Monthly Archives: February 2012

Getting busy in the sunshine

Today, a momentous thing occurred. You might not think it is momentous, but it is. I got my first drop of sweat of the new year. Given that precisely three weeks ago, it was thick with snow round these parts, to be at a balmy 18° – a lovely temperature for mid-April, it’s a thankful reminder that what goes around comes around. I’ve not had a sweat on for a good few months. I know it might get cold again yet – but it didn’t drop below 5 from this point forward last year, and that was only for one day at the beginning of March. Hopefully, like last year, it’ll be in the 10-20 region, just with a little more rain.

I’m pretty sure I’ve finished my big project, as well. I’ve got a few lessons here and there – more than I thought I’d have in the holidays – so it’s planting and spring cleaning. Today, the onions went in. I’ve sown the beetroot straight in. I’m going to do another row, I think – maybe two! I’ve also sown some nasturtiums too. Maybe later, I’ll put the other onion sets in. I’m trying to make the most of the sunshine whilst it’s here – who knows what’s around the corner?

Now that the evenings are getting longer and we’ve finished our current seasons of downloads (I feel almost bereft without Chuck – a bit like I did without NCIS and 24 when I’d finished all the seasons of those) I’m a bit at a loss of what to do. We only ever watch a couple of things a night anyway – between an hour and two – but I’m quite fond of knitting for an hour. I never knit without multi-tasking, and I can’t knit and read. I need a new series to get into – preferably something with a lot of back episodes. We’ve been through 11 seasons of NCIS since we’ve been here, all of 24, 7 seasons of Criminal Minds, 4 seasons of Chuck, all the seasons of Spooks. I like it this way. This way, you don’t have to wait a week if something traumatic happens to a main character. It’s amazing how much we watch even though we don’t have television – even if you only watch 90 minutes a day, it soon adds up. I’d watch less, but then I’d only read more trashy policiers so it’s kind of pointless. And, everything I like at the moment is only in its first season, like Rizzoli and Isles and Person of Interest. Yes, I admit it: if there are baddies to investigate, I’ll watch it. If it involves police of any kind – be they MPs, Sheriffs, FBI, CIA, forensic anthropologists, medical examiners, lawyers… I’ll watch it. Murder is good television even if it’s totally formulaic. It got to the point with NCIS that we knew who’d dunnit because they were ‘famous’ characters we’d seen in 24 or CSI or Criminal Minds.

Anyway, whilst I was watching Criminal Minds last night, I painted three little pots. I’d already done one yesterday and liked it very much, so when I saw 3 terracotta pots for 40c each in L’Eclerc Brico, I bought them. I like 3s of things. I don’t know why. I painted them with acrylic, cut out a bit of a paper napkin, glued it on and spray varnished them today. I reckon, pot, napkin, paint and varnish, it’s about 1€ a pot… and they are very cute.

I’ve yet to paint the inside, but here they are, drying in the sun:

Cute little flowerpots drying in the sun

And here’s one I’ve not yet varnished, with some flowers bought for me by a very lovely lady indeed:

Pansies in a pot

I’m quite pleased with them for a 40-minute paint-and-glue session!

Although the trees look a long way from blossoming, if they’ll blossom at all, there are a few snowdrops out.

Snowdrops outside the lean-to

Finally… a photo of the shutters, as promised. I know they’re not to everyone’s taste, but they are to mine, especially with the tangerine orange wall! Everything else is white and I’m planning on getting some large indoor plants to green it up. It will be my little tropical paradise!

I had shoes this colour once...

As you can see, Spring has put a little bounce in our step. Steve’s just been out for a bike ride and is now sitting topless and in his shorts. Yes, it’s still February. I bet Nature has more snow in store. Life’s like that. Just when you think it’s going to turn sunny, you have to be prepared for the worst.

Hello backache my old friend…

By this time last year, I had leeks popping up, petunias and begonias every where, peas sprouting, potatoes chitting. I’d buried my beloved Basil, got two lovely ginger cats, then our spaniel died. It was a hard time. I don’t think last February gave me much to be glad about.

This year, I’ve done very little. I put in some broad beans before the snows came, and some peas. The ones in pots in the lean-to are doing well, just waiting for a little time to go outside and set deep roots. Today and tomorrow, I’m going to have a planting day. Although it has been a mild winter, bar those three extremely cold weeks in January and at the beginning of February, when it felt like it would never be warm again and the snow would never go, it must have been a little colder. The plum outside the house was flowering this time last year. At the moment, it shows little sign of doing so. The Japanese quince put out a handful of flowers, then the snows came and now the buds are dead on the branches.

Mind you, it is G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S today. I thought about resurrecting the shorts. I’ve put on a few winter pounds, so I’m going to be aiming to sweat them off over the next couple of weeks, but until then, it’s a little too temperamental for shorts, though I feel like getting them out just to scare the French, who don’t do shorts at the best of times, and maybe only between July 1st and August 31st. I just want to have worn shorts in February. I retired them in October but we had a burst of beautiful weather in November, so I got them out for one last day.

Today, Steve has re-potted the herb planter, and finished painting the lean-to shutters a bright pink. Pictures to follow, of course. The lean-to shutters…. LOOOOOVVE! I can’t wait until next Monday to say that. I keep standing and looking at them. I know it’s only a colour. But oh, what a colour. I can’t believe everyone in France doesn’t have shutters that colour.

Today, I’ve planted lots of leeks – the leeks from last year are still in, though a little worse for wear. And they are delicious. I did leek, sausage, chorizo and lardons in a white wine sauce with pasta a couple of days ago, and they were so good. It’s a cheap-as-chips meal with leftover bits of meat from other things and it was amazing. We finally ended up with about 20 leeks, so this year, I want at least triple. They were literally nothing like shop-bought ones. I may never eat a shop-bought one again. I want to do the leek tart I ate a few weeks ago in a restaurant – delicious!

I’ve also planted a few tropical seeds and put them under polythene and glass. Hopefully it’ll be warm enough. The propagator is already in use with tomatoes – if they’re not coming on when the tomatoes come out, the propagator will be back in use!

Other than that, it’s just cauliflowers.

Tomorrow, I’m going to plant out more peas and beans, as well as a few rows of beetroot (also didn’t plant enough last year, but they too were gorgeous) and radish, lettuces and so on. The cheap 29c lettuces from Lidl were perfect. I plan on planting lots of Lidl seeds – their soucis (I forgot their name in English, but it means ‘worries!’) and zinnias for 29c a packet – and hundreds of seeds – were wonderful and beautiful.

Oh, how I love the spring. I’m still wearing thermal socks to bed, but wow, that 17° weather today – it’s what I’m here for. Yesterday, I was driving over to Cellefrouin for a meeting with a new client and saw a fox running through a deserted field between two woods – it’s this I love. The sky was blazing blue, it was hot enough to have the windows down. I’ll take poor and happy any time over rich and miserable. No amount of shopping and retail therapy can cut the mustard compared to what there is around me right now.

I had forgotten, though, how much my back aches and my feet ache, what it is to have dirty fingernails and sore legs. But each ache is worth it.

Rainy days and Mondays

The harder the day, the more love we need.

Today, my Monday selection is The Carpenters – a strangely popular band round these parts. Steve might love a bit of Five-Finger Death Punch and Down, but these are one of those bands we both just love regardless of our ‘usual’ tastes. The Carpenters will ALWAYS remind me of Emma Taylor. I think we must have listened to them for ages. I wish I remembered more about being a teenager – it’s true when people say ‘will any of this matter in 20 years?’ – because I don’t remember even a quarter of even the most amazing or the most difficult bits. But I remember lots about Emma’s house – it’s one of those places that was almost like a second home and I remember her home almost as well as I remember my own. I can still remember the smell of it.

Emma’s Mum worked and quite often we were unsupervised. We didn’t get up to very much. I think we spent time perfecting pancakes (and getting flour all over the kitchen, which I don’t remember cleaning up, but I hope we did!) making potato salad and trying to find out what was going on in Alexia’s room. Alexia is Emma’s older sister, and older sisters always have cool stuff. Emma always seemed to, too. If Emma left me with anything, it was an enduring love of the Carpenters, Audrey Hepburn and the memory of her dad singing Jim Diamond songs in the car when he took me home. Emma’s Dad is right up there with my Gramps in my book of lovely men. She’s a good message as well about how fortune favours the brave, and how if you keep working, success will come. She’s about the only person I know who’s broken into any kind of media without a little assistance from a friend or a family member. Publishing, TV, Radio, Film, if you don’t know someone, you’re nobody. Now she goes on shoots in Dubai.

Despite it being Monday, it’s not rainy here. The skies are blue. Spring is on its way. I was wondering where our carpet of snowdrops were – they make me think of our spaniel, Saffy, who went out and lay down among them and went to sleep and never woke up – she died this time last year. It feels like an eternity has passed since then. She was such a lovely, lovely dog. I’m sure she’s ache and pain-free in doggie heaven, sitting by the side of someone lovely who needs a lovely dog to love.

And yesterday, just when I was wondering where the snowdrops were, I looked out of the window, and there they were. It feels like an eon since I wanted to go outside.

Much love, too, to the chicken ladies who have come into their own since the snow melted. They get more confident with every passing day, will come running and are now laying a couple of tiny little eggs every day. Bless them. One of them has a crooked beak (Mavis) and I love her a bit more than all the others. Like Steve says, all I need now is a goat with wheels for legs. Hmmm. I am a lover of all things rejected and sad.

Monsieur Noireau is not sad, however. He has had a little venture into the garden, though it’s all a bit overwhelming. He has a lovely daily routine now involving having the mads straight after his breakfast. I love it when dignified cats get the mads and race around like kittens. He jumps on Tilly, much to her utter confusion. He plays and catches balls rolled to him. He is a very wonderful, very handsome boy – he likes cuddles and sitting on laps and he very much loves shoving his nose into the crook of my arm, or my armpit. He loves sleeping next to me and he is a very charming cat indeed. Down here on misfit farm, he rules the living room with his majestic presence.

Tilly Popper had a haircut and now looks like a little shorn lamb. She looks so little.

I’m also loving my finished leg-warmers. I shall post a picture later. Really, they’re more like gaiters, designed to stop breezes going up my trousers. I don’t have Much Love for a trouser breeze. They match my cardigan. I even did them in the same stitch. I’m far too co-ordinated.

I’ve also (almost – almost!) finished my three big projects I had on since the new year – so 8 weeks of long hours are mostly over and I can get back to writing GCSE guides. I’m finally getting some reward for my September efforts – my e-books are taking off and my other website gets a lot of hits – despite how little I’ve worked on it. I’ve had lots of lovely feedback too. Why is it though that it’s the one troll who stands out and I can’t get out of my head?! Maybe this half term I can get on with a couple of my other ones. Whilst my three big writing projects are finished, I’ve still got teaching and I need to get planting, otherwise the garden will be bare. So, I can look forward to this week, planting, a bit of time for myself, a bit of rest, maybe even a bit of reading (I’ve been reading the same book since Christmas. I got so tired of only reading the same two pages then falling asleep that I’ve started again…)


My Monday poem is from my favourite teen film, The Outsiders, and I learned it off by heart – along with a few other bits of poetry, it’s one I can still recite.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold

Her hardest hue to hold

Her early leaf’s a flower

But only so an hour

Then leaf subsides to leaf

So Eden sank to grief

So dawn goes down to day

Nothing gold can stay

– Robert Frost

Kissing Valentino

A little Manic Monday for you… today was a little manic!

It was bound to happen – that I would end up with the Bangles as my Monday tune. I love this song. I love Susanna Hoffs. She’s just so cool. So cool and so tiny with such great Californian hair. I did not know Prince wrote Manic Monday, but it makes sense. Pint-sized people stick together. I spent a lot of time listening to the Bangles, Voice of the Beehive and to Suzanne Vega in 1992. I always think of one particular cold Sheffield flat where I slept under about 10 blankets in an attic room and read all the heavy-weights of English fiction because we’d covered up to the Victorians the year before, then the Victorians up to 1914 in my second year. Different Light and EverythingHoney Lingers and Suzanne Vega played along on an old cassette player I plugged in on the landing – no power in my room – and I read Bleak House and Middlemarch under a great layer of blankets.

So today another Monday rolls around. Where on earth do my weeks go to? It’s half term here next week and I’m hoping for a little respite, though I think that is far away. It feels like I’ve been working for just about forever and I’m looking forward to a day when I don’t have to do anything other than things that I won’t get payment for! This is a good thing though. It’s a thing to love. Work in rural France is hard to come across and it’s taken 18 months to get to this point. I also love the fact that my work is so diverse here. In England, it was just endless cramming for GCSE. 20 hours a week of exam preparation and a few hours of less intense things. If it’s not GCSE, it’s A levels and SATs.

So, what am I loving this week?

I’m loving Tilly, of course, who is half cut. She now is a lollipop head with long ears and head hair and a trimmed body. She has little fur Ugg boots, too. She looks silly, but I love her anyway.

I’m loving Jake’s weekend – he spent the afternoon at a young girl’s house for a party and he was the only boy there. His comment on this was ‘Don’t girls scream a lot?’

I’m loving our little conversations in French. Steve has no idea what we’re talking about. Even better. I used to have a Croatian boyfriend who would talk to his mum in Croatian and his dad and I couldn’t understand. It’s infuriating to be an outsider but lovely to be an insider!

I’m also loving my teacher blog getting SO many hits. Writing about English Literature is one of my very favourite things to do.

Today, Madame Verité had organised a very wonderful baby shower for a friend – and what a sterling job she did! Everybody brought loads of wonderful food, of all kinds of persuasions, though mostly savoury since Caroline has pregnancy diabetes. She’s taking a Mars bar with her to the hospital and says when the baby is out, it’s the first thing she’s doing. What I love about Mme V is that she is a very people-y person. And she buys me teapots. We played loads of baby shower games. I’ve only ever been to one baby shower – the one Jen and Nush arranged for Jasmin, and it was fab – but it was nothing on Mme V’s. If anyone wants any games for baby showers, I am now replete with baby ideas. Technically, I should have won some chocolates, I think, if I’d only managed to get through the event and not say ‘baby’. I didn’t last. I was telling the story of a crazy woman in Heywood who used to have a doll she kept in an old perambulator. She’d push it round and if you didn’t realise she was two sheets to the wind, you’d have thought she really had a baby in there. Mostly, she used it as a ruse for shoplifting. She used to stash tins in the pram and then smack the doll and say ‘Naughty Baby!’ when caught. She also used to push the pram in front of bus drivers and sometimes, the bus would crash into the pram and I guess a good few bus drivers on the Rochdale-Bury routes thought they’d killed a baby. Anyway, in retelling this story, I said ‘Baby’ too many times, lost my safety pins for saying the B word and even though I made a fabulous nappy baby, I lost out. This afternoon was as bizarre as all the above makes it sound. What was lovely for my Much Love Monday are there aren’t many other ways to spend a Monday and feel so smiley and in such good company. What I like is finding so many funny, wonderful, amazing women here in France. Not that I thought I’d be leaving funny, wonderful, amazing women behind, but it seems a lot of people find life very lonely when they move countries. So much love to new friends!

I’m loving more and more La Francais… I thought the other day now I just look at a text and I don’t have to translate it in my head. When did that happen?! I have bits of dreams in French, but not a full dream. It’s strange. I had a dream in Japanese in Japan and I felt almost at home. It’s funny because my love is very linguistic – I love finding connections that I didn’t know were there, and I love forgetting words in English. I love not being able to say my phone number in English, or my postcode.

I still am feeling a little…. hmmm…. reaching for the Emily Dickinsin for my Much Love Monday poetry corner. I had to put a stop to that, so I’ve gone for something simple and beautiful from Carl Sandburg, one of my favourite American poets. I love Mr S.

The child’s wonder
At the old moon
Comes back nightly.
She points her finger
To the far silent yellow thing
Shining through the branches
Filtering on the leaves a golden sand,
Crying with her little tongue, “See the moon!”
And in her bed fading to sleep
With babblings of the moon on her little mouth.

Really, I wanted to go with Chicago, which reminds me much of my wonderful Manchester, but it’s a little intense for non-poetry-lovers.

Much Love to all my readers

I don’t care if Monday’s blue

I thought I’d start with this as my Monday song…

It’s not very Monday, since it’s about Friday, but there you go. Meh.

It reminds me how much I loved The Cure when I was about 12 or 13. I was all about Depeche Mode and The Cure, Talking Heads, Echo and the Bunnymen and such. These were my big four. I bought a postcard of the single cover for Boys Don’t Cry from Affleck’s Palace and stuck it to my second year rough book. I just have to hear that guitar from Boys Don’t Cry and it takes me to a whole different world. It’s funny – I watched an episode of Criminal Minds that said whatever we were listening to at 13-14 is the most seminal music to us. I think at that time, I was a very alternative little Bowie/Cure/DM/TH/Echo girl. So big love to the pre-teen me who was finding her way listening to Black Celebration and The Game and Hunky Dory. I still have a soft spot for sad looking men with back-combed hair.

I also love that this morning it was -4 and it felt warm. There has been a distinct sound of dripping all day and I’m hoping, hoping, hoping that, pretty as this weather is, it’s going to warm up. Looking at the weather report, though, that time seems like a long time away. I usually look at Météo France, if only to pooh-pooh their weather report. Last year, they predicted rain for virtually every single one of the drought days from March to August. Not entirely sure I trust their snow prediction. XC weather are usually more reliable, plus I like their colour coded chart – it’s all greens after tonight – above freezing. That’s all to love. Monday might be blue, but Tuesday is green. Friday is dark green, and that is all good.

So… what else am I loving?

Loving the Moll barking at snowmen. I forgot how much snowmen freak her out. She had a proper bark at the one Jake built in the garden.

Loving the Popper learning to play with a bone.

Loving my nights cuddled up with Monsieur Noireau and Mademoiselle Tilly-Woo.

Loving my friends especially those who send me knitted chicks and teapots.

Loving the chickens coming out to play, even if they only go two metres out.

Loving Skype and Verbal Planet. I never thought I’d enjoy teaching adult English as foreign language, but I really am. Conversational English is where it’s at for me right now! I could safely park myself in front of the computer and go for hours talking to people from all over the world.

I’m also feeling the need to share a poem, which you can read to yourself in the style of Pam Ayres if you like. My friend Joanne made this suggestion and I think it’s rather marvellous, because I love a bit of poetry. If you don’t know Pam (and you will, if you are English and over a certain age), look her up on Youtube. I like her because she wrote a very good poem about battery hens. From henceforth, my Much Love Mondays will now not only have a song and a picture, as they have been doing over progressive posts, but also Pam Ayres Poetry Corner. I feel I’ve turned a corner in my life.

Today’s poem is Emily Brontë. She was 30 when she died. I’ve not even found my voice yet and I’m 9 years older than she was when she died.

No Coward Soul is Mine. 

No coward soul is mine,

No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:

I see Heaven’s glories shine,

And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast,

Almighty, ever-present Deity!

Life–that in me has rest,

As I–undying Life–have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds

That move men’s hearts: unutterably vain;

Worthless as wither’d weeds,

Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one

Holding so fast by Thine Infinity;

So surely anchor’d on

The steadfast rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love

Thy Spirit animates eternal years,

Pervades and broods above,

Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,

And suns and universes ceased to be,

And Thou were left alone,

Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,

Nor atom that his might could render void:

Thou–Thou art Being and Breath,

And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

What with not having a coward soul and having an unconquerable soul, I think I’ve had a bit of a theme going across these last two weeks. Maybe it’s the cold and snow that brings it out in me. I promise something a little more light in my Pam Ayres Corner next week. Perhaps Carl Sandburg, maybe Walt Whitman. Will update with a Much Love picture later… too tired for art right now!

Kind of a silent Sunday…

I’m not intending to be very quiet today. Mind you, I’ve had a silent week, so I’m just getting some words out of my system. The snow that fell last Sunday morning is still knee-deep. It wasn’t until Thursday that the roads were clearer, and I was lucky to have lots of ‘indoor’ jobs to do. First off, I’m glad I’ve got Skype appointments (and glad I have ‘real’ appointments when the internet goes down!!) and I’ve been teaching across the world. Well, Bolton, Horwich, Plymouth and Finland this week. Oh, and Pressignac and Chabanais. The internet is a great thing. Second, I’ve been finishing everything off – managed to finish off my marking, most of a couple of pieces of translation I’ve been doing and then a big piece of writing. Whoo!

Four days after the snow, and it shows no sign of diminishing!

I’m not going to lie to you though: it’s been 6:30 starts and cold hands, two cardigans and a hat until the beast awakes and makes a fire. I could make a fire myself, but it’s a full time job at the moment and if I get into fire-making, I’d not get any work done. It’s been a fresh 12°C inside each morning, and a good -10, -8 or even -15 outside. Though it’s not snowed, it’s still deep. It was only yesterday that I went for a wander round the garden.

Early morning in the garden

I realised the moles have not been idle in this cold time – though surely they’re in overdrive with this cold turf? I’ve got several HUUUUGE molehills in the snow – bigger than I’ve ever seen. There are also loads of crazy prints in the snow – birds, of course, dogs too, and possibly cats, but then one or two sets I can’t identify. They trot from the very end of the garden, right at the bottom of the triangle – and up alongside the fence before disappearing.

Strange little prints

We’ve also got huuuugge icicles – the gutters melt during the day and freeze overnight. I don’t even want to think about how much damage there might be. I’m just going to enjoy it whilst it’s pretty and worry about cracked pipes down the garden and in the outhouses later.

World's longest icicle

Jake made it to school on Thursday and Friday – though there were only about 10 kids in school. Most of them were very local. The majority from further afield weren’t there at all.

More icicles...

Monsieur Noireau has settled right in and doesn’t seem bothered about going outside – maybe he knows how cold it is out there. Tilly’s been bonkers this week. She’s finally learned to play (yay!) and has been chasing an old bit of bone we’ve been throwing for her. She’s a funny little dog. Fancy not knowing how to play! She’s been trying to squash on to the couch with me at night – I’ve been sleeping in the front room as there is ice on the inside of my window in the bedroom and there’s no way on earth I’m sleeping in there when the couch is on offer. I could get the hot water bottles out, and I’ve got two duvets in there, but the front room is so warm at night – the fire is like nature’s valium – that there’s no way on earth I want to leave our 22 degree front room and sneak off to my bedroom with its ice. Not a chance.

Finding a place

The snow is set to stay until at least Tuesday. It’s pretty, but I’m tired of it. I wonder how people in Russia and Finland and Canada live. A cold life is not a life for me.

More icicles

The river – which only came back on the 15th December – is almost frozen across the surface – and slushy in other parts. Don’t get me wrong – it is absolutely beautiful, and going for a walk when you’re all wrapped up is great. I drove over to St Claud yesterday along the forest routes – never usually much traffic – and the car was like a dodgem. The road between Chasseneuil and Pont D’Agris was still covered with snow, so I came back along the motorway, which is mostly clear.

My cool kitsch gift

The highlight of my week has definitely been this teapot from Verity… I’m planning, for my 40th (or one of my celebrations, at the very least!) to have a sleepover in full old-lady-French-gear. I might even start going down the route of cutting out pictures from calendars and sticking them on cupboards. The teapot will find a place among cut-out pictures of chicks and alsatians.

Much Love Mondays

My Monday song for you this week is The Gigolo Aunts’ Where I Find My Heaven

Hey Monday Morning… Only for the brave. 

Great song. I love Dumb and Dumber. With Cool Runnings, it’s up there as one of my favourite ‘feel better’ movies.

-15° today – and not much to love about that. Plus, trolls on my teacher blog. Why do people like to be mean behind the cloak of internet anonymity? Obviously, little is anonymous on the internet and unless you use an IP scourer, I can tell where your messages have come from, right down to the house, sometimes. Not much to love about trolls.

So what do I have to love?

♥ Monsieur Noireau who acts like he has always been here and is a clear part of the furniture now. He was cuddled up next to Moll before. Like when Foxy did it, she suffers it, but she’s very uncomfortable. Bless the Moll. She’d rather be uncomfortable and have others comfortable than move herself. A girl after my own heart.

♥ Steve for making sure the fire is always belting out. It’s just 19° in here – which is warm enough, but it’s been absolutely arctic

♥  fat blackbirds and thrushes

♥ cauliflower cheese

♥ Tilly in the snow yesterday. I ♥  my Popper.

♥ The lack of cars on the road

♥  The beautiful snow

♥  The silence of a house with just a fire blazing, three snoring animals and a couple of quiet boys

♥  Monsieur Noireau spending all night at my side and not getting off if I move, like Basil used to

♥ Soup. Yum. Perfect soup weather.

♥  Friends who have a perfect cat lined up for you when your poor little wee one has to be put down

♥  Vets. I like that at least two of my little girl clients want to be vets or work for Dogs Trust. They’ll make good people. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like dogs.

♥ Dogs. I rarely meet a bad dog, but I meet lots of rubbish people. Most animals are better than some people. And we’re supposed to be the ‘civilised’ ones. A dog has never trolled me and made nasty comments about me being a non-entity, that’s for sure. Dogs just tell you they love you.

♥ Spy with that bloke from Smack the Pony and Wolfie Smith. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, give it a watch. It’s kind of like Johnny English but funny.

♥ My dad getting here tomorrow

♥ My family

♥ My brother who often ends his emails with his full name, or Bert if he’s feeling chatty. His real name is Alastair and we call him Bert because sometimes we call him Halibut, which became Haliburt and then Burt before Bert as in Bert and Ernie. I do this to my sister too. She’s sometimes Nappy Girl or Happygirl or Happy Gale or Blabiwhale or Abisnail. She’s called Abigail. I’m the only one in my family without a ridiculous nickname. I like how our combined age is over 100 and we still call each other silly names.

Correction: I call them silly names.

♥ Facebook, because last week I went from posting a blog to having a cat in 19 minutes flat. And you get to see it unroll through statuses and updates and comments. That’s cool. It’s like being able to go to someone’s life the next day and watch the catch-up like you do with a soap opera.

♥ English because we don’t have right ways and wrong ways of saying a word as long as it’s mostly sensible. Scots understand Aussies; girls in Canada understand boys in India; grandmas in New Zealand understand Geordies and grand-dads in Hawaii understand girls in Liverpool. Or kind of. It’s a very forgiving language because nobody really owns it and we don’t have to get our knickers in a knot or our panties in a bunch that people are violating it daily, like the French and Italians do. If you want to say ‘Yis’ for ‘Yes’, or even ‘Yaaas’ or ‘Yus’ or ‘Yeah’, then you can. I say an ‘e’ because I can talk properly, but I understand that some people say ‘yis’ and ‘yaaas’ and ‘yus’ and ‘yeah’ and ‘yeh’ and ‘yah’ and that we all know what we all mean.

♥  crunchy snow and icicles

♥ wearing jumpers

♥ finishing marking GCSE papers. They’ve been fairly pleasant

♥ days so cold there’s no point moving my duvet off the settee because you just know I’m getting right back under there

♥  tea and biscuits.

I could put this doggie on a buttie and eat her up

♥  Tinterweb. How wonderful to teach a client in Finland, send some stuff over to Cognac, send a mail to Ruelle, teach in Plymouth and Vienne and Deux Sevres then tap into the collective big brain of the internet resource box to find materials for future lessons. Science activities about black holes for kids? No problem. Here are 100,000 for you.

Snowy, not so silent Sundays

Today, I woke up late. This is not like me. I obviously needed a good sleep though, because I was asleep half way through an episode of Chuck, glasses on, warm in my duvet on the settee and I didn’t wake up again until 8:30 this morning.

Noireau, our new cat, joined me for most of the night on the settee. I picked him up on Friday morning from the vets in Champniers. He is a big boy – bigger than Basil or Fox were – but soft as butter. He had spent a couple of hours down here on Friday and then retired to my bedroom and the dining room. For a blind cat, he’s actually very adept. I don’t know how blind he is – maybe completely in his left eye and a bit in his right – perhaps tunnel vision.

He’d been hit by a car and left at the vet’s. She’d operated on him – his left optical nerve was completely detached and his right side of his head was very damaged. She’d fixed him up thinking he’d be someone’s cat, but he wasn’t tattooed and he wasn’t chipped. Upon asking about, it turned out he was a stray. Lucky boy to have had the vet fix him before checking. Maybe he’d have been euthanised otherwise.

And that’s where he’s been ever since.

He hissed a little at Tilly when she came for a smell, but other than that, he allowed himself to be subjected to the smell test from Molly. She likes to shove her nose in things. He tolerated Tilly skipping around him. Now he’s fine. He’s not lying with them – but they aren’t bothering him, and he’s not bothering them. It’s amicable. He’s not cuddled up on Moll like Fox did sometimes, but then nobody relaxed like Mr Fox.

He finds his litter tray fine and he finds his food okay too. He manages to climb up on beds and settees and only occasionally walks into things – mainly things below his head height and not directly in front of him – hence why I think he’s maybe got tunnel vision. He even got up on the back of the settee before – that old haunt of Basil, Fox and Tilly. We’d washed everything thoroughly so nothing of Foxy’s can get on him, but maybe it’s just a good cat spot.

Personally, I think us finding each other – it’s fate. I nursed a little half-dead, wormy, maggoty kitten back to life three years ago – he’s now my sister’s rogue cat Clint. He’s deaf and a little damaged, due to his early run in with cat flu. So to have a half-blind cat, well that’s fine. I’m used to it. Of course, Clint can see so he can jump, but he can’t hear so he’d probably have a very short life in the wild or outside. Our new boy can’t see so he’s not going to be climbing up things.

Abi’s got a lead and harness for Clint, so he can go outside. I’ll probably do the same for our boy. His name is Noireau – Blackie. He doesn’t respond to it because it’s only been his name for a month or so, but I quite like it. It reminds me of Blackie Lawless from WASP. He’s already acquired the nickname Hercule. Hercule Noireau. Or Noirot. Honestly, I could rename him. If he was a stray, he probably wouldn’t even have a name in the first place. I’m going with ‘eau’ because there are more Google entries for Noireau. You can also spell it Noiraud. Or Noiro. But it seems as good a name as any. No other name popped out and said ‘Call me this’.

It’s also sad because the reputation of the black cat in France is still very attached to superstition. Nobody wanted him because he was black. This is a shame. My mum had a lovely black cat, Penny – and then another, Tasha. And Noireau is very, very lovely and clings to you when you pet him.

Monsieur Noireau spent last night down in the front room – and seemed to have spent most of last night sleeping on me. He’s only moved to go to his litter tray today – and he has given me lots of cuddles on the settee. From time to time he gets up for a little wander, but he seems to be getting used to everything now.

Outside was a shock this morning though. The world was almost completely white. This might not have been a shock for me in Manchester, but usually, around here, the snow is not too deep. Usually, a couple of days of snow, a couple of inches thick, like when I arrived here in 2009. Today, it was in drifts (little ones!) against the door. The snow had come in through various holes in the lean-to and was lying in little drifts up the corridor. It was 12 degrees in the house, but given I’d fallen asleep with my clothes on, I wasn’t cold!

Our courtyard this morning under snow

Nevertheless, our toilet, which is attached to the lean-to, and definitely of an outside kind of temperature, isn’t an exactly pleasant place to pass the time and I’m glad I’m not constipated. I even went to the toilet in the supermarket yesterday just so I didn’t end up back home with a cold bum. There’s no way to go to the loo and avoid exposing a bit of yourself, save a catheter. And it’s not THAT cold. Putting gloves on also isn’t a good idea. It’s hard to wipe your bum when you are wearing gloves!

Down the garden

I finished (except the buttons) the cardigan pattern my mum had sent me for Christmas as well late yesterday. It’s taken just over a month, but it’s been a busy month and some days I’ve not done anything on it. It’s really cute.

Looks a little lob-sided, but it's just the way it's hanging!

It’s the first very complicated thing I’ve knitted – I’ve done a cardigan before and I can rib, purl, knit, stocking stitch and garter stitch with the best of them – but this was a little more complicated – k1, yrn, p2tog, yrn and so on to the last k1. The little pattern on the front was the hardest bit, but once I’d done a row or so, it was an easy stitch to do. Now I’m doing some leg warmers in the same wool. Sometimes, cold breezes go up my trouser leg. Just saying.

close-up of the lacy front bit and the collar

The collar was the weird thing – stitching the collar across the three panels. I enjoyed sewing it all together too.

Rainy days and Mondays…

I had to have Mr Fox put down today. It’s just a year since Basil, my darling, darling cat had a stroke and had to be put down, then Saffy, our spaniel died. Bird and Fox, the two ginger cats, replaced them. Bird disappeared and Fox became the man of the house.

He’d disappeared a couple of times for long periods of time, and then spent a lot of time asleep on the couch. Yesterday morning, he turned up after another 36 hour absence. He ate a little breakfast and curled up on the couch.

Later, he seemed to be having problems moving. Then he had diarrhea and vomiting. By 10 p.m. I was so worried, it was time for a syringe for water feeding and then vets first thing this morning.

He’d woken once in the night, padded around a bit. More vomiting. Couldn’t hold any water down.

I’d got up to get first to the vet’s. The usual vet was closed, so it was back to La Rochefoucauld. I didn’t much like this vet at first when we arrived mainly because the surgery was full and the dogs were howling. Some were throwing up. It was awful. Basil got taken to Mansle and the vet was so very, very kind that Tilly has always been there. Molly has never needed the vet. Fox and Bird, when they arrived, got taken for a jab and their vaccinations. I thought that included FIV – Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. It doesn’t.

The vet turned out to be lovely. We were first in. She took his temperature and checked him out, told me she was going to take a blood test and that it might be FIV.

It was.


The prognosis for cats with FIV is fine – as long as it hasn’t gone too far. I don’t know how long this poor boy has been living with a death sentence, but it took him quickly. That’s the only blessing. It’s so very, very sad to lose such a king among cats. He was gentle, sweet and loving. He never, not once, got his claws out. Basil used to savage me constantly; Clint, my sister’s cat is a menace. Fox never once got sharp. He’d come in the morning when called. It was how Tilly and I start our day. Get up. Have some petting, go and call for Mr Foxy. He’d come trotting in and Tilly would get so excited to see him that she’d sometimes wee or be a little sick. She loved that cat. He’d sleep on the sofa, stretched out on his back and then sometimes lie underneath it with his legs sticking out. He’d bring us mice and rats, never got angry as some cats do, and was the most good-natured creature ever. Where Basil had been whimsical and petulant, a little insecure and neurotic, Foxy was gentle and easy to look after, confident and delicious. He and Bird used to lick my hands when I petted them.

I wonder if I can have cats again. Every time he didn’t come home, I wondered if the road had claimed him. I still don’t know what had happened to Birdie. I worried constantly about them being out, about foxes and polecats, martins and badgers. I worried about other cats and whether César would chase him. The vet said she has had three cats in the last three weeks with FIV – and when I said I thought he’d been inoculated, she said the vaccination for FIV is expensive and largely pointless. It was Feline Leukemia and Cat Flu that he’d been inoculated against. The test itself for FIV was not cheap. I had to sanitise my hands, and she had to sterilise everything he’d touched because it’s so contagious. Maybe he was born with it. Maybe it was the result of a fight. Maybe he’s had it before we got them or maybe it’s a recent thing. It’s so sad. At least with Tilly, she doesn’t go out without me and I don’t have 36 hours where she’s not in my company. Dogs aren’t such a worry as cats.


It makes me think of AIDS and HIV – how hard it must have been for those first sufferers in the days where treatment was hazy and inadequate. Maybe in 20 years there will be some treatment to stop cats like Foxy dying when they’re only 20 months old.

The vet also said unless I was going to get another cat to keep inside, I should wait awhile. If he did catch it round here, then someone is carrying it, and the same would only happen to another cat if I got one. It’s very sad. Tilly seems depressed. I’m devastated. Mr Fox was the best of cats and there will never be another one like him. Sure, I can replace him, but he was a beautiful, beautiful creature – and like Miss Saffy before him, I’m just sad I didn’t get to spend longer with him than I did. It makes me glad for the 14 years I had with Basil, and very, very glad for the company of Miss Silly Tilly, who is just a joy.

Goodnight, Mr Fox

Sleep well my gentle ginger boy

The world is a lesser place without you in it