandrine calls it. I love Sandrine– she’s friendly and bubbly and talks at the speed of a machine-gun. She’s always happy to explain the bursts I didn’t quite catch, so I learn loads of useful banter words and come out looking GORGEOUS to boot (refer to Profile Photo).

Mind you, it was a rocky road finding Sandrine: I’ve been turned effervescent orange, frizzed like Leo Sayer, and then some Fiend with a Bet Lynch beehive, black nails, big jewellery and a voluminous chest (of which I was quite envious), gave me a no2 Skinhead. Not sure why... but if we hadn't found George’s army cadet balaclava I'd have been sobbing in the cellar for six months.

Anyway, we have several serious projects for the summer: for a start we'll have to clean all the windows before the first of our visitors arrive - usually we convince ourselves that people coming round to Make Merry won't notice concretised bird splat on the upstairs velux, but you feel more effort is only fair when people are spending days and nights here.

We should finish the half-done paint job on the landing, and start the paint job in our bedroom. George has made huge inroads into outside renovations - chunks of wall inexplicably fell off when he redid the shutters so now he's redoing the wall.

Sadly he's been thwarted in grass-mowing by the scary noise the lawnmower suddenly started to make. He immitated it (eerily well) to a professional gardener friend who said if he used it again the blades were likely to fly off (in an Omen-like manner). So now it's languishing in the repair shop.

So there we are, and I'm off to do more Stuff.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Very Brown in Parts

Blessed with a natural tint of porridge, I have devoted many, many summertime hours to Leg-Dying.

It began in the hopeful teenage days of TanUfantasticallyFab – an exciting innovation at the time and a sure way of making yourself indefinitely orange in two unfortunate swipes.
Since then, it’s been one letdown after another.

I’ve tried baking in the back garden, too dazzled to read but fully occupied in fighting off millions of tiny flesh-eating creatures that never land on anyone else.

The beach is just as bad and you get sand inside your vest, to boot.

Actually, there was a six-month stay in Australia when I went brown, but only after four months of very pink and a terrifying week of Deep Violet after a foolhardy topless afternoon on the lawn. (The dangers weren’t quite as fully appreciated, then).

The month leading up to my wedding twenty years ago, I spent hours and tedious HOURS on a sunbed so that there might be a sort of healthy contrast between me and my dress, but to no avail. Mind you, I think it helped for the honeymoon, because for the last two Searing days there was a definite tinge of brownish.

I have desperately and fruitlessly tried a new version of autobronze every year… until now! Because they’ve invented a cunning gradual tan. Slop it on every morning and after five days you’ll be beautifully bronzed. And because the inevitable streaks are in different places each day, they cancel each other out!

The results of these potions (for there are many inventors suddenly) are indeed Magical – at last shorts and jaunty skirts can be worn with careless abandon!

There are even face and arm autobronzers so you can join up all the bits! (Personally I haven’t taken that plunge for fear of mismatching and tide marks).

Admittedly, the smell can be a bit potent (but no worse than an essential Mossie-Splat spray). And it’s somewhat sticky for an inordinately long time after application. But what the hell! Just don’t touch anything for three hours … or get dressed or sit down…

And you do have to remember to keep the slapping-on up for fear of pasty fading...

But why not try a version – I’m just THRILLED with my results! and at the barbecue this afternoon as we huddle shiveringly under our damp tarpaulin, I shall flaunt my Brown with pride.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Trouble with Cherries

If you’ve ever seen Woody Allen’s film "Sleeper", you may remember the expanding pudding that escapes from the pan and keeps on growing in a bulging palpitating mass while he tries to kill it with a big stick.

A scene brought vividly back to life in our own kitchen this week by George’s Cherry Clafoutis. (Eggs, milk, spattering of flour and Lots of Fruit, festered in the oven for a while).

We did have LOTS of fruit left over from an unusually bumper crop. The trouble with cherries is that they all come at once – on everybody’s trees.

Everyone we know is pink with cherry-surfeit, and the streets are filled with people muttering around distractedly, begging strangers to take… maybe a few, then? Sometimes they’ll just leave a huge box-full on a doorstep, ring the bell and run away.

We do the same, and our Lovely Neighbours opposite give us VATS of home-made jam in return, then I make them scones. Which are a novelty over here, but surprisingly popular when tried.

When last week we’d thrust our cherries on everyone we could, George decided to use up the excess by making a Clafoutis. Since he has this ailment whereby he can only cook in platoon-size servings, the excess has indeed been used up. Transformed into a bulging palpitating mass of which Woody Allen would be frightened, and that anyone who ventures over our threshold will be eating for the next month.

By which time, we’ll be well into… The PEACHES!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Whither, Frangipani?

George has just returned from his daily inspection of The Frangipani Project.

Always a disappointment.

It seemed a good idea at the time. We'd had a thrilling visit to the local Garden Festival – trampolines, chess-piece plants, musical features, squirting water features, huge bouncing balls just like that ancient cult TV series whose name I’ve forgotten... (except, not self-propelled).

Inspired and channelled irresistibly to the Shop, we wandered round for hours like kids at Christmas. So many wonderful books, plants, ideas and amazing garden stuff to transform our own bit of green – how to choose?

In the end I plumped for some amusing and imaginative greetings cards, and George got a packet of Frangipani Seeds. The picture on the box was beautifully colourful, and you can use its vivid flowers to make those rather fetching welcome garlands - so redolent of its exotic native climes, and a joy for anyone in the grim Arrivals Surge at Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

Unfortunately, George’s hours of sowing and devoted caring for these seeds in a specially-recycled plastic kiwi fruit container, has borne neither fruit nor frange. Maybe six months isn’t long enough for them to hit the surface.

To deepen his gloom, today’s inspection included a frenzied tussle with our first snake of the garden. In fact it was Sabrina-Cat who was tussling, and the poor snake was probably a baby, being only six inches long and half an inch in diameter. So it was the cat who George was trying to belabour about the ears with a big stick.

Since arriving in France, we’ve often been warned about the vicious vipers who love long grass and can’t wait to leap out at you and take a chunk. First forays into our undergrowth were therefore tentative, but a wise friend said just warn them you’re there and they’ll run off. So we stamped our feet, sang hearty songs and thrashed around with garden hoes. This was ludicrously exhausting in a 40 degree summer, and we decided to let them go ahead and bite. They’ve never been tempted.

Until now – seemingly tantalised by the half-buried perfume of George's Project. Do snakes eat frangipani seeds, or will they fiendishly lie in wait for the first juicy shoots to peep through?

Or will the cats just dig it up and piddle all over it as usual? Whither, Frangipani-Project?. And to what end?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Tick Trauma

Removal of Ticks

Step 1: Decide that the curious lump you’ve been idly stroking from time to time on Algenon-the-Cat’s neck should perhaps be investigated in case (god forbid!) it’s a Tick.

Step 2: It’s a TIIIIICK! And so is the Curious Lump on his left flank.

Step 3: George goes on the Net to find out what to do about it, having received and forgotten masses of advice on the subject since we’ve lived here (all of which was conflicting).

Step 4: Find masses more conflicting advice. Decide to pull the bloody thing off.

Do we have ticks in England, our Old Country? I don’t remember ever hearing about them, let alone worrying that one might be lurking in wait for our armpits as we strolled across the fields to the pub.

But they certainly live here in this green and pleasant zone of the Loire - we know people who’ve been afflicted!

What to do? Some say you have to twist them out ANTI-clockwise. Others say it MUST be clockwise. Or “touch it with a lighted cigarette”, or “NO, that’s last thing you should do – splosh it in alcohol”…

So today we seized the disgusting tiny grey wineskin of a thing by its neck-end with a pair of tweezers and gently tugged. Algenon howled like a werewolf, freed a paw and sliced my finger open.

Little tinker.

After another tug the tick’s horrid little hooks became apparent and we went on unleashing thousands more hooks until I managed a successful twist (in all directions) and it suddenly jerked out.

Where the hell did it go? There followed a sort of juggling-with-red-hot-potato interlude trying to catch the thing without touching it.

We managed eventually, and did the same with the second tick. They’re currently both festering at the bottom of a cup of meths – Hah!

So… how d’you know when they’re dead, then?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Cast n'er a Clout...

till May is out, as agèd auntie Doris was wont to say. Well, since every day in April topped 175 degrees, George and I have felt the need to cast quite a few already.

I’m not very keen on heat. Sunshine’s terrific, but preferably with a chill in the air - you can swathe yourself in nice woolly clouts and sally forth for an energetic ramble, returning wonderfully invigorated and ready for a large dollop of Treacle Pud.

In hot summer, however, you must first lather yourself in sticky, smelly unguents to repel attack by horrid flying things and prevent the loss of quite useful layers of skin. When you finally drag your sweaty blobbedness back home, you are ready only to beg someone to pour ice cubes down your vest.

Admittedly, picnics in summer are more fun, because that’s the only time you can get other people to eat outside with you. And in France, everyone loves to eat outside in the summer. Last year we bought a chapiteau – a sort of tent-roof on poles, reminiscent of Camelot. We had a lot of jolly parties under it, but I can’t help thinking they would have been more agreeable if the wine hadn’t been gently simmering and the flies hadn’t been quite so numerous.

Apparently, we may be due for another hideous heatwave this year, like the constant 40C of 2003. We made desperate use of the riverette at the bottom of the garden that summer, specially when we had people to stay. We stuck a couple of old plastic chairs in the middle and sat in turns with a glass of rosé, cool water lapping at our nethers. And we got an inflatable boat for paddling round in hysterical circles. Bliss.

Looking at it now, I can't believe we voluntarily plunged into those festeringly muddy depths - who knows what lurked beneath and why no-one ever caught typhoid.

This year, I shall have all my frivolities down in the cellar.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hooray for Bollywood!

Was thrilled this morning when new DVD arrived – How to Find Enormous Joy in Bollywood Dance. Or something like that - my latest way to get fit-ish without noticing the effort.

There have been other attempts – bike, trampoline, hula-hoop, skipping-rope… to name but seven. And recently George and I took up yoga, urged into it by an enthusiastic devotee who no longer has a bad back.

In fact I did try it fifteen years ago, when the agonising slowness put me off – now that suits me perfectly. Specially the lying down imagining a little cloud floating round one’s bits. Although George and I don’t always recognise the bits in French, particularly when they dim the lights and you can’t see anyone else’s. Unfortunately, the flotation-tank tranquility of our first lesson was constantly interrupted by my stage-whispered hints to George: “Left leg UP!” “Arms above HEAD!”

Anyway, it’s great how it makes you feel very bendy and three feet taller, so I sent off for a yoga video for extra practice. Various Bollywood ones came up while searching on yoga, and when you think of those terrific films like Monsoon Wedding and Guru, you can’t help wanting to try the dancing and be able to do that amazing disjointed thing with your neck.

So, the DVD came today and on first run-through I’m only slightly discouraged. There is no doubt that for anyone with arms like a swan’s neck and the grace of one gliding through the water, it would be easy.

Oh well, at least I can “draw a circle with my bottom” as the Bollywood star suggests, (that's always been handy), so the hip movements are a doddle. Probably the next step should be to discard my generous joggers and buy some shimmery fluid pants and some hand jewellery – being dressed more the part must help.

Or maybe I should try tennis.

Monday, April 9, 2007

♫ And the grass is as high as... ♫♫

... the eartips of a slightly worried cat doing his morning rounds.
But wielding the enormous mower is George's job as luckily, I'm far too fragile. In fact, he's wielding it right now, and I've poked about a bit this morning in our quite colourful kitchen garden, ie the small bit outside the kitchen. So, we're okay for another six months, then.

The past few weeks have been splendid - things are growing but not rampantly, bees are buzzing but not fearsomely.

We're actually a little wary of bees since the Bee-Trauma. Soon after we moved here, these little bumbly creatures discovered not only the joys of our attic, but also the thrill of squeezing through crevices in the ceiling and frightening the hell out of us. Bees are wonderful, but not when bombarding us Hitchcock-like all over the house. Well, except for the grubby space under the stairs where we keep the emergency bucket, but that space ain't big enough for the both of us.

During our first months in France, domestic problems (specially anything to do with plumbing) were made worse by not knowing who to call. So with the bees we did what we always did then and panicked round to our very nice neighbours. They went to fetch the Pompiers, who deal with everything from raging infernos to tetchy cats stuck down a hole.

As for the bees, the Chief Pompier took one look at our frenzied hordes and said he'd come back later. Apparently bees are not so angry in the evening.

Meanwhile, however, George had an unfortunate accident involving his left eye, the metal rod of a chair-back, shards of glass and lots of blood. So that day we met not only the Pompiers but also the SAMU - you phone them when you're having a medical emergency and they are GREAT.

Calm and friendly, they patched George's eye and lowered my hysteria level enough to let me chase the ambulance to the nearest hospital - ranting away to myself, gnawing fingers to the knuckle, thrashing about trying to find the hazards button, but Driving. When we finally got there, George was as calm as they were, so they thrust me into another room (softly cushioned) and locked me in.

Anyway, they removed the shards, stitched him up, and let us out. And lo! When we got home, the bees had gone. Our neighbours told us that shortly after our departure they had surged out of the attic in a huge droning swarm, and shot off up the road.

Maybe they weren't having as much fun without bombardees, or maybe they couldn't stand all that gore in the washbasin.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Rabbits we have known

Gave the rabbit a toxic-powder dousing this morning. It's to keep his fur beautiful and free of tiny creatures, but he hates it so we don't do it enough so he looks like an old carpet. A happy old carpet, though.

We've had house-rabbits for years because they're funny and fiendishly clever. We used to have one who slept across our bedroom doorway all night, popping up and downstairs to his litter tray as necessary. When the cats first met him, one of them took a swaggering swipe across his nose and he bit her briskly and deeply on the ankle. Since then, rabbits reign.

When we came to France we had two. They hated each other because we had been wrongly sold a baby male to keep the existing male company when his female died. Naturally the old male took great offence at this pointless interloper, and they spent a year ripping each other into bloodied pieces.

However, our move to France involved an agonising ten-hour drive with two cats and two buns in the back of a very tiny car, George and I snarling at each other every time we got lost and me hyperventilating my way down the wrong side of the road. When we finally got here the rabbits were too miserable even to heave themselves out of the travel-boxes.

But next morning... they were so thrilled to have come through this hideous trauma together that they fell rapturously in love, and were inseparable till the elder died last year.

We've decided not to get another, so Final Bun spends a lot of his time companionably doing whatever we're doing. Every so often he flings himself on his back with eyes closed and legs waving in the air - a sure sign of bunny delight.

He likes it when we do it, too.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Village Shops

Did the village shops today. Before we arrived in France, I had this dreamy vision of strolling down each morning for our daily baguette and exchange of cheery repartee in the bar. This was not immediately the case - I was so embarrassed at the inadequacies of ancient school French that I wanted instead to stroll down to the river and jump in it.

However, the enormous warmth and encouragement of just about everybody we've ever met here made our plunges into conversation a heck of a lot easier. Several years on, we still make ludicrous mistakes but nobody minds and I don't get anguished. Now we confidently gabble away to captive audiences in the butcher, baker, bar, grocer and post office, unstoppable until they manage to back their way to the door, or just fall over in a deep trance. (We have a similar effect at parties).

The shopkeepers have always been so kind in helping us to integrate - "The Annual Dinner Dance is coming up"... "Don't forget the Bike Ride on Saturday"... . What's best in the village shops, though, is the masses of advice we're given: what's in all the wonderful breads, who grew these rosy apples, and as for the meat... the butcher only needs to start on "what to do with beef cheeks" to induce a bombardment of age-old family recipes from all the other customers. We've tried every one - after a few hours of festering, beef cheek becomes succulent and flavoursome and a definite favourite of ours. (Ghastly though the idea was when first confronted).

They are generous in their praise of English food, too. The baker told us all the family really liked George's Christmas Cake, and yesterday couldn't wait to show off a "traditional English Easter cake" that someone makes her every year because she loves it. (There are two or three other UK couples in the vicinity). I had no idea what it was, so she made enquiries and today informed us its name is Hot Cross Bun! Good Heavens - I always used to buy supermarket special packs of shiny cellophaned clones - how was I supposed to know the real thing is sort of brown and lumpy?

Anyway, off to assemble some of these fresh provisions into lunch.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Joy of Eating

Breakfast in the conservatory for the first time this year. Streaming sun, bursting tufts of blossom, bluetits battling away over the grease-blobs in the maple tree - Enormous Joy!

Apparently you shouldn't feed birds in the summer in case they forget what they're supposed to eat and become bloated fat-burger addicts. Soon, then, we'll have to settle for the sight of the worms being heaved elastically out of the soil and snails being smashed against the path until their shells explode. Nature IN THE RAW!

Anyway, enough of the gore. We'd never had a conservatory before - we were lucky that this one was already built when we bought the house four years ago, because it's such a great room. From spring onwards, that is. In winter it's a constant minus 20C and is useful mainly to pin the cats down and stop them bouncing their sodden and splat-covered feet all over the settee.

We've had friends round for two lunches in there during globally-warmed-up March. At least, the first was warm. The second time, people looked horrified at the prospect of leaving the cosy sitting room and asked if they could have their coats and cardis back. They bravely persevered when we brought two more heaters in, and once they could control their quivering cutlery, tucked in to Rosbif and Yorkshire Pudding with gusto. Not to mention Spotted Dick.

George and I love to cook French-style but it's good fun dishing up English stuff sometimes, specially if the guests have never tried it before (so can't compare). The first few times were pretty scary, though. Specially as our home layout is open and all kitchen traumas are shared graphically with people who are going to have to eat the results.

But all you have to do is wimper or start wacking yourself with a ladle, and someone is immediately at your shoulder with handy hints and a tissue. Did you know, for example, that a 1Kg joint of beef only needs 20mins at 220C? I'm sure in the UK I'd have left it in for about a day and a half. (We compromised and did 30mins and it worked beautifully)!

I know - Why don't we open a restaurant?