Monthly Archives: December 2010

Tick List 2011

I don’t like resolutions, because they’re always something loose and useless, puffy and vague. So… I’m going to have a tick list instead. I like tick-lists. I like order rather than chaos. Once, in Japan, a guy had photocopied city maps from his guide book, given the things he wanted to see a star-rating, then highlighted the ‘must-sees’ in green then the ‘quite like to sees’ in orange (traffic light colours, of course!) and then worked out the best routes from one to another so he could cram in maximum exposure time.

Whilst this frightens me a little, since it’s sooo regulated it ends up dictating your day like Mussolini and the trains and verges on travel fascism, I still admired it. I used to colour-code my to-do lists, and as every English teacher will admit, would be very happy with a stationery shop as a back-up career. How I love stationery and order!

Anyway, disturbing admissions aside, a to-do list is much more useful. I might even set micro-targets and mid-point targets and outcomes and long-term objectives like I used to do in teaching. Nothing feels nicer than a completed tick-list (unless I am in Eeyore mood, when it all seems pointless and the nearer I get to completing the list, the more it seems pointless) and so I shall use this as a springboard for productivity in 2011. Hoorah!

I might, since I’m feeling super-organised, section these 🙂

Wow, I’m feeling productive and efficient and organised today! Must remember not to drink so much coffee so early!


Home has to be my big one, since it’s been the focus of 2010 to get a new one!

  1. Finish painting all the ceilings in the downstairs rooms
  2. Paint the front room cream, hang pictures, get new flooring, make curtains and nets, paint window frames, put new doors on the door frames to the wash room and upstairs, make and paint new shutters, make cushions and a curtain for across the doorway, put up shoe shelves in the entrance and paper and decorate.
  3. Add work surfaces in kitchen, paint walls peach, make blue polka dot curtains, add shelves and cupboards for my panatry (sic – a word used by Danielle for a pantry, which I like so much more than pantry, so I’ve adopted it)
  4. Decorate dining room, strip floor, xenophene it, wax and polish it, make curtains, new shutters and paint window frames.
  5. Decorate my bedroom, white walls, strip and xenophene floors, put lambris up for the ceiling, make curtains and put up voile panels.
  6. Decorate Jake’s bedroom, paint walls, strip and xenophene floorboards, make curtains, new shutters and paint window frames.
  7. Secure the annex (that sounds like a Nazi war manoeuvre!) and make new shutters, sort out window frames, secure roof, xenophene floorboards and replace where needed, wallpaper, curtains (God, I’m going into about 2017 now!!)

I hasten to point out that many of these to-dos are for Steve 🙂

He’s going to be a VERY busy boy in 2011!

In all seriousness, I hope I do as much myself. I like seeing the fruits of my labour.


Less important, but we’re Englishers in France – it’s vital we live up to expectations and do up the house so that it sticks out like a sore thumb and everyone knows we’re English. If you have a nice-looking house from the outside, you are English, or you bought from an Englisher. It’s the law for Frenchers not to bother with the outside of their house unless they live in a new pavilion or they are renting it out.

  1. Check roof
  2. Put new gutters in and water butts
  3. Paint exterior walls on road side
  4. Paint the lean to windows
  5. Finish painting gate. Alright, I started it in August and this might be why I’m known as ‘Arfur’ – ‘Arfur Job’
  6. Render the rest of the lean-to
  7. Paint inside walls in both lean-tos
  8. Put up shelves in lean to
  9. Sort out new polytunnel fabric.
  10. Sort out middle grass field
  11. Dig over vegetable patches


  1. Plant peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, leeks, cabbages, melons, strawberries, herbs, onions, garlic, chillis, spinach, chard, cauliflowers, lettuces, tomatoes, gherkins, sweetcorn and so on
  2. Keep a garden journal of weather and temperatures and harvests and plantings

Other stuff

  1. Get to know a whole load more about birds and nature – I don’t want a bird coming in my garden that can’t be recognised! Bird identification books are already set out by the window!
  2. Improve my French, bien sûr! Read 10 books in French by the end of the year (now this is sounding like The Great Gatsby and Gatsby’s list always makes me sad!)
  3. Go on at least three long walks a week with the dogs
  4. Get a couple of goats or sheep!
  5. Go to the Alps or to the Aquitaine coast for walks and bicycling in the summer.
  6. Bring a little order to my chaotic life!
  7. By next November, have a freezer-full of stuff to get us through the winter
  8. I feel I have to have 10
  9. But I can’t think of another 3
  10. So I’m just going to have 10 numbers.

I hate things not being even. I don’t mind about the other lists not being even, but I really don’t like it when I finish uneven. I’m such a semi-aspergers’ nerd.

I may strike through the things I achieve as a running example. I doubt it. I bet I don’t revisit this list more than three times! However, it might be nice to look back on next year and see what got done! It will be about a third of these things. That’s fine. There’s nothing like ambition! I must point out that it is 10:38 and I’m sitting here in my pyjamas, with unbrushed hair, covered in dog hairs. Hmmmm.

I do like the new year for that breath of fresh air I get from it. It feels like a new start, like a new term at school where you get new books and have a new pen. Everything is beginning again and it feels clean. It’s like all those new books you have lined up at school, unwritten in, fresh, uncreased, the corners un-dog-eared, graffiti-free. It lasts, as new term feeling does, for only a few days, but it’s nice to have that feeling of being at the beginning again and feeling ready to start a race.

Addendum #1:

Take up knitting.

Whilst the Beani is away…

It’s weird being on my own in my own house. I don’t think I’ve been alone for 24 hours since… I don’t know when.

Still, it’s an opportunity that I’m unused to. I took it easy at first, finding difficulty in shedding Steve and Jake’s virtual presence and reclaiming my single girl ways. I lit a fire (Steve’s job, always) and I made hot chocolate and ate sweeties (Jake’s job) and then I did something unprecedented. I watched the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, that delightful girls’-only viewing. I curled up with the dogs and a hot chocolate on the couch and laughed at Mma Ramotswe and her lovely secretary Grace Makutsi, with the inimitable Mr Matekoni. He is the finest man ever, according to me. He is kind and noble and old-fashioned and romantic. He reminds me in many ways of my Gramps and Andy – hard-working, honest, loyal, kind… I loooooove Rra Matekoni.

This is odd. It’s like watching Disney in a lap dancing club, watching girly stuff that doesn’t have a spy in it, or guns (although I admit it does have detecting in it, which is right up my street) and it’s not that I mind 24 and Burn Notice and so on, because I introduced them, but sometimes, it’s nice to watch something the boys wouldn’t like at all. Not that I enjoy watching it because they don’t like it, but I enjoy watching it all the more because only I like it.

And this morning… Steve and I usually keep fairly quiet til eleven-ish, not because we don’t want to wake Jake, but because we like this quiet time. I like quiet mornings, it must be said. But today, I’m listening to a little bit of HED (p.e.) and it’s great. I can listen to whatever I like, and I like to listen to HED. I suspect I’ve not quite shaken off Steve’s tastes yet. I may be up to Depeche Mode by Friday, who’s to say?

I have been tame so far. I scratched my tummy in front of the fridge in a very Homer-Simpson kind of a way, but honestly, I’d do that anyway. I’m wondering if I’m going to do something wild, like paint the front room pink or go around naked in just high heels, or get up at lunch time. I doubt it.

The truth be told, I can’t think of anything more revolutionary to do than go to bed half an hour later, get up half an hour earlier, watch something less usual and listen to some early morning music. Maybe, just maybe, I might get really revolutionary and not watch anything at all tonight. Although, with six more Rra Matakonis to watch, I suspect that might be reserved for nights later in the week.

What’s a girl to do when the Beanster is away??!

I want something naughty that will give me a smile afterwards. I suspect I’ll settle for nothing more exciting than keeping the toilet door open. Answers on a postcard please.


A book is about to be republished: 2010: Living in the Future by Geoffrey Hoyle. It was written in 1972 and made predictions about the year that is just on its way out. Written in the year of my birth, 38 years seems like an eternity in terms of how fast the world travels. And not at all in other ways.

1972 brought many things: the first hand-held scientific calculator, the first woman judge at the Old Bailey, Bloody Sunday, the Miners’ strike, Richard Nixon, The Godfather, war in Vietnam, Watergate, war between India and Pakistan, the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, the beginnings of problems in Zimbabwe and the height of Idi Amin’s rule.

Since then, we’ve moved to the internet and palm pilots, laptops to ipads, the calming of ‘The Troubles’, the disappearance of coal as power and the emergence of nuclear and environmental power, Bill Clinton, Titanic, war in the Middle East, wikileaks, continued problems between India and Pakistan, the return of peace in some African nations and the emergence of disruption in others.

Will dictatorships cease? I don’t think so. There’ll always be an Idi Amin – some tinpot, crackpot dictator. Now we have Mugabe and Kim Il-Jong. Things won’t change. Somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, some dictator will rise to power and effect massive unrest, but the world will watch, because they’re unimportant. Korea has been problematic for over 50 years – I think it has yet to become the problem it could yet be. Sub-Saharan Africa has yet to find a governmental model that works for them better than dictatorship. I think we have to accept Democracy isn’t for them – and that we supposedly democratic countries are not democratic at all. Democracy has failed, just as Communism did. Trouble is, we don’t have anything on standby.

Will corruption at Governmental level stop? Not at all. In fact, instead of being shocked by Nixon and his type of corruption, we will all just accept that’s the way it will be. The problems of economics will worsen. Maybe paper money will die out – the dollar or euro or pound will disintegrate, and gold will be the currency of the world once again. I can forsee hyperinflation in some unexpected currency, be it pounds or dollars or euros. Qualitative Easing is just a polite route to hyperinflation if you ask me. In the next 38 years, I’m sure some ‘established’ once ‘hard currency’ like dollars will become worthless, devalue and people will return to real hard currency and bartering. Nothing is too big to fail. Germany, Hungary, Yugoslavia – all European currencies that failed in the past. It will happen again. Japan is only 70 years out of hyperinflation.

Power supply will become another 21st Century issue – whether to go nuclear or to go for environmental power. Of course, oil supplies will be hugely limited by 2048, and so I wonder whether we’ll have gone back to pre-1900 methods of transport and lifestyle, with cars becoming less and less feasible and people moving to live near their places of work, staying nearer to family, or relying on the internet to communicate, rather than travel. I can see the age of the car being over – the population growth means that it’s unsustainable. And whilst self-sufficient power and households are perfectly feasible, it’s not in governmental or power agencies’ best interests to go solar or wind or tidal, because it doesn’t make money and if people don’t need to pay for fuel, then they can’t tax it. So… biofuel and nuclear it is.

But, if we’re producing biofuel, we can’t produce grain for cattle, so I can see meat becoming more and more expensive as the world’s population explodes. This means a return to all-but-vegetarianism for much of the world. Beef will become outdated or more intensively farmed in more vile ways – and China will probably lead the way in creating something entirely man-made.

In many ways, I can see almost a full-circle back to the early 70s, where cars were one per household, usually, if you were lucky, and people used public transport a lot more. I can see the same disenchantment with the government as in Britain’s Winter of Discontent.

I think as we get bigger, we’ll become more unmanageable. The wider your boundaries, the bigger your population, the harder it is to manage. So nations will divide. I can see the end to ‘Great Britain’ – a concept only existing in the last 300 years, as British people become increasingly disenfranchised with this ‘Big Society’ – and Governments will let smaller bits, like ‘The North’ and Cornwall, rule themselves, because it’s just too unwieldy. Small is easy to manage. Big is not. Only China has managed to hold it together all these years.

Personally, I see a growth in South America. Once they have ended corruption, as Brazil attempts to do, they will have the resources to become dominant. I can see China going the way of the USSR – although to be fair, they’re much better at being an empire than the Russians were!!

I wonder if there will be big wars, and other nations will stay out of it? I can see big problems in Iran these next ten years or so, and in North Korea too. I think Vietnam and Cambodia will cast off their shadows and step up to the global table, too.

I can see a global ‘winter of discontent’ – but I know little will change. Women’s Lib has been softer than it promised, but has achieved a lot. Human Rights are perhaps more important – I know many countries are further away from the death penalty than they were. Racism, whilst existing still, is less likely to be sanctioned by law. Racism, I think, will play second fiddle to ‘religionism’ or ‘culturalism’ and it will no longer be about colour as it was in the 60s and 70s, with black and Indian sub-continent racism, but about Muslims and ‘Non-Muslims’, just like it was about ‘untermensch’ and ‘ubermensch’. We’ve been here before, too. Did we learn nothing from the Crusades, global holocausts, Inquisitions and persecutions? Racism was just a neat little side-track between the battle between the ‘Abraham 3’ – Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Anyway… this has ended by being one of those blogs my Nana says are too political! I’m sorry!

Maybe I should have written about us taking vitamin pill food and wearing jumpsuits?

What has shifted, it seems, between 1972 and now is hopefulness. We used to see a world of hoverboards and flying cars, a world where we lived on the moon and went on holidays to Venus and Mars. We were all about digital fonts and silver suits. We used to see the Jetsons as our future, and self-cleaning kitchens, a world ruled by benevolent computers and automated for our service. Now automated just means those incredibly frustrating ‘now press 1’ lines and automated has come to mean humourless and barely functional. We realised automated isn’t really ‘auto’mated, but ‘people’mated and therefore, it works sans empathy or sans altruism – those qualities that divide us from the animals.

I’d like to see a shift, driven by fuel and power, back to the local. I’d like to see a more human place. I think we’ve perhaps become so cynical that any future just seems tainted by the problems of today. Or is that just governmental conditioning leading me to think that all we are doing is creating a world of problems for our progeny.



Joyeuses Fetes!

We’re on last minute wrapping duty… Jake can’t get to sleep and Steve and I are trying to hide our present-wrapping activities. However, this is not easy with three excited dogs.

Steve just went in Jake’s room to retrieve the sellotape (it’s been requisitioned by the boy for the purpose of making guns) and said “There’s a fat man in a red suit at the door wanting the sellotape.”

“What?” says Jake.

“There’s a FAT MAN at the DOOR in a RED SUIT wanting to borrow the sellotape.”

“What? And you’re just going to give it to him?”

Obviously sleepy. Mind you, I’m so gullible, I’d have said the same thing. On a similar note, I was talking about Père Noël with Aurore, one of my little students. She’s 8 years old and just adorable. I think she’s wonderful.

“Do you believe in Père Noël?” she asked.

“Yes!” I said. You don’t want to upset the philosophical balance in a household with children. It’s tantamount to fire-bombing them during Christmas dinner.

She leaned over to me and whispered: “He isn’t real, you know!” she said. “It’s just your maman and papa!”

“No!” I said, looking disbelieving.

“Yes. You aren’t upset now you know?”

Aurore looked genuinely concerned as if she’d just broken my heart. She put her hand on mine, nodded over to her little brother and said, “But don’t worry, Clement still believes as well and he gets lots more presents!”

Sometimes, kids are cuter than animals. But when Tilly Flop rolls on her back and does air-kicks, it’s still pretty special.

Merry Christmas to everyone – have a wonderful day!

My bucket list 2003

Back in 2003, before Andy died and before depression really kicked in, I wrote my bucket list – the things you have to do before you kick the bucket. When I got to 2006, the list seemed pointless and worthless – a tick list of things that wouldn’t matter in 200 years’ time. Anhedonia – the inability to get pleasure from anything – is the worst aspect of depression for me. I can’t enjoy stuff. I hate eating. I don’t like anything. It all seems pointless. So to get my bucket list out again and see what was on it and what I’ve achieved now gives me a lovely sense of pleasure – a sign that perhaps the clouds of depression are lifting once again.

Here it is:

1. Learn to rollerblade – check. That very year, I rollerbladed down the Avenida Atlantica in Rio – and it was every bit as fantastic as I hoped it’d be.

2. Kayak on the Charente – check. I admit we didn’t get very far, but kayak we did and I’d even forgotten it was on my list. Thanks to Steve and Jake for making that come true!

3. Read the works of Dickens – still ongoing. In fact, that’s what made me think of my list, since I knew this was on it. And it was Malcolm in the Middle that made me think of this. I’m about to embark upon A tale of Two Cities.

4. See the works of Shakespeare – I’m a good few further on, having seen Julius Caesar, The Taming of the Shrew (best production ever… really made me think!) Twelfth Night, A Winter’s Tale, Macbeth (again!) Measure for Measure, A Midsummer Night’s Dream … And a good few of those have been the most excellent Propeller company! That just makes it even better!!

5. Go to India – still on the list.

6. Get my nose pierced – still on the list. Sorry mum. But it’s got to be done! Last had it done back in Uni, and I’d love to relive those hippy days!

7. Have a hummingbird tattoo – still on the list, although I have added to my tattoos with a cherry blossom. Wisteria, Maple and Snowflakes still to come!

8. Mountain bike in Matlock – check! I biked around the town – cool as anything!

9. Stay in Paris – check. October 2004, I was rich, it was a beautiful autumn. I bought Chanel sunglasses and stayed in Montmartre with my brother.

10. Publish a novel – well, textbooks will have to do!!

11. Run a marathon – check. 34 under my belt. Thanks to Pete Nesbitt for giving me the marathon urge, and sad to say stress fractures put an end to that!

12. Sing – have singing lessons – still haven’t done that one!

13. Learn to photograph properly – check. I have advanced skills and a darkroom of my own : )

14. Climb a mountain – check. Not Kilimanjaro, as I wanted, but Cuba and Scotland will do!

15. Visit Scotland – check. Thanks to Pete Nesbitt for that, too!

Just past Glen Coe

16. Be a size 8 once! – and I was! When I went to Mexico in 2003, I was 7 stone 6! How cute was I??!

17. Learn to speak French properly – underway!!

18. Completely read a French novel – check. Parfum in French was wonderful!

19. Do yoga – check. Didn’t last long though. I call it ‘glorified lying down’ – it wasn’t for me. Tai Chi, though…

20. Go skiing – still haven’t done that… Maybe I’ll make it over to somewhere lovely and French next winter?

21. Snowboard – ditto!

22. Own a pair of ice skates – I obviously had a winter theme!!

23. Bake a carrot cake – I was early in my baking career!

24. See the rainforest – check. It was utterly glorious! Brazil was a thrilling experience

On the Amazon... houseboat

25. Drive down through California – still not done this yet. Still lots of places to visit!

26. Scuba-dive – check. The waters off Cuba were sublime. It wasn’t the Maldives, but it was fantastic enough!

27. See the Maldives – unfortunately, that one never came to fruition, and with Andy gone, it’s a little harder to do this.

28. Own a really expensive pair of shoes – check. Dior – check. Russell and Bromley patent Mary Jane’s – check. Karen Millen pink snakeskin cowboy boots – check. They don’t get much wear on the farm, though!!

29. Own a really expensive handbag – check. My Dior fantasies didn’t pay off, but Longchamp is good enough!

30. See the Red Hot Chili Peppers again – check. Thanks once more to Pete Nesbitt! Boy, we did a lot of stuff together! He was a lovely boyfriend! And he’s still a good friend. God bless Whizzbit.

31. See China

32. Go to Australia

33. Work abroad – check. I guess I’m doing it right now!

34. Get a dog – check. The Molly Dog, Tilly Floss and Saffy Womble are filling that there box!

35. Ride through Sherwood Forest – not quite. But I’ll find a better place to ride a horse!

36. Dance on a bar – check. Kos 2001 saw that!! Everyone has to dance a bar once in their life.

37. Walk in the Alps – not yet. Maybe this summer I should do that! I’m nearer now!!

38. Do something really worthwhile for charity – I don’t think I’ve done as much as I’d want to… I’m still on that one!

39. Go back to Venezuela – not yet.

40. Do something for the community – I’m much more involved now, but I don’t think I’ve really got up there yet!

41. Go to Brazil – see Christ the Redeemer – check.

Looking down from Christ the Redeemer

42. Star in a stage production – it is a little-known fact that I once played Prince Charming in a play. I want to do more theatre. One to stay on the list.

43. Go to an opera  – I took my Nana to see Madame Butterfly and we cried the whole way through. Plus, I’ve seen Kabuki in Japan. That’s got to be worth something!!

44. Own a piece of murano glass – not yet. I live and dream. Lalique would do! I keep looking on and Le Bon Coin…

I had 44 things to do and some are ongoing. I’m amazed I’ve done so many of them. I guess I’ve done a whole load more that I really didn’t expect. I didn’t think I’d see sakura and hanami in Japan. I didn’t think I’d hang out in the mountains where Fidel and Che hid from the junta. I definitely didn’t think I’d be going up Chichen Itza, or seeing Land’s End, falling in love with Cornwall or living in France. It wasn’t even in my thoughts I’d achieve that. It’s been an amazing eight years, surely, even carrying depression and mania with me for most of them. I never thought I’d ride a camel in the Sahara or swim in the Caribbean, walk through a souk or meet a million people I’m glad I’ve met.

Some great guys I met in Havana

So… now I’ve done so much on my bucket list, should I add more?

Maybe that’s a thing for New Year’s Eve, when I’m in on my lonesome with all my girls and The Basil.

Pedigree dogs

Now Saffy and Tilly have settled in a little more, I’m left thinking a little bit about how wonderful the Moll is. She’s sitting looking at me right now, so I’ve got owner-guilt. Molly’s a Bassetts… Allsorts! She’s probably a bit ridgebacky, a bit bully, a bit of lots of other things. She’s such a kind dog, and such a caring dog. She’s very aware of her size and she’s very, very gentle. She is, however, totally spoilt where as it’s clear Saffy and Tilly know their place, sitting in their baskets and staying there. Probably as much comfort as anything else – it must smell of home.

It’s clear they have been loved – they’re both a little plump, though Saffy’s through illness – but as to what’s happened recently, I don’t know. Lack of money, no doubt, rather than lack of care. Both have fleas and ear infections and conjunctivitis. They’ve been around the world. Saffy seems to have come from Lancashire, then gone to Florida then come to France. Tilly was bought in America and then has come to France.

It’s hard not to be judgmental – especially when it’s animals. I know I’d be upset if I found a child at school who’d been coming to school with nits and ear infections and eye infections, but of course it’s cheaper to treat children than dogs. But that brings me to the whole ‘pedigree’ issue.

Apparently, although I’d missed it, the Hope Association had two dogs named Scruffy and Alex. Scruffy is such a sad name for a dog! They were cross-breeds, and it was apparently a lot harder to shift them than these two lovely dogs. Mutts don’t have the same appeal.

Yet, having done some writing for Defra and the Kennel Club, I’m intensely aware of the difficulties of a ‘pure-breed’ dog and would rather, if honest, have a cross-breed Moll. Although we had a pure-breed spaniel, Ticker, a.k.a Little Lady Lovelace, she had all the typical spaniel problems – cataracts, deafness, eczema, dermatitis. My Nana had Westies, first Cracker, then Chip, before she adopted my uncle Geoff’s very lively American spaniel.  Westies are fraught with leg and hip problems.

I have loved the dogs in my life – as Steve in his – his family are lovers of Alsatians – again, associated with mental illnesses rather than physical ones, and needing a good breeder.

I understand why, if you have working dogs, you might want a breed dog. Also, if you’ve got history with a breed, you want to keep that history going. Some breeds are ‘perfect’ for a particular situation or family.

BUT… they just aren’t as healthy as a mutt! Neither my mutt cat or our mutt dog has had problems caused by their breeding – and I for one am completely torn about where I stand on animal husbandry. On the one hand, Tilly, like Sunny – my Nana’s American Spaniel – is a beautiful cuddly (if smelly at the moment!!) teddy bear; on the other, she’s already got ear infections and conjunctivitis. It’s a shame. Breed dogs are a lot of hard work, and unscrupulous breeders should be shot (A little harsh, I know!) – my friend Carlo loves grey Staffies, but he’s trying to breed Earl, his stud staffie, and can’t find any breeding females who’ve been tested for genetic diseases!! All the breeders are really laissez-faire about the pups they bring into the world, and then charge £800 for! At the same time, I think of his older female, Macy, who is constantly ill. He’s got to sell his car to pay for her next bit of treatment. She’s constantly at the vet’s with non-life-threatening illnesses – and it’s just a shame. She’s a beautiful dog, but she’s an expensive one.

So… if you’re going to buy or adopt a breed dog, I’d suggest you need to have enough cash to keep them healthy and that you do thorough research and even blood tests on their parents. And, spare a thought for the Mutt. Scruffy, Alex and Molly might not be the most cute looking animals, but what mutts lack in looks, they make up for in health and happiness and loyalty. And when I say cross-breed, I don’t mean labradoodles or cockapoos or any other weird combination!!

Our Moll Heinz 57 is a credit to mixed parentage! But, God bless all dogs that need a home, and God grant them happiness and health and people who love them. A dog can make us a better person. It teaches us to care, to be altruistic, to think of others’ needs, to be selfless. It teaches us about loyalty and unconditional love. It teaches us to be responsible and we can often exhibit love for an animal in ways we British can’t show for other people. I think of the kisses and cuddles Jake and Steve lavish on the dogs, and in a way, it’s much easier to love a dog than a person! It teaches us to forgive too. I might not be as forgiving of Jake if he peed on the kitchen floor – or as understanding!! I think sometimes the way we love animals should be the way we love people too…

We put them first, we care about them, we brush them, we tend to them. They bring us intense happiness, and you can never be really cross at them, even if they chew your shoes. I think all families are improved by a dog!

3 snoring dogs, 2 violent men and a Lady Justine in a pear tree*

*Alright… not in a pear tree.

Tilly and Saffy arrived today at 5:30. Both were exhausted from their long journey up from the south, but seemed to settle in fairly quickly. Saffy barked for the first half an hour at anything that moved. It’s clear she’s got cataracts as well as a thyroid problem, although her details say she is only nine. Poor thing. Tilly is a cute little teddy bear of a dog. Both have fleas, and I’ve given them a dose of Advantix and sprayed all their bedding with flea spray.

Molly is such a fantastic dog – she let them come in, barked a bit at David who delivered them (she doesn’t like men, for some reason) and although she looks a little concerned, she’s snoring next to me like she realises her world hasn’t changed that much.

Both Tilly and Saffy are CUTE dogs. Molly’s more a loveable dog. Molly’s got great character – I’m sure we’ll see if Tilly and Saffy do too. Saffy is in her basket, snoring a little more quickly than Tilly – and it’s her I feel most for. She’s from Lancashire originally – I see from her papers, and then went to America, then went via Barcelona to France – she’s done a lot in her 9 years of existence. She’s also going to be the one who misses her former owners the most I should imagine. She’s clearly not very well, but I’m hoping that getting her on her medication will help. I can’t help but think she’s not going to last a very long time.

Tilly is already finding her feet, although she’s sleep barking at the moment. She’s had a couple of accidents – once when she saw Basil – but I’m hoping that disappears when she realises she’s here for good.

Basil was okay at first. Both saw him when he came in for his tea – and neither made a fuss. Basil came creeping in an hour or so later, sniffing round the door and having a good look. Saffy woke up and barked, Tilly barked too, and both went haring off after him. Poor Basil. He ended up on my bed. Both are very well trained, it seems. Neither jump up on the couch, and neither beg like Molly does for food, although Tilly was interested. I’m sure Basil will be fine. Tilly was the one, though, who finished off her own food and then went on to eat Saffy’s and then Molly’s. We’ll have to keep an eye on her!

I’m wondering, however, about the chickens and how they’ll get on tomorrow. I’m guessing we might have to shut the gate into the courtyard to allow the dogs to get used to the chickens and vice versa.

I’m thinking long bonding walks tomorrow – not sure how Saffy will cope, so might be a shorter walk for her! I’m sure Tilly, once she gets used to Molly’s size, will be fine.

Two new additions…

In the last 24 hours, we’ve become almost foster parents to two spaniels, Tilly and Saffy – courtesy of an ad on AngloINFO from the Hope Association asking for help for the two girls who would become homeless in the next few weeks if a place wasn’t found, and then have to go to the dog rescue centre. Dog rescue centres in France are not good. Like most Europeans, the French are much less sentimental about animals (although it’s true to say they love dogs – there’s a much broader spectrum of what’s considered fine for an animal, and small cages, tight chains, bark-buster collars and muzzles are less frowned upon) and so the dog rescue centres aren’t quite like our English ones.

Unfortunately, lots of people who emigrate here leave animals behind. It doesn’t make me happy, but I try not to be judgmental. I know everyone has their reasons, and it must be hard to leave family pets behind. Still, Molly and Basil are passported up and I wouldn’t go anywhere without them. Basil gets fed before anyone else. Molly hogs the bed.

So, when I saw the ad, I couldn’t let two spaniels go to the rescue centre. We had a gorgeous spaniel when we were growing up – Ticker – she was absolutely adorable. In fact, she equals Moll in gorgeousness, though Moll takes the edge in personality. And my Nana and Gramps had an American spaniel they took on from my Uncle Geoff – Sunny – who was absolutely bonkers. He shredded tissues, rooted through handbags, loved my Nan’s Mint Imperials, ate a pack of butter, a frozen loaf and ate the meringue off a lemon meringue pie, leaving the lemon and the pie – so neatly we thought my Nana had forgotten to put the meringue on it. Sunny had to be in front on a walk and would scrabble and scramble until he got in front of everyone, so he could get first dibs on spilt curry sauce outside the pub. He waited by the door every time my Gramps was due back from work – the most loyal and good natured dog, if completely stupid and ‘blonde’. So, to find a couple of spaniels needing a home for Christmas (and beyond) seems almost fated!

One of the ladies, Saffy, is 11 – she’s not well, but it will probably be really hard for her, and really strange without her family. I hope she’s okay. It’ll be so strange for her. I hope she settles in fine.

The other girl is Tilly. She’s the American spaniel – which are, in my biased opinion, the cutest dogs on the planet. All that blonde hair. She’s 4, so hopefully she’ll be a good playmate for Moll. Moll’s such a good nursery dog, I’m hoping she’ll really look after Saffy.

Tilly, Saffy and Molly… my lovely ladies. That’s 3 dogs, 4 chickens, a cat, a boy, a man and me. Oh, and some moles in the garden.

And I couldn’t be more pleased.

I thought long and hard about it. A dog, especially an older one, is a commitment. It can be expensive. Pedigree dogs are so much worse. Cross breeds are healthy and strong and intelligent – pedigrees can be nothing but inbred problems. Plus, it makes it so much harder to go away – 3 dogs is a lot more to ask people to look after. But, costs and looking after aside, it’s worth it.

Le Crissmass Pooddinguh

Yesterday, Jake came home from school with an impromptu request.

“Our teacher wants to know if I can bring some crackers in, because I’m English.”

Crackers, for those of you who don’t know, like the French, are toilet-roll inners wrapped in fancy paper. Inside this is a little bit of card with a tiny bit of powder that ‘cracks’ when you pull them with a partner, to reveal, oh joy of joys, a little plastic ‘Made in China’ gift. Apparently, China are outsourcing to Vietnam now, so it might say ‘Made in Vietnam’. There’s also a terrible joke and a paper hat. It’s compulsory to wear the paper hat if you want to look the part. That is… if the part is looking like a drunken, fashion-less fool. For this privilege, you usually pay about £10 for a box. My brother Al and I have a competition to see how many we can win – we even have a technique and a specific angle.

However, they aren’t known in France, and whilst you can buy them from various English shops, they’re three times the price, and since there’s not so many of us here over Christmas, it just didn’t seem worth it. So, no, we didn’t have any crackers.

I went to my dad’s to see if I could find any in his grange. I had a distinct memory of sleeping with a bag full of crackers next to me last Christmas. But we couldn’t find any. Just as we were packing up, my Dad’s neighbour turned up with a stere of wood for my dad’s fire – so we spent a good ten minutes taking them off the trailer and catching up on new dogs and local news.

So… in lieu of that, I decided to crack into a Christmas pudding as a swap. Most of the ingredients are available here, except they don’t really ‘do’ different mixed fruit – just raisins. I’d kind of adapted it and it’s now without glacé cherries. How can France not do glacé cherries? Surely glacé implies ‘iced’? I thought they would be like marrons glacés, but they aren’t available over here, despite how popular they are in England. Neither is crystallised ginger. All of these are missing, but my Christmas pudding seemed right. I shall have to make my own crystallised ginger and glacé cherries next year when the cherry crops are ready. I found the stout and enough dried fruit to sink a ship, so I managed to make three 2-litre puddings. One is for Christmas pudding ice-cream, one is for eating, and one was a spare.

So… I sent Jake with a note saying I was prepared to come in with a Christmas pudding and some custard. The French love custard, like we love crème patisserie. I got an excited phone call ten minutes into school time saying the children would be delighted to sample some Christmas pudding.

Unfortunately, between nine and two, a million things went wrong. I got a flat tyre, my dad’s Clio wasn’t starting, since it’s been out of use for a few weeks, the charger wouldn’t charge, every time we tried to attach it, the alarm kicked in, and Steve called me a chocolate fireguard and made me sit in the van, because all I could think about was 180 euros for two second-hand tyres like last time. That’s nine tyres this year.

So, by the time I got to school, I was a little frazzled. Still, rows of delighted children will cure you of that. They were all extremely excited to taste Le Crissmass pooddinguh and to take the recipes and get the ingredients. I have to say I was giddy, too, as they worked out what was what. Some said it wasn’t for them. Some liked it though it was a bit strange. Several came back for more, though I think they were just hoping for ‘la pièce’  the lucky sixpence. Axel, who’s a bundle of enthusiasm (I wish I had a friend called Axel. It’s a cool name. I wonder if he’s named after the German band who did the tune to Beverley Hills Cop, Axel F, or after W Axl Rose, the rock star who really should have taken early retirement. The cornrows didn’t do it for me like snake hips did in Welcome to the Jungle. Still, Axel is pretty cool anyway) had an English phrase book from way back when, complete with details of pounds, shillings and sixpences, and when he looked up la crème anglaise, it said “The custard” which I thought was quite cute, and actually accurate, except you wouldn’t ask for the bananas with the custard, really, unless you were reading from Axel’s pre-decimal phrase book. There’s a lovely, hyper-intelligent girl, Sara, in the class. One boy was flicking an elastic band at her, so I said “Donnes-moi!” in my teacher voice and put it in my pocket. Jake was horrified by this. He said: “That’s robbery!” and was quite outraged.

I’m sad he didn’t see me in my prime when I routinely confiscated several phones from various little beggars, would stand at the door with a bin and anyone who didn’t spit gum into it and was subsequently found with gum would be found somewhere with lots of gum stuck to the bottom and made to remove it all. If it came out in my classroom, it was considered my property. I considered my classroom as The People’s Republic of Lady Justine – You have no vote and no say. But I was fair, if strict. I had several rules, one of which was ‘you can’t wear more make-up than me’ and ‘you can’t do ‘THAT’ face’… ‘THAT’ face being that ‘I’ve just seen some dog licking vomit off a pile of doggy doo’ combined with the ‘I have no regard for you and I wish you would die a horrid death in a violent way, preferably involving me spitting on you repeatedly to show my scorn’. I patented this face. I have photographic proof. I can do the scornful adolescent sneer so much better than any child I’ve ever come across. So, any imitation of ‘THAT’ face was immediately banned. Much like a young Elvis might have banned all the ancient old impersonators who would come to represent him. I perfected that look. I made it an art form. None of my friends did it. In fact, they all had healthy, wonderful relationships with their family. However, we did do the class ‘scorn-n-sneer’ to teachers who we didn’t like. So… confiscating an elastic band being flicked at a precocious and amazing little girl is fair game.

Steve just said ‘but you’re not a teacher any more’ and has given an explanation as to how he’d have complained. Like Father, like Son. And little does Steve know that if he’d have complained after having had to have an elastic band removed from his personage by a guest of the school because he was aiming it at a sweet little girl, I’d have carted him off to the Maire to be told off and shamed. I’d have insisted on speaking to his parents (That’s you Susan!) to express my outrage and insisted they share my indignation.

I did this with a boy once, who shall be known as Darren. It’s a pseudonym, though why I don’t name and shame is beyond me.

Said boy was lurking in the corridor, trying to pull a few of my sheep-like fifteen-year-old top set kids out of the fold for mischief. I’d appropriately admonished them and pulled them back into the pack, and said to Boy:

“Who are you?!”

“Why?” *why do they ALWAYS ask ‘why?’ – nothing sets my sparks going like that. Especially when they do it with a whiney nasally tone.

“Because I want to know.”

“What have I done?”

“Well, you won’ t tell me who you are.”

“I don’t have to…”

“In fact, dear, you’re right. You don’t. However, like the police I reserve the right to detain you until you do, so to the back of my class, now.” And I prompted said Boy to my classroom door.

“And you can spit your gum out and tuck your shirt in.” *Any English teachers will know this instantly. I don’t know why British education still bothers trying to clothe pupils in what’s essentially a polyester suit, since all they want to do is wear their tie in weird ways and un-tuck their shirts.  I did the same. We wore shirts out to cover rolled up skirts. We had a doughnut ring of skirt around our midriffs. I’m not sure why boys do it, except that if you have your shirt in, you look like a ‘stiff’, as 11 year old me would have said.

“And you can suck my dick…” he said, smirking, thinking the class would laugh. They didn’t. Mouths opened. Jaws dropped. Eyes were on stalks. A bit of tumbleweed blew by.

“Fine… come with me.” I promptly escorted said boy to the headmaster, a portly fellow of great gravitas and dignity, about as prim as you’d want him to be.

“Sir, I’ve brought you a boy….”

Sir looked appropriately worried.

“He’s just asked me to SUCK — HIS — DICK.” I enunciated each word, loudly and clearly, as if the words aren’t common in my mouth. Darren blushed.

The head looked mortified and played along well. He made all the appropriate ‘in front of a lady’ noises, as if this was 1820. I asked for permission to call Darren’s mother. I did the same to her.

“I’m sorry to be calling you, Mrs Jones, but I have some very disturbing things to report. I’m afraid Darren has been incredibly rude. I have to say, as a woman, I’m sure you’ll understand, I felt quite violated by this, but Darren told me to SUCK–HIS–DICK….” I let the words echo. I’ve never seen anyone paler. “I’m sure you’ll understand, if a male teacher said this to a female 15 year old student, how horrific that would be – struck off, possible police investigations and so on.”

I laid it on thick and spread it about like a maturing cheese on a cracker.

By the end of it, Darren was excluded temporarily. He had a file like a telephone book and was on his ‘three strikes and you’re out’ last warning – hence why he wouldn’t tell me his name. I’m quite sure a young boy CANNOT be more mortified than when a female teacher repeats to his loving mother exactly what their little darling just said, and then milks it a little. I thought not, at the time.

It turns out, in Catholic schools, the way to get back in is to apologise in person to every member of the governing body. So Dear Darren had to apologise, precisely, using his exact words, to the priest, the head, the deputies, his parents, and finally, me.

So, Cillian with his elastic band, Stephen with his sympathy and Jake with his distress on Cillian’s behalf about robbery can join the queue of people I’ve caused grievance to.

They can find it directly behind Darren. By now, it’s about 200,000 people long.

What they’ve yet to realise is how boys actually need a firm hand. Rules is rules, but when Miss brings you cake and tells you all the rude jokes in Shakespeare, and sometimes lets you have a rest in her office, you’ll pretty much do anything for her. Boys like it strict. Let it be known. And, if they don’t like it strict, they need it strict!