Monthly Archives: January 2015

French Fridays on my mind

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What would France be without a tabac? The tobacconist’s sign is up there with the pharmacist sign as being one of the most often seen on the high street. Many of them have this jaunty little tabac sign to help you find your nicotine fix.

Like the UK, cigarettes are incredibly expensive. I gave up smoking long ago, though I was reminiscing with a lady I know about buying a packet of twenty Regal for 75p. A packet of twenty cigarettes can now set you back ten times that, if not more. Still, smoking is a popular habit in France, and a third of adults smoke. Funnily, most of my UK friends smoked, but few of my expat friends here smoke – all that countryside living must be good for the psyche (either that or we are all too poor!) Only a sixth of the UK population smoke by comparison.

I have a little (well, he’s 17 and 6 foot 2) student who loves politics and information – we’ve been looking at the OECD data about the UK and France. Interestingly, educational levels between the two countries were virtually identical, though France spends much less per capita on educating its youths. The big shocker (or not) was how transparent UK politicians are in comparison with French politicians. French politicians are legally obliged to declare only 7% of their private interests and fundings. Sounds ripe for corruption if you ask me. I love these lessons that go off at a tangent and you capture the interest of teen minds.

Other than that, it has been a busy week – racing about here and there at the beginning, then committee meetings today. Ralf has been my time-thief this week – he caught a badger yesterday. I’m guessing it was old or infirm or dying as it was out in the day. I suspect he has been hiding out for some time near my cabin, as the boys have been hyper-interested in sniffing him out. He must be out of sorts to be able to be caught by Ralf, who is the least fast and least agile of all my beasts. The battle must have been a good ten minutes – he was out there whilst I was on the phone. I could hear Amigo going mad. I went out to have a look and there was Ralf with a jaw full of badger. It took me a few seconds to find a way to extricate them from one another – I’d (dangerously) think nothing of stepping in to sort out a dog fight, but those badgers can be savage beasties and I didn’t fancy Mr Badger turning his attention to me. Still, old or ill, he doesn’t deserve to be mauled to death by Ralf, to say nothing of what Ralf could catch. I ended it with a garden broom and a watering can. Mr Badger trotted off and Ralf looked a bit bemused. His lip was bleeding, as was his ear, so we had a quick trip to the vet. One shaved face and one antibiotics shot later and we were back home. He seems none the worse for it today, but I’ll wait and see. Heston’s usual bark fanfare on going into the garden has obviously served as an impromptu wildlife warning – he was waiting for his daily walk and getting nowhere – it was nothing but rain yesterday.

Anyway, it’s bedtime for me and time to settle down for the night.

Have a good weekend and keep out of tobacconist shops!

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Breaking out of this two-star town

If I ever need a Monday buzz, The Killers are sure to give it to me. They never made an album I didn’t fall completely in love with. This is Read My Mind which I love because the video reminds me of everything I loved about Japan. That’d be everything. I loved everything about Japan, except it being quite so far away and expensive to get to.

I love Brandon Flowers’ lyrics as well. He always has such lovely-sounding words. More sound and fury than sense, but hey ho. I miss those pachinko parlours and the lovely eccentricity of many Japanese people. I miss Japanese school children in their little sou-westers and vending machines selling coffee on every street corner. I never quite got over the anachronism of women in kimono on city streets, a bit like you never get over seeing old French men on bicycles with a baguette. I miss bowing as well, and the way Japanese ladies cover their mouths when they laugh. I wonder if I’ll ever go back again, but I doubt it somehow. Seems strange to think it was nine years ago!

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Apart from my Japanese nostalgia, what else is bringing me a smile this Monday?

♥ Hot chocolate. Oh hot chocolate. It’s winter. It’d be rude not to.

♥ White Collar. How handsome is Matt Bomer? He is perhaps the second most handsome man alive after Joe Manganiello (Alcide in True Blood) Ladies, if you’ve not seen Magic Mike and you fancy a little pulse-racing handsomeness, both of my favourite dark-haired hunks are in it. Sadly, both True Blood and White Collar have finished. The last season of True Blood was a bit crap. In fact, a lot crap. Ah well. Time to find something new to watch. I have been loving James Spader in The Blacklist.

♥ All the people who are now involved in dog walking and refuge work over the past year – it’s turned into a movement! I had to work on Saturday for the last Woofer Walk, but it’s amazing how many lovely people have stepped forward to start walking dogs regularly at their local refuge, or who have taken on a dog, fostered or adopted. It does the spirit good to know that there are so many kind and generous people in the world. Yes, you have to pick up the pieces of humanity’s failings, but LAARF is turning into a veritable army.

♥ getting my seed box out. I went down into the potager yesterday morning. I think I’m going to have my work cut out. Shears and secateurs are at the ready. Luckily, I’ve got a couple of months at least before I’ll start planting anything out other than beans and peas, so I’m hoping this spring won’t be a wash-out like last spring.

Luckily, it’s been appropriately cold and wet – no serious snow (yet – not too late!) and no serious flooding, though the water table is very high here (keep your fingers crossed it stays appropriate!)

Last January looked like this.

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The year before, like this:

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And the end of January 2012 finished like this:

At this point, the world has yet to make its decision

French Fridays #3

029This Friday I thought I’d share my love of French signposts. Forget slick neon or electric fanciness. Handpainted, wonky signs pointing a multitude of directions is definitely much more French.

What I love least about French signs (well, the proper municipal directions ones) is that more often than not, they are RIGHT where you need to go straight on/turn left or whatever. Now I know that means England is all Nannyish, putting up signs a good 100m before a turn, but it does help you prepare a little. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in frustration behind someone who’s looking for  a turning, or who changes direction at the last minute. Probably far fewer times than I’ve driven past a junction and had to do a U turn, or had a trail of frustrated drivers behind me wondering when the hell it is that I’m going to turn. It’s not so bad when there’s only one town on the direction you need to follow, but if that town is five or six on through others, it might well be at the bottom of five or six other signs. Now if you have to read a sign, find a town on a long list of towns, then turn right, the likelihood is you aren’t at your sharpest. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to put the sign 100m before the turn? Would that be confusing? Would people try to turn into the sign? Would it stop the dreadful palaver at roundabouts as the world and his wife try to read a microscopic sign underneath five or six others? Don’t get me started on those signs that say “toutes directions” and “autres directions” – “all directions” and “other directions”. How in God’s name am I supposed to know if I want ALL or OTHER??

I can’t even see the point of investing in a sat nav in a country where many houses don’t have numbers yet and many roads don’t have names. I live in a numberless, nameless house and it is by sheer luck that mail gets to me, I know. Having said that, I read something recently by someone else (sorry – can’t remember who!) who each Christmas sends a card to a friend with the most basic of details on it – like his first name and the town he lives in. It always gets there. The fact that someone could send me a letter addressed to my name and the nearest big town and it would probably get to me is perhaps the real reason signs are so bad in France – because everyone instinctively knows where everything is.

I jest of course. Given the French penchant for hiding their cars/presence and the fact that I have yet to acquire this secretive habit, most drivers will happily stop at my house to ask for directions because they can see a car and a light on. I have created a little map of all the people in my hamlet and just distribute it ad hoc to anyone who stops and beeps outside my house so that they don’t have to stop at every single letterbox to check the name on it. It seemed wisest. Either that or UPS have put out some kind of missive to their drivers to encourage them to stop outside my house if they’re passing.

On another sign-related note, there used to be a sign to my tiny hamlet. It was in a village two over. It said 6km to Les Ecures. They took that sign down a while back and I despair of anyone ever finding my village at all. I’m very sad they took it down. On what premise did they decide it was no longer useful? Perhaps an extensive traffic survey to ask how frequently people checked the sign and whether they used it to find my hamlet? I feel a little incensed that some town hall busy bee demoted my hamlet from being ‘important to know where and how far away’ to ‘not important enough to know where and how far away’

(Though if I’m being honest, a sign directing people 6km to a hamlet of about 20 people, well, it’s a bit unnecessary. Having had it, however, I miss it. It’s true what they say. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.)

Good luck to anyone, by the way, following this sign to Le Foucauld. Not only does it lead you over one of those silly “from the right” priority roads (There are still roads in France where some little track joins the main road, yet the people on the main road have to give way to the track people. There’s no dotted lines or stop sign or anything so rational, except, you’ve guessed it, a sign right on the junction you are supposed to instinctively know has priority over you) but it also leads you over a non-existent roundabout that all the locals know about but none of the tourists, and directly up a one-way street. I’ve no idea where this sign thinks the 2ème feu is. In my opinion, that would take you to the train station up a one way street. Not only that, but Google Maps reliably inform me that it is, in fact, 500m from this spot to the restaurant. Oh well. The thought was there.

January blues

Yesterday was Black Monday – apparently the most depressing day in all the year. I don’t know about that. Apart from the mud and the cold winds, January is always an invigorating month for me. It’s February that seems often like spring won’t get here fast enough.

I’m still on my clear-out mission. It’s tough. I have always been a hoarder. As a teenager, I had the bedroom of nightmares. I kept every single thing I ever bought and I was mad for junk purchases. I managed to get this down to six boxes of keepsakes that I have had throughout my life – things I have treasured and things that evoke memories I had long since forgotten. I decided it’s time for a delicate sprucing and have been using this blog post from Slow Your Home to give me motivation. Going through one box the first time, I pulled out anything that I’d forgotten what it meant and threw it away. I guess that happens. You keep a keepsake and it becomes meaningless.

After that it was all the rail tickets for regular journeys I made back home from Sheffield, where I went to university. For the last three years of university, I had a boyfriend back in Manchester. He’d come to visit me every other weekend, and I’d come to visit him in return. Usually, he drove. I didn’t have a car, so it was usually the train for me. That coach trip across the Pennines might have been a couple of quid cheaper, but it was hours longer and used to make me sick as a dog. All those winding roads disagreed with me unspeakably.

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Finally, it’s the turn of cinema tickets. Some are films I remember, like seeing Up! with Jake in Bolton one Sunday afternoon. We’d go quite regularly to the Cineworld in Bolton, just the two of us. There’s nothing like going to the pictures to watch cartoons with kids. We loved that dog Doug. Other tickets are for films I vaguely remember. Sometimes I can remember who I saw them with, and sometimes not. Up and Under with Zoe after school one night. Afternoon showings of Cool Runnings and Addams’ Family Values that I saw with three children I babysat during the school holidays. The Crow, that I saw at the cinema in Bury with Phil one Tuesday night in July back in 1994.

Not any of those cinemas are like the most fantastic cinema of my youth: the Mayfair in Whitefield. It was one of those classic old-fashioned cinemas built in the post-war years and then demolished in the the latter part of the 1990s  to make way for a block of flats.

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Who’d got off with whom on the back row was always up for discussion on a Monday morning. If you want a trip down Memory Lane, by the way, this guy’s flickr stream is IMMENSE. I love all these old cinemas. The Mayfair was one of these. A new multiplex opened in Bury on a new out-of-town commercial site, but it never had the same feeling. I think that is derelict now if I remember right. Andy’s best friend Paul was the manager there for a few years. It’s sad to see all these old Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings turned to Kwik Saves and Bingo halls. I don’t care much for the old Pilsworth cinema though. I bet it was only open twenty years or so. Seems a short shelf life for a building. I’ve got some old stubs for the Odeon in Sheffield, though I can’t remember going there much. I think it was under a by-pass. I remember a lot of concrete.

I loved living in Sheffield – it’s a much greener city than Manchester, and much more hilly. I love the Yorkshire-ness of it and the names. Nether Edge. Crookes. Halfway. Greystones. Millhouses. I say it’s much greener, and it is when you are walking out of the city to where the housing becomes affordable and you can find student digs cheap enough. It wasn’t very green in the city centre, though I suppose it is very different now, twenty years later. At the epicentre of all the town’s concrete fly-overs and underpasses, there was this big concrete roundabout. On the first week back at uni, known as Freshers’ Week, there were always warnings about that roundabout. It was quite a magnet for drunks who’d take a dive into it and break their necks in an alcohol-induced stupor. The bit where I did my studies, up Eccleshall Road, is now very gentrified. The Nursery Tavern still looks the same on Google Streetview, but I can see an M&S Simply Food and signs for shops selling artisanal bread. There’s even a Starbucks where my favourite pizza restaurant was.

I’m kind of glad to see that the place I lived are just as scruffy-looking and studenty. What’s the point of being a student if you don’t learn how cold bedrooms can be without your parents to pay for central heating, or how to live on £8 shopping a week? I used to walk everywhere because I was too cheap to pay the bus fare. It was only a half-hour walk each way at the most, but I loved those walks every day. I was kind of glad to see Primark and Poundland occupying stretches of concrete around that weird roundabout world. Some things don’t change.

Some say I got a bad attitude

Here’s a little love (okay, then, a little hate) from Ugly Kid Joe with Everything About You.

Gotta love Whitfield Crane. I used to love this track. It reminds me very much of Saturday nights at Rockworld with all of my lovely friends when I was nineteen or so. He might have started the band as an ironic stab at glam metal and all the pretty boys, but Whitfield Crane grew up with some great bands who were much less generic. Still, this was very much a dancefloor filler put on late in the night. Gives me a bit of energy still on a wet Monday morning.

And yes, it is very wet this morning.

“Urgh” were my first words as I opened the door for the dogs and could hear the rain. I’ve quite had enough of it. Wet and miserable and muddy for most of last week, interspersed only with a couple of frosts and colder days. Tired of the grey. Still, as I left my dad’s last night at half six, there were little signs that the evenings are growing again. It’s a full month after the shortest day. Just about have the motivation now to power through to spring. Time to get the seeds out I think.

This weekend was rather surreal. The road outside my house is a busy, fast one. The speed limit in the village is 50km, but nobody pays any attention to it. It turns to 90km and bends about 200m past my house, and I live on a blind bend. It’s nerve-wracking to say the least. At night, it is quiet, but it is also a race-track for some – people who like to take the roads at 110km and go through the village at 90km. There are very rarely police out after dark and to be honest, there is neither the traffic nor the bad driving to warrant it.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, I was woken up by Ralf barking. He doesn’t bark often. It was a baritone woof-woof and then quiet. It woke the others up though and it took a while to settle again. I couldn’t hear anything, so I just thought something must have spooked him. Five minutes later, he barked again.

I lay in bed a little while, wondering if I was being robbed, or if someone was stealing my car. A light flickered outside the window and I thought it was maybe later than I thought and the streetlights were coming back on again – they go off from 11pm – 6am. Then I thought it was a tractor – they have orange warning lights and there are a surprising number who work in the wee hours. By then I was properly alert and decided to go and see.

When I opened my shutters, there were fire engines and ambulances outside – a portable street light – the road was cordoned off from my house downwards and it was clear something had happened.

I went outside in my pyjamas and a long coat, looking like a black (and dishevelled) ghost, wandering among the wreckage. One car was on the wrong side of the road, a fire extinguisher just in front of it. Another car was on its roof, its front buried in a hedge. I didn’t see any further, as a medical team were trying to lift an inert body. At first, I thought the guy must have died – it was utterly silent and he was face down. Now I think there were too many people trying to lift him for him to be dead and they were more than likely transporting him carefully to ensure his neck was okay. I went back inside, realising there was nothing I could do, and went back to bed.

The next morning, every single piece of debris, bar one or two smashed tail-lights and a couple of incongruous bank slips, had been removed. There were two sets of tyre tracks going into the bushes on either side of the road, and some damage to the hedges. Nothing will stop a car like a good hedge. But that was it. You could quite easily have driven past and not realised anything had happened. Nobody seems to know exactly what happened or how many cars were involved. I suspect three, but that is a lot of cars together for that time of night. It’s on a straight bit of the road, so it’s not as if it was speed and over-correction. I still don’t know if the guy they were lifting survived or not – there is nothing in the local papers and even my friend didn’t know – she’s a gendarme in the local police.

Luckily from my perspective – and theirs maybe – they were not ten metres further up. Here, the hedge is less dense and there is a metre drop from the road to my garden or the field opposite. It would have been much more complicated.

Thank heavens for small mercies.

Anyway, this gloomy accident is no way to start a Monday. Here’s the things that are bringing me love this week…

♥ The birthdays of several of my favourite people… Madame Anne who is sadly 1000 miles from me celebrating a big birthday. Hopefully I’ll get to see her later in the year. My dad’s birthday is tomorrow. My sister’s birthday is Wednesday. It is a big birthday month.

♥ Sunday morning coffee and cake with two of my lovely friends who share many great loves with me, not least dogs, knitting, art, gardening, coffee and cake. Friends definitely reinvigorate the spirit.

♥ Saturday night dinners with Sarah. They nourish both stomach and soul. I hate that so many of my friends are such great cooks.

♥  Wood deliveries and warm fires.

♥ Early morning sleepy dogs who have a bit of breakfast and go back to bed. Ralf has learned to come when called on walks in the last week. He runs like a 50kg puppy – filled with excitement at having learned something, unable to stop himself ploughing into me with a great big grin on his face.

Not loving the Sunday afternoon hunting that was going on here yesterday. I gave a nod to my hunter friend who was down at the bottom of the hill with his little pointer, but there was the cross old man in the tree line who is never pleased to see me. I don’t care. He’s out there three or four times a year. I am there every day. I’ll tell him for nothing at all that he was looking in the wrong place. If Heston can’t find anything in those trees, there’s nothing to find. My friend and his pointer were right in the rabbit field. I had to walk all four on leads for most of the walk and that makes me very grumpy indeed. Not that they don’t walk well on the lead, but that they don’t get to stretch their legs.

Anyway, may Ugly Kid Joe bring you a little bit of fun this Monday morning. Have a good one!

French Fridays #2

026Is there anything more charming than a French letterbox?

That sounds like a terrible euphemism.

This is, of course, the country born for shabby chic. Chipped paint is de rigueur and the wonky, the dappled, the haphazard, the hit-and-miss, the rusted are all celebrated here. I even tried to straighten this image up but realised either the wood is at an angle or the letterbox is at an angle or I was at an angle. Imperfection rules.

Mostly this week has been a quiet one, trying to catch up with things I didn’t do last year. Long hours and not much time for play. It was also the week when we said goodbye again to Maddie, the daughter of one of my friends. She died a year ago at the age of ten, following a catastrophic and unpredictable anaphylactic shock. It left so many people bereft and there are still no words that convey the impact on her family.

IMG_7388There was a break in the clouds and the weather system hanging over France this week – I was sure Maddie was sending us rainbows.

Last night, the heavens truly opened – funnily enough I seem to recall the same thing last year in the wake of Maddie’s death. It was like the skies cried with us. Today is my refuge day. I have plans, but I think the number of dogs that arrived yesterday may change that. Plus, I think the clouds are set to return this afternoon.

I could do with a bit of brightness and an end to mopping. Four dogs cause a lot of mud. The couches are covered with towels, but it doesn’t stop everything getting yuck anyway. I’ve taken to walking the four on leads most of the time just because it stops them getting quite so dirty. Yesterday, a weed blew across our path and I nearly got pulled along by 110kg of dogs who wanted to investigate. Will be glad when the rain stops and the mud disappears. The way I’m writing about it makes it sound like colossal mud-slides. It feels like that when I’m mopping twice a day.

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Dizzy in a haze

Today’s Much Love Monday is brought to you with an early track from The Cult and Lil Devil

Ahhh, this brings back my teenage years. I wonder if Billy Duffy ever lost his cool? Ian Astbury always seemed like a showman who tried too hard. I always got the impression he was probably not very cool at all: too quick to forget his English roots and put on some pseudo-American appearance. I wonder if Billy ever got tired of saying “No, Ian, will you just stop being such a dick?”

Often a line of conversation between plastic scousers and Manchester men. Billy Duffy, by the way, told the great God of 80s guitar, Johnny Marr, to pick up a an instrument. For that, I am eternally grateful. Also for the fact he probably spent years reining in Ian Astbury’s more pretentious side. That in itself probably deserves an award. “No, Ian, you’re not a Native American. You’re from Merseyside. Now stop being such a dick.”

It doesn’t make them any less part of my teenage years, though. Electric came out in 1987, when I was 14 years old – it was a pivotal year in my musical tastes, let me tell you.

I just thought I’d add this little clip of Billy and Johnny Marr for you… Bily is one of those guys who never stops being handsome even though he’s in his fifties. Rugged is always a good look on a man. Johnny Marr looks a little saggy. That happens to pretty boys. Don’t listen to Billy speak though. He should be like Marlboro Man and be always silent. Instead, he sounds like a member of Coronation Street. He looks a bit like Gordon Ramsay got ironed and sounds like Mike Baldwin. Ironically, when you hear Ian Astbury talk, he sounds like a decent guy.

Anyway, what am I loving this Monday?

♥ Christmas presents from talented friends. Not only did I get this gorgeous hand-made Christmas stocking in this fabby, fabby dog fabric, but a hand-made bag as well in more gorgeous, gorgeous dog fabric. Spoiled. Thanks Tamsin x

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I just love the word-play with the dog designs

 

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Too cute!

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I love my clever friends.

♥ Parcels in the post. I got a Thompson and Morgan seed catalogue on Friday from my mum, and a book that combines my crafty love with my wordy love.

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Ragamuffin is such a great word anyway. It’s one of my favourites.

♥ snoring beasts. Nothing tells me the world is at rest more than a snoring beast.

Another quieter week this week – trying not to focus on too many things other than the basics. Last week was much more restful and I’m glad I felt less frenetic. It’s not a good feeling. I’d be quite glad if the rain would stop. The river Tardoire is full to bursting. Any more wet days and it’d be over its banks in places, I know. Then it’s not long after that point until my garden becomes a quagmire. Météo France says it will be a brighter week, but I don’t trust them after their ‘zero’ rain turned out to be ‘persisting down’. I’m from Manchester. I know my wet stuff.

None of that wet stuff, thanks, Madame Universe.

The most worn-out boots in all the land

Boots with a story…

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It’s been solidly wet and muddy for the last week or so here in France – sometimes forget how the outside sounds without the rain. I have been even more grateful than usual for my twelve-year-old walking boots, bought back in 2003 before I went to  Brazil. They’ve been with me to Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, Scotland, Japan, Morocco and now in France. There aren’t many days I don’t wear them between September and May – they have become quite essential attire. At the time, they were an expensive purchase, but I reckon they have cost me less than a tenner a year. Now that is good value. And whilst they look a mess, they still do the job.

I can’t remember exactly, but the guy in the shop was trying to convince me to buy a different brand. I don’t know why I chose these in the end, but it was definitely the right choice.

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That’s me in my new Brashers with my friend Nicole, having caught us a stash of piranha in the Pantanal. Well, she caught and I flung them around the boat on a line, terrified they’d eat me alive. I miss that hat I’m wearing. It was my favourite corduroy flowerpot hat and I have no idea where it went. Likewise that hoodie. The boots and the trousers I still have. II wish I knew where that little hat was – it was a real favourite.

I just wish I could remember everything I’ve done in these boots! They’ve been totally immersed in mud in Cuba, during a hurricane. They’ve been in the Amazon rainforest. They’ve been to the Japanese Alps. They’ve been to the Sahara. They climbed Chichen Itza and Ben Nevis. The past four years, they’ve not been out of the Charente department but that’s not to say they’ve not been well-used. Now they’re my dog-walking boots and have also been, as you can see from the left tongue, dog-chewing boots as well – a reminder from Heston in his early days when chewing was all the rage.

The laces need replacing. A couple of the metal hooks have broken off. The heels are rather worn. But in that time, they have never given me blisters and they’ve always kept my feet dry. No holes, no glue. In this day and age, that’s quite remarkable. Nothing seems to be built to last any more. Of all my things, they are a particular treasure. Who says you shouldn’t get attached to your stuff? Not very zen of me, I know. I love them though.

Those are my own hand-knitted socks, by the way. Hand-knitted socks are the future, I promise you. Forget wicking and modern textiles, wool socks just always seem to do the job. I’m about to start another pair, but a different pattern this time. I’ve got a hat to knit to match a scarf I’ve almost finished, then on to the socks.

I’m thinking something festive…

or…

or…

Mmmmm socks.

 

French Friday #1

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Ah, the ubiquitous chemist. No French high street is complete without a chemist. If you’re new to France you’d be forgiven for thinking the French are the sickest people on the planet. La Rochefoucauld counts two chemists on the high street, one up near Leclerc and one near the town hall. I bet there are others, secreted away. There are as many chemists as bakers.

I drove through Ruelle-sur-Touvre last night, to my Thursday evening client. In a 200-metre stretch, there are three chemists. You’d not think that they’d stay in business. They wouldn’t, of course, if they’d give you generic medicines. A packet of aspirin here can run to 3$ or £2 for 16. In Tesco in the UK, you can buy 16 aspirin for 16 pence. Plus, when you go to the doctor in France, it is an unwritten compulsory code that you must leave with three prescriptions. If you don’t get three, you are not ill. If you get six, you’d probably be coughing up a lung in the UK and get a prescription for a generic antibiotic. I’m not knocking the French health system at all. It’s incredibly good. It’s also expensive and the chemists have a stronghold.

Supermarkets aren’t allowed to sell over-the-counter medicines at reduced prices. This is why my mum posts me paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen. What would cost me £2 in the UK can run up to 30€ here – the equivalent of £25 or so. That’s a big mark-up. The chemists went on strike again here just before Christmas. Chemists make a great salary and retire on an 85% pension, so it’s hard to be sympathetic. Money-grubbing bastards is what I’d say. What were they striking about? The supermarkets being able to sell over-the-counter stuff. Of course, they’ll sell generic versions at much lower prices.

The first reaction on a Le Figaro article kind of sums up my own feeling:

“Pharmaciens, dentistes, kinés : «La santé n’est pas à vendre» ???
Bien sur que si, et tous ces gens là sont d’accord pour avoir une part du gâteau la plus grosse possible. Quant aux soi-disant “conseils” des pharmaciens laissez moi rire … à moins que ce soit pour vendre la boite la plus chère … ce sont des commerçants spécialisés, mais commerçants tout de même !!”

“Pharmacists, dentists, physios: “health is not for sale”???
Of course it is, and all these people are in agreement over getting the biggest piece of the pie. And the so-called “advice” from the pharmacist makes me laugh… at the very least because it’s to sell the most expensive product … these are specialist shopkeepers, but shopkeepers nonetheless.”

I’m not sure I’m in agreement about the advice chemists give – in the UK, a chemist can (and should) be the first port-of-call for over-the-counter medicines. One comment below this said that if France becomes a nation of self-medication, everyone will end up addicted to meth (made largely with over-the-counter products for colds if Breaking Bad is accurate!!) It does very accurately capture the French paranoia about self-medication though. I’m not sure being able to buy decongestant in the supermarket will lead to wide-scale meth addiction.

Another person is (perhaps rightly) worried that supermarkets who feed ‘us’ horse-meat lasagne won’t be too bothered about getting the products right.

Others are worried that it will mean the end of the chemist and a monopoly of the supermarkets. I’m not entirely sure I agree that a few paracetamol are holding up the pharmaceutical industry in France – did the opening of chemist aisles in the UK lead to wholesale closure of chemists? As I recall, most supermarkets over a certain size used their space to open a deal with a local pharmacy franchise anyway. Probably more chemists opened in supermarkets than closed on the high street, though that’s just my opinion.

The final comment I read sums up my own feelings… it’s important for these reforms to go through so that the pharmacies don’t hold the French to ransom just to feather their own beds. An over-the-counter aisle certainly won’t stop me buying from the chemist as I already do, but it will put an end to my mother having to send me boxes of painkillers as if I’m some refugee. Cough sweets, certain tooth-pastes and general painkillers are all chemist-only materials at the moment in France, quite unbelievably. Surgical spirit, rubbing alcohol, peroxide, iodine, all chemist-only as well. When I wanted a bottle of surgical spirit for a science experiment with chromatography, you’d have thought I wanted to buy 200 packets of decongestant to open a meth lab in the hills.

“What are you going to use it for?” the pharmacist asked, with some dismay.

“Extracting the colour from leaves.”

“Why exactly do you want to do that?”

“Oh, I don’t know… to encourage curious minds???”

She was at the point of not letting me have it. I think she thought I was going to drink it or something, from my favourite park bench, or perform illegal heart surgery with black-market hearts from Nigeria.

I’ll translate my favourite reaction of all though:

“How are the pharmacists managing to complain with a mouth full of caviar???”

It’d be wrong of me to finish without paying tribute to the journalists and police officers who died on Wednesday at Charlie Hebdo. It definitely leaves this first French Friday with a depressing air. Sometimes, there just aren’t words.

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Best intentions

I’ve been using the new year buzz to get on with a bit of de-cluttering (read “throwing all my crap away”) and to try and get a bit less dirty and dusty. Those wood fires always look so lovely in photos and in reality, they pile out the dust and the dirt.

You think it’s going to be all

and in fact it’s all

And even if you get it all sparkly spotless and lovely, you make your stove burn inefficiently (that layer of ash is great at insulating your wood and making sure it burns slowly… honest)

And… even if you get it all sparkly spotless, all that nasty ash is everywhere, all the time, all winter long.

Oh well.

The best bit has been that I have sorted through a stack of CDs I had – been tidying up all my CD cases and sorting them out a little – and have found at least twenty of my favourite CDs which have been gearing me up to keep going.

In reality, it’s all that knitting energy. I made so much time to knit in December that I don’t quite know what to do with myself now it’s finished. Besides, it’s about time I got around to throwing away a lot of the rubbish I’ve accumulated. I have a nasty habit of hanging on to things.

I like the idea of minimalism and simplicity. In reality, I have too many hobbies and crafts and obsessions. I’m a bit of a hobby butterfly: painting, drawing, chalks, acrylics, oils, pastels, photography, sewing, embroidery, knitting, reading, music, cooking, gardening. I just like too much stuff. This year is my year to really re-focus on photography and writing. I finished my higher level photography qualifications in 2005, right at the time when it was becoming less practical to keep a film camera and so it’s ten years since I really got inspirational with my camera. Now that the fundamentals of photography are easy, aperture, lighting, depth of field, shutter speed, I admit I don’t push myself. I like to think I have a good eye and have no problem switching to manual where circumstances allow.

The idea is that if I can simplify my life a little, well, I’ll have more time for the things I love doing. I found a lot of inspiration with this Simple Living guide. I am already a big fan of Zen Habits and Be More With Less which provide me with daily inspiration.

Anyway, here are five sites to help you if you’re starting the new year with a decluttering mission.

  1. Throw these 116 things away – it’s going to be tough to throw out all those little souvenirs that I have kept for many years! I’m saving an evening for going through all the old souvenir boxes I’ve been since I was a teenager. I’ve got four of them and they do need a little sorting! If I can’t remember what the souvenir is for, it’s going in the bin!
  2. 30 Days to De-Clutter – it’s the kitchen cupboards today.
  3. What Not To Do when De-Cluttering – I’m definitely following the ‘little and often’ advice! “Complete each task completely” could be written for me. I know I start with the best intentions.
  4. 15 Minutes of Decluttering tasks for January is great for clearing out your kitchen.
  5. Another 30 Day De-clutter list

e6c53a4fcbdda200_declutterchallenge.xxxlargeIt’s all just stuff, anyway, isn’t it? I just wish so much of it didn’t have a sentimental value!