Monthly Archives: April 2012

Much Love Monday

AH, Monday. If I hadn’t already listed ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’, I’d be listing it now, since it is now both. Bah.

Instead, however, is a little burst of loveliness to bring joy to your Monday. It’s Madness with “Wings of a Dove” – I confess some of my best moments have been driving a car full of kids singing Madness songs at full volume. Kids love Madness.

The young Suggs also really reminds me in appearance of one of my ex-boyfriends, now known as Weasel for his weaselly ways. That man would lie about anything, but he did have lovely lips. Once he said he was in Morrison’s in the ice-cream aisle when I called to ask where he was. The reason I called him was because I was in the next aisle in Asda in the card aisle. That’s how his lies went. To this day, I don’t know where he went to when he wasn’t with me, or what he got up to. I can be sharp about it now, but at the time, it really messed with my head. It ended with me taking a bag of his stuff back round to his mum’s house. I was carrying a hammer because it was his and it wouldn’t fit in the bag. I probably looked completely psychopathic. Anyhow… I defy any song with steel drums in it not to be a feel-good Monday song.

It’s been another week of wetness. Rivers burst their banks yesterday down this neck of the woods. The Tardoire – non-existent 10 days ago – is now overfull. The Charente, the Sonnette, the Bonnieure – all piling water out to sea in a very rapid manner indeed. On the plus side, I could canoe from my house to Madame Verity’s if I felt like it, and if I wanted to have a short ten minute walk, I could canoe to my dads. I could canoe to Angouleme or to La Rochefoucauld. I could, if I wanted to, canoe to Cognac, or to Royan and given the speed of the river, it’d take me about an hour to get there. I could float up to St Angeau, hook up with the Bonnieure at St Ciers and then with the Charente at Mansle before hopping off at the Argente and popping in for a brew.

Another plus of the overflow is that it sent Madame V’s inflatable shark downstream. Someone, somewhere, is likely to have an inflatable shark caught up in their overflowed garden, or else seen it making its way down river. I think that’d be the highlight of my year to see an inflatable shark making its way to sea.

I’m also having Much Love for the weather reports which are finally looking a little better.

Not got ANY love at all for Tilly’s stinky dog farts or for her psychological issues. At the moment, she’s decided, without the boys here, that there isn’t enough love to go around, and laying a little turdy present in the dining room at 2:37 am is a good way to get her share of affection. Who knows how Tilly’s mind works? I have no idea. I think her turd is the same as a graffiti tag. Mine. Mine. Mine. She’s telling Noireau that he has to go in a litter tray and she can lay a little present wherever she likes. Weird little messed up dog. Spaniels have got definite issues. Or some have. Our spaniel was never like this. I still love her though, perhaps more than ever because she needs it. And I love Molly because she’s NOT weird and has NO issues and is always lovely and she loves a cuddle. And I love Noireau who’s a weird little cat who likes to stick his nose into the crook of an elbow and pretend to milk you. Why are my animals weird? What on earth does it say about me?

I blame their previous owners. They came broken and I just have to accept their weirdnesses.

What else do I have Much Love for? Chocolate eclairs, and the fact you can buy them everywhere in France. I’ve only had one since I came here, and it was quite marvellous.

I love that my French family students loved London and that Celia said it was ‘trop cool’. I think French kids are trop cool.

I love that I now know exactly where leaks and where doesn’t

I love wellies

I’m not loving that I forgot last Much Love Monday that it was the Bard’s Birthday. Here’s a bit of Shakespeare for you all. To be read in the style of Pam Ayres, of course.

It’s one of my favourite bits.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them,–ding-dong, bell.

From The Tempest

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Silent Sunday… rainy day pursuits

All our drainpipes were like this yesterday...

 

Poor little wet hens

 

First harvest... huge radishes

 

This dog is too stupid to keep off the vegetables

 

Almost drowned plants...

 

Why must all cats sit on the stuff you are doing?

 

For every cloudy day, there is a rainbow

 

 

Honestly? I think she’s jealous of me…

… I’ve seen it before. I was in a sorority*

*Betty Draper in ‘Mad Men’.

I’m still on the ‘feminist angst’ route, especially since The Telegraph has an article in it today about how girls’ schools are becoming less popular. I need to stop reading The Telegraph. It’s as bad as the Daily Mail and it’s giving me apoplexy. Obviously the choice has nothing to do with the recession, then?!

Anyway, Steve thinks it’s funny I went to a girls’ school. In his mind, it was like a convent and we were all very well-educated, virginal nuns-to-be who spoke with a plum in our mouth. In my mind, it’s about the best thing that could have happened to me. Apart from giving me Big Fish in a Small Pond syndrome, which I realised when I got to university, it taught me to be a good woman. I was surrounded by successful women. We had female speakers come in. We celebrated our successes. Our dreams had no limitation. We were expected to think like future lawyers, accountants, teachers, bankers and even television presenters. Ironically, gender was not an issue.

Whilst we might not have gone down the route of having electronics courses or resistant materials until much later than mixed comprehensives offered it, Steve was probably in a single sex class for electronics himself. Girls in state schools do not opt for such things. Girls in mixed schools are less likely to opt for the sciences, or go for biology in preference to chemistry or physics. They’re less likely to choose Maths or Physics or Chemistry A level in mixed schools. In fact, gender is more of an issue where there are boys around. Girls do humanities and food technology and languages; boys do resistant materials and sciences and the only common ground apart from compulsory subjects, are in PE and Art. I’ve seen those ‘boy-only’ resistant materials classes (or ‘knocking and hammering’ as my friend Sally likes to call it – she’s a RM teacher) and the boy only graphic design courses, and the boy only electronics courses.

It is of course deeply ironic that in a girls school, gender was never an issue. If we liked physics, we liked physics. In fact, we had positive female role models, since few of our classes were taught by men. In fact, the men who taught in our school were either complete old gents or wet lettuces. Our geography teacher was so inept as both a man and a teacher that we girls grew strong in simply knowing this was our opposition.

And contrary to popular belief, it didn’t turn us into either whores or virgins. We heard stories about the French stream (only the ‘thick’ boys did just French… all the others did German and the most superior did Latin too… La dee dah!) and chair throwing and generally apeish behaviour largely borne out by photographs of what happened in the junior common room. But we socialised, we went to parties together, we got buses together – we just didn’t ever have to think of whether or not they were looking at us in class.

We still had the ‘do we look good?’ pressure and knew that in those bus journeys and walks to school and promenades up and down Bridge St that we’d have to have enough make-up on to sink a ship. We just had no boys to compare ourselves to, results wise.

So it was a privilege not to have boys in class. Having taught only mixed sex classes, bar one or two delightfully Vicky Pollard-esque creatures, boys are notorious time-wasters, lazing-abouters and messers. They distract and they annoy. They need coddling and reinforcement and take most of your time. That one boy who dominates your time spoils it for all those lovely, quiet boys who are absolute sweethearts – the Stevens and the Carls who are such great lads but are drowned out by the Davids and the Jacks. And girls, mostly, don’t attempt to hide under your desk, have temper tantrums, eat test papers, try and bully you or deliberately distract other children in class.

I say this having once watched a very silly 16 year old boy (I swear he was a labrador with ADD in a very big boy’s body) saying ‘Gibbons…. Gibbons… Gibbons…. Gibbons…. ‘ over and over again. He was sitting at the back and – not really having some kind of monkey-related tourettes – was trying to get his friend’s attention. As an observer (I was a teacher trainer, so I had to watch a lot of lessons and then try and suggest ways to improve…) I tried not to intervene, but this boy drove me to distraction. If I’d have been the teacher, that boy would have had short shrift from me. I watched (and counted) another boy interrupt the lesson 157 times in 30 minutes.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve had humdingers of arguments with girls. But girls are more subtle in their approach. I always said I’d hate to teach in a girls’ school because they can be a set of vipers. I’ve only ever met three boys who I thought were genuinely malicious rather than just disruptive. But I’ve met hundreds of girls (myself included) who can turn milk to cheese just with a look. When girls explode, they can be nasty and mean and cruel. I’ve seen them manipulate male teachers and female teachers alike. When a teacher is crying in the staffroom, it’s usually over a girl, not a boy.

So where does all this take us?

Well, I’ve been watching Mad Men, which I’ve been meaning to for ages. It’s set in 1960 in New York. It’s funnily enough a lot like my school, and also very, very different. The boys, for instance. That smarmy Peter Campbell reminds me of one particularly nasty, underhand, smug boy I went to school with. The locker room mentality is also a lot like the boys I know from school.

But the girls are a species apart. And a lot of that is thanks to my school. I never was afraid to dream to be a lawyer or a solicitor. That’s thanks to my family who always had ultimate belief that I could be anything – and my sister too – and my Gramps who told me a hundred times I should be a solicitor. He was right. I love to argue and I love to be right. But I’d hate the petty, mealy-mouthed money-grubbing and the Jeremy Kyle side of people that solicitors end up seeing. I never had to think I’d only be fit to work in a shop or as a waitress or in a factory. I could be anything a boy could be, if I wanted to be.

That’s pretty cool.

That’s not to say that doesn’t happen in mixed sex schools – just that I’ve worked with enough boys who consume all your time as a teacher that I’m glad I went to a girls’ school and learned that gender doesn’t matter. It’s also to say that I’m very aware that girls should pull together and not tear ourselves apart in some kind of media-amphitheatre where we slag each other off for public entertainment. And mostly, women do. That’s what makes us great. 4,000 years of being inferior in the Western World, of being subjugated as second-class citizens, and, to misquote Maya Angelou ‘still we rise’. In all honesty, I think working class women never really knew gender subjugation, since the working classes have been  subjugated regardless of gender through history – your aspirations as a working class woman were similar to those of a working class man –  but those middle class girls really took a beating, aspiration-wise. Men could be priests, lawyers, officers, doctors, teachers, professors, and we weren’t allowed to go to university.

If you’re a working class peasant, that doesn’t matter to you. Man or woman, university wasn’t even a dream you could have. If you were middle class, though, and an educated, bright mind, you were either weird (like the Bronte sisters) or lucky (your husband gave you patronage and let you work) or you were trapped behind an apron. If you had domestic help, you didn’t even have that. I bet life for your average Dorothea Brooke was awful. It would have driven me mad. No wonder Madame Bovary cheated and Lady Chatterley took a lover and Dorothea Brooke found solace in Will Ladislaw. If I were trapped in the secretarial pool of Mad Men, I think I too would have become a cynical, hard-hearted bitch rather than marry.

It makes me think, too, of two of my great-grandmothers – both teachers up until they married. A married woman couldn’t be a teacher. That’s so sad. At that point, they became wives and mothers and home-makers. I don’t know if they painted or read, did maths or puzzles, if they sewed or knitted. They just lived. They took a supporting role.

And whilst contraception freed up women so they weren’t prisoner to the life cycle, and laws freed up women to earn the same as men, universities opened their doors to women and men alike, only when women pull together can they advance.

I think we women have done a good job to move away from Mad Men into a world where it seems utterly unbelievable that gender inequality of that kind should be so rife. And we have to remember to teach our girls to aspire, to dream, to know they are equal – and that this is something we women shouldn’t take for granted lest it’s taken away from us again. A girls’ school fosters those things. I never even knew inequality existed.

All girls should have that experience, just once.

 

Top Ten Tuesday…. almost

I was very much enjoying a Yannick Noah version of Redemption Song today and it made me think I should do a top-ten of classic covers. Not that they are better than the original, just different, and great by themselves. So many covers are rubbish.

#1 Whilst Pink Floyd are fab, I love this Scissor Sisters version of ‘Comfortably Numb’.

It’s appropriately other-worldly and really suits a disco beat. The worst thing is, those of you who know me well and know of my ex, The Dwarf, will know why the lead singer reminds me of him. He looked exactly like him. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he kept skin-tight sparkly pants in his wardrobe either.

I love the underwater scenes, though, and it’s like it was meant to be sung in falsetto. I think it might take a brave person to say they like this version, but I do, very much.

#2 I’m making NO apology for including two of this band… Life of Agony. Mina Caputo’s voice is like Caleb Followill’s – it gets inside your soul and messes with your inners. It’s a voice that has every single emotion in it that could ever be. It just aches with it all. The song reminds me of getting the bus from Fez up into the Atlas Mountains – it was a very long buss ride up from spring time weather to the tail end of the snows in Morocco and I listened to LOA repeatedly. This is ‘Redemption Song’ done in a way that might make you ache.

#3 The other LOA song I’m going with is ‘Don’t you forget about me’ which is a top song as it is – it reminds me of every school do I ever went to. Such am I, a child of the eighties. It’s that voice again. Ahhh. If you don’t know LOA, their lead singer – who was Keith – is in the midst of gender reassignment – and is now Mina – and the new stuff is as fab as the old. I think it’s fair to say nobody ever had a life like Keith Caputo. If you know his back story, he makes Eminem look like a whiney little girl (which he is) Sometimes, people are so very, very brave that it makes me sad. Fab song. Wait til all the music kicks in after the minute’s warm up.

#4 Echo and the Bunnymen – People are strange.

It was like Ian McCulloch was meant to sing this. I love that it’s still Ray Manzarek on keyboards which gives it that Doors feel, but it’s so unmistakably E&TB it’s untrue. I guess this is everything about being thirteen or fourteen, to me. Ian McCulloch – loving boys with backcombed 80s hair; The Doors; The Lost Boys. There’s a song that throws me right back in to being 13 again.

I have to say this took me on a little detour by way of ‘The Game’ – possibly one of my favourite songs ever – and I’d never seen it before. I hadn’t realised it was filmed in Rio. Too cool. ‘Candleland’, Ian McCulloch’s first solo album, by the way, is genius. Just genius.

#5 Gary Jules cover of Tears for Fears’ ‘Mad World’ – taken from the movie ‘Donnie Darko’. I still don’t get that movie. It makes no sense to me. Still, I love this song. I did a photomontage to it for an exhibition, all Parisian shots set to the track – all cross-processed or black and white – I was very proud of that photography. It looked amazing over huge walls with the music to it as well.

Just in case you think I’m maudlin, I’m going to move on to some excellent covers that are a whole lot more upbeat.

Before I do, I’ve GOT TO go with Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’.

#5 Johnny Cash ‘Hurt’

It’d be rude not to.

It’s not that I’m maudlin, it’s just that a lot of great songs are emotional. I could have done a list that included Kylie’s version of ‘The Locomotion’, but it wouldn’t be an epic top ten, now would it?

Sorry, NIN. This old mec rocks this song in ways you just can’t.

#7 Now for a little something upbeat. I was tempted to go for ‘Fire’ by the RHCP, but I prefer their version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’. I love early Chilis as much as I love later stuff, but there’s nothing like the raw power of those first albums. Flea’s slap bass at the beginning and the snare snap of the drums… fabulous and very, very different. A wall of sound compared to 70s wah-wah.

I like one of the comments underneath this too. ‘I’m not gonna lie. I’d be all kinds of gay for Flea’. Now, there’s a comment. If you’re a bassist, you might even like Sting’s version with Stevie. It’s cool seeing Sting slapping that there bass – and a bit unexpected.

#8 Jimi Hendrix – as an upstart band in the 80s steal great covers from funky predecessors, there’s no reason the great master himself shouldn’t steal a track or two. This is ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Jimi, a great, and different, cover of the also epic Bob Dylan version.

Jimi Hendrix will always, always remind me of my fabulous furry freak brothers, Andy and Stu. God, the hours I spent with Andy Mundy listening to Jimi Hendrix. It’s another of those songs that unlocks a door and throws me into another world of the past. What I love are the guitar lines that the RHCP pick up from this and dot through their work.

#9 Faith No More ‘Easy’ Now it’s getting hard. I’ve got about 20 tracks left and only 2 places in my top ten. I’ve got to put Faith No More in with their version of ‘Easy’ – I’d be incredibly remiss if I didn’t. This is one of those songs that just makes me say ‘Ahhhh’. Mike Patton is an amazing vocalist. Like LOA, little men with big voices – only not quite so well-endowed, emotion-wise. Mike Patton is much more fun. And it’s a great version of The Commodores’ original.

# 10. Cyndi Lauper ‘All through the Night’

Putting crazy into music way before Lady Gaga. This is a beautiful version of the Jules Shear song. Only Cyndi Lauper can go on stage looking like she just got out of bed and belt out something like this.

In fact, I’ve got far too many good songs left, so I’m going to break protocol and add them underneath. You’ll know why when you see what I’ve got left. And you’ll know I couldn’t have left them out. It’d just have been rude.

#11 The Bangles ‘If She Knew What She Wants’ – another Jules Shear cover.

#12 The Black Crowes ‘Hard to Handle’ – an Otis Redding cover.

# 13 Letters to Cleo ‘I want you to want me’ – a cover of the Cheap Trick original for the movie ’10 things I hate about you’

#14 Lemonheads ‘Mrs Robinson’ – a jangly, guitary version of the Simon and Garfunkel classic.

#15 Muse ‘Can’t take my eyes off you’ – fabulous!

#16 No Doubt ‘It’s My Life’ – cover of the Talk Talk song from the 80s. Fab video too.

#17 Alien Ant Farm ‘Smooth Criminal’ – fab video as well as a great rock version of the Michael Jackson track.

#18 Julie London ‘Cry Me A River’ – I almost couldn’t choose a favourite cover of this song – I like the Aerosmith version too. But Julie’s smoky voice gets my vote.

#19 Janis Joplin ‘Piece of My Heart’ – here’s another one who sings to make your heart ache.

#20 Kula Shaker ‘Hush’ – a cover of the Deep Purple cover – but it’s pretty cool for all that.

I could easily have added Keith Caputo’s version of the Annie Lennox classic ‘Why’. Anthrax ‘Got the Time’ should be in there as well, I reckon.

Anyway, here’s my Youtube playlist if you fancy a bit of back to back covers from the LJ station of Rock.

Much Love Monday

My Monday song for revving yourself up is ‘Fans’ by the Kings of Leon. Love the Kings. Whoo-hoo-hoo.

I love the Kings because they’re one of those bands that get inside your stomach and grab it and give it a good shake. Fans is my favourite of all theirs.

Despite my itching to get outside (and yes, it’s still raining… the river has not only come back but it at the point where it might burst its bank…) I’m still trapped inside. I feel like Noah. So I need to find some Much Love so I don’t end up killing someone out of cabin fever.

Steve and Jake are back to the UK for a two-week stay, so Much Love to having the house to myself. Here’s to not having to get up unless the cat tells me to. Mind you, that’s usually about 7:00, so I need to train him to have a lie-in. Unfortunately, the only way that would be is if he wasn’t wanting his breakfast, so unless I leave biscuits somewhere, which Tilly would eat, there’s not a chance of that happening. Tilly stayed right next to me all last night, the little treasure.

I’m also having Much Love for Modern Family, which is just the best comedy on at the moment. I never know who I love more – Phil Dunphy, Gloria, Luke or Cam. Apparently, according to Steve, I’m like Cam. I guess that means that I’m great at everything, funny and extremely theatrical. I nearly hurt myself laughing yesterday when I was watching the episode where Phil realises his wife and two daughters are pre-menstrual and it’s as if he’s living with neurotic psychopaths. It made me laugh because I turn into this person too – the time of the month when an advert can make me cry and I might give all my savings to Dogs’ Trust, then buy lots of bad clothes and shout at some people before bursting into tears. The funniest bit was Luke, the young son, saying: “But Dad told me never to be alone with you all when you’re monster-ating.”

Genius word play.

I think my favourite Phil quote is when he’s talking to his son, Luke: “Luke, I am your father. That’s what I said to you when you were coming out of your mom’s lady parts.”

Driving S&J to the airport made me have Much Love for the empty roads and uncongested roadworks. In seven degree weather with driving rain, I might as well have been back in England. I just have to remember that all that water is good for the green. As soon as the sun does come out, the world is going to be bright green.

As for poem of the day, I’ve gone for something short and atmospheric. The weather is obviously getting to me!

Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Carl Sandburg

Hailstones and grey skies

This weather is hard work. I’ve got stuff queuing up to be planted out, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I was bored on Thursday – restless. I wanted to get outside. We don’t have television – only DVDs and downloads, and so there’s no opportunity to get lost in MTV when I feel a bit restless. I make no apologies for being hypnotised by MTV. It’s very soothing. It’s like sticking a baby in front of a washing machine. But No TV, no MTV.

But it was so very foul I didn’t want to go outside. I daren’t plant anything out. Most of the painting was outside and I was teaching in the evening, so I didn’t want to get messy and start painting the kitchen. Plus, I was just feeling plain irritable. I just want to get out of cardigans and jumpers – but it seems like this weather is lasting until at least the middle of next week. I even got my hot water bottle out again. It’s the middle of April!

Anyway, it was nice to have a break from the routine, the dirt, the seeds, the planting, and get a little glammed up. Well, a bit. I went out for lunch yesterday. I love going to lunch. It feels so much more interesting than going for tea. If you go for lunch, it’s like you can still go out for tea as well. In fact, I did. We went to a fabulous little restaurant on the bank of the Charente at Chateauneuf-sur-Charente. It was amazing. The food was wonderful – I judge everything by Le Cheval Blanc in Luxé which is superb – and whilst it wasn’t right up there, it was definitely on a par with a few others I’ve been to, like Le Vieux Moulin at Chabanais. And for 16.50€ for wine, apéros, coffee and a three-course meal, you can’t go wrong. The Cheval Blanc is 19€ for a five course lunch and if I could and I didn’t get massively fat, I’d eat lunch there every single day.

I’m not sure where I stand on lunch. I don’t eat much in the morning and I only usually have a sandwich for lunch, so a proper lunch always puts me in a food coma. Luckily, that didn’t happen yesterday. I managed to keep up my end of the conversation.

What I mostly like about it (apart from sitting next to lovely ladies) is that it’s so anti Samantha Brick. If you recall, Sam Brick is the somewhat controversial lady who wrote a column about how she has no female friends because she’s beautiful and therefore everyone hates her. We must have been at the ugly table then, because all the women there were delightfully non-bitchy. Funny, since I’ve not seen so many glam women for a while – but then again, I’m not used to seeing made-up faces. The lunch party really was super-glamorous. I’d worn jeans and I felt a little under-glam, although I confess I’d put my make-up on. Like I said before, confidence and happiness are the two things that make a woman beautiful, and the company certainly was that.

I also would like to hold my hand up and say I put a bit of a foot in it – well, a toe, maybe – with a ‘friend’ of Mrs. Brick’s. I know. I thought she said all the women she knew hated her….

Anyway, this person had posted a link to a follow-up article of Mrs. Brick’s, in which she says out of the five English couples who arrived in her village at the same time as her, only her marriage is strong and all the rest have fallen apart. Mostly, she seems to blame this on their lack-of-preparedness for French (country) life. I thought she was very remiss in not shouldering some of the blame herself, since apparently, ALL men fancy her and therefore that must surely cause a lot of marital distress. I like how she left out the unnecessary explanation that no man in his right mind would leave her. To be fair, the article wasn’t that outrageous, even if one of her ‘sources’ was her husband. But I accidentally looked through her back issue articles, I realised she’s one of those ‘anti-women’ who hate women and blame them for everything wrong in their life.

Now, that, I can’t stand. As if I hadn’t got enough of this picture before, here she is in all her full-fledged mean-ness and misery. Women are the reason her business failed. Women hate her. She has no friends.

What I dislike is that I’m only one generation up from Women’s Lib. It’s not even 100 years ago that women in England got the vote (and the same for a lot of men, I know) and I am proud I went to a school where girls did physics and chemistry alongside biology (having worked with a science consultant, I know how few female physics teachers there are – so I feel a little privileged that my school had three…) and where no career option was out-of-bounds. I am proud that it made us all amazing, unconstrained women who never felt that they should do domestic science instead of electronics. We had this bus that came round  – the WISE bus – women in science and engineering – and it never even crossed our tiny minds that women wouldn’t have careers in science or engineering. I think it made us great women, not having boys in class. We lived in a world of women who were glamorous and educated and worldy-wise. And yes, we bitched. We bitched and we fell out. Girls do that. Boys do too. But I’m immensely proud of being a woman, and I’ve got a strong sense of sisterhood. My sisters, even those from another mother, are the biggest part of my life.

So I’m pretty glad I come here and I see amazing women doing amazing things – not least of which is bringing up a family – not unlike herding cats at some times, and not unlike soothing angry tigers at others – running businesses, doing everything with flair and a bit of wow! And I remember that I grew up in a time where most mums I knew stayed at home and didn’t have careers and only worked if they had to, or had ‘little’ jobs in shops or hair salons, in offices or as secretaries. I’m only one generation out of oppression – I’ve never known inequality because I’m a woman. Nobody ever paid me less, or asked me if I planned to get pregnant in a job interview (well, not getting pregnant IN the interview… some time afterwards) but I remember wondering if it would be appropriate to wear trousers to a job interview.

So I don’t really care if my mutual acquaintance tells Mrs. Brick I disagree with her, or if Mrs Brick sees my comments on her friend’s page (I was very diplomatic, too! I said I thought the article was quite sensible, despite my feelings about the author…) and if this mutual acquaintance can get past her jealousy of Samantha Brick’s beauty, then maybe there’s hope for us all. I don’t think I would like to be friends with a woman who admits her husband would divorce her if she got fat. I think I’d want to tell her to divorce the husband for being an idiot. He bought her an exercise bike and she took to it. I’d punch that husband and then run away. I hope all my friends would too.

Maybe I should have a little test to carry around with me, just so my new acquaintances can fill it in.

Would you be with a man who’d dump you if you got fat?

Y?

N?

Then I can decide whether they’re good people to be friends with. Anyway, none of the women I was with yesterday would have ticked the Y button, and that’s a good job because that food was delicious and I’d rather eat lovely lemon curd cheesecake than be a size 8, and I think the women with me would agree on the same thing – skinny as some of them are!

And that’s what I liked best about yesterday. The sisterhood. And we’re funny and wise and smart and cool and we make a lot of noise. But that’s the fun of it. I think I love France more and more, the more ladies I meet like these!

Hiatus

I feel a bit at the moment like we are in stasis. It has been so cold and wet that nothing is growing, not even the weeds. The soil is solid clay and sticks to spades, rakes, hoes and boots. If I walk on it, I just make it impossible to hoe or dig when it dries out, so I don’t plant. There are the four little bud leaves of turnips beginning to appear from the row I planted a week ago, but little else is happening. Steve’s had to leave painting the house until he gets back from England – it’s pointless to even try to paint outdoors at the moment, given that it is so wet. With such low temperatures as well, the paint takes ages to dry.

And although we might be in stasis as we wait for the weather to dry up – and I’m glad I waited, since I’ve already heard stories of people losing everything they’d planted out, and how I laughed when I heard the French won’t put anything outside before the middle of April, but the frost has already had its wicked way with my courgettes and some mirabilis – things are still growing in the lean-to, and everything is looking very green in there. I’ve leeks waiting for space, alongside cauliflowers and three types of cabbage. I’ve tomatoes waiting for air and light and space, too. Not only that, but I’ve not been able to get on with my flowerbed and whilst the earth has been turned over, it’s waiting.

This time last year, it was 25°, compared to 12° today. The night last year was warmer than the daytime today. I know last year was a fluke – and an exceptionally dry year – and if the truth be told, I welcome the rain, but I don’t welcome the cold. We had to have a fire yesterday – that’s how cold it is. In fact, it’s colder than it was in December – and with the days being longer, with the earth having more time to warm up, it feels colder – and not to mention the fact we had fires all the way through December. I planted out our tomatoes a full two weeks earlier last year, and this year, they are still languishing in the warmth of the lean-to.

And had I followed last year’s planting, the courgettes, the melon, the peppers, the chili peppers – they would have all turned wet looking and sad like my mirabilis and the courgette. I’m glad I held on. Steve is itching to get them outside, but as it is, they’re best inside. After April 1st, in 2011, it didn’t dip under 20° during the daytime – so you can understand why waiting is irritating me. I just keep reminding myself that good things happen to she who waits – and it best be true. I can batten down the hatches over winter and hibernate, but right now, I want to be outside, planting stuff!

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to get ahead with some things and make sure I’ve done everything I need to do before the marking season starts – then at least I’ve hopefully got a few things out of the way so that I can get into the garden when the sun does start shining. It feels like all my spring is spent building up to the fruitful season, whether it be a social life, work life or things growing out of the ground. Summer is fruition. Autumn is preparation. Winter is waiting. And this is supposed to be my busy time!

What’s worse is that it doesn’t seem set to end – not unlike the snow, which seemed like it would never go. Where last year, the potatoes were already shooting, this year, the ground is still unbroken. Lettuces are still tiny, radishes are little beads, no pea flowers yet, wilted-looking broad beans. I’ve not even thought as far ahead as the last summer crops, like sweetcorn, since every available space is waiting with things to go outside.

And in the meantime, I just have to wait. There’s so little to do, though. I’m reading Game of Thrones, since I enjoyed the series so much. However, last night I found out that George R. R. Martin has only done five of the seven planned books and I’m so gripped on it that I might not be able to contain myself. What if he dies and I am never able to find out who will finally rule, whether the Starks will get the kingdom, whether Daenerys will take back the throne. It’s all too frustrating. And whilst they are good books, the fact that all the good guys who I want to rule die, it means there’s not much left. I hope Daenerys’ dragons grow to full size and kill all of the Lannisters.

I felt a little like this when I was waiting for two kind-of teenage series to work through. One of these was the most excellent Tales of the Otori series that took me to Japan because I so needed to see a nightingale floor for myself. The second of these was the Wolf Brother series, which would be a mighty fine Game of Thrones for teenagers. It picked up one of the largest advances for teen fiction, beyond that of the Harry Potter books. The good thing is that Lian Hearn and Michelle Paver rattled out those books like you wouldn’t believe, so it was a pleasant wait – and a wait you knew would be fulfilled – just as it was for the Harry fans. However, I get the feeling that GRRM might just give up and never write the final books – and that he himself doesn’t quite know where it will end. If he doesn’t get his act sorted, I’ll seek him down. I hate it when things aren’t finished.

Anyway, I shall continue with my reading, wearing my three jumpers and my winter socks, and waiting for the time I get to put my shorts on.

Top Ten Tuesday

I thought that I’d go flavoursome today and tell you my top ten favourite meals. Apparently, my dad’s neighbour has a fascination with what people would eat for their last meals. He’s never asked me, but if he did, these might be the things I’d say:

1. Sushi. I ♥ sushi. I could easily live off sushi and never get bored, even though it’s not the most exotic of foods. I even like plain rice. There’s little to beat the fresh sushi in Japan, though I’ve eaten sushi in many places. A little strangely, the best sushi I ever had was in Brazil – but then there’s quite a large Japanese population in Brazil. I like the little rolls with salmon in them and I love eating with chopsticks. Mainly, and it’s very childish, this is because it’s a bit of  a show-off thing to do since I only know about ten people who can eat with chopsticks. What else I love about sushi is that it’s not something I can do myself (though I don’t know why!) and so it’s something I only ever eat in restaurants or sushi bars.

2. Sweet and sour vegetables. Something about the sharpness just gets me. I love sweet and sour food. I love hot pineapple, though I know it’s not to everybody’s taste. When the onions and peppers are soft, it’s just delightful. Noodles, fried rice, chips or even plain rice – it’s all perfect accompaniment and I love it all. I miss take-aways. I miss the little plastic tubs and the convenience of being able to go and pick up a takeaway after work. This said, it’s much better that I can’t, so I don’t mind too much. I do miss having thirty great Chinese restaurants to pick from, without even thinking, and I miss the variety. Our nearest specialist supermarket is in Bordeaux, and so it’s a thing I’ve learned to make (and I’m pretty good!) or do without. I make this one a lot as I love the Hairy Bikers.

3. Noodles. Soba noodles, udon noodles, ramen noodles, egg noodles, spaghetti, I love them all. I love them in soups, I love them mixed in with things. I even like supernoodles, though I draw the line at Pot Noodles. I don’t even mind that David in The Lost Boys showed noodles that looked like worms. I’d still like them. I like them most in a rich broth when they’ve gone all fat and soft, mixed in with soft spring onions.

4. Pizza. When I went to Italy, I ate pizza. I ate it for lunch and for tea. I’d eat pizza all day every day if it didn’t make me fat. I love pizza. I’d eat pizza for ever. I eat it plain, with a little origano and basil, or with all kinds of marvellous toppings. I’m not an anchovi fan, but I can stand a few olives. Favourite of all? Four cheeses. Yum. I’m not a fan of the deep dish or those with massive crusts. Thin crust pizza is perfect. In fact, I might even be tempted to make some dough and make a pizza tonight. There’s nothing like home-made pizza with home grown origano and basil, home-grown tomatoes and a few slices of mozzarella.

5. Macaroni cheese. Apparently, my Nana once got cross at my Mum for giving me Mac and Chee (as my brother and I refer to it) as a baby, when I didn’t even have one tooth to eat it with. It’s a habit I’ve never broken. Mac and cheese, cauliflower cheese, any kind of cheese sauce, it’ll all do for me.

6. Risotto. Nothing needed but a good stock, a splash of creme fraiche, some peas, some fresh broad beans and some parmesan. Perfect.

7. Fish and chips, English-style. Battered fish and deep fried chips, with some mushy peas. Nothing better. If you buy it and the batter is still perfectly crisp and almost too hot to eat, it’s even better. How I miss fish and chips, especially those fish that are almost so big you need three of you to eat it, never mind just one.

8. A hot hard-boiled egg and mayo sandwich on white bread. Salt and pepper, no tomato, no salad, no messing. I can tolerate it on a good wholewheat, but I can’t think of a better sandwich. Mind you, I seem to be going through a processed cheese phase at the moment. I have no idea why. It’s not even nice. The French pain de mie (almost crustless bread) is fantastic. I don’t want much by way of crust. And I want that bread soft. None of this fresh malarky – something filled with preservatives and salt is what this butty needs. Maybe some plain crisps as a side dish. I want that sandwich so fat with hard-boiled egg and mayonnaise that it spills out the other side.

9. Veggie lasagne with puy lentils and a bechamel sauce. Hand-made pasta, perfect sauce. Aubergines, lentils all in a thick stew. The crust should be hard and crunchy and the sauce shouldn’t be sloppy. If it can’t hold its shape when it’s cut, it’s too sloppy.

10. Egg fried rice with peas and sweetcorn. Ahhhhh.

I actually had a fairly hard time coming up with ten – not because I like a lot of things but because I find it hard to pick just one. I like most of what I eat, or else I wouldn’t eat it. That’s the beauty of being a grown-up. You get to eat what you like and leave what you don’t. Sometimes, being a grown-up IS better than being a child.

Gone are the dark clouds

Here’s Jimmy Cliff’s version of ‘I can see clearly now’ to start off your Monday.

Yesterday was just one of those days filled with minor catastrophes. There’s the first thing I love: how the French say ‘catastrophe’. Not like we English who say ‘cat-ass-tro-fee’ – ‘cat-ass-stroff’. Just one of those days you’re glad nobody died and things didn’t end very badly indeed. In fact, it’s been a week of near misses. People falling off ladders, fathers shooting their offspring with Nerf guns in which the bullets have a helpful drawing pin inserted, pointy side out. Yes, Steve was that man and Jake was the boy who decided to customise his bullets without realising his father would shoot at him. Seriously, if the end of the world comes, I want Jake here to protect the place. You only have to watch Home Alone to realise how inventive children can be with weapons.

So I need a bit of something wonderfully uplifting to get me through the week.

Plus, it’s still really cold here. In fact, it’s as cold as it was in November, January and February. What’s that about?! It’s almost May! I’m still in my jumpers, the shorts haven’t had an airing yet and Steve is itching to get things planted out into the vegetable garden, but there’s no way on earth they’ll survive. There’s still a cold wind blowing through my nether regions. What’s worse is it looks set to continue in this fashion for the next week, at least. I feel for anyone who came over on their Easter holidays – it was terrible!

Not only that, but a few weeks ago, Steve and Jake saw two dead boar by the river. By the time they went back for a look, they were gone. It was past the end of the hunting season and we couldn’t think what had happened. It turns out that a lovely local business have been dumping toxic waste into the river. So far, there are arguments over just how many animals have died, but the official count is 13 wild boar, a deer and a fox. That’s so sad. I feel like going over and firebombing the business, personally. The whole river from the business downwards has been fenced off and there are signs along the whole length.

The company do something with guts and entrails. I don’t know what. Probably turn them into casings for andouille or some other foul thing I don’t even want to think about. Nothing gets wasted, does it? And I’ve driven past this business a dozen times without thinking of any hideous scientific recovery process going on beyond the picture of the happy cow.

They say they’ve not been responsible and that ‘times have changed’ – they used to be able to dump lots of toxic waste in the river, but Hélas, no more. Bloody environment.

Other reports from farmers and hunters say that many more animals have died, including three hares and a dog. I can’t even begin to count the cost on the environment around here. Also, what does this mean for our water table?! It doesn’t bear thinking about. Luckily, the river was on its way underground because water levels had dropped, so nothing has come up our way for weeks. I get the feeling that this happened when the water was still flowing in the river, though, since Steve’s initial thought was that the wild boar had been carried down by the current, I think. Hopefully, the water will drop underground before the factory.

In spite of these catastrophes, terrible weather and things sent to try us, we need a little sunshine. It’s sunny now – though Steve just got back from cycling to school with Jake and he’s rubbing his hands together and complaining about how cold it is outside.

And so for Pam’s Poetry Corner on this Much Love Monday, I’m going for some more Gerard Manley Hopkins and his sprung rhythm. If anyone can inject a little spring into a day, it’s he. Plus, it’s about time, mid-way through spring as we are, that he finally ushers in some better weather.

The Windhover
To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

This is a wonderful poem that just seems to capture all the energy and magnificence of the kestrel – gorgeous! How he says his heart came out of hiding for the ‘mastery of the thing’ – and then that great ‘O my chevalier!’ bit. Wow. He loves watching that kestrel! I feel the same about all the birds of prey round here – they are magnificent things and whether it’s just a common buzzard or a harrier, they’re always amazing to see. Lots of them sit watching the countryside, from telephone poles or electricity poles and they have no fear.

I’d also like to express my love of Game of Thrones and you just know I’m going to be ploughing my way through these books. I’m loving it. My only concern is that Sean Bean has died in virtually everything I’ve seen recently. When is he going to be in a film to the end??!