Monthly Archives: April 2014

If you only knew…

Today’s mid-week whoo is brought to you by my all-time favourite band Red Hot Chili Peppers with Cabron

Even if the Chilis end up going the way of the Rolling Stones and being like your granddad dancing at a disco, I’ll still always love them. Can’t believe this great album is now 12 years old! That is quite obscene. It was my CD of choice for a long summer of drives over to Clitheroe where I was working; it was a good 50-minute drive from my house up to work and I must have listened to this album hundreds of times. Music these days is so portable. In the past, you had to commit yourself to ten or so CDs in your car, or even cassette tapes. When I took a long train trip through France in 1995, I had 8 albums with me, taped back-to-back on 4 C90 cassette tapes. They remind me of that time so much. I bought the albums on CD too, but often would make the tapes for my car. It saved on wear and tear.

But you got to know albums and sequences and track listings so much better than today’s random days for the post-MTV generation, who can’t listen to a full album all the way through anymore. James’ Laid is THE album of 1995 for me – I listened to it on the ferry from St Malo on repeat and it just defines that time for me. Likewise the Trainspotting soundtrack for 1996. I love those albums that define a time. This week I am revisiting my CD collection from 2002-3 and having a fine time doing it. The Coral, Turin Brakes, Is this it? Air and Starsailor. The early millennium was very mellow.

So what is bringing me joy this week?

Parcels from England. Though I feel a bit like a refugee. They are filled with cheap seeds and bulbs (compared to France anyway!) tea bags, coffee, bad chocolate (likewise… bad being a question of opinion!) and newspaper cuttings. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a very different country rather than one that is no further away from me than Edinburgh is from London. I love those parcels when they contain whimsical little treasures and I love them even more when they bring memories from the past. This last parcel was filled with my extremely average school reports and a whole load of pictures of small me.

Garden elves. Those who come round and tidy up your garden and leave an orderly, neat pile of rubbish as well as a mown lawn. Even if they make you feel a bit ashamed that the weather has kept you inside for so very long. Now much of my grass is back at a normal length after April’s humidity and heat and rain sent the grass into a frenzy of growing. I can even see the bottom of my garden again. Even my plant pots are tidy. My hoses are wound up. My lawnmowers are lined up (the kind-of broken one and the not-so broken one) and my tools are all neat.

Dog lovers everywhere. Two dogs I had been advertising have been taken for adoption this week. I only hope they work out. People expect instant perfection. Sometimes they get it and the dog fits in like a missing jigsaw piece. Sometimes it takes a little while. Tilly was a pain when I first got her. She needed re-house-training and would happily pee inside if it was wet outside. She ferreted round all night if I left her out. She was a bin-dipping table-climbing obsessive monkey. Now she is so close to me that you couldn’t get a cigarette paper between us. She still pees on the floor from time to time. She is the reason the dogs sleep in my room at night – since she needs to be enclosed at night or she roots. The other reason is that she might smell bad, but feeling her little warm body next to me in the night is just about the nicest thing ever. Hearing her snore is hugely reassuring. I love stopping to chat with random friends in supermarkets and having a ten-minute conversation about our animals.

52 Mondays #18

A third of the way through the year. Blimey.


I realised this is not the same angle as usual and there is more of the path and less of the sky. Oh well. I was trying to wield both camera and dogs and it wasn’t happening. Usually, I let both of them off by this point as we are past the cow field which Tilly likes to eat from (and will not listen when I call her, just chomps on cow pats) as she happily wanders between the feet of a couple of dozen bemused cows looking for fresh fodder. Heston is usually not interested in a chase until the return leg when I put him back on the lead. However, tonight, someone was coming up behind me with a barky little terrier and I thought I’d better be safe than sorry.

It’s been another wet and wild and cloudy week with dry bits in between.  Things are growing like mental and yet the rain has put me off any serious gardening. I despair of ever being able to get out into my vegetable garden though I have got things begging to go in. However, it is gearing up to silly season – GCSEs and A levels and Baccalaureates and this morning I realised that I had inadvertently signed myself up for another 10 week Coursera course about the brain. Because I don’t have enough to do. Bang goes my television evening time and hello to swotting up about the cerebellum and the spinal cord. I am pretending to moan. I could back out of it at any time. I love a bit of learning, as you well know. Plus, I got a bit heavy on the evening television last week and watched all of Those Who Kill with Chloe Sevigny (excellent) and all of True Detective with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey (also excellent) so I could do with a bit of focus.

Tomorrow is another busy one though my usual crazy Wednesdays are one lesson this week – followed by a full day off! I decided last year that I was not working public holidays and so I’m off to scoot around a local car boot sale and look for bargains,  monstrosities and amusements. I might take Amigo. He looks as if he would enjoy a bit of a rummage. Heston would bark at everything (he did once spend an evening getting upset by a sieve) and Tilly would be bored when she realised there was no food to be had beyond the token sausage van. Let’s face it, there’s little else to do except rummage on a bank holiday. I’ve not been to a car boot sale for a year and it’s about time I got my tatty old junk fix. Hopefully the weather will brighten up a little. I’m still in jumpers here and wondering if we’ve got another two months of wetness to endure like last year.

As I turned around this evening, though, it was the field behind me which gave me the most joy. It felt like the sun was returning, if only a little. This time last night, my power went out for a good five minutes – long enough to send me seeking out candles and matches. It just came back on as I found them. And then later, I took my book to bed only for the light to go just as I got in. Sometimes, the world tells you to go to sleep.


April has not been a bad month. It hasn’t been brilliant, but there hasn’t been a frost, it has been relatively warm and plenty wet. Here’s hoping for a good fruit season.

Here’s April for you …



Oh how green you are!

The rain and warmth has made my adopted home a veritable feast of emerald shades – and the hedgerows and woods are filled with wildflowers right now. I love this time of year. I took Amigo for a stroll down a woodland path that is one of my favourites yesterday. The river Bandiat runs alongside the path for half a mile or so, but it is a favoured watering hole for the local wildlife, including wild boar, and it is far too overstimulating for my crazy dog Heston, so I’ve not been in a while.


Earlier in spring, the path is lined with wild anemone, cowslips and lesser celandine and but now the bluebells and wild garlic have taken over. It’s part of a planned walk in the local forest, and there are panels explaining about biodiversity and the various trees that line the route. To the right is a steep hill and cave system – it’s limestone karst here and the Bandiat has long since carved out a valley. To the left, the Bandiat wanders along – the river bed is often dry, but the last two years have been so wet, it has been constantly in flow.




When it is a showery, cool April afternoon, what better way is there to pass the time? And I am a lucky girl to be able to spend my days between open fields and hedgerows where Heston can run and run, and cool forests where Amigo can wander by my side as I get all excited about how lush everything is.

Get home early from work

Need a bit of something to get you through the midweek? Here’s Cheap Trick with I want you to want me.

One of those bands that are just never cool, never going to pass over into vintage retro, you just can’t help loving this song anyway. You just can’t.

If the truth be told, I don’t need quite so much of a rush to get me through the midweek as many of my students are on holiday. That is not to say my timetable is clear but it is much more gentle than usual. Wednesdays are usually a 9-9 romp through French and English, from 5 years old to 16 years old. Today, well, I have one student.

This is good because not only do I have a month’s worth of stuff to catch up on, but I also have got a lot of cleaning to do. Oh joy. The garden is in need of serious attention and I am very thankful for my little garden helper elves.

I’ve also got a bit of dog behaviour to sort out. Newcomer Amigo has boy issues. He isn’t finding it as fun as he should be and he is still grumbly at Heston. To give Heston his due, he is being a perfect gentleman and doesn’t care much for pecking order; he has been ruled all his life by 12kg of cocker and he doesn’t care at all. It’s not hard work – just a case of avoiding flashpoints and close quarters – but I’ve been doing a lot of sitting on my bum with the pair of them, trying to get Amigo used to being around other dogs. It’s a shame, because he is a sweet, smart, loyal, loving dog who deserves lots of cuddles and kisses. Until he gets his old man grumbles under control though, affection is just another flashpoint. We’re coping though. That was mostly why I got him now – I knew I had two weeks to sort things out. If it were Amigo and Tilly on their own, there would be no problem at all. Plus, he doesn’t whine or cry or bark or react with visitors. He is a sweetie-pie and once he realises that third place in a house full of love is not such a bad thing, he will find Heston doesn’t care much for squabbles and has never been a jealous boy. Just a question of space and good manners. I think all households are like that. Lots of space and good manners means a happy household.


So what are the things that are warming my heart this week?

The greenness of everything. The amazing, amazing greenness of everything. Each year I forget just how great spring is out here – in the last month things just shot up and the beautiful combination of heat and moisture make everything


A couple of days off (I have five full days off this holiday! Whoop Whoop!) and lunch with my lady friends is another reason to smile this Wednesday. We are experimenting with a different Chinese restaurant than our usual hangout and enjoying it a lot. If you know how hard it is to come by spicy food of any calibre outside Paris, you will know why we put up with some oddities at the buffet table. It is not unusual to see boiled eggs or baguette on people’s plates. They’re just not embracing the unusualness of the thing.

I have a couple of afternoons planned at the refuge as well, and a bit of relaxation. On Monday, I had time off and I had no idea what to do with myself. It’s good to be this busy though. I was looking at my diary for 2011 and I’m probably doing about three times as much as I did then. I’m helping someone do their paperwork this morning – it’s still stupidly inefficient here – in ways I both like and dislike. I love how determined people are to maintain a standard of living. I hate how short-sighted they are in terms of business. I’m sure this flabby behemoth of pallid bureaucracy is not what Marx and Engels had in mind.

Anyway, have a good Wednesday. I’ll be enjoying the sunshine and the somewhat spicy salads!


52 Mondays #17


I know. I missed 16. Ah well. You can see now as things start to change colour – before it was all just a homogeneous green but now the lime-green and the dark green are much more obvious. Makes a change from everything else, which is acid-yellow right now.


Photogenic as the fields of rape may be, they are not gentle or kind on either the eyes or the nose. That said, I must have 100 photos of various fields around me. A couple of weeks ago, a visitor remarked that in many other places, the tree in my 52 Mondays photo would have been ripped up to allow better, more continuous planting, and whilst I think there are lots of coppices and copses, I’ve been reading a local environmentalist and beekeeper’s blog about changing landscapes here in France, where he says the crop planting is significantly different now than thirty years ago. I’d be sad if the copses and coppices disappeared – although I suspect they will not, given the local dependence on firewood and love of hunting.

Although there are not many stretches on my walks that are devoid of hedgerows, the hedges are my favourite bits. At the moment, the clover is flowering and there are copious daisies, both tiny ones and ox-eye daisies.

It is much more gentle than the gaudy show of rapeseed, on the whole.

IMG_0772 IMG_0780IMG_0764


A game for us to play

Sorry it’s late. A Friday phew rather than a Wednesday whoo. Oh well. Here’s Steve Harley and the Cockney Rebel with Make Me Smile

This song just instantly takes me back to those days in the Royal – a now-defunct pub in Bury – where the landlord seemed to take a rather carefree view of who he served and allowed hordes of us to congregate on a Friday and Saturday night. At first, the jukebox was probably very limited and there were a few classics that seemed to play on a loop – mostly Dan Maclean’s Miss American Pie (one I realised has never been a Much Love Monday song, or a Wednesday Whoo… but is so full of nostalgia for me that it makes me sixteen all over again)

Funny really how things come together. My friend from school was here for a brief stopover at the weekend. He and I are a pair of unlikely gossips and I have absolutely no idea why we connected as we did, but I did spend hours on the phone to him every night after school analysing the day’s events. He is currently on an epic motorbike journey from England to as far as he can get into Africa with a friend of his. I say motorbike ride and what I mean is they bought two ex-pizza-delivery motorbikes and that is a very different thing than biking down through Europe on 1400cc hogs.  A maximum speed of about 60mph makes them go slow on back roads and really enjoy the ride. They are half-camping, half-hotelling. That’s what happens when you get to our age. Camping seems like a great idea, but then all the creature comforts of beds and showers, insect-free rooms and air conditioning take over. They have camped a couple of nights along the way and I am kind of travelling by proxy, enjoying the ride they are taking even though I can’t go with them.

Anyway, my friend was describing me back in school to his road-trip partner and all he seems to remember from our school days is me hanging out in the Royal, along with all of my metal-head friends. I’m sure there was more to it than that. Not many people from my school ever went to the Royal – it seemed to collect people from far and wide. At first, and way before it became the kind of pub that would scare most parents, it was just a faded old dive off the main drag, with old guys sitting here and there at knackered old formica bar tables on knackered old tapestry bar seats.

The first time I went in was with a friend, Angela. We were on the lookout for a particular crush of mine from school. He was playing pool with a few guys who I would come to know and love very, very dearly – Henny and Danny Haworth among others. At that time, the Royal was still an odd mix of people who’d not found better places to go yet. As time went on, it became the central hangout for every underage teenager nursing their Newcastle Brown, listening to AC/DC and Deep Purple. By 1989, the jukebox had grown up from Steve Harley and the Royal started attracting people from the much more hardcore Two Tubs pub. We would spend the evening making our way from one to the other and by and large, it was relatively tame. I loved those evenings. Sometimes we would make our way down into Manchester to Jilly’s or The Banshee, two nightclubs that catered to our less usual musical tastes. Around about 1990, Jilly’s underwent a metamorphosis, taking over the upstairs venue as well, and emerged as a state-of-the-art club with three floors and no sticky carpets. I liked it there, but it was entirely too new and clean and lacking in that great Manchester 80s dirt and filth.

I did find this great article in the Manchester Evening News about all the ‘great’ venues in and around the Manchester area. Jilly’s gets a mention, but I was equally surprised to find Bury’s own Roxy nightclub on there. That place was like our nemesis, filled with clean people and cheesy music. We filed past it to walk up to Monty’s, a club in an old warehouse that was a poor man’s Jilly’s, but we loved very much indeed. I look at the Manchester Evening News list, at the Conti and the Haçienda and the Ritz – I obviously spent more time clubbing than I remember! Some were just cheesy legends even back in the 80s, but it just brought me back this fabulous wave of Manchester nostalgia that made me miss the tail-end of Manchester’s seedy, sticky past, before it got all new and shiny in the 90s.

Next week is the Easter break here in Charente and I’m very glad of it. I have a gazillion things to catch up on, not least cleaning and gardening, though I am very glad to have had the assistance of two garden elves this week who have helped bring my garden a bit under control. I also have a handsome refuge doggie, Amigo, who is taking a bit of settling. Despite being the cream of the refuge dogs, never batting an eyelid when other dogs came past him, he took an instant dislike to Heston and grumbles every time Heston moves. Heston is very well behaved, but occasionally the grumbling has escalated into shouting and fur fights – though Amigo comes off worse. He should know better. Heston is younger, bigger, stronger and it’s his home – but Amigo developed a worrisome limp on Wednesday, a broken leg kind of limp. Miraculously, it disappeared. I took him to the vet to have a health check and to book him in for his nuts off and I asked the vet to check his leg. There is the tiniest of scratches.

“I suspect his pride was very wounded. He is a man you know.” The vet said. So beside the usual mayhem, I have a needy baby who develops a sympathy limp and has turned into a grumpy old man. Honestly, it’s like I’ve taken him away from his 200 best mates and brought him to the seventh circle of Hell. It’s a shame. He is a sweet, sweet dog who knows all kinds of commands; he has obviously been a treasured pet. Poor Amigo. Worse still, he’s about to lose his crown jewels and realise that he must accept third place in the ranks.

And who is number 1?

Why Tilly of course. 12kg of blonde cute American Cocker. She rules the roost. Unfortunately, she is not big enough to slap both man-babies back into place and sort them out. Looks like I have some fun ahead!

Anyway, enjoy your Good Friday, wherever you are. The weather here is set to be cold and miserable. What fun. I have a couple of days off and I’m greeted by rain and grumbly dogs. Oh well.

Nothing to lose

I’m obviously stuck in an 80s post-punk groove, because here’s Billy Idol to get you over the hump with Dancing With Myself. 

He looks so young here.

This reminds me of spin classes at the gym about ten years ago. It was on a loop as part of the set in the class and it still makes me want to get on my bike. I was so crazy I used to go to the 6.30am class before work and then do another one on the way home.

So what is getting me over the Wednesday blues this week and turning them to Wednesday Whoos?

Not the beautiful golden fields of rapeseed, that’s for sure. I’m not one for allergies, but this morning on my walk, I could barely see by the end of it! One anti-histamine later and I feel all ‘Whoo!’ again, (if a tired and sleepy whoo!) although my contact lenses are all freaked out by the pollen.

So it’s not all good. But two things that are connected by the two times of this song are certainly helping give me a bit of a mid-week buzz. A friend from the 80s who is stopping off on his trans-continental trip down to Morocco. He’s currently up in Le Havre and working his way down here on a 125cc ex-pizza delivery motorbike. Some people are nothing short of great ideas. He was over here last year as part of a very brief tour of France, and this time is taking a little longer. He still owes me a copy of Def Leppard’s Hysteria and a copy of Erasure’s Circus. I think a thirty-year loan is taking the mick. Banks would get flustered by that.

And the other friend connected to this is a friend who I met eleven years ago (where did the time go??) who saw me through some very difficult times. Her smiley face was one of the only reasons to go in to work some days, and she and I have had some great moments together. She’s a biology teacher cum teacher trainer and she once made me be the tail of a sperm. Not only did she reinvigorate my teaching, but she was an absolute rock. Not only that, I only have to say ‘Is that Workforce Reform?’ and she is in stitches, and she only has to say ‘paper knickers’ and I am in stitches. We lost touch when I moved out here and now that she is back in my life, I am one happy lady. I miss those days of working with her.

Anyway, here’s to the friends who get you through the mid-week blues, be they old or new.


52 Mondays #15


Where is this year going to? I have no idea. I thought life would slow down once I was out here, but no, it has not. Last week was another busy one, and little done in the garden on account of torrential rain on Thursday. It was another kind of busy. Work and deliveries and writing and trying to find some time in between all of this to raise awareness of a local news story that is having a direct impact on a part of my life.

Last week, the prosecutor in Angoulême called on Nadine, the refuge director, to go in and give an opinion on a black market puppy farm they were investigating. Nadine left with 30 dogs, as many as the refuge could take, leaving 120 dogs behind. Luckily, the 30 Million d’Amis association, among others, stepped in, but it still has put enormous pressure on the refuge. At 200 dogs already, full capacity, and dogs being brought in all the time, it becomes an impossibility to take more. If more are taken, various authorities can place pressure on the refuge to euthanise animals. Euthanising 30 otherwise healthy animals for no reason at all other than overcrowding as a direct result of humankind trying to make money off puppies is just disgusting to me. I dare not even pass comment on the condition of the mums brought in with their pups. It makes me hurt in my heart.

So I spent my in-between classes hours on Saturday promoting the story on Facebook and any other social media sites I could, hoping to draw attention to this and relieve a little pressure on the refuge by homing a few of the dogs. It’s working, a little bit. Two potential homes, two foster families and one certain adoption. That’s a small step in the right direction, though not enough. I wish it could be more. I wish I could go tomorrow and there would be no dogs. I wish there would be no need for refuges and animal programmes and Paul O’Grady getting sad-eyed about boxers and dogs homes. I wish that everyone felt the same as I do, that we are caretakers on this planet whose job is to curate the planet and look after it, not plunder it on some mission to make as much out of it as we can and sod the consequences. I wish whatever selfish button people have in them was something we could switch off. But it is a sad fact of the situation that my Facebook post about this story gained fewer comments than a thread about iced gem biscuits. The iced gem biscuits thread just ran and ran. I can understand why my fellow animal-loving ladies sometimes blow a gasket and people call them the Animal Mafia. I felt like blowing a gasket as well. Guess I am Animal Mafia too.

I firmly believe you should have a licence to have a dog, that you should pass a test. You have to do so in order to drive. I think you should have to pass a test to have a child, too, but that is another matter.

Anyway, today was more restful, thanks to a lovely lady who organised a spa morning at her house. I had my unruly eyebrows beaten into shape and got to see my gorgeous lady friends for a few hours. It is never enough time with them. They restore my faith in humanity. They share my animal outrage. They share my sense of humour. They make me laugh endlessly. And whenever I have needed them, they have been there. It certainly gave me a bit of a boost to the week’s beginning, especially as I am lurgy-fied and I sprained my wrist and hand on Friday (not badly, but it was sore and claw-like for a couple of days and has now given way to twinges) so I needed a little bit of cake and coffee, waxing and chat. Tomorrow through to Friday are busy, busy days. On Friday, I am helping at a food drive for the refuge. Lord knows, they need all the support they can get right now. Luckily, the end of term is in sight, although somebody asked me about crash courses today and I felt like saying ‘Give me a break!!’ as I am very much looking forward to five days where I do not move from my house and garden. As you can see from the photo, things are growing like crazy!

Maybe you don’t wanna know

Thought you might want a bit of post-punk anger to get you through the mid-week doldrums, so here’s a fabulous 80s classic, Never Take Me Alive by Spear of Destiny.

1987 was really the year I discovered music and I’m pretty sure that this single was one of the first ‘modern’ things I bought, having spent all my time before that buying up stuff at the flea market in Bury, and living off copied cassette tapes that my friends had done for me. I can’t say what it was that I particularly liked about it… but something obviously appealed to me. Perhaps I was a young and lawless renegade wannabe, back in the day?! I’m also certain it was the first thing I bought without any other influence, be that influence friends or family or old guys at the flea market telling me what I should listen to next. It’s great to have people share their passions, but there is something most wonderful about discovering things for yourself.

I think 1987 was the year I really became the seed of the adult I became as well. I was 14 for most of the year and it was the year I read IT by Stephen King – it was my introduction to King and I spent the next year devouring everything I could of his. I still remember reading Salem’s Lot in my bedroom late at night when I was about 15. That’s how terrified I was. I couldn’t even say where I got the book from. I don’t think I borrowed it from anyone – I still have the same copy. And I don’t think I bought it. It is a complete mystery as to how it ended up in my possession.

It is quite something to have so many keys to memories – like U2 last week – most of my books are such hard-won possessions (or at least, the early ones) that I can remember exactly when I got them and who bought them for me. It makes me laugh when people make connections to literacy rates and homes with books on shelves. We might not have had loads of books at home, but I had a library card and I certainly used it! It was on my way home from school so I would usually pick something up then, or on Saturday afternoons. Happy days. Nothing makes me feel as happy as the smell of a library.

If the truth be told, I would be very happy living in a caravan, but the only hindrance to that is the fact I would have no place to put my books. No matter how I try, I cannot part with so many of them and even if I got them in electronic form and stored them nicely on a Kindle, I’d still feel a bit bereft.

Anyway, today is a busy one so I better get on with it. No procrastinating by thinking of books!