Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It Came from Outer Space

What the hell IS that?

We had friends round for a meal at the weekend – lovely friends who laughed heartily when George burnt the rice, and chewed stoically on my resistant lumps of Pork-in-Ginger with nere a grimace.

These are friends for whom the getting together is paramount rather than the food offerings (mercifully), and who I’m almost certain will not mind when I say that Picards Freezer Emporium is their own market of choice.

So this weekend they brought their fun and frivolity, a superb bottle of wine and… a Thing - the like of which we’d never seen before! (I shall attempt further down to display a photo). But to try and describe it…

It’s about 30cm tall and comes in two parts. One’s a knobbly stick with a pinkyorangeyfurry tennis ball on top, covered in many yellow arrow-headed fronds.

The other part is a flat green stick with a corrugated heart-shaped fan. Beautiul… but what is it for? You could possibly plunge the sink with the tennis ball… despatch tenacious cobwebs, stick it behind your ear while fanning yourself with the other bit…

Alarmingly, Mélanie grabbed The Thing while George and I were still coming to terms with it, and ran with it to the sink – for it's actually Alive! They insisted it came from a flower shop, so now it’s in a vase and yes, it’s drinking the water! I’d say it’s grown twenty feet since Saturday. Ah-hah - Could it be a beanstalk?

The tennis blob has a delicate aroma redolent of cauliflower, yet bizarrely aromatic. We've noticed the cats aren’t keen at all. In fact I suspect that they, like me, think it sometimes moves its fronds. And I could swear it just turned to watch as I walked past.

So, is it trying to communicate? Will it start singing those irritating five notes from 'Close Encounters'? Or will it suddenly leap Triffidly out of its vase and whack us with its fan?

Mélanie, Eveline and Ignace say that they'd never seen one before either, and had gone into the shop to buy an orchid. There was just something about it that made them choose that instead...

It's Just The Beginning...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Tour de Paris-Tours

Pchaw to the Tour de France – we have a better Tour, one that goes right past our front door! Last weekend, 155 riders set off from Paris (or Chartres, fairly nearby) on the gruelling 230km ride to Tours.

It was won by the Belgian Philippe Gilbert thanks in part, it must be assumed, to his attention to vital details such as choosing the perfect rider to get into the slipstream of on the home strait. The runner-up, Tom Boonen, was most disheartened by his own mistake there... (What about the very kind Exuder of the Slipstream, I'd like to know)…

For I understand little of this kind of stuff – what’s most memorable for me is the joyful gathering of neighbours to watch the race whizz past our very pavement, with the sharing of Almost-Champagne and Nibbles.

We gathered last year too, but made the mistake of not realising that the riders came in two chunks – not only the Elites (or Proper ones)... (I don't mean that, I mean Super-Experienced ones), but also the Espoirs (Aspiring Star ones). The Espoirs race an hour before the others and last year, we all thought that was the end. They were Going Like the Clappers, after all…

It was only when George put the TV on later, that he noticed something very like Our House on the live coverage of a bike race. Sure enough, a quick peer out of the window found a helicopter circling, closely followed at ground level by the Whoosh of a second clutch of racers.

Well? Everbody else was fooled, too…

This year, George took up position at the top of the slope well in advance and armed with super-charged video camera, while I popped down to banter gaily with the other spectators. They’d been there since before the Espoirs, and were suitably merry.

If my French were more equal to the multi-dialect SpatterChat that is a street gathering, I’d have gone out earlier too. As it is, twenty minutes of vague nodding and slipping in the odd completely inappropriate sentence, is enough. For everyone…

The ambience, though, is convivial and patriotic, with yells of “Vive l’Angleterre aussi!” generously tucked in. There were about twenty of us, and it was a great chance to cement relationships with, for example, the couple who’d only moved in a week before (I’d launched myself at them while walking past one day, but this time they showed no anxiety whatsoever).

There were two wise-looking elders in the best seats (cushions on their picnic chairs), and various people of the vicinity. We discovered that the horrid, rotund neighbour who drives right up our exhaust is, in fact, quite a nice person, as are the gang of shady-looking second-homers who were leaning on the fence opposite (keeping it between them and us).

In fact, when retired Hélène impressively caught the water bottle flung to the crowd by one of the Elites, she took it across to the ten-year-old. (She may have suddenly realised it had been heavily dribbled-upon)…

Disappointingly, that was the only Present flung this time. Usually the very long publicity caravan has staff chucking tee-shirts, caps and sweets into the excited masses, and there is much gnashing of teeth and elbows to grab a prize.

A few years ago, George and I went to see the Tour-Tour de France, but in the galaxy of delights raining down, all we managed to catch was a wizened bit of dried sausage. And I had to really shout at that evil little child, too… Wasn’t his Puncture Repair Kit Enough?

We don't know if the Paris-Tours will happen again next year - there are rumours it will go a different route. How we'll miss the flashing lights, the motorbikes, the smiling, waving policemen and the loud hailers screaming: "Get Out of the Waaaay!"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Park in Paris

First, take a Parisian. Add car of generous proportions and place in, say, the Latin Quarter, at eight o’clock at night.

It is still daylight so spotting a space, particularly with the experienced eyes of two additional Parisians on board, shouldn’t be too hard…

As non-Parisian friends on holiday, remember to help the driver with constant comments along the lines of, “There’s one over th-! no, sorry – disabled // Oh just look at how he’s parked – otherwise you could have got a Tank in… // Hey! that bugger pinched your space!

Such encouragement is always welcome…

After an hour or so, one of the Parisians will merrily bid us farewell and go off to meet her boyfriend at a bar we have drawn unexpectedly close to. You could suggest to the others that really, it would be just as much fun to go back to the appartment, where I could rustle something up from the contents of the fridge. The co-driver will recall that the said contents amount to half a cucumber and some old teabags of the green mint kind.

Suddenly she sees an Actual Gap between two other cars, and Manoeuvres begin! It takes but five minutes of perfect directing “go on stop go on stop turn go on back stop stop no Stop!” and magnificent wheel control, to parallel-park the car - leaving four centimetres front and back between neighbourly bumpers. If Only we’d had the camera…

Yet, this feat seemed As Naught to the Parisians… They park as they drive – ignoring all obstacles.

After dinner, as they drive you round L’Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile - the immense roundabout with its twelve exits and several million cars aiming At Yours - you must try very hard to muffle your screams.

And then be ready to spot a Parking Space vaguely in the vicinity of the appartment.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

VITAL Papers

‘But WHY do you want to change your driving licence, madame?’ said the surprised voice. ‘It’s unnecessary - England is in the EU!’

‘You’re Right!’ I nearly said, ‘What the hell am I doing, voluntarily plunging into the tortured bowels of French bureaucracy?’

But I didn’t say it. Because my English licence is quite old – one of those pink and green papery things coming apart at the folds, and there's certainly No Photograph. (Did we even have cameras)? So it's instantly suspicious.

And you’re never sure of the reaction it’ll provoke when stopped routinely by the gendarmes: we've had hilarity, fascination, incomprehension, Outrage-with-Severe-Reprimand for even bringing it to France (he was an unusually unpleasant specimen having a bad day)… But I don’t want to be flung into an oubliette because of my annoying driving licence.

The Préfectures in France are the Houses of Mass Administration. In March this year I made my first foray into their Website/licences/driving/resident/foreigner/EU/shortperson… This revealed an interminable list of Essential Documents that must be Translated by approved professionals and Sworn to by approved professionals who Mustn't Know me At All.

Naturally I gave up, but re-attacked a month later by phoning for clarification. A very friendly bloke narrowed the List down to proof of address, old licence and a photo - Just take them down to the Préfecture and they’ll send me a French licence. Simple!

Then I forgot about it. Until this week when with uncharacteristic Dynamism, I assembled all the docs, including terrifying photo (“you mustn’t smile, madame!”) and phoned to check they were open that afternoon…

But it seems every member of The Administration has a different set of rules. That day's member, after my insistence on carrying it through, passed me on to a colleague with special knowledge.

The colleague pointed out the need for another document (there's always one more) with proof of Maiden Name. Have you ever noticed that Maiden Names are instantly jettisoned from British passports and the like? Eventually I found some old GCE certificates, and post-eventually, birth and marriage ones (I’ll take them all).

I couldn’t go that afternoon, though, because this person was adamant that an appointment was imperative. ‘OK then – when can I come?’ (Hoping she wouldn't say Wednesday afternoon, as I had a trim & blow dry booked). 'End of September, madame'.

Damn! What a complete waste of Dynamism!

Still, it will be properly sorted out then, because every administrator we've met here has been charming and helpful in spite of our incoherent jabberings.

And of course, it gives me time for a load more attempts at the Terrifying Photo…

Monday, August 3, 2009

Things to do with Kippers

The other day we went round to friends for lunch in the garden – perfect tranquillity on the outskirts of town, warm sunshine, fragrance of fresh rosemary, thyme, mint…

Fabienne’s “light lunch” began with plates of tiny tomatoes, olives, nuts, quiche and water melon; it slipped into gala melon with parma ham; then we had prawns and monkfish with wild rice; wonderful cheeses; and a fruit tart with plums and apricots grown within two hundred yards - the neighbours are very friendly.

George and I have embraced French cuisine enthusiastically – everyone is keen to share their secrets; there are TV chefs and magazines and cookbooks, and our style of cooking has changed a lot since moving here.

Sadly, our style of Presentation has not. Fabienne’s appetisers were colour co-ordinated and came in handy bite-size. The gala melon was displayed like the rays of the sun, with the ham wrapped round breadsticks. The mountain of prawns was a delicate, attractive mountain, (not the unbalanced splodge I’d have constructed). The cheeses were arranged with pleasing symmetry, and the tart glistened lusciously.

Food in France is for savouring, and before savouring, we must be tantalised by hints of fresh and subtle flavours to come…

So what the hell can Fabienne possibly see in Kippers? And how can it be that every so often, she and the neighbours gather at ten in the morning for a Kipper Fest!

Sensibly, they cook them in the garden (one assumes it's by Short Straw), and accompany them with champagne. Which could help. Cats must come from many miles for this...

Personally, I loathe kippers – the taste, the Smell, the Bones. And I’ve always thought of them as a Man Favourite, like Kidneys or Tripe (which always seems to be trying to shudder its way out of the pan). How can such things appeal to a frothy, feminine person, and all her neighbours to boot!

There is obviously still much for us to learn about French cuisine. After all, we'd never have thought of cooking Beef Cheeks till the village butcher unleashed their succulent secrets to us.

Right! Take bunch of Kippers...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bring me the Head of Alfredo Mallard

… that I may glue it back on with evostick.

Alfredo is my favourite of the ducks that fly across our fridge in homage to Hilda Ogden http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilda_Ogden. This morning I swept him to the floor with vigorous Dettox, and his head went the way of one of his long-lost little yellow feet. We’re searching still.

In England-our-old-country I used to love Coronation Street (which I think finally grew to several hundred episodes a week); even got George interested (or he surrendered). For, as opposed to deeply gloom-filled EastEnders, Corrie characters actually had Different Characters, often very funny (deliberately) and always interesting.

Since moving to France, we fickley never give it a thought. We Have The Technology to watch English soaps and I bet that I (not George) could easily become engrossed in any – it’s the joy of poking your nose into other people’s existences without guilt or consequence…

In France, the soaps generally seem to be imported from the States – The Bold and the Beautiful; The Young and the Restless (woe betide thee if you disturb our neighbours while that’s on).

Does Dallas count as a soap? Here, it has different intro music and a rousing Song! “Dallas – your universe pitiless…” (The tune’s Very different). I have always been grateful for the translations I gleaned from it: “Show him in!”, for example, or “That’s blackmail!”, are always uppermost in my French chitchat.

There are also lots of American and German detective series in France, (“Get out of the WAY!” is handy) – always fascinating to hear the voice they use to dub an actor you know. Apparently they actually have voice doubles – wouldn’t that be a great job… I’d like to be Whoopie Goldberg’s please. Of course, mine might be a bit white and squeaky, but I’d be willing to have my vocal chords tweaked…

Not everything on TV here is imported; I must put in a vote for a recent brilliant French drama about the German occupation of a French village in 1940: Un Village Français – gripping and powerful and I can’t wait till it comes on again.

But back to Coronation Street. I acquired my collection of Hilda’s Flying Ducks some years ago, when George took me on a surprise visit to the set at Granada Studios. It was fabulous, with the Rovers Return and the Corner Shop and the cobbles and the general wonderment. (In fact, it was almost as good as the surprise visit to Cadbury World, where my souvenirs filled a wheelbarrow).

Distressingly, I’ve just discovered on Google that the Corrie tours stopped when the inordinate number of episodes per week required too much actual filming. Oh dear – so many disappointed fans.

Thank Heavens I got my Ducks in time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bigger and Shinier


Thanks to Super-Kind and Wonderful Jon Doust's further efforts to help, (then George doing it when I Still couldn't follow Jon's instructions) BEHOLD the Golden Blog Award!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Big and Shiny

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This post, if it works, is even more self-indulgent than usual, being the Display of a Golden Blog Award!

Passed to me by delightful Jon Doust of The Vendée Blog (see Blogs-I-Like and this link: http://vendeeblog.net/?p=312 ), where the Award is definitely displayed in all its magnificence, it seems to be a sort of chain award; foul and terrible shall be one's penance if you don't pass it on!

I'm going to attempt to pass it on to a blog that makes me laugh heartily and that is unusual in being a Cartoon blog. Posted by a French woman who's recently moved with husband and children to London for a while, it brilliantly sketches the weirdities of expat life in the UK: http://130cartons.blogspot.com (or click on
130 Cartons à London on my Blogs-I-Like).

Splendid! I'm off to polish my nose...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Everybody needs...

They’re all moving! In this time of financial crisis and House Market plummets, everybody else in our little clutch of outer-village dwellings is moving away. What are they not telling us?

In fact, old Philippe died fairly decisively… the man opposite changed his job… next door but one wants to be near her grandchildren… and two doors down – well, it’s just too sordid to talk about (any more)…

People don’t seem to move as often in France as in the UK, maybe because it’s such a faff. When you leave, you empty the house completely – curtains and rails, handy picture hooks, light fittings with bulbs (although they did leave us a solitary 40w on a scary bit of wire).

George and I landed in this unrecognisably bleak shell one freezing December night straight from final solicitor’s signings to find also that gas, electricity and water were switched off. With our furniture arriving next day, we got wine, water, candles and edibles from the village shops (mercifully open till 7pm), toasted our little cave and shared a sleeping bag, wearing every jumper we’d packed into the one case.

Next morning, our great big van arrived at seven thirty, having demolished a string of Christmas lights negotiating the village. (Perhaps nobody would know it was us…). There followed a frenzy of organising gas, electricity and water – the wherewithal for tea being paramount if we wanted our stuff unpacking...

With daylight we found not only our two cellars, but keys thereto, and the nice man from the water company patiently explained where the stop tap was. (Had we been able to see it the night before, we could apparently have unleashed that utility right away). Once we did unleash it, the water from the kitchen tap went into overdrive-flow and wouldn’t stop – switched on or not.

We then had visits from gas and electricity; French utilities insist on coming to inspect new customers for unfortunate tendencies and out-of-date equipment (which they find), then they tell you to get hold of a private contractor because they wouldn’t touch that apparatus with a barge pole.

In spite of all this, though, most seem to approach moving house with a gallic shrug; presumably they’re resigned to spending several months unscrewing everything because they know the place they’re going will also be devoid of content. Unless you count twenty years-worth of empty wine bottles, rusty garden implements and a gestapo greatcoat that we unearthed later.

Our current neighbours are exuberantly friendly and I’m sure we’ll miss them, but it’ll be exciting to see who’ll take their place. Our estate agent noted with hilarity that English people always ask "what are the neighbours like?" What’s so funny?

Admittedly, you have to try and glean true meanings behind the inevitable “lovely”, "salt of the earth" (or baffled “Pfouff” in France), but pleasant neighbours are a huge bonus. Even Unpleasant, you’ll have to communicate with them sometime, if only to borrow an emergency plaster or to extricate your cat from their dog…

Oh lord, the pets! Now how are they all going to get on?...

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Dance called Madison

Come on Dolores! It’s the MADISON!!

Er, no thanks, you go ahead – I’m not keen on… No, honestly, it’s too complicated… Look, last time I tripped someone up and the whole line went with her - I really don’t want to. Oh god! – alright then!

Do YOU Madison? Or did you, like me, believe it was an American city, an avenue, a square… ?

Well, it’s SO much more! Very soon after arriving in the land of fine wines and goats cheese, we discovered that ‘Madison’ was French for Line Dance. And Never stand in the way of frenzied hordes answering the call!

I usually avoid situations where it might happen, but recently George and I went to two musical gatherings where it sneaked in. Many times.

This clip shows people engaged therein:


If you take a peek, you’ll see the Lines of people merrily stepping forwards, backwards and allways with intermittent jumps and hops and turns, and all perfectly synchronised! How do they do this? Was it compulsory at school? A new vocation for gap years, perhaps?

I happen to love dancing; anything by the Stones will set me off… Salsa, Cajun, Eighties Disco or a chance to Twist again…

But the Madison (remember Achey Breaky Heart?) is surely more a sort of Chinese Water Torture by skipping. And I’m always skipping in the wrong direction. All alone…

Last time, somebody very kindly took pity on my flailings and ran all the way from the other end of the line to instruct me step by step. A wonderful woman.

Of course I’d forgotten everything by the next Madison, and fell over in the general agitation. Cunningly I lay still, hoping to be stretchered off. Nobody noticed. And George was engrossed in playing accordeon. (Actually, would it be quicker for me to learn that than the Madison…)

Later, as I peered out from under a table at more lines of flittering feet, Wonderful-Woman’s head suddenly dipped down in front of mine and beamed, “I’m going to explain the Secret of Madison: It’s always exactly the same steps!”

Wow - So that's it! She then wrote these steps down on a napkin (which had evidently been made good use of during the tiramasu earlier):

Step left forward; Place right beside left (no weight) & clap; Step back on right; Move left foot back & across the right; Move left foot to the left; Move left foot back & across the right.

Well, that doesn't seem too hard... I took these precious lines home to study, and practised and practised until it became for me, too, a thing of Wonder, that I even pondered Youtubing to.

Did I hell! It's bloody Impossible!

Monday, May 18, 2009


“Wow!” gasped George, “Come and look at this!”

“Oo, what is it?” said I, rushing to share his amazement … “Are you still watching that dolphin programme?”

“No!” he breathed, “Mega-Marquee!”

For George had accidentally landed upon a Shopping Channel, and was now unable to switch off.

Have you ever seen one, or perhaps dipped into a website? Do Not, if you are susceptible to persuasion because instantly, everything there becomes indispensable. For instance, if George and I didn’t buy their Mega-Marquee (assembled in 60 seconds!), how would we survive the unreliable summer with our picnic guests constantly and soddenly rushing in for shelter?

And, what better way of putting up these guestly hordes, than on a Handy-Bed? - the size of a (quite big) suitcase, this steel-framed bed inflates and deflates itself at the press of a button! (Quite terrifying to watch…)

I can’t help agreeing that this would indeed be Handy and Yes, our foot-pumpable airbed is but an exhausting and pitiful imitation. Plus, there are special offers to augment one’s shopping pleasure – why not combine a Double Handy-Bed with a half-price Perfect Painter Spray? Guests will then have something to sleep on in a newly-decorated spare room! (or landing, in our case).

The brilliant ideas were countless… On the subject of visiting friends, are any of yours troubled by thinning or receding hair? What could be more thoughtful than presenting them with a tin of Restore-It-Quick? They’ll be delighted at this instant and revolutionary fibrous solution (“don’t forget to select a colour!!”).

Or if the problem is too much hair, DO try Scrape-it-Away! Removes unwanted growth from all over the place while exfoliating, massaging and vibrating at the same time! So much more fun than blunted razors or molten wax…

What else took our fancy… Well, while George went off to get wine and nibbles, I discovered the FantastiBag; Constructed on Tardis principles, this outwardly compact shoulder bag can store the contents of a Small Hotel in an instantly retrievable manner and (miraculously) without permanent damage to your shoulder or unguarded passers-by.

And something I jolly wish I’d had today for a torn hem – GlueItUp! This magical tin can repair all your clothes, even (puzzlingly) in “the places hard to reach with needle and thread”. Why not, they suggest, collect scraps of your old clothes and GlueItUp them together for a dazzling new wardrobe! There’s even a handbag size for those embarrassing emergencies! (Hah! If you’d bought an AmaziBag, you wouldn’t be troubled by piffling concerns of size).

We did eventually manage to switch off – rather like someone pulling the plug when you’re being electrocuted – and we collapsed into a dazed heap, heads crammed with ideas that will Change Our Lives.

Did we actually buy anything? No, in fact. But we know where this Shopping Channel lives…

(All these items are (more or less) real; only the Names have been changed…)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tales of the Dump

Do you enjoy a jolly good Clear-Out? Do you like to plunge occasionally into the festering depths of your cupboards, your cellars, your garage; to gather it all up into an explosive pile and whisk it off it to The Tip?

Of course, anything with a modicum of use left in it can be charity-shopped or sold at the next village Brocante (second-hand market), but today I refer to the contents of our ancient garden shed. We finally decided that it needed the Clear-Out.

What treasures might lurk within, abandoned and ignored for aeons by us and all those who roamed this land before us… (Excitingly, we did last year unearth a bucket of 1943 German rifle cartridges! But that was under the sink in the cellar, and now they live wherever the Police sent them).

The Shed content is more humdrum: a medley of paint and varnish tins dating back several decades, mucky and broken bricks, shattered plant pots, a collection of greasy old chicken feathers, an electric pump for our well that never worked, and a really disgusting brush on the end of a long bendy pole. George actually wanted to keep that, just in case it came in handy...

Poking beyond the outer crust disturbed something small and scuttly that mercifully escaped, plus two plastic containers bedecked with Skull & Crossbones. God knows what was (or still is) in those, and certain Rubbish Tips may well stick you in the Bastille for even trying to deposit them…

For, Going to the Tip (or Déchetterie) in France is not the Roll Up, Chuck in skip that I remember in the UK.

Here, you must be issued with a Tip ID Card by your local Mairie. Ours gives us a generous choice of six Tips in the Department, and these adhere to strict timetables – around two and a half days a week, and certainly not lunchtimes!

The nearest is a ten minute drive; followed by a forty minute queue to be allowed through the gates by the extremely surly and unhelpful sod In Charge. (Many of the locals, in fact, make the most of this time by getting out of their cars and animatedly catching up on gossip).

Once you make it inside the Compound, the Director of Ops watches through narrowed eyes as you drive up the slope to the Chucking Area; he demands your ID and inspects you for suspicious twitches, then scribbles angrily on a clipboard. Once I went alone; he glowered as I pantingly heaved a sack of something into the skip, then inspected the Something to make sure it was Rubbish of an Acceptable Kind before Heavily Sighing me on my way.

Fortunately we can drive an extra ten minutes for the joy of a smiling Operative; one who waves you into the roomy parking area, proffers his sleeve to shake (in lieu of handful of tip microbes - polite and considerate), cheerily asks your ID no if he remembers and gives assistance if needed, all the while engaging in jolly banter. I love him very much.

As for the Skips, well, the Greenery skip is always popular at this time of year... Then there’s the Tatty Old Cardboard Box skip; the Any Old Iron skip for all unwanted railings and the like; and the exciting “Tout-Venant” (all & sundry). Last time this was overflowing with old settees, mattresses, DIY leftovers, and a motley and rather poignant collection of stockings draped over a broken bench. The Tales this skip could tell, eh…

One thing I haven’t noticed here is people rescuing stuff from the tip. The usual recyling containers are there for glass, paper and whatnot, but some bits in the mountainous skip piles must be useful too. No doubt there are schemes...

I shall recognise those stockings, though, if I see them at the Brocante!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Redder Shade of Carrot

Look – the ads show merry filmstars lounging in their dressing gowns, checking out another blockbuster script, phoning their mum, rebuilding the kitchen… all while the potion works its spell. Then they unleash bouncy, gleaming locks and rush off to Dazzle!

Even desperate people IN the films do it - Harrison Ford… Geena Davis and… others - they simply dash into some dismal bathroom and three minutes later they’re transformed! It’s easy!

Well, perhaps if my life had depended on it too… Because I found it jolly hard doing one’s own highlights. But the Hairdresser’s prices in these days of Crunch obliged me to have a go.

Daphné herself thought my efforts hilarious. When I sheepishly explained I’d put in a few blonde streaks with a kit from the supermarket she screeched, “Oh thank god – I thought my own colours had turned Yellow!”

Rather harsh, I thought. But as my hair grew to resemble the stuff our rabbits like to bed down on, I felt urged to swamp the whole lot by going back to my roots. Which were ever more apparent, anyway.

So I bought a ‘shiny cream paste’ of brown, but Burnished Mahogany brown. Easy to apply because it’s “wonderfully thick and doesn’t run.” “Be sure to use All the mixture!” urged the instructions.

I did. Suddenly I could feel it glooping down from the top of my head like freshly-cracked raw egg. (You may know that horribly realistic sensation when someone pretends with their finger-tips). (You may know the actual sensation…).

The gloop grew like some hideous palpitating thing, and it was Red. Mirror, tiles, sink, towel, T-shirt, ears, were all deep red. And according to the box, they’d stay like that for 28 washes.

How did the finished hair look? Well... quite red. Quite orange. Reddy-orange. I ventured out the next day sporting large hat and sunglasses. The day after that, though, I noticed an eerily perfect match between hair and favourite TinTin coral-tinged sweatshirt. Hang on a minute - I have clothes that go!

Now the plunge has been plunged, I feel weirdly liberated. One only has to look at Famous Redheads: Katherine Hepburn, Van Gogh, Geri Halliwell, Boris Becker and, of course, Erik the Red, who overcame neighbourhood shovel squabbles to colonise, and become Paramount Chieftain of, Greenland. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_the_Red

Who could fail to be inspired? And George is delighted with my renovations. I intend to sally boldly forth in coats of many colours, sparkly hairclips, feathers… for I am Proud and Boldly Burnished. And God, but I’m Lovely!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Set up Thy Tent and Camp

“It’s pretty good for four euros, though…”

George has always thought positively. And one couldn’t quibble; the Amazing Promo! price, an assembly time of three minutes – this Tent was a good buy!

A flimsy pale blue dome of compact dimensions, it has a mosquito-net lining, an aeration window on its summit (knotted orange hanky provided for closing), tiny tent pegs, guy strings, and a Floor! I was particularly thrilled at the latter, being averse to uninvited critters...

I’d forgotten we had this tent. George bought it years ago as a fun-filled spare room for visiting small children. Disappointingly, they always plumped for the futon, and the tent was relegated to the Not Much Use cupboard.

However, George’s current revitalising of his Musical Passions brought it back to mind. This summer promises a multitude of festivals; whether he’s playing at them or attending in Devotee capacity, what handier accoutrement could there be? Apart from an instrument or two...

He painted the Tent of his Youth with stars; it was that sort of an era and offered some hope of spotting it in a field full of quite similar ones. In fact this tent, too, could only benefit from decoration of some ilk…

I’d never been tempted to camp before – lack of loo and hairdryer seemed insurmountable hurdles. Yet, sitting inside this cosy island edifice, surrounded by lawn, bird song, fresh air and the foothills of Mole City, I felt strangely enthusiastic at the prospect.

After all, we could both fit inside it at the same time - lie down even (although George needed the full diagonal). “It’ll be great!” he urged, “inflatable mattress, roomy sleeping bag, torchtoweltoothbrush… what could be better?”

The first festival is at the end of May; exciting music, stalls offering food and Stuff of every variety, a chance to commune with Nature for a blissful weekend… Will I discover an unexpected passion for Tenting?

Hell No!

Luckily there’s a pleasant hostelry close by.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sporty Things

Just who is Jay Spearing?

I happen to know that he is a twenty-year-old Midfield Player for Liverpool, who came on for the last half hour of their match against Real Madrid last Wednesday, and played really well. I know, because at breakfast the next morning, this heartwarming snippet – this giving a chance to new talent – was the bit of George’s Match Debrief that caught my attention and made me smile.

George is a passionate Liverpool fan. Hence, soon after we met, he took me to watch a match; they were playing Stoke, I think - somewhere beginning with ‘S’ anyway. As it was my first ever live match, I determined to concentrate very hard and amaze George with my astute comments.

I was busy concentrating when everyone around me suddenly leapt up cheering and waving. Oh hell! - how had they scored so sneakily? And no replay…

Do you like sport? I like sporty things if they make me laugh; for instance, Cancanning on the mini-trampoline; sploshing about in the sea with an inflatable of some ilk (dinghy, dolphin, waterwings…)

At school, I was strangely good at Netball; in spite of being height-impeded, I could leap up to the net like one of those hunky seven-foot basketball players. And, of course, you could grasp the ball, whereas in Hockey you had to try and hit it with the end of a stick longer than I was.

In Hockey I was also horribly hampered by moving schools half way through the first year. I had learnt the Bully Off chant in a sort of slow motion: “Ground… Sticks… Ground… Sticks… Ground… Sticks… AWAaaaay!” - then the one paying most attention would solidly thwack the ball and set the game off in her favoured direction. At this new school they bullied off so fast, they’d scored before I’d even recognised the instructions.

Worse than that, the six months of growing that everyone else had had since buying their hockey shorts, meant theirs were trendy micro-minis; mine were a draughty tribute to Baden-Powell.

So sports lessons for me and other like-mindeds were generally a time to hide in the loos and compare scant notes on boys and eyeshadow. In post-school years I decided to try being sporty with Badminton; although this involved the tricky hitting-with-appendage, the target at least sailed through the air at a more gentle rate than a Tennis or (heaven forfend) a Squash ball...

Sadly, it it didn’t sail slowly enough for me, and I never graduated from Beginners’ Courses (in spite of taking three sets of them). But I wasn’t the only one. And we Put Our All into those games, hurtling desperately after the shuttlecock, shrieking “Good Shot!” whenever it made it over the net, and retiring to the bar afterwards to discuss our performance.

Definitely a cause for hilarity.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Chainsaw of Zorro

“Hah!” shouted Hervé, swishing the air with his chainsaw, “I am Zorro!”

Indeed, he did cut a dashing dash as he bounded lightly up the trunk and positioned himself for action. George and I could but gaze in awe.

And what was he doing there? Well, our ancient and enormous cherry tree succumbed to a tempest twelve months ago, resting ever since upon the old stone wall and the log shed. Having neither machinery nor experience in felling, George and I have tried not to think about it. (Besides, I thought it looked quite attractive at that angle)…

Then one day, our hero Hervé offered to do something about it! He turned up last week brandishing an impressive electric chain saw, plus the huge petrol-powered version belonging to his brother-in-law! Plus… appropriate gloves, boots, goggles, different thicknesses of rope, an astonishing agility and an intricate knowledge of knots. (No, not Scouts - the Forces).

He secured and sliced through branches in logical order of safety, until forced to stop due to oil and petrol exhaustion. Valiantly, he came back the next day with reinforcements – his brother-in-law and an even huger petrol-powered Thing. And metal wedges and a mallet to split logs of enormitude.

The axe we proffered seemed to cause them much hilarity, being of a rather delicate construction and very blunt. SO? It works on logs for the fire…

Anyway, These two stalwart specimens have left us with a fascinating array of beautiful logs, a vat-full of sawdust for comfy cat-litter, and the inspiration to redesign the garden and to clear whatever lurks within the shed… now the roof won’t collapse on top of us.

It’s only the cats who are slightly aggrieved; since the downfall of the cherry, the gap from shed-roof to wall, and from shed-roof to ground, demands far more calculation. Is sunbathing worth all that effort?

Sunday, February 15, 2009


This week I went to have yet another broken tooth glued back. In the past few years I’ve had countless such repairs – well five, anyway – almost always due to over-enthusiastic carrot crunching. Mercifully I have at last found a kind and gentle dentist who repairs Without Pain.

The pain thing is, of course, paramount. My teeth are sensitive specimens and back in the UK, I always needed two injections against the agony of drilling. When we came here six years ago, I wondered if that would be allowed, or would I be snorted out of the surgery?

When you move house, of course, the best way to find a dentist is by word of mouth (ho ho). The first of an eclectic range of recommendations was for a young, dynamic woman, up to date on all the latest techniques and keen to transform every tooth into one Fit for Hollywood.

It seemed like a good idea at first, but after we’d been summoned back for several severe pokings, sent to a special x-ray centre to augment the many x-rays she’d taken herself and been given her Bill, we started trying to say No.

Because all we wanted was a checkup each and my first tooth-mending – victim of a birthday feast. The repair was… efficient in a Don’t-make-such-a-fuss sort of way. But what hurt even more was her list of Absolutely Necessary future treatments, the cost amounting to most of our savings. I didn’t want all those teeth crowning to perfection. We told her We’d call Her.

The next dentist was different. He looked at the ancient crown on the front tooth I'd broken aged nine (falling over a bucket), and said, ‘Mm, there’s no decay… unless you’re worried about your appearance, I’d leave it.’ Well, I was a little worried, but didn’t like to say - he obviously felt it merited no concern...

He had been recommended by Cecile, who’d been going there for thirty years and ‘had never had anything to complain about’. However, all her teeth are false and when I asked if he hurt ever, her ‘Non’ was accompanied by a very Gallic shrug.

He turned out to be upper-middle-aged, and rather likeable. Which is important, but pales completely against the Pain Factor; our jolly chats were interspersed with his guffawing, ‘You don’t need an anaesthetic for a tiny job like this!’ and my apologetic screams.

And you should see the repair he did on my broken tooth – it resembles a dollop of blu-tack. Inevitably - he applied the concrete with one of those wooden spatulas we used to eat tubs of ice cream with, and he certainly didn’t Fine Tune.

Further recommendations include a homeopathic dentist who didn’t even believe in anaesthetic – he’d just give you a Strong Warning; a dentist who was good but very squeamish, so would tremble all through root canal, and finally, finally our lovely current Dentist.

We’ve got into quite a pleasant routine – every so often I get carried away with my carrot-crunching, rescue the wayward tooth chip and put it in an envelope. I pop into the surgery and he glues it back on. He’s friendly, twinkly, and Painless.

And even though he’s been on the verge of retirement for the two years I’ve been going there, he’s too happy in his work to give up. Something to do with the calibre of tooth, I like to think…

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bring More Candles

Last night, we were half way through our pineapple yoghurts when all the lights went out. Damn! Still, these cuts don’t last long, particularly when the weather’s calm…

After a couple of minutes blundering around for a torch that worked, George went outside to see how far the blackness stretched. It didn’t stretch at all – the streetlamps were on; next door’s kitchen was dazzling… why just us?

I felt a tiny surge of resentment towards the electricity company and all those currently enjoying its full power. (In fact, quite a big surge). Despicable of me, I know, but good heavens - it doesn’t seem long since we had all that baffling work done to change our system from something called ‘Triphase’ to ‘Monophase’.

Did we even have different Phases in England-our-Old-Country? And if the dreaded Triphase presented such an urgent need for change in this house, why had the previous owners ever dallied with it in the first place? For it had certainly caused us problems, usually when just about to amaze our friends with a gastronomic delight; or if George was away and I had to negotiate the outside steps and the Stygian gloom of the cellar… alone!

Anyway, since the 'passage en monophasée' - which entailed synchronising two electrical companies’ schedules, multitudinous agonised phone calls and hand delivering several Declarations to swear we’d all do our bit, (the electricians charged with this painful task, though, were all helpful and delightful) - all has gone well. Till last night.

George went down to the cellar and sure enough, the main fuse had tripped. He reset it; thirty seconds later it went again.

Had I been alone, I would have kept resetting it until it burst into flames, such is my ability and patience with DIY. Together, we sensibly eliminated fuses three by three, until left with the tangle of plugboards and cable under the kitchen sink.

Quite a lot of which turned out to be damp, and dripping into the mouldering under-reaches of the cupboard.

So we couldn’t blame it on an electrical company.

By experimental positioning of kitchen towel we deduced that the little black overflow pipe had let go at one end, so that enthusiastic gushing of waste sink water resulted in spattering of the cupboard. For weeks, months… who knows?

To avoid alarming sizzles, George has now redirected much of the cable, and indelibly re-glued the little black pipe. And we’re airing the foul depths of the under-sink.

Which is Really Exciting for the cats - they remain on constant guard because whatever’s exuding that sort of aroma must be tastier than Kitlykat …

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I'll Show You Mine...

What is this ghastly compulsion that seizes even the modest amongst us, to display our badges of physical suffering? Operation scars, injuries, tenacious rashes…

Just before Christmas I broke my leg whilst stepping back to admire our Beautifully-Adorned Tree. Mercifully, it was a clean break. Nevertheless, it entailed several days in hospital, a four-hour operation to insert a metal plate, and crutches that I’ve only just been allowed to dispense with.

AND I have a ten centimetre scar decorated with the holes of seventeen staples, of which I’m inordinately proud.

I can’t stop myself from writing about it here; I tell everyone I talk to, and yesterday when we were having lunch with friends, I really struggled not to flip down the top of my trousers to dazzle them with its magnificence… (It’s at the outside top of the thigh bone).

Why? It’s a revolting thing to do; akin to that childlike fascination with wormy things and festering scabs on our knees.

Dad used to be plagued by a neighbour along the corridor who would scuttle forth with graphic details of her latest medical procedure whenever he opened his door. If you watch 'Frasier', you’ll know that his dad is always dying to unleash his old bullet wound…

What reaction do we expect from those we inflict our damage upon? A satisfying Gasp of Horror? Praise for stoically bearing up? Sympathy for the life-long stain on our beauty? (The nurse broke it to me very gently). A comforting box of chocolates, perhaps, or a call to the nationals with our astonishing story?

I don't know. (Although chocolates always alleviate a trauma...)

But I've never had a worthwhile scar before, and I can't stop myself from sharing it!

In fact, while I'm on the subject, you should see the Appalling Collection of Bruises I've amassed from daily injections in the stomach!!