Nothing to lose

I’m obviously stuck in an 80s post-punk groove, because here’s Billy Idol to get you over the hump with Dancing With Myself. 

He looks so young here.

This reminds me of spin classes at the gym about ten years ago. It was on a loop as part of the set in the class and it still makes me want to get on my bike. I was so crazy I used to go to the 6.30am class before work and then do another one on the way home.

So what is getting me over the Wednesday blues this week and turning them to Wednesday Whoos?

Not the beautiful golden fields of rapeseed, that’s for sure. I’m not one for allergies, but this morning on my walk, I could barely see by the end of it! One anti-histamine later and I feel all ‘Whoo!’ again, (if a tired and sleepy whoo!) although my contact lenses are all freaked out by the pollen.

So it’s not all good. But two things that are connected by the two times of this song are certainly helping give me a bit of a mid-week buzz. A friend from the 80s who is stopping off on his trans-continental trip down to Morocco. He’s currently up in Le Havre and working his way down here on a 125cc ex-pizza delivery motorbike. Some people are nothing short of great ideas. He was over here last year as part of a very brief tour of France, and this time is taking a little longer. He still owes me a copy of Def Leppard’s Hysteria and a copy of Erasure’s Circus. I think a thirty-year loan is taking the mick. Banks would get flustered by that.

And the other friend connected to this is a friend who I met eleven years ago (where did the time go??) who saw me through some very difficult times. Her smiley face was one of the only reasons to go in to work some days, and she and I have had some great moments together. She’s a biology teacher cum teacher trainer and she once made me be the tail of a sperm. Not only did she reinvigorate my teaching, but she was an absolute rock. Not only that, I only have to say ‘Is that Workforce Reform?’ and she is in stitches, and she only has to say ‘paper knickers’ and I am in stitches. We lost touch when I moved out here and now that she is back in my life, I am one happy lady. I miss those days of working with her.

Anyway, here’s to the friends who get you through the mid-week blues, be they old or new.


52 Mondays #15


Where is this year going to? I have no idea. I thought life would slow down once I was out here, but no, it has not. Last week was another busy one, and little done in the garden on account of torrential rain on Thursday. It was another kind of busy. Work and deliveries and writing and trying to find some time in between all of this to raise awareness of a local news story that is having a direct impact on a part of my life.

Last week, the prosecutor in Angoulême called on Nadine, the refuge director, to go in and give an opinion on a black market puppy farm they were investigating. Nadine left with 30 dogs, as many as the refuge could take, leaving 120 dogs behind. Luckily, the 30 Million d’Amis association, among others, stepped in, but it still has put enormous pressure on the refuge. At 200 dogs already, full capacity, and dogs being brought in all the time, it becomes an impossibility to take more. If more are taken, various authorities can place pressure on the refuge to euthanise animals. Euthanising 30 otherwise healthy animals for no reason at all other than overcrowding as a direct result of humankind trying to make money off puppies is just disgusting to me. I dare not even pass comment on the condition of the mums brought in with their pups. It makes me hurt in my heart.

So I spent my in-between classes hours on Saturday promoting the story on Facebook and any other social media sites I could, hoping to draw attention to this and relieve a little pressure on the refuge by homing a few of the dogs. It’s working, a little bit. Two potential homes, two foster families and one certain adoption. That’s a small step in the right direction, though not enough. I wish it could be more. I wish I could go tomorrow and there would be no dogs. I wish there would be no need for refuges and animal programmes and Paul O’Grady getting sad-eyed about boxers and dogs homes. I wish that everyone felt the same as I do, that we are caretakers on this planet whose job is to curate the planet and look after it, not plunder it on some mission to make as much out of it as we can and sod the consequences. I wish whatever selfish button people have in them was something we could switch off. But it is a sad fact of the situation that my Facebook post about this story gained fewer comments than a thread about iced gem biscuits. The iced gem biscuits thread just ran and ran. I can understand why my fellow animal-loving ladies sometimes blow a gasket and people call them the Animal Mafia. I felt like blowing a gasket as well. Guess I am Animal Mafia too.

I firmly believe you should have a licence to have a dog, that you should pass a test. You have to do so in order to drive. I think you should have to pass a test to have a child, too, but that is another matter.

Anyway, today was more restful, thanks to a lovely lady who organised a spa morning at her house. I had my unruly eyebrows beaten into shape and got to see my gorgeous lady friends for a few hours. It is never enough time with them. They restore my faith in humanity. They share my animal outrage. They share my sense of humour. They make me laugh endlessly. And whenever I have needed them, they have been there. It certainly gave me a bit of a boost to the week’s beginning, especially as I am lurgy-fied and I sprained my wrist and hand on Friday (not badly, but it was sore and claw-like for a couple of days and has now given way to twinges) so I needed a little bit of cake and coffee, waxing and chat. Tomorrow through to Friday are busy, busy days. On Friday, I am helping at a food drive for the refuge. Lord knows, they need all the support they can get right now. Luckily, the end of term is in sight, although somebody asked me about crash courses today and I felt like saying ‘Give me a break!!’ as I am very much looking forward to five days where I do not move from my house and garden. As you can see from the photo, things are growing like crazy!

Maybe you don’t wanna know

Thought you might want a bit of post-punk anger to get you through the mid-week doldrums, so here’s a fabulous 80s classic, Never Take Me Alive by Spear of Destiny.

1987 was really the year I discovered music and I’m pretty sure that this single was one of the first ‘modern’ things I bought, having spent all my time before that buying up stuff at the flea market in Bury, and living off copied cassette tapes that my friends had done for me. I can’t say what it was that I particularly liked about it… but something obviously appealed to me. Perhaps I was a young and lawless renegade wannabe, back in the day?! I’m also certain it was the first thing I bought without any other influence, be that influence friends or family or old guys at the flea market telling me what I should listen to next. It’s great to have people share their passions, but there is something most wonderful about discovering things for yourself.

I think 1987 was the year I really became the seed of the adult I became as well. I was 14 for most of the year and it was the year I read IT by Stephen King – it was my introduction to King and I spent the next year devouring everything I could of his. I still remember reading Salem’s Lot in my bedroom late at night when I was about 15. That’s how terrified I was. I couldn’t even say where I got the book from. I don’t think I borrowed it from anyone – I still have the same copy. And I don’t think I bought it. It is a complete mystery as to how it ended up in my possession.

It is quite something to have so many keys to memories – like U2 last week – most of my books are such hard-won possessions (or at least, the early ones) that I can remember exactly when I got them and who bought them for me. It makes me laugh when people make connections to literacy rates and homes with books on shelves. We might not have had loads of books at home, but I had a library card and I certainly used it! It was on my way home from school so I would usually pick something up then, or on Saturday afternoons. Happy days. Nothing makes me feel as happy as the smell of a library.

If the truth be told, I would be very happy living in a caravan, but the only hindrance to that is the fact I would have no place to put my books. No matter how I try, I cannot part with so many of them and even if I got them in electronic form and stored them nicely on a Kindle, I’d still feel a bit bereft.

Anyway, today is a busy one so I better get on with it. No procrastinating by thinking of books!

52 Mondays #14


Bit of a grey and windy one yesterday – though warmer. The blue skies of two weeks ago seem very far away.

It is the end of March and we go into April with grey skies. No frosts though, and it feels unlikely that there will be one; even in the blue days earlier in the year, the night time temperatures did not drop that significantly.

This week is another busy one. It’s starting to get to the point where I am looking forward to the holidays and to having some time off. This is the first time in years I have felt like I need a break – yesterday was my first day off without clients for weeks and boy did I need it! No break for holidays here though until 19th April, so just need to take a deep breath and get through it! Ironically, it is my English clients in the UK who are adding substantially to my work load – it is their holidays and I have a couple of students who are desperate to cram as much in as they can. It does seem that French students are much better at balancing their workload and although the Brevet and Baccalaureate approach, they are so used to tests and evaluations that it feels much less stressful.



The crops round here are all shooting up, the rapeseed is in flower and I’m just waiting for blue skies to capture the striking yellow landscape at its best. This week, at least, it looks like a week of 98% cloud cover.

Open up your eyes

Okay, it’s a bit late. That’s what happens when you try to squash a dog walk in and your dog gets overexcited when he sees some swallows. I’m working to a tight schedule here! Anyway, the Wednesday Whoo was then a Thursday Phew and is now a Friday Yippee! with U2 and their cover of the Robert Knight soul classic Everlasting Love. 

I can’t tell you how much I love this song. And the U2 version is my favourite. It was released in 1998 and it’s got so many memories for me. My copy of the song was on a copied disc of ‘The Best of 1980-1990′ that Andy did for me – and he’d written out all of the tracks by hand. I’d listened to it over and over as the B side to All I Want is You which came out in 1989. That little 7″ single of mine got listened to over and over – and I’m surprised there are any grooves left on the B side. It still makes me ache to hear it.

Let’s face it: Bono turned out to be a bit of a smarmy, holier-than-thou, shiny-faced do-gooder after “Achtung, Baby!”  and he got a bit unbearably smug. But back in the 80s, he was still filled with all this raw emotion from time to time – I still love Sunday Bloody Sunday - nothing like a bit of a protest song from time to time. Does anyone make protest songs any more? It’s no wonder I grew up so angry.

So what else is warming the cockles of my heart this week?

Teaching Italian – ages since I did (I used to teach a GCSE Italian class about 15 years ago!) although I realised that my mouth was used to French and mangiare took a bit of getting used to. Might look similar to manger (the French for the same thing) but Italian is such a straightforward language compared to French. At least most times you can tell if something is masculine or feminine, just from the word. French – well, that’s a whole lot more intricate. But I love the feel of Italian and once you get back into speaking it, after a minute or two, it feels so smiley and lovely in your mouth. Likewise Portuguese. I love the feel of that one in my mouth. A friend of mine said it’s like speaking with a mouthful of cake. It kind of is.

But much love for being an English speaker. That’s lucky. English has fewer verb endings, fewer irregular verbs and fewer tenses than many other languages, though we often have more words. There is not a massive gap between written English and spoken English, and any formality or plural for you has long since evaporated. Talking to a French-speaking boy who has lived all his life in England and has returned for a term to live in France, he says the ‘tu’ and ‘vous’ thing is a nightmare for him and he’s always using tu instead of vous. I had a student once, an old guy who had decided to learn French and had decided, against my advice, to learn French from an English person, and he spoke always in the ‘tu’ form. It made me feel really uncomfortable when he spoke to me. I thought ‘I don’t know you… it’s like you’re invading my pronoun space!’. We don’t have those linguistic bothers in English. In fact, Italian is much more straightforward over this as well. The French are much more formal than the Italians or the Spanish. Nobody uses the polite form with me in those languages. That’s at least one reason to celebrate speaking English.

So enjoy the words you speak today. Savour flibbertigibbet and flabbergasted and funky, moist and marvellous and gusset. Run rampant with regionalisms, quirks and oddities. Life is always much nicer when we have joyous words to roll around our mouths!


52 Mondays #13


Can you believe it is a quarter of the way through the year? It feels like it has flown by. I wish time would slow down a bit, or else I could make a clone of myself. It is definitely spring here right now – and the trees are in blossom everywhere. Right now, it is sloe blossom, and everything is white around here. The water has finally receded in my garden and the gardening year can begin in full. It is time to rake seedbeds, to plant seeds outside. My lean-to is filled with tender babies who will stay inside until the risk of frost is long gone, but I can get on with other things outside that don’t mind the occasional cold night.

IMG_0522The peaches have blossomed. The plums are beginning to flower. I noticed yesterday that my quince and pear are heavy with buds as well.

IMG_0545The forsythia is now well past its best.

As I open my shutters in the morning, this is the view that greets me.

IMG_0556The week is returning to more typical spring-like weather here – more up and down, more rain, more showers. That is okay with me. As long as the sun comes back eventually.

This week is a mad, busy week. I have new clients starting on Mondays and Tuesdays, and GCSE panic has set in for a couple of my UK-based students whose mock exam results weren’t as good as they wanted. This week will mark the peak of my number of lessons. Luckily, I finished my writing projects and tasks this weekend and so all I have to do is get through til next Saturday evening. Next week is less hectic. Or, it seems so at first glance. I have also my first meeting as a newly-elected member of the ‘bureau’ for Les Dames de FER, as I am now membership secretary and this entails a few more weekly tasks. It feels funny to be still marketing right in among the most busy of my weeks – last Friday I managed to stop in on a ‘virtual’ showcasing set up by a couple of local ladies – and it really was a hive of activity. Less Dames de FER (Iron ladies, if you will), more Dames de FAIRE (ladies who ‘do’) or even Dames d’Affaires (ladies of business). Between bureau meetings, lessons, deliveries, planting, writing, dog walking and generally trying to find a little space for me, I think it is forecast to be the busiest week of my year so far. I think Saturday will come round very quickly indeed.

Twilight Old Dogs’ Home

I’m just going to issue a warning. This is an unashamedly doggie post. I promise not to do one for a while. Feel free to grab a hankie if you are of a sensitive disposition as far as animals are concerned. I’m sure it can’t just be me sitting at the computer having a few tears every time a video pops up of some rottie being rescued in Detroit, or a pack of dogs who have been rescued in Mexico City. This one, at least, is a little closer to home.

A couple of years ago, I read about an old dogs’ home here in France, and I’ve been following their website and Facebook page ever since. The premise of this old dogs’ home – Twilight – is that they would take in abandoned, orphaned, handicapped or otherwise needy dogs from the refuges around the region, and they would give them homes. And boy, is there a need. Last Monday, for example, Nadine, the refuge directrice brought over a shitszu that had been given up. Her owner had gone into an old people’s home herself and there was nowhere for the little poppet to go. She was 14 years old, has a tumour on her stomach, has claws like Fu Manchu, teeth like a row of broken gravestones. Imagine spending your 14 years sitting on the lap of an old lady, and then in your own twilight years, you are torn apart under the cruellest of circumstances. And this is just one example. There are far too many old dogs who come in to the refuge and who just can’t cope.

Angoulême also has a no-euthanasia policy. Other refuges are not so keen on keeping old dogs alive. You might think that is kinder, and I guess, if there were nothing ahead but months and months of waiting and months and months of distress, it might be. Luckily, there are plenty of people who love old dogs. However, that doesn’t stop some refuges having what can only be described as a trigger-happy euthanasia policy.

Nanny Mac is one recent example of a dog snatched from imminent euthanasia and then, following a short foster placement, finding a very loving home.


This is Nanny Mac after her long trip to her new home.

So Twilight was devised by Mike and Leeanne as a way to take the dogs from those refuges having trouble rehoming old dogs, or with a trigger-happy euthanasia policy. And I have been wanting to visit for as long as I can remember. So when I finally got the chance on Thursday, well, neither hell nor high water could have kept me from it.

My friend Jane has the tears of joy record. She cried before she got in through the door. I lasted until I saw Stevie, an Australian collie. Then I was in the kitchen with blind old Stevie, weeping into his coat and giving him the most massive of petting sessions. Stevie is like a celebrity to me – have followed his story and to actually meet him was like meeting a celebrity.

IMG_0630But you don’t get far before you find another dog who melts your heart. They have twenty six at the moment, all living in the downstairs bit of their home, complete with dog beds, dog settees, dog cushions, dog spaces and bags and bags of love. 

Some dogs are filled with energy. In fact, there are two younger dogs here, Fleur and Jacob, who had been abused and then adopted by Mike and Leeanne. There are old dogs with plenty of life left in them like lovely Rex…

IMG_0574And there are dogs like Nana, who is deaf and blind. She gets up once in a while, has a pee, gets into another bed and goes back to sleep again. 

IMG_0632There are, of course, plenty of spaniels to break my heart. Like William, who is ten. 

IMG_0585He is only one year older than Tilly, but he spent five years in a refuge and he is definitely lots less energetic than Tilly. He is so similar though. He just sat in his spot when we came in, ignoring all the other dogs. He moves just like she does and when you give him a rub, his back legs go just like Tilly’s do. Sad to think of what those five years in the refuge have done to him. My little menace is full of energy and she is herself a bit of a pensioner. 

IMG_0646She has Heston though, to keep her young.

There are blind dogs and deaf dogs, and dogs with three legs, like poor Emmy the hound. 

IMG_0589Emmy is lots younger than most of the other old dogs, but she was being badly bullied by the other dogs in the refuge after the operation to remove her leg. She is still a little lost and forlorn, not wanting to go outside except to do her business. There is a plan in place to see if we can release the inner Emmy, though, fear not. 

And there are dogs who have come from a long way away, like Hope. 

IMG_0572She has come all the way from Bulgaria. A month ago, it seemed like Hope had taken a turn for the worse – she has all sorts of tumours and arthritis – but this time, she sought out company in ways that almost couldn’t have been believed a month ago. She has the saddest eyes, so full of two thousand stories of hardship, which is what really makes Twilight such a place of joy – it is a warm, comfortable, happy, safe, loving place for dogs to spend their final days or months. 

And that is the last thing to say about Twilight. It is a place where dogs go to spend their days in peace – otherwise healthy dogs who are not in pain, who are not sick. They are old, they are creaky. They are sometimes suffering from diseases of old age, but they are not ready to cross the rainbow bridge just yet. But eventually, they do. And with thirty dogs of an age, that is a fairly regular event. Last year, a friend gave me a fridge magnet with Loulou the pug on it. But by the time I opened it at Christmas, she had gone. However, she spent her final days surrounded by humans and warmth and love and companionship. And that is all any of us creatures could ask for. 

I just realised as well, as I was reading this through, that I had said nothing of the two people who are responsible for all of this – Leeanne and Mike. You know those people who make you feel instantly welcome, instantly cared about, who are gentle and kind and unassuming and modest, who remind you of the best of people, not the worst? That would be them. When you know the stories of dogs who’ve been used as a football on a gypsy camp, who have been thrown from moving cars, who have been abandoned by unscrupulous puppy farm owners, who have been left in their hour of need, it is easy to become cynical about humanity. Leeanne and Mike need only to say hello and you remember there is much more good out there than bad. I’m sure it’s been said a gazillion times before, but it is very humbling to be with people like this. All your tiny grievances and petty grumbles seem so pathetic when you realise what some people do on a daily basis. They have a way of making you want to do more, of making you realise that you probably have just a little bit more you could do to help make the world a nicer place. Everyone should know people like that. 

Anyway, if you would like to support Twilight Old Dogs Home, you can donate via their website. If you live close, you can always donate cleaning fluid or things for the frequent jumble sales the association hold to raise money. 

IMG_0602Happy dogs, and Happy Emma.