Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dealing with a memory

Grizzly Monday morning? Run out of energy? Today’s mlm is brought to you by The Who with You better, You bet to give you a little Monday kick. 

I’d almost run out of all energy. By 5pm Friday last week, I could have sat down and gone to sleep for 20 hours. It reminded me of those days when I used to get in from work in the winter and go and lie down on my bed in my coat and go to sleep, waking up about 5 in the morning in the exact same position. I had a bit of a cold as well and although it was past its Wednesday worst, it was still pretty yucky. Luckily, a later start on Saturday and a Saturday afternoon off to clean up and take the dogs out was just what was needed. In fact, I lie. What really revived me was an hour of poetry teaching on Saturday evening, and then another one last night. Nothing like opening a can of poetry on a reluctant teenager who can then say “yeah, I get it now!”

I did put on a couple of The Who’s albums on Saturday night after I’d cleaned up. From time to time, a couple of my friends and I get into a whole evening’s discussion about who’s better, who’s best – The Who, The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. If you could only have one, which would you have? Usually, somebody puts on Sympathy for the Devil towards the end of the evening and we all kind of agree that the Stones did some awesome work. But The Who did some epic songs and this is one of my favourites. My absolute favourite is harder to pick out, I think. I can probably narrow it down to about ten songs. And The Who did some awesome stuff too. Quadrophenia anyone? Tommy?

Throw Led Zeppelin into the argument and I don’t think there would ever be an end to that argument.

It’s funny, all this music stuff. I bet nobody looking at me would say I could quite happily spend several hours arguing over the relative merits of England’s giants. Never mind the relative benefits of new and upcoming sounds. Yet it’s the one blog that is never hard to write (and you’ll notice a dearth recently, but not through writer’s block, just through lack of time!)

It’s also not surprising to me, looking back over the MLMs, that there is such a range. I am, after all, the grown-up version of the 13 year old with Bowie, Depeche Mode, Talking Heads, Kiss and the Carpenters in her minuscule collection. It kind of got worse as I grew older and I embraced the heady sounds of 70s disco as well as the great club anthems that are just so good to run to. A song for every occasion. I have a list I’m working through for Much Love Monday, and every time I remember something Monday-epic, it goes on the list.

So what else gets my Monday love?

Strangers who send you kind messages about things – whether it’s just to say thank you for something you’ve said, or whether it’s to say they really enjoyed something you wrote. That’s especially nice. Feedback is hard, and often not very thick on the ground. Not that I am an ego-whore, but it’s nice to know that someone appreciates it. (Other than my Nana who always loves everything I do… Lovely Nana)

Breaks in the storms where the clouds are thick and heavy, yet filled with a weird kind of light.

Getting teenagers enthused about poetry with that Modernist epic, Pound’s In a station of the metro which, at 14 words and two lines, is just about the most stripped back and incomprehensible thing ever in a way. It’s the modern art of poetry. And showing a teenager who feels a bit ‘meh’ about poetry that he can get great things out of it is always a ‘yay!’ moment. E.E. Cummings’ Buffalo Bill’s Defunct is also a great one for that. That’s what makes me a word-loving English teacher. Google these two poems if you want to find poetry at its most beguiling (and most frightening…)

Finding your passion on a Saturday evening and finding it re-awoken every time you delve into it.

Long autumny forest romps with the beasts.

Putting my walking boots on after a summer in flip-flops.

Tea breaks.

Planning my autumn knitting. Smaller projects needed though!

Right, I better get on with my day. Beasts to walk. Gardens to tidy. Houses to clean. Lessons to prepare. Web content to write. Hopefully I will manage to squeeze a blog or two into the week before it ends up being Monday again!


I know more now than I knew then

Todays mlm is brought to you by Stevie Wonder with Higher Ground. A bit of funky Stevie at his very best.

As per, I’ve got a busy Monday ahead. Dogs, gardening, shopping, house-cleaning, planning, teaching, washing, reading, bed. That will be how it goes. Last week was a very rare nadgy week, where the whole world was out of sync, and this week better not be like that. I’m too tired to cope with it. Yesterday, I ran out of words. That’s how tired I was.

This weekend was mostly dominated by Pineau Sally’s Party in the Park. Pineau, if you aren’t acquainted with it, and you probably won’t be on account of they don’t really let it out of the Charente, is a local fortified alcohol, kind of a bit like sherry. It’s grape must and cognac. I have no idea what those words mean. Anyway, Sally likes a pineau, so sometimes we call her Pineau Sally. It’s better than other names we might call her. We all love her very much, otherwise we wouldn’t have been behind the bar, dancing our arses off, serving cake, coffee and beer. Not many women would do what she did. Sally had arranged a mammoth event to raise money for cats here in the region. Of course, it is farming country and – how shall I say it? – there’s often a much more ‘country’ attitude towards animals, cats in particular. Dogs are just burglar alarms. Cats keep the rodents away. I guess that’s how some people find it.

Sally was out and about and came across an old lady who had ‘adopted’ 20-odd cats. She lived near a main road and every time she would see a dead cat killed by the side of it, she would go looking for its kittens and feed them. Many were blind or partially sighted, and most were very ill. Sally raised loads of money to have them all sterilised and treated, and found homes for many too. On top of her day job. And on top of helping her husband out with his books and the likes, as women do with husbands. Much love for Sally for attempting this mammoth thing. There are very few people who would have done anything about it at all.

Anyway, after I’d done my Party stint (including Gangnam Style dancing behind the bar and putting up with Miss Rachel’s rather bizarre shaggy dancing) I came home and submitted a poetry essay. It’s like being a teenager all over again. It’s the first proper essay I’ve done since 2007, and I can’t believe I’ve gone 6 years between them. The last time I was ‘learning’, I had a photography exhibition due on the same day as my masters dissertation. I don’t know how I did it. I would guess much in the same style as yesterday – work, work, work, get home, crazy writing and then bed. I must thrive on pressure.

If I thrive on pressure, my housework doesn’t. Plus, with the rain last week, I’m a bit behind in my autumn gardening. Time to get back in that saddle as this week also promises to be crazy busy too.

So, what am I loving this Monday?

Cauliflower cheese

Cake sales

Autumnal dog walks in an almost empty forest

Seeing deer

Watching Heston getting deer-crazy and then being too tired to walk properly

Modern Poetry courses & submitting essays

Being quiet

The fact that by this time next week, I will be back to ‘normal’ workload

Putting my vegetable plots to bed for the winter

Apple crumbles

Apple pies

Apple turnovers

Apple pie jam

Warm beds

Being cool at night and warm in the day

Sunny autumn days

Proliferations of spiderwebs in the fields in the morning

Today is supposed to hit 29°C – bit of an Indian summer, I think. I better get going with my tasks, though. They’re never done, are they?

Barking at the moon

Yesterday, I started to notice a mood of aggravation at about 4pm. A few people were getting more snarky than usual, a little more sarcastic, a little less patient. If a comment could be misread, it was. If it could be misconstrued, it was.

And people were getting more provocative too. It’s kind of an in joke that whenever someone mentions the dreaded phrase “who do people use to fetch stuff over from England?”, a row breaks out. These questions periodically appear in various anglophone places and inevitably go like this:

Person #1: Who do you use to get your shopping from England?

Person #2: You buy shopping from England?! Where can I do this wonderful thing too?

Person #3: You live in France. Therefore you should only buy French things. And I think you’re perfectly hideous and/or common for buying stuff from Asda/Tesco anyway. Horsemeat, cheap stuff, grumble grumble.

Person #1: Yes, but we like Bisto and it either costs £17 from an English shop or from the foreign foods aisle or Catering to English Whimsy haulage company will bring it over for us from Asda for 50p.

Person #3: France will DIE without you spending every single penny of your money in French shops.

Person #4: I use Waitrose online.

Person #2: I want to buy Iceland instant meat paste purée.

Person #5: That’s outrageous. You common people with your love of Iceland. Move back to England if you love it so much.

Person #6: I buy all my shopping in France for 14€ for a family of 4. We eat very well.

Person #1: You’re a sanctimonious hypocrit, Person #6. And Person #5, why the hell should we? All I wanted to know is who you use to get your groceries from. If you’ve got nothing useful to contribute, wind your neck in.

Person #7: I miss Double Gloucester.

Person #8: You’re all effing lucky. I’m Australian and you can’t get vegemite here for love nor money.

Person #9: But you’re not having the full cultural experience if you aren’t eating andouillette and hunting your own meat on a Saturday.

And thus it continues. Essentially if you hanker for any single thing that is slightly English, you should move back there immediately to satisfy your urge for weird wartime goods like jelly and trifle, whipping cream and custard, bangers and mash, gravy granules and proper teabags.

And if you do your shopping as I do in France, for whatever reason, you are a sanctimonious hypocrite who’s too la-di-da for their own good, probably with a secret hankering for malt vinegar.

Anyway, I digress. This is one such provocative thread that ends up causing no end of judgement on both sides. If at any time there is a slight whiff of love of England/desire for English things, it’s met instantly with a ‘go back there then’ in a rather ludicrous way that suggests that nobody in England buys anything other than Made in Great Britain and that we all live off entirely English products. And it has its counterpart argument of “Don’t be such a ridiculous snob. You’re not French, so don’t act like you are.” as if the average ex-pat in England doesn’t have a hankering for whatever food of their home country.

It’s all a bit silly, really. I didn’t get met with derision when I lived in Yorkshire if I asked for a bit of Lancashire Hot Pot, as if I’m some sort of cultural heathen. I can’t understand how 22 miles of ocean turn it into a ‘Leave all your former loves here at the border’ kind of thing.

But it wasn’t the only provocative bomb to drop last night. Someone else asked about whether they should wear fur again now in France and then it all got a bit heated again.

On other forums, angst was popping out at the seams for all kinds of other issues. I got a couple of messages from people having all kinds of dramas that really seemed to be very trivial indeed. Phone calls had been made, tempers were frayed, this person didn’t want to be connected to THAT person. This person would help out on this occasion but didn’t want to do it with THAT person and if they were made to, well, they would walk out. People behaving in general like petulant babies who’d thrown their dummies out of the pram.

I retired to bed with NCIS and a cup of English tea (because there is no other teabag quite like it, I know).

I thought all the mealy-mouthed crosspatchy behaviour would have died a death. But not quite.

A Man – how very dare he! – had infiltrated a women-only forum – again, I say, how very dare he! – and posted an advert for voodoo.

Now that’s either extremely coincidental or extremely good marketing. Find a group of women who like to fall out a bit, wait for an argument and then offer to sell voodoo dolls to them.

Cunning marketing.

It was only when I was gardening this morning – the earth is delicious right now for digging and thinking of Seamus Heaney – and Heston and Tilly would not stop barking at all the other neighbourhood dogs that were also barking continuously – that I realised. There is definitely something in the air.

I don’t know what it is, but the dogs know. They’re all barking at each other barking at each other. And that’s a bit like last night.


Perhaps it’s all time we got down off our high horses, put away our deliberately provocative questions and got some mittens that prevent us typing, texting or phoning others when we feel a little bit narky. Heaven only knows, we might also want to say “Ah, you’re a great person. I love you very much. Thanks.” to someone as well. Life is far too short to fall out over teabags and pot noodles. As I know my mum would say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”


It’s always me that ends up getting wet

It’s late, I know. I’m sorry. Here’s The Police with Every Little Thing She Does

I need a little bit of a burst to get me through the week. I usually write my Monday posts on Sunday night (as well as some other things) but because it was the Dames de FER foire yesterday, that took up most of the day. By the time I got home to deliver a couple of lessons at 7pm, I was virtually good for nothing. Bed by 9.30. That was all I was fit for.

Still, it was a really good day. It’s funny how you go from knowing only a handful of people to knowing an entire community. Three years ago, when I moved over here, I spent the first year or so not really knowing anybody. I met a few people through my work as a teacher and I put out a few feelers, but even when I started blogging for Anglo Info, writing for Living Magazine and doing everything I could to make new friends and acquaintances, it still took a long time. Work trickled in. And I mean trickled. It took eighteen months before I was working fully in France, and it was good fortune that I had ‘brought’ a few virtual clients with me, or else I think I’d have packed up and gone home.

That was one of the things I enjoyed most about yesterday. I might have had bar shifts and car park shifts and tombola shifts, but I got to chat to lots and lots of my new lovely friends. Though I had to dash off early to get back to the dogs and to my clients, I wouldn’t have minded at all staying longer and helping tidy up as well. That’s what it feels like now – like a community that you want to protect and care for, as well as something you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if you’re mopping up spilt coffee, selling raffle tickets (or sub-letting the raffle book to a very bavardeuse friend who is better at selling than you are) as it all feels like marvellous fun. I hitched a ride up the hill with a lovely lady who does upholstery, managed to have a quick chat with the bacon butty lady, raced around picking up forms and moving cars, cut quiche and cake, sold a few tombola tickets, had a big lot of fun over the walkie-talkies (including developing a walkie-talkie voice) did my car parking duties in the style of an air hostess, met a lady who sets up work placements in the Phillipines and has a farm, put the world to rights with a crazy friend, previewed a new article, ate a slice of delicious carrot cake, then had a gorgeous second course pudding of rocky road, had a hit of the fizzy stuff to keep me going and then managed to head on home by six.

What a day!

You can understand why I feel a little tired today, I guess.

Usual doggie Monday walk ended up being this afternoon, since it was raining this morning and I put it to use making endless telephone calls and watching the second-to-last-ever episode of Dexter. If you are a fan – oh my word! Will Deb die? Will Dexter make it out of Miami? Will he end up behind bars? This time next Monday, you may find me a very different woman depending on how good the ending was!

Anyway, it is now time for bed. It’s been a foul day today. Let’s hope tomorrow is brighter.

Et jamais ne revient

Today’s MLM is brought to you by the heady sounds of the Electro-Euro 80s with Voyage Voyage by Desireless.

Let’s face it: the day that surreal europop can’t get you out of bed, you’d better stay in bed. Count yourself lucky. I could have gone with Sandra, especially given she did a (not-so epic) cover of Everlasting Love. This track is right up there with other 80s Euroclassics, like Joe Le Taxi and Ella elle l’a

I’d like to admit now that Vanessa Paradis epitomised everything that was weird and different about French teenagers. A lot of French teenagers have a kind of pseudo-American thing going on. They seem so very clean and wholesome compared to English teenagers. I remember thinking way back in the Joe Le Taxi days that the French students who came to our house in the summer for language visits were always so much cleaner than we all were. They might have only come from 24 miles across the sea, but they were as different from me as if they’d come 2400 miles across the sea. They seemed older. I still think a lot of French children go from being children to being young men and women without that hideous, awful, uncomfortable teenage bit.

Don’t get me wrong: I am quite sure French teenagers can be as foul-mouthed and offensive as their English counterparts. You just don’t see girls with scouse brows and tango orange faces quite so often here. I’m sure French girls don’t wake up with the strange imprint of a neon mask on their pillow. Not only that, it’s much rarer to see a teenage girl flashing her knickers because her skirt is but a memory of a skirt – a wide belt at best. The trend of low-hanging pants hasn’t really made it over here, and if you end up going off the rails a little, you might channel the Ali G look. Still, I see more granddads in matching trackie bottoms and tops than I do teenagers. The only people wearing Adidas round my way are über-thin grey-haired men in pressed tracksuits. It’s loungewear for pensioners. I guess that makes it a little less appealing to the average teenager.

And even out of the classroom in England, a fair share of my students were sullen sufferers, forced to have extra lessons because their parents wanted good grades. Here, I have not had a single French sullen sufferer. They’re all cheery and polite and clean. I have no idea why that is. I guess nobody else does either, otherwise they would attempt to capture it and sell it as some kind of teenager-taming magic formula.

So, what is it that I find Much Love for today?

First, weirdly, an enforced radio silence; they are replacing the pylons round our way and I have no electricity for the day. I’m looking forward to it.

Second, for the approaching autumn. Dare I say I’m a little tired of being hot now? Plus, I’ve got about 2,000 apple and blackberry pies to get made. I might live off fruit crumble for a week.

Third, for MOOC (that’ll be Massive Open Online Courses to you…) as I’m doing a Modern American Poetry course with Penn University and I’m LOVING it. I’ve got my full poetry nerd on. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman this week. Last night, I found myself searching for references to cedar in the Bible and trying to work out lexical fields and hymnal rhythms. God I love poetry. It makes me feel all ‘ahhhhhh’.

Fourth, for having a clean desk. Finally. I even cleaned out my inbox. I have four emails to deal with and I cleaned out, junked, filed and sorted over 4000 emails over the summer. Imagine living in a house with 4000 bits of paper hanging about. It was starting to look a bit obsessive-hoarder in there. I feel completely liberated.

Fifth, for rain. We finally had some. Thus, I can crack open the ground today and wrestle my beetroot out without too much labour. Roast beetroot for tea. Yum.

Anyway, it is time to get a wiggle on and get to work. I’ve got a lot planned for my day free from electricity! Enjoy your Monday!



The Return

As one year begins (that’d be the school year) another one ends (that’d be the harvest year) and most of my garden jobs have been about cutting back bushes, trimming hedges and mowing the heck out of the lawn just in case it rains throughout September and I don’t get to do it again. A few things to harvest, the plots to dig over and that will be that. I’ll be back to the beginning again.

It does feel funny to think that summer is on its way out. This is the weather forecast here for the week…

weather_Sept_3_2013No, your eyes do not deceive you. That is a 33°C day today. But as you can see, with 9°C at night, it’s been quite fresh too. I love days like that. I can get a good three hours in during the morning where it is lovely and cool – jumper weather, even. And then in the afternoon, I can retreat to a delightfully cool house. The last few mornings, it’s been 19°C in the bedroom, and that is just about perfect. These are my favourite days. Blue skies. Warm evening. Neither too hot nor too cold. Nice to get into bed at night. Nice to be warm in the afternoons.

I’m still harvesting tomatoes and today – miracles will never cease! – I found the tiniest pumpkin ever. I’m wondering if the soil hasn’t been rich enough or damp enough for them? Everybody else’s seem to be really far on by now. I picked 6kg of pears today and noticed that the quite poor showing of peaches is gearing up to be quite a good showing of peaches. This is good. I finally know what to do with them. I made peach chutney last year with a Women’s Institute recipe and it lasted about 7 months. It has been a hot favourite for helpxers. It’s seriously good with a chunk of baguette and some cheese or ham.

This is good, because they’re what’s known as pêche de vigne or vine peaches. Let’s just say they aren’t those whopping great peaches from the market that are really good to eat. No. These are tiny little ones that are hard right up to the last minute and then ripen super-quick. I have both types – the white-fleshed ones which the Swiss call pêche de vigne and the red-fleshed ones which the French call pêche de vigne. They are both late to ripen, which is kind of good. If I had to pick them all right now, I think I’d collapse. I have never seen anything like this fruit out of France though.

Both the white and red varieties are clingstone peaches, which means they are hard to get off the pit. They also have thick skins which aren’t particularly nice to eat. They’re kind of sour too. So… peach chutney is the best thing for them. That way I can enjoy them without wanting to throw them all away.

I noticed today that the grapes are ripening up nicely too. I wouldn’t think they’ll last til the end of the month.

Other than that, I am waiting for a little of the rain that the weekend promises so that I can dig up my beetroot and some potatoes. I planted a couple of rows of spinach and a couple of rows of winter cabbage last week, and the winter cabbage are just beginning to show their first leaves. I love those first brassica leaves. They’re so distinct.

It’s a month of eating whatever I bring in from the garden. Yesterday was aubergines, so I had aubergine and chickpea curry – the best vegan dish ever in my opinion. I have a handful of roma tomatoes, so they went into the sauce. The day before was roasted cherry tomato and aubergine soup. I’ve not really got the full quotient of ratatouille vegetables given my poor performing cucurbits. It’s obviously a brassica year this year.


Of my 250kg target for the year, I have so far harvested:

2.5 kg sprouting broccoli

4.5 kg cherries

2.1 kg broad beans.

200g peas

1kg runner beans

14 kg plums

4 kg potatoes

2kg sweetcorn

12kg tomatoes

1 kg kale

3kg courgettes

500g blackcurrants

500g redcurrants

2kg strawberries

2 kg blackberries

That’s 50.3kg so far. Getting to 100kg seems like a faraway dream right now. Hopefully the grapes are REALLY heavy.

At the very least, though, it gives me a target for next year. Anyway, today is a busy school day, as it is the beginning of the school year. Tomorrow also crazy busy. Friday, I’ll be out in the rain by the look of it. Is this the end of the glorious summer that August turned out to be? – well, after the storms of course!

Life’s rivers flow

It seemed appropriate, post-Heaney, to have a Much Love Monday with a little Irish throwback, so here’s U2 with Everlasting Love. 

U2 are one of those bands that I grew up with, and ‘The Troubles’ along with Heaney’s poetry, is part of the defining consciousness of my teenage years. From hearing Sunday, Bloody Sunday at my friend Davina’s house right the way through to listening to Achtung, Baby! on repeat in my first year at university, U2 were a massive part of my teenage years.

After Achtung, Baby! it all got a bit pretentious and if you ask me, Bono started to believe his own hype a little too much. Plus, he reminds me of this two-bit singer back in my home town who truly believes he’s some kind of legend. Legend in his own lunch-break if you ask me. This two-bit legend in his own lifetime walks around as if he’s Bono. And Bono? He walks around like he’s the king of the planet, the one who got blessed with all the morality and righteousness. Bono just got all a bit too smug and shiny and smarmy right after 1991 and now most of the time, I can’t see his face without wanting to punch it. It’s a shame because I love their early stuff very much. And I still love drummer Larry Mullen very much too.

Ironically, they’d be right up there with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Depeche Mode in terms of soundtracks to my youth. War was genius. Unforgettable Fire was forgettable. The Joshua Tree was epic. Rattle and Hum was poor. Achtung, Baby was great. It seems like they got it right about half of the time when they were being sincere and Bono wasn’t being a cockwomble.

There is one single that came out in 1989 and reminds me of a friend of mine who died in 1991. I had the biggest crush on this guy. The biggest. He was all I thought about. When you’re 16, love’s like that. He bought me the single of All I Want is You and I must have played it so often that I’m surprised it hasn’t worn out. I guess when Achtung, Baby came out, it reminded me so much of him. I still can’t listen to One. I listened to it over and over in 1991 in the days after his death, when nothing made sense and I ached for this friend I’d lost. It had two songs on the B side, Everlasting Love and Unchained Melody. It was back in the days where everything was vinyl and I had an old record player. I can’t tell you the times that I lifted the record player arm back to the beginning to play it again and again. It didn’t get to be the uplifting song it should have been for many, many years. In fact, I think I like most the way it sounds like it’s been recorded in a box by some weird medium on the other side of life.

Later, when U2 brought out their Best Of 1980-1990, I was 26 and the most immediate pain of those songs had dissipated a little. Andy bought me the CD and I listened to it over and over. It’s funny how memories associated with that time in my life are mixed in with memories from ten years before. Mix them all together and it’s my own personal recipe for goosebumps.

So much love to those who made U2 songs mean something, and much love to those singers whose voices get into your soul and can stir you to action, be it anger, love or tears. Much Love for these bands, because we all need a little rousing now and again. I grew up in the years where music did that – be it Live Aid or Free Nelson Mandela. You can blame the 80s and 80s bands for me being so political. Today’s big music stars don’t seem to care much about anything beyond themselves. I sometimes wonder how music can be so trite and meaningless when it seems the world around us is crumbling. Perhaps music is just escapism these days. Between The Smiths and U2, Midge Ure and Chumbawamba I managed to grow up with a healthy conscience as well as a healthy cynicism about politicians and politics. You’d think in these troubled political times, people would want a little protest song. Perhaps they don’t care any more. Is the next step after cynicism really apathy?

Much Love, anyway, to the angry generation. Post-punk, we definitely grew up airing our feelings.