Monthly Archives: November 2015

It’s all worthwhile

It’s only five (and a bit) days late, and it’s long since past Monday, so here’s some Saturday night sparkle with Mr David Bowie and Starman. 

It has been a tiring twelve days. Exam marking is one reason. I’m marking the November English paper and with 22 left to go, the end is just a day away. Two hours of marking and I’ll have finished. I hope. It’s always touch and go because every morning you have to log onto the system afresh and you have a little test to pass to make sure your marking is in line. That’s not easy with English, believe me. I was already in a fury by the time I logged on one day last week that I was inexplicably severe and it set me back a day or two.

How is it that you can start the day in a fury?

It has one word. People.

Do people walk in to restaurants and start a dialogue that goes a bit like this…

“You know the steak? I’d really like it, but can you make it from Kobe beef? I only want to pay five euros a kilo though.”

“Actually, you know that dirt cheap Kobe beef you just found me and you’re selling me as a complete favour? Can I change my mind? I’d quite like Guantanamo Bay lobster.”

“Thanks for air-freighting that lobster in at your own cost… could you do me a favour? Will you cut it up for me?”

“In fact… could you be a complete star and stick it in a blender? I’d like it in a glass with a straw.”

As my friend Julie says, people always want the moon on a stick.

There’s been lots of other project-y stuff I’ve been doing too, though mostly it has been a week of errands and meetings and fairs. It was the Dames de FER Christmas Foire last Sunday – and that was quite marvellous. It was a superb effort on behalf of Les Dames, the association of business women that I’m joint president of – and means a lot of ladies giving up a lot of time to decorate churches and make Christmas wreaths and the likes. By the time I got there, the cake stand rota had long been sorted, and I got to have a few hours of wandering around doing that rare thing called ‘chatting to people’. I don’t think anyone who’s not part of an organising committee for an event like that could ever understand just quite how much work goes in to it.

Monday was a brief hiatus because it was my friend Rachel’s baby shower. For some reason, she is completely against all the names I’ve suggested, and although the baby is due on my birthday, she won’t name it in my honour. I said she should call the baby Marie-France on account of us living in France, but she won’t have it either.

The worst part about the baby shower was that I’d planned a Japanese lesson before it and I had the Japanese version of ‘Heads and Shoulders’ stuck in my head. Nobody should have that happen. I shall be sad to finish my classes at the local primary school in December, though I have remembered just how much respect I have for primary school teachers. Primary school kids are like cats. None of them want to do the same thing at the same time. It really is like herding cats. I used to think the same about teaching teenagers, but that’s more like herding dogs. You’ve got to show them you’re not afraid and you know no fear, yet be respectful of their insecurities. Get them to pull in one direction and you can do an Iditarod with them. You can never do that with primary school children. There’s always one who wants to go to the toilet and one who’s asleep.

Tuesday also passed in a blur of meetings and lessons, exam papers and long phone calls asking me to put the moon on a stick. The trouble is that most people are unable to see the nuances between “Not a problem” and “Are you bloody kidding me? F@(k Off!” and unless you say the latter, they think you mean the former. Not only that, when you say the latter, because “Are you kidding? I’m not doing that!” isn’t strong enough and they think you mean, “Not a problem! Would you like fries with that?” they then get in a huff and think you’re a moody biatch.

Wednesdays are back-to-back lessons pretty much and mean getting up extra early when it’s marking season, so that I can take the dogs out at first light. I go right through eleven hours with an hour break at lunch time when generally my blood pressure goes through the ceiling as I start picking up messages and emails of the “and can I have the moon on a stick?” variety.

By the time I got to Friday, I was very glad to be at the refuge in among friendly faces and people who take the sting out of the moon-on-a-stick people. We were preparing for our “Animals’ Christmas” festivities today – marquees to put up, information sheets to put on enclosures and no end of tidying and tasks. By that point, I think I was running on pure adrenaline. There had been a full moon the night before and I’d left the bedroom shutters open, so I was awake at 5am wondering why everything was so bright and wondering if it was time to get up. It was a morning of meetings – thankfully, Amy and Louise never fail to revive my flagging spirits (and hype me up on coffee)

I’ve got kitten 23 and kitten 24 here as well (I can’t believe it’s been that many this year!) and they’re the most noisy, shouty, fighty, greedy kittens I’ve had yet. They wake up every hour, cry noisily until they are fed, then practically inhale three times more milk than they should be on before waddling about peeing on their bedding and crying some more. I’ve called them Tyson and Rocky since they fight with me every second I’m giving them their milk. Greedy and aggressive. Luckily they’re cute otherwise I’d have let Tobby lick them to death.

Anyway, if you’re very lucky, you might get the usual post on Monday. If not, my to do list has overwhelmed me. I’m only running six days behind on it! Day two of the refuge open days is running tomorrow and then – finally – I might get to breathe for a little while.


Thought you were clever when you lit the fuse

Here’s your Monday burst of music from the uber-sharp working man’s hero Paul Weller.

The lyrics seem particularly poignant to me today. France is still in a state of national mourning following events on Friday evening. There’s no reason it should be any more poignant apart from the fact that it is close to home. Facebook turned red, white and blue and attacks in Kenya and Beirut went without column inches.

It always reminds me of seeing the prayer plaques in Japan, where I’d read things about people’s wishes for world peace, for love, for kindness, for understanding. The one that always sticks with me was the little one saying, “I wish my friends were nicer.”

That’s one thing I never have to wish for.

One of my friends was up in the north of France this weekend. She’s been collecting clothes for refugees and was tired of waiting for someone to take them up there, so she piled up her van and went up to do it herself. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Thousands of people who need to know that they may find a home, that the actions of a few radicalised home-grown terrorists may have cut off any hope for sanctuary in Europe. Seeing photos of Roni handing out gloves to children – it reminds you of what is important in life. I’m glad I have the kind of friends who wear their hearts on their sleeves, sometimes facing great derision.

You see, I never get that. Nobody really ever gets in your face when you volunteer with animals. Sure, there are petty battles and there are times when people burn out, their capacity to feel compassion shot to pieces. But nobody ever thinks anything of you, other than the fact you are obviously a little touched. Roni has to face all the people who think we should close borders and send the thousands of refugees back to Syria and Iraq.

It makes me so sad. Living as an economic migrant in a country of my choice makes me realise once again the privilege of being English, of being able to live and work wherever in the world I choose, if I want. Why is it that I can make that choice, but a Polish or Bulgarian woman who wants to live in the UK is faced with obstacles and thinly-disguised racism?

Don’t get me wrong, we face racism from certain French people, that’s for sure. But that is meaningless. It’s not hurtful or harmful. I don’t face endless obstacles to prevent me doing what I want. Bureaucratic racism is the kind that hurts, as all the refugees in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk are realising.

I do wonder what your life must be like in order that you will set forth on a journey of five thousand miles across two continents with nothing other than the clothes on your back and a desperate hope that some distant country will offer you sanctuary.

I suppose a bit of kindness is too much to ask for these days when everyone is so desperate to hold on to what they have.

Funny, actually, since this term’s exam question is to persuade people to take part in community events. It couldn’t be more synchronous. Most of the responses involve litter-picking and yoga in the church hall. Perhaps it’s time people felt a little more connected to the community that they are a part of.

So, it’s time for a little love this Monday. What am I loving?

♥ The Jam. They’re the right combination of anger and frustration to suit my mood.

♥ My heart-on-the-sleeve friends.

♥ My friends who go out of their way to drop things off to me. Unexpected favours are a gift.

♥ The quiet solitude of the woods as the autumn sets in.

♥ The particularly delicious cheese and onion pie my dad made for tea last night.

♥ Teaching my French students about the life-saving qualities of a cup of tea, and the nuances of builder’s brews and tea as my Nana makes it. Nobody really quite understands the very special relationships that English people have with tea. Life is good when you can have an hour discussing things like “not my cup of tea” with willing students.

♥ My Christmas dog photos. I’m particularly impressed. Here’s hoping this Christmas will be as magical for as many of our oldies and long-termers as it was last year.

This week is a busy one of course. My usual timetable plus GCSE marking plus preparations for various events over the next two weekends. Next week is worse. Luckily, then it is December, my marking is finished, calendars are printed, events are over, students go on Christmas breaks and the bills stop. It’s been a hard three months here with three big bills in succession: buildings tax, habitation tax and the one that really sticks in my craw, business property tax. Hollande you knob, I know you’re otherwise occupied, but tax me for living here or working here, not both. I’m doing one or the other, not both. They don’t charge people for living in their offices. Once next month’s bill is paid, that’s it until the social charges bill at the end of January. Boy do I need a break from bills!

Have a very lovely Monday.


The feeling has gone

Who said the 80s gave us nothing musically? Here’s the very fabulous Ultravox with Vienna.

And because it’s JUST that good, you’ve got the extended version. Just how lucky are you? You can keep your Sir Bobs and your Bonos. Midge Ure gets my vote for the coolest of the Band Aid brigade. I’ve almost forgiven him for the grammatical travesty of If I was. I can’t write those words without flinching. If I were, Midge dear. If I were.


I don’t even know who would say the 80s didn’t give us great music. They obviously were thinking about Wham and Pepsi and Shirley, rather than The Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen. You shouldn’t ever have to apologise for loving the 80s. The 80s is where Indie was born.

Enough musical pontification about the music of my youth.

With the weekend out of the way and a slow run into exam marking as well as National Novel Writing Month, it’s all systems go. In all honesty, I can’t see that I’ll get past 20000 words for NaNoWriMo… too much other stuff going on. I’ve done both at the same time before, but not at the same time as the other gazillion things I’ve got going on. I was going to say I might cancel my Netflix subscription for a month, but watching one episode of something stretched out in snippets over the day hardly constitutes binge-watching and if I don’t watch something whilst I’m eating, I have a tendency to eat and type and thus get jam all over the keyboard.

What’s worse is the mini-heatwave we’ve been having. It’s criminal not to be in the garden at the moment. There’s a big difference between my garden this year and my garden last year and mostly it’s down to dogs and dads. Last year’s Rumbles in the Jungle between Amigo and Heston really did leave my garden looking like a jungle as I spent two months supervising them in the house. Both needed separate walks and it was impossible to fit mowing the grass into that equation. This year, I have Tobby who is a very active senior and likes to be outside for his daily exercise, but is not good on walks and definitely not up to the kind of walks I do with the other dogs, so I’ve been spending a good hour or so outside on the garden every day, just so he can stretch his legs. You can’t just shut him out because he wanders off to see my neighbours. For an old dog, he is nimble. I’ve seen him get through holes made for chickens.

That’s the good thing about gardens though. They are never finished. Well, big ones anyway. My Bolton garden was always finished. Everything grew so slowly on the poor soil in the damp and the cool. Here, give it a month and you’ve got enough to cut back that you need a whole new compost heap. Luckily, my dad has been on hand with an array of power tools to sort out the trees that have come down in various storms, or that need chopping back or coppicing. Team Lee have whipped that garden into control. Plus, he also has been sorting out the outdoor electrics – and we were both quite tickled to find a telephone extension in Rabbit Auschwitz, the rabbit barn. I don’t keep rabbits in there, I hasten to add. Certainly not rabbits who need a phone call to keep in touch.

This week, I’ve got a few extra lessons here and there, and a whole lot of GCSE marking to crack on with. Smaller numbers of papers than June and July and I’m hoping it won’t stretch out because I’ve got other stuff that needs doing. Like writing a novel in a month.

Nothing like putting pressure on yourself, is there?

Anyway, you’ll forgive me if I’m unusually quiet. Today, I’m celebrating the Tobbster’s seventh month with me. I really did think he’d be dead and gone after two weeks – he was so wobbly. He’s still so wobbly, but he doesn’t seem to care at all. He doesn’t fall so often and he relaxes here. Plus he has a comfy bed.

I’m off to feed him his anniversary croissant and to crack on with my epic to-do list. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it as long as it is!

tobbster rock



World Gone Crazy

What better way to start a Monday than with a bit of Iggy Pop? This is Real Wild Child

This was my Iggy Pop Gateway track. I think it came out when I was thirteen or so and it took me off down a bit of a Stooges trail for a month or so. It’s funny how tunes like this can send you off down a little path. I picked up a copy of The Stooges from a record stall in a Manchester flea market back in about 1986 or 87 and it led me down a little trail where I discovered John Cale and then the Velvet Underground. I love The Idiot. I always thought he and David Bowie had a similar kind of sound. And I loooooove David Bowie. I think I might have to dedicate my afternoon to a bit of Bowie. It’s been a while.

Anyway, it’s back to full-strength teaching this week. I finally finished the refuge calendar and hopefully there are no mistakes or errors in it. I’ve had another few publicity campaigns to finish off and we had so many new arrivals at the refuge this last three weeks that I’m way behind with my photos. I managed to catch up a bit last week and my “working on” folder seems to have diminished to sets of photos of dogs for the calendar that I want to finish off because there were some really nice photos in there that it’s a shame not to share even though they didn’t make the calendar in the end.

cat laughter

The cat laughter ones are my favourites. I loved taking the photos of the cats – there’s another volunteer who takes the photos of the cats and she does an amazing job. This is Ben. He’s just gorgeous. He’s Mr August.

Plus, I got a little time to spend on taking some of my own. I hardly ever take photos of my own these days.


Last week I managed to finish off the epic socks I’ve been knitting. They are an absolute work of art.


I’ve just started a pair of normal boot socks – seems kind of thoughtless compared to these. After that, I’m going to put my knitting needles to one side and do a bit of crochet, with my newly-acquired crochet skills.

I didn’t do anything yesterday other than gardening – it’s that time of year where you’re never sure just whether it’ll turn everything to mud. It seems that it’s always early November that the river returns and everything will be sodden. Seems like it’s been a very dry autumn so far. Yesterday it was a delightful 23°C and it was a sin to do anything other than enjoy it. It was Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) yesterday, so there were lots of people out in the forest enjoying the weather and a day off.

58 59 60

As for this week, it’s back to full steam ahead. The November exams are starting this week so I’ll be marking for most of November. It’s also National Novel Writing Month so I’m writing a sequel to Finding Shelter. Because I don’t have enough else to do.

The month also has our Dames de FER Christmas market (22nd November) which should be a lovely day out. Then it’s Noël des Animaux at the refuge the weekend after, which is a good excuse to try and find as many dogs and cats a home as week. That leaves me a weekend or two in between. It’s going to be packed month!