Monthly Archives: April 2013

The delights of Charente and Charente Limousin

I’ve been trying to give my little helpxrs a taste of life in France. I figured it was the least I could do in return for their hard work and them putting up with my peculiar house and my peculiar ways. I always go to a place thinking that I should make the most of it, since I never know when I will be back that way again. This is why I went to a kabuki show in Japan (I just can’t explain the craziness that is kabuki) and it’s why I got up at 3 am in Brazil so that I could see the sun rise over the Amazon. So I try to help people as much as I can when they might not ever be back here again.

And it’s easy to miss the beauty of the region, since it’s a little sleepy backwater trapped between some of the poorest parts of France and some of the richest.

Not only that, I’ve been kind of sad that I’m not French and I can’t offer an authentic French experience. I need to get a tabard in nylon and put my hair in rollers. I already wear men’s shoes from time to time, so I’ve got that covered. So I am trying to up the Frenchness and we have had nights of Jean-Jacques Goldman and Jacques Brel (Belgian, but claimed by the French) and I have been plying them with French wine and French cheeses, baguette and French pâtés.

We’ve had a few trips around the area. I took them to the chateau at Rochechouart. My love for Rochechouart is undisguised and unmitigated. It’s my favourite, except where I live.

DSCF3285The castle kind of perches over the edge of an ancient meteor crater. Sometimes, I think I would like to live in a castle, but it must be terribly lonely.

We took a detour by St Mathieu and Piégut Pluviers – though Piégut always amuses me. I call it Pie-gut, not Pee-ay-goo. I think it should be proud of its pie-eating ways. Maybe someone could twin it with Wigan? I know Wigan is twinned with Angers, but honestly, Piégut makes more sense.

I was just headed up through Rochechouart and I was explaining about Oradour-sur-Vayres and Oradour-sur-Glane. We stopped for a little at Oradour, since they told me that it’s just an abstract concept to Americans – it must be weird NOT to be surrounded by history. I always felt for the people who lived just outside Passchendaele. How could you ever forget the blood shed under your feet? It must haunt your days.

Oradour itself is a nice little town, and it feels quite lively as towns go. How, though, could you live there and not remember the 642 people who were executed by frustrated Waffen SS troops?

As my Nana says, it’s not really a place to take tourists.

At the same time, though, I do think it’s important to remember that World War II was not just about the Holocaust, as it seems to be for most Americans, but it was something that affected just about everybody in Western Europe. It’s easy to get all political and preachy, so I will keep it free from comment.

Anyway, we have been doing more cheerful things, like going for bike rides around the area and we’ve been down to Angoulême. It’s not very exciting, for those not in the know. I think they looked at the cathedral and the museum and then headed off down the hill towards the bande dessinée museum. I’m trying to restore their faith in the place by sending them out with Madame V’s daughter. They found a goat and some chickens last time they went. I know there’s more to life in Angoulême than that.

It must be very sad to be stuck in the countryside when you haven’t seen anything of the cities around. I guess there aren’t so many people with big places in the cities, though. It strikes me that you could stay in a country and be entirely oblivious to the fact that it has any cities at all.

It’s also sad because France just doesn’t have the landscape that America does, though it is achingly pretty round here, so what it has to offer is its history. That is enough in itself, of course. I’ve decided that no vision of France is complete without a trip to a vide-grenier, a trip to a market and a genuine encounter with a man in bleus de travail.

I think overalls and jackets in blue are compulsory wear for most men in rural France. I’d be alarmed if I saw a man who didn’t have big pockets. If he isn’t in blue and he doesn’t have big pockets, he has no business in the countryside. No business at all.

Yesterday, I realised I was wearing a fetching combination of fleecy welly socks, my crocs, bare legs (splattered with mud), winter-white legs, shorts, a paint-splattered tee-shirt and I hadn’t combed my hair. That’s how we roll, country-style. I just need a tabard.

Do you think it would be a step too far to take them to Emmaüs?

What we’ve been up to…

The sun has finally come out for Spring. Thank God.


It’s been 25° over the weekend and things have been picking up.

The huge and ancient cherry tree in the garden has finally blossomed, as have the plums – the last things to blossom will be the pears and the quince. The weather has been perfect for the blossom, being so wet and then warm. Let’s hope the last frosts are gone, though I suspect not. This year has been more than strange. The best thing has been the “second best” cherry, which is the same variety as the big one above, but has never produced the same amount of fruit. This year, it is covered in blossom. It obviously needed a really, really good soak.

The apple is almost ready to blossom.


Yesterday was a day of preparing beds and getting the pruning done. There are so many root vegetables that I am quite desperate to get outside. The next few days will see some heavy-duty sowing going on. Things going in will include turnips (of which I seem to have about twenty packets…) carrots (likewise, though most are donations) radish, lettuce, onions and beetroot. As you know, the beetroot is my one love. Carrots are fine. Turnips are great. But beetroot is my love. Pickled, roasted, chutneyfied… it’s my favourite. The sweeter, the richer, the better.



This bed still looks really, really bad, but it is getting there. We worked on it most of today. The soil is in great condition. I found myself giving mini classes (yes, lectures) on soil and compacting. I do think that a spade or fork should go into soil and if it is good for digging, it should come out like a skewer in a cake that is perfectly cooked. It shouldn’t be sticky and if it is exactly perfect, there will be no remnant of it left on the metal. It was a little damp still this morning, but is probably a day away from perfect. This is the longest bed and it had nothing in it last year, so it is well rested and very weedy.


On the sills, the courgettes and cucumbers have poked their heads out and there are a lot of things waiting for every last sign of frost to have disappeared. The tomatoes still seem very small in these pots, but they are Gardeners Delight cherry tomatoes, which don’t get so big as usual tomato plants.

So, what is up and what is in?

  • Gardener’s Delight tomatoes
  • Super Marmande tomatoes
  • Alicante tomatoes
  • Super Roma tomatoes
  • cauliflower ‘merveille de quatre saisons’
  • musselburgh leeks
  • Autumn Giant leeks
  • kale
  • sweet banana pepper
  • Rachel’s cauliflower seeds that I can’t remember the name of
  • cheap aubergines
  • expensive aubergines
  • savoy cabbage
  • oak-leaf lettuce
  • red lettuce
  • brussels sprouts
  • basil
  • red cabbage
  • Webbs lettuce
  • tabasco pepper
  • poppies
  • broccoli
  • cucumber
  • more lettuce
  • pumpkins
  • courgettes
  • Reine Marguerite
  • sunflowers

That’s a pretty long list of stuff, though it doesn’t feel like there’s much waiting to go out really. I guess there is. That is going to be one hell of a plant-out operation. I can tell there is actually a lot of stuff because I have no tags left (and have resorted to using kind of flamboyant cocktail umbrellas instead) and there are no plant pots free. The impatiens in the propagator are just putting out leaves, as are the peppers I put in a couple of weeks ago. There might be a couple more things to run through the propagator, but it is generally warm enough now that everything else can go out in the soil. I’m just too excited for my own good, and it’s obviously something I get off my mother.

The people at my Mum’s allotment have realised what a force of nature she is. She had already put her potatoes and onions in, which alarmed me because I hadn’t and we’re drier and warmer than Manchester. She says she thinks she attracted a crowd of naysayers, saying ‘ooh, it’s too early yet’. They’ll see.

This is why I’m competitive.

I should have the advantage, weather and position-wise.

I won’t.

She’ll get way more than me out of a way smaller plot.

I felt like I needed to go and get some more soil and to be able to get more stuff in, but then I realised I had no more plant pots. That’s something, isn’t it? I never ran out of plant pots before.

So today, we will continue with the veg plot – the big, hairy, ugly one that is full of weeds. It looked as bad when I moved in though, so I am not worried. It will return to its former self.

I’m so obsessed that I’m becoming a bore

Much Love this Monday for Manchester. I thought long and hard about this track and so I will have to do three over the next few Mondays. Today, Much Love Monday is brought to you by James with Laid.

There is nothing like a little Booth to put a spring in your Monday step. Even if he is from the bad side of the Pennines.

This track reminds me of 1995 when I travelled up through France on the old SNCF trains through a warm Nantes and a wet Rennes. I got the ferry back from a few weeks with Phil, my boyfriend, and it was pretty much the end of our relationship. We’d been together for four years, but as I came up to the beginning of my teaching life, Phil hadn’t yet decided where he was going with everything. I grew out of him and I’m sad about that. I never had such a love again. I had grown-up loves and they were never as intense as that teen love where you feel like the world will end if your love dies.

That’s true of all my loves though. They all leave me different.

Anyway, I had an old tape player with eight tapes. It was all I could manage to carry with all my other stuff. I had Depeche Mode, Arrested Development, James and a few others, but as I fell asleep on the ferry out of St Malo, I was listening to Laid and it will forever evoke memories of that last trip as I left my teen years behind for good. I slept on the floor in my sleeping bag, listening to One of the Three and it just seemed to capture the moment in ways that none of the others did.

Of course, something about being confronted with people from another country always makes me go all Manchester. So much so, in fact, that it makes them wonder why I ever left the gritty city. It’s been 20° here today and the cherry tree is in bloom, and that is mainly why.

I think I am mainly filled with the need to put people right about how Manchester is really the home of all that is magnificent about England, be it sport or be it music. Let’s face it, Manchester has had more than its fair share of musical talents. If you count the huge and massive bands I don’t even like in there, like Simply Red and M People, Manchester must have more gold discs than any other city in the world. Maybe even more than LA.

And, if it doesn’t, it should.

We watched 24 Hour Party People over the weekend – a film about Tony Wilson and Factory Records. Of course, nothing says Manchester like “mad fer it!” and I was trying to put into some kind of loose order the Manchester bands that I liked. I thought I’d put the Stone Roses at the top, but then I’m open to suggestion. Then there would have to be Joy Division. The Buzzcocks would be in there somewhere. New Order would be as well.

Then where?

The Happy Mondays, of course, the sound of my summer as a 16 year old.

The Smiths. They’d have to be in my top 5.

The Fall. The Inspiral Carpets. Oasis. It’d be rude not to.

I couldn’t even leave out Take That.

Let’s face it: Manchester music is, by and large, the best music on the planet. We even do boy bands that turn into likeable man bands. Who else can claim that?

And the Bee Gees might have ended up in Australia, all healthy and suntanned, but they were straight out of Chorlton-cum-Hardy. Who could say what they would have become had there been no Manchester?

And as Tony Wilson, a tragic hero if there ever was one, says in 24 Hour Party People…

” Most of all, I love Manchester. The crumbling warehouses, the railway arches, the cheap abundant drugs. That’s what did it in the end. Not the money, not the music, not even the guns. That is my heroic flaw: my excess of civic pride.”

I know how he feels.

Now I think of it, perhaps Tim Booth is referencing my relationship with Manchester when he sings that Manchester is like a disease without any cure.

Doesn’t everyone feel like that about their home town?

So, here’s to the Irish Centre, the Polish Centre, the Arndale Centre, the Stretford End, Cheetham Hill, Curry Mile, Wilmslow, Chorlton, Stalyvegas, Chinatown, Spring Gardens, Deansgate, the Trafford Centre, Old Trafford, LCC, The Kippax, Affleck’s Palace, Eastern Bloc, Castlefield, Canal St, Oxford Road, the Coop building, Victoria Station, Piccadilly Gardens, Ardwick, Ancoats and Albert Square.

Upon reflection, I have come to realise something. Like Thatcher, Manchester is such a part of me that it might as well be my other parent. So, here I am… profligate offspring of Maggie and Manchester. A woman who was more manly than most men and a town named after a boob-shaped hill.

It’s no wonder I’m mixed up.


Yesterday’s walk was an eventful one, that’s for sure. Mr Heston found not one, not two, but three deer to chase. And, though he did not spot it, I saw a rabbit. It’s the first rabbit I’ve ever seen in the forest, and it was just hopping along up the path when I got there. Lucky Mr Rabbit managed to hop off before Heston or Tilly caught sight of him. The deer – well, they were a bit less easy to slip by.

Once or twice, I’ve seen little roe deer here. The only place I’ve seen a full-on huge stag was between Chasseneuil and La Tache – it was so big I could barely believe it was real. It had antlers and everything. The deer around here are usually only about as big as Heston, which isn’t very big at all. Sometimes, you can be forgiven for thinking it’s just a really big hare.

Yesterday, they were a lot bigger. I guess they were profiting from the early morning break in the clouds, just as I was. We don’t usually see deer – much more likely to come across a trail of wild boar. I think they too have been profiting from the hiatus in the hunt season, because there are a lot of piggy-trashings along pathways, where they’ve rooted something up.

To be fair, I’m surprised I lifted my head up long enough to see the beasts. I am much too entranced with the wild flowers at the moment. The periwinkles are now out, as are the wild primroses, and it’s all just a carpet of colour in the woods at the moment. The wild primrose are a really soft lemon compared to the cowslips, which are a rampant burst of sunshine. In places, the periwinkles are so thick that the whole woodland is lilac-blue. It’s funny to think that this burst of colour has come out of the forest ground, which was so thick with leaf detritus until just recently.

I am planning on doing a little artistic painting in the next few days – schools are on holiday and I have more time to dedicate to such things. The lovely helpxrs painted the kitchen today – or one side of it. The other side… Well, I don’t know what to do with that. It needs completely stripping back to plaster I think, and then re-doing. It might be a sledgehammer job. It’s such a mess. It’s got about 40 years of engrained dirt on it and I am not looking forward to trying to sort it out. Believe it or not but the kitchen does not have a useable power socket anywhere. What the hell is that about? How can you have a kitchen without power? I don’t even know.

At least, I didn’t.

Not until I lived here.

There’s a neck-breaking cable running from a power socket in the side of a fireplace in the dining room. I’m always finding I need a power socket next to my wood burner, aren’t you?

Just another example of the crazy fun electrics here.


I need my brother to come over for about four weeks. He’d sort it.

Anyway, although it is a little like putting make-up on a pig, the kitchen is now (partially) a cleaner, brighter space. I even have curtain ideas. Not sure how yet, but I do. One day, it will look like a cottage kitchen, instead of looking like a gas explosion happened.



It looks a bit like a hospital at the moment, but it won’t eventually. I have plans for it. It doesn’t help that there are those cheap and nasty tiles on the wall. I need a crash-course in tiling.

I found these photos before of what it looked like when I first signed the papers…



It’s funny to think of how it was and I’m pretty sure that I must have had some sort of crazy vision when I moved here, since this is what my kitchen looked like in Bolton…



Ahhhh…. sometimes, I think I must have been crazy.

But then, I remember all the deer and the wild boar and the sunny days… It would be fair to say that I am in a completely different world now.

Once that potager is beaten into shape, I continue not to care less about the loss of one beautiful fitted kitchen and the gain of one powerless monstrosity of a kitchen.

I miss those beautiful surfaces though.

Vyvyan, The Bad Shepherds and the Iron Lady

I wouldn’t be a) English or b) me if I didn’t say something about Mrs Thatcher. Unfortunately, whatever I say will piss off one half of my friends. I think the only thing I can say is that she is a Marmite person. Love her or hate her. There is no meh with Thatcher.

I think, too, that being born in 1972, three years before she took over as leader of the Conservative Party, and growing up knowing NOTHING other than Mrs Thatcher, she can’t NOT have had an impact on me. I was 19 before she left power. That’s all my childhood. I am a Thatcher child. I grew up between the Hattons of Liverpool and the Scargills of Yorkshire. I grew up in the homeland of socialism and the Labour Party. I grew up in the town that inspired (?) Marx to write The Communist Manifesto. And yet, I grew up in a household which fostered all of those entrepreneurial aspirations that Thatcher seemed to epitomise the most.

So, what does it mean to me?

Well, yesterday, I was trying to explain about Ade Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds. Ade Edmondson, as you may know, is married to Jennifer Saunders, and started his career in comedy in The Young Ones. The Young Ones, it is safe to say, would not have existed without Thatcher. Where would punk be without a system to be anarchic against? Who would Rik Mayall’s character have been rebelling against? Not unlike the boys in the Young Ones house, my whole education was influenced by Conservative politics. I might not have known it, but it did. Under Thatcher, GCSEs were born, and I was lucky to be one of the tail-end of University students who actually got a free education. It is a fact that the university population in England boomed under Thatcher. I don’t even know if that kind of aspirational spirit she fostered is the reason I went to the school that I did. Ironically, it was under a Labour government that tuition fees came into play.

Not that I disagree with tuition fees.

But I know I wouldn’t have gone to University had there been.

I just wouldn’t.

I was so afraid of debt that I would not have willingly got myself involved in something I didn’t know how I would pay for.

Thatcher’s government is responsible for the qualifications I have. From 16 to 22, every piece of paper I possess is as a direct consequence of that.

In a way, as well, with such a strong character, it invites polarised views. Back in the 80s, I loved Saturday Night Live, but would there be a Loadsamoney or a Harry Enfield without Thatcher, or a Ben Elton? Could there have been an Adrian Mole?

Without these things, there would be none of the things I believed in as a teenager, and I believe in now. Because of the whole Capitalist smorgasbord from Reagan and Thatcher, because I grew up in a time where mankind worshipped at Wall St and the yuppie was born, it showed me what I did not want to be. There was never a time in the last 100 years in England where materialism was so rampant and so evident. There was never a time that it was so acceptable to want more. Out of the Winter of Discontent, Thatcher rode a tide of cash right through the 80s until her eventual downfall.

Then there is her gender. Many will say she used bully-boy tactics and that she was as feminine as Stalin. I know this. But it is indisputable that it has been important to me to see that women can govern countries. I often talk about how important it is to have good female role models and how lucky I was to have them. Not that I think Thatcher was a good female role model… but she was female and she made it to the very top. Only later in her career did she become the kind of hard-arse bitch that had adopted very masculine traits to rule her cabinet. You only have to look at her cabinet to see how male-dominated a world it was. It’s not like that now. Maybe the feminism movement caused that. Maybe it was a reaction to Thatcher’s style and women wanted to show how to do it properly, but she marked the first time that a woman had reached such a position. That IS important.

Not only that, she showed what she had lost through her role. She emasculated her husband, neglected her children. There’s this view that women can do it all, but we can’t. Not really. Not without support. Not without sacrifice. A man can’t either. You can try, but it just doesn’t work that way. Ironically, the pay gap got worse under Thatcher. You’d think that having a woman in charge would bring equality to the fore. Not so.

It’s impossible for me to extrapolate the effect Mrs Thatcher had on my life. I cannot take one side or another, say she was the destroyer of England and the Nation, or say she was the country’s saviour either. She did things I agree with, and things I disagree with. Like I’m a fairly committed feminist, and yet she is clearly not a role model for me. Who’d want to emulate her style? But I agree we needed a national curriculum and a system of monitoring education that stopped such a lacksadaisical and haphazard approach to learning and put an end to sink schools and a divisive two-tier system. Where the hell do I stand on the Falklands, for instance?! I don’t even know where to begin.

I think it will be a long time before most people find the middle ground as she causes such a reaction in so many. She was undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. How she did it, why she did it, what she did… you will never find a way to get people to agree. But one thing is for sure, much of my life would cease to exist had she not been ruling over her cabinet. I can’t think of one single person outside my family who had the same influence on who I am now.

And it’s a totally weird thing, since I’m completely sure there will never be another politician who will have such an influence on my life as it is.

It’s at this moment when all I can do is give a rather Japanese ‘hmmmmmm’ to end this, for it is all far too thought-provoking and also controversial to discuss. I suspect it will be so for many, many years to come. Probably, my inability to pick a side will infuriate ALL my friends.

So, Mrs Thatcher. Love her. Loathe her. The England of my formative years was shaped by her hand and I wonder who I would be without her.



Hanging on

It feels like winter is never giving up the ghost. The Guardian had an article explaining that the prolonged weather patterns are to do with the gulf stream slowing down and not shifting the weather on, but I don’t know. It just seems like winter really does not want to go away. And the more excited I get about it being spring, the longer it takes for winter to go. I’m still wearing three jumpers here. Don’t get me wrong: there have been short bursts of warmth.


Still… as a friend said at the weekend, give it two weeks and it’ll be baking hot and we’ll all be moaning.

Right now, I’d just do anything to get one of my jumpers off without feeling like I am going to turn to ice. We had a couple of nice days last week, and it’s going to be nice at the weekend, but a cold April and May are no stranger to me after last year, where it stayed under 11° for three whole weeks.

It’s been a big few days in the garden since my gorgeous HelpXrs arrived… though nothing has grown, the earth has been massively prepared and fences have been fixed. The potato patch is now ready. The vegetable garden is once again chicken-proof.

The vegetable garden used to be chicken-proof when I first arrived, despite the minging fence (there’s a good Northern word for you…) but some happy band of creatures has been hightailing it through my garden, from the Heston-hole by the troll bridge, through the garden, under the Heston-hole in the vegetable garden fence, under the plum trees and out at the Heston-hole at the top.

I say Heston-hole when I know full well that they are César holes. That dog loved to come in and see Molly. Since she’s back in England, César comes sometimes to see me, but has since found some friends up in the ‘high’ bit of the village in two Heinzers belonging to another farmer who lets his run about randomly too. This drives my friend Lise crazy. It’s not just the English softies who are irritated by ‘country’ attitudes to dogs. I say ‘country’ because I know it happens in cities too, and I also know several farmers who love their dogs dearly here.

Anyway, the César holes are no more and whatever little creature has made it a super-highway through my garden will find itself sadly stuck at a dead-end.

Personally, I am of the impression it is a hedgehog trail, since it’s unlikely for anything else to make such a clear little track through there, and when I go out early in the morning, there are sometimes as many as five or six huge hedgehogs hanging about.

That’s good for me. I love hedgehogs. They never make a mess in my garden. They are not interested in my chickens. What more can you ask for in a garden visitor?

Part of me wants to make a little space for them to get through, but some of those fellas are big and my hens are remarkably persistent when it comes to attempts to break in to their wormy breakfast buffet bar.

Lots of my seedlings are still sitting indoors, though it is only 10 days before the latest frost I’ve seen in these parts. This April has been so inclement that I don’t trust it to be dry. Plus, they’re not big yet.


So, what is up and what is in?

  • Gardener’s Delight tomatoes
  • Super Marmande tomatoes
  • Alicante tomatoes
  • Super Roma tomatoes
  • cauliflower ‘merveille de quatre saisons’
  • musselburgh leeks
  • Autumn Giant leeks
  • kale
  • sweet banana pepper
  • Rachel’s cauliflower seeds that I can’t remember the name of
  • cheap aubergines
  • expensive aubergines
  • savoy cabbage
  • oak-leaf lettuce
  • red lettuce
  • brussels sprouts
  • basil
  • red cabbage
  • Webbs lettuce
  • tabasco pepper
  • poppies
  • broccoli
  • cucumber
  • more lettuce

The plot for the potatoes is done, too. Onwards with the other three plots now, I think. One of them will be the root vegetables patch, including the onions and carrots. I have lots of seeds just desperate to get outside. I hear them crying in their packets.

The best thing is having all those annoying little jobs done for you by a pair of miracle-working teenagers who willingly prune and chop and fix and dig. Wow. I can’t begin to explain how much work has been done in just two days of work. Joy. Everybody needs some HelpXrs, I swear.

I’ve opened up the doors

Today, my Much Love Monday is brought to you by the Beatles, for one of several reasons. So, here’s Help!

The main reason for this song is because of my unmitigated joy at the arrival of my delightful HelpXrs who turned up here on Thursday and have already turned one of my vegetable beds into something manageable and weed-free.

The second reason is, as curious young Americans, they expressed a polite interest in one of my pet subjects. British accents.

British accents (and, indeed, the family of international English language accents from across the world) are all divine. Looking back at John Lennon’s accent, it is so soft and gentle compared to the brittle, nasal sounds of today’s Liverpool. It’s my go-to accent when I’m messing around, on account of the fact that in Malia in 1996, when my sister and I were on holiday in Crete, I heard one Liver Bird lean over the balcony and shout into her friend’s room “Eeyyyy Laurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrra, I tink I’ve gorrra disseeeeese.”

From there, we had a quick youtube tour around all the best and worst of the British accents, via Rab C Nesbitt, Ian Paisley, Geordie Shore, TOWIE and a very, very funny Yorkshire man explaining the Yarksher accent. The Young Americans were tickled by the fact that there are still people in England who use thee and thy (though it’s more of a thar, usually…) and the guy, below, did a fantastic example of “Shut thar cakeoyl” which was my favourite expression ever when I lived in Sheffield. On my first day of teaching in Barnsley, a little boy called Ian asked me “Are thee lakin’ it so fer, Miss?” It took me three repeats to work out that this boy, born 40 miles from me as the crow flies, was asking me if I was enjoying it so far.

I used to work with a girl from Atherton, just between Wigan and Bolton. She grew up 10 miles from me, and yet she often spoke in a language that was almost unrecognisable. She once told me that she was clempt. I had no idea what the hell she was on about. She was hungry. That’s a weird word for hungry. Ironically, it’s not unlike a Flemish expression. I’m guessing the weavers had a lot to do with that word ending up in Lancashire.

Lancashire, of course, has its own distinctive dialect words, and thee and thar are both familiar. I ♥ regional dialects.

So, not only do I have Much Love for HelpXrs (I just went in the kitchen and the washing up is done… that has NEVER happened in this house…) and Much Love for English accents, but Much Love for my lovely friends. This weekend, I have picked up bags of glassware and ceramics from one lovely lady, and another lovely is giving me an embroidery pattern she won in a raffle.

That’s what I love about life here. You get to see the loveliest ladies. Not a one of them has a strange accent like mine though. I know a lady who grew up about five miles from me, and down the road is a Scottish lady who lived in Stalyvegas for a while. (And actually laughed when I called it Stalyvegas, because anyone who knows Stalybridge at all knows this local nickname for this canalside town that is not so much Las Vegas as it is Last Frontier before the moors.)

Anyway, after the pouring rain this morning, the weather has picked up and I’m off out down the garden to fix fences, rid the land of plum suckers and demonstrate the art of pruning a tree. It is so nice to have a little help, especially from such willing and enthusiastic volunteers.

Enjoy your Monday!

What’s in a name?

I’ve been doing a series of conversational starter questions with a couple of French clients, and one of them is ‘talk about three names you go by’ – firstly, explaining ‘to go by’ isn’t easy in French, it’s more kind of ‘respond to the name of’. Secondly, it reminds me of a funny thing that happened this week.

In England, giving my full name has always been a nightmare. It sounds like Emily, and a lot of people think that’s what I say, even though I say it in two distinct parts and add ‘and that’s L double E’ to explain the spelling of my surname, which kind of distinguishes it from LEIGH (à la Vivien) at the same time as making it clear it’s a surname.

In France, I don’t have to do that. They look at me confused when I say I am called Emma. I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly popular name. It’s said the same way.

I’ve been doing a lot of form-filling this week and I realised a lady had written down Emma Lit instead. It’s perfectly plausible. Emma Bed. Or Emma Reads. I like Emma Reads. I’m not so fond of Emma Bed. Emma Reads is kind of true to life and appropriate.

From now on, I would like to be addressed as Emma Reads in English, as it is less confusing than my own name.

Many people call me Emily, and Steve, who likes to make up ridiculous names for people, made up the Emma Milly-Lily Lee thing. Of course, that’s my facebook name and it has been for a while. I thought about changing it, since facebook is all grown up now and you can’t choose a crazy name easily (although it didn’t stop me changing my name and profile picture to that of a friend, driving them completely crazy because it looked like they were writing things on people’s pages, and it was really just me… fun until he did the same and it descended into chaos and insults from there) Some people call me Lilian or Lil, even so.

A couple of newer friends even thought that crazy concoction of names was my real name. Lucky for me, my name is not such a mouthful. I can’t believe they truly thought someone would be unfortunate enough to have such a terribly difficult (and girly!) name.

Still, there are other names I go by, besides Lilian and Lily and Emma and the likes.

One of those is of course Lady Justine, which is a long-standing pseudonym from back in the day when I used to find fun with a certain friend in hiding out in chatrooms and seeing if we could cause mayhem. That was all fine until he signed me up for a Christian dating website for Christians who want to date people with mental health issues. I never found out if he advertised me as a Christian or a crazy.

Hence, Lady Justine’s blog. Something of a pseudonym.

Of course, I still answer to “Miss” as a throwback to my in-school days.

I was not the only one with a silly name though. My students had lots of silly nicknames as well. I love it that I’m not the only silly one around here. Though it got a bit tricky when I was trying to explain why we call my sister Nappy Girl and Happy Girl (from Abigail) and why I call my brother Bert when he’s really called Alastair.

It’s certainly one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had for a while, and, I suspect, the one that told me most about my students!




I took advantage of a bright morning to take the doglets down to the forest before lessons started. It was utterly tranquil. True to form, there was nobody else about. I realised something though.

There are some days when a walk is just a walk. There are some days when it is a pain in the arse and I only go because Heston is foaming at the mouth. There are days when it is 3°C and raining heavily, with no chance of sunshine or a break in the clouds. There are days when it is too hot and I would rather be sunbathing with a book.

And then there are mornings like this morning.

We went a way we’ve not been for a while. The path goes along the Bandiat, and the Bandiat, like the Tardoire, had burst its banks and stayed over-full for weeks on end. Heston loves the water, but it ran the risk of dragging him off down towards the sea and so we stuck to drier paths. Plus, every soaking means a new tube of Advantix, and at 5€ a pop, it’s an expensive walk. That and the mud and the stink of wet dog.

Sorry, Heston.

If you didn’t smell so bad and make everything filthy, you could leap around in the water to  your heart’s content.

But today, the path was dry, some woodland body had cleared the path and on either side, there are masses of wild flowers.

They aren’t exciting or rare things, but they’re pretty nonetheless.

The first to come out was a carpet of wild anemones, Anemone Nemerosa. When we made our way down the track this morning, the flowers were still asleep, like lilac-cream bells, but on our return, they’d opened up.

Anemone nemerosa

The second was another ranunculaceae family member, lesser celandine. Completely absent on our way down, it was dotted here and there on our return. Some people say that it heralds the swallows, but all I heard today was the first cuckoo of spring. That’s always a good thing.

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)The cowslips are also out in force in the area, as well as in the woods

Primula Veris - Cowslip

There are also occasional flashes of narrow-leaved lungwort, which are this amazing blue-purple.

Sunny May Day Back Corner


No doubt there are many others as well, hiding away there. There’s also one I haven’t identified yet that is virtually everywhere. I forgot my camera, though, which is one reason I’m relying on these great Flickr images. The other reason is that my photos just wouldn’t be that good.

So, with the cuckoos and the wildflowers, it’s definitely spring, cold as it is.

It’s nice to have those moments, though, where you realise you are in exactly the place you are supposed to be, and that, in that space, at that time, there is order and tranquility and harmony. I think I enjoyed that walk as much as the dogs.

Oh, okay.

Not as much.

The joyous abandon with which Heston launched himself into the river was a little bit past simple pleasure and seemed to cross the line into frantic delight.

Life is good when you are a well-loved doglet.

Weather dances

Do you think if I do a dance, it will keep the weather on an up-and-up? Yesterday was 16°C at mine, but it still felt a little cold in the evening. I say this and there was a small degree of stripping in the forest. There might have been more if there weren’t so many goddamn people about.

Day 1 of no-hunt season and a public holiday to boot, and the world, his wife and their small dog were out. I will say one thing for hunters: they don’t care about dogs off lead and are generally much more sensible around other people’s animals.

Yesterday, a man shook a stick at Heston and then stood there glowering whilst we put all the dogs back on leads. If he’d done the sensible thing and just walked on, there would have been no issue. Walkers (and their handbag dogs) are much less accepting than the usual people I ‘meet’ in the forest in winter, who usually take a side path long before we get near each other. If they don’t, I do. The problem is, they don’t know the forest very well and they act like YOU’RE the problem with your normal-sized dogs (that one yesterday made even Tilly look like a great galumph)

I guess that’s my six months of peace and quiet gone.

Another thing about hunters is that they are noisy beggars and you usually hear them way before you see them. In the forest, they’re on well-organised meets and are more than aware they’re sharing the forest with potential handbag-sized dogs and their crabby owners in neon blue tracksuits. There’s a kind of routine and a kind of respect. Not always, but mostly. Beyond the forest gates is a different story, I know.

Oh well.

At least I can go back to the usual pathways around here, where the hunters have a habit of pinning you in by accident, and are much less friendly than the organised variety. They’re the kind that think ‘What can I do? I know… I’ll get my gun out.’

Let’s just hope it was bank holiday insanity that brought the walkers all out and that they very soon go back to their gardens with their brand-new baseball caps and their walking sticks and their tiny, tiny dogs. They make me feel like my dogs are a menace, when really they are just dogs. It’s no wonder dogs end up antisocial if people wag sticks at them. If someone jabbed a stick at me, I think I’d want to play with that stick.

Anyway, enough with the grumble. That shiny-tracksuit man is probably grumbling about the pack of dogs that threatened to attack his poor little chihuahua.

I’m kind of getting the garden up to speed (though my vegetable beds are a long, long way from ready)

I’ve planted a whole load more stuff now, since it’s a couple of weeks before the usual last frosts here. There is literally no more room at the Inn. The strawberries are planted up on the floor and every available sill, ledge and shelf is taken up with plant pots.

I’ve even been getting decorative again, with the geraniums I’ve brought out of the washroom and repotted…


I’ve taken a good few cuttings off them and cut them right back. Will see how they get on! Eventually, they will go outside, but for now, they’re getting their pink on next to the pink shutters. I’m not even a pink girl, by and large.

I’ve also started to plant some flowers – sadly lacking in my previous list.

So, what is up and what is in?

  • Gardener’s Delight tomatoes
  • Super Marmande tomatoes
  • Alicante tomatoes
  • Super Roma tomatoes
  • cauliflower ‘merveille de quatre saisons’
  • musselburgh leeks
  • Autumn Giant leeks
  • kale
  • sweet banana pepper
  • Rachel’s cauliflower seeds that I can’t remember the name of
  • cheap aubergines
  • expensive aubergines
  • savoy cabbage
  • oak-leaf lettuce
  • red lettuce
  • brussels sprouts
  • basil
  • red cabbage
  • Webbs lettuce
  • tabasco pepper
  • poppies

The courgettes, cornichons, pumpkin and cucumber are all in. I’ve also planted some annual Reine Marguerites, some sunflowers, some delphiniums, some broccoli, some impatiens and some pepper prairie fire. The tomatoes from earlier in the year have all been potted up and are now waiting for a little growth spurt, as they are still very weeny.


The perennial garden is coming back to life, with lupins appearing, monarda making a show, and the achillea which never really went away. There is also some campanula, which seems to have thrived.

DSCF3267As you can see from the petal litter, the peach tree has nearly finished its blossoming.

DSCF3269The apple is just beginning to blossom. The cherries have big fat buds. I haven’t been into the secret garden yet to check on the pear and quince, but I can’t imagine they will be far behind.

DSCF3272I managed to get a whole load of mowing done; I really have no desire to share a ‘before’ and ‘after’ photo, but as you can see from the photo, the bits around the edges reveal how long it had become.

Bit hard to mow when it’s been so wet!

Anyway, as I approach this very busy time, I’m hoping to have a little assistance from some HelpX visitors who are heading my way. I’m very excited. Finally, I might get to see the kind of garden I’d like. Amazing what you can achieve when you have another pair of willing hands. HelpX, for those not in the know, (as recommended by the delightful Mrs Rachelle) is a programme whereby you advertise your property and people offer to come and help in exchange for bed and board. Not a bad thing, if you ask me. People get reviews and you can also pick out offers from people that will most suit your way of life. Great way to see the country and to travel, if you ask me. If I were young again, you might catch me doing it for a summer or two.

Busy day today. Catching up with Miss Hege and then teaching in the afternoon. Hopefully, I’ll be able to squeeze in a little light digging before tomorrow though. Something’s telling me that I need to make hay while the sun shines.