Category Archives: raves

Things that never happened to me…

Now that Jimmy Saville has passed on to the great jewellery gallery in the sky (and reminds us of several glittery, jangly reasons why men shouldn’t wear chains. Not even one. Two looks like Jimmy Saville. Three looks like Mr T. Don’t do it) I’m reminded I have a small grudge against him. I believe I wrote him a letter, back in 1980, asking for the opportunity to do ballet with the Bolshoi. He didn’t arrange it. I hope St Peter knocks a point off his score.

There are quite a lot of other ‘fixits’ I’d like doing, so I’d like to write a letter from the 38-year old me, not the 8-year old me.

Dear Jimmy, who art in heaven (or hell, depending on several rumours and your weird, psycho-like love of your mother/ a non-denominational afterlife of your choice/reincarnated as something else/dead in the ground with no comebacks) please can you see fit to sort out some things.

Firstly, as I am now too old to dance with the Bolshoi, and my legs hurt like a lot, please can you fix it for me to have the English rugby team to oil themselves up in front of me? It’d be really nice if you could do that as a favour for having not fulfilled my dreams of dancing with the Bolshoi.

Secondly, I’d really, really like it if you would give me a two week holiday on a Caribbean island of my choice, accompanied by the oily rugby team who would wait on me hand and foot.

Then it’d be really nice if you could send Sean Bean across in a nice suit. He looks good in a suit. Barefoot in a kind of casual suit, without a tie. That’d suit me. And then if you could get him to propose to me, that’d be great. I might say no, since he doesn’t have a very good track record, but it would be nice to be asked.

I’d then like to go and live in (on?) Cape Cod and be like a younger, more vibrant Angela Lansbury in Murder, She Wrote. I’d like to be an internationally-famous novelist of the murder persuasion, and I also like Cape Cod. And I like righting wrongs. And writing about wrongs. Sean and the England rugby team can come along and live in my pool house. I’d like to have some horses as well please, and a vet on call so they don’t get sick. And then can I have Sean put on jodhpurs like he did in Sharpe and ride around without his top on?


Emma Lee (age 38)

In fact, my letter would go a bit more like this:

Dear Jimmy,

Please could you fixit for me to have someone get rid of all the convolvulus in the vegetable patch. I f%^*in hate that stuff.

Best wishes and all that,

Emma Lee.

Some days are shitter than others*

* a loose Smiths-based pun

Yesterday, there was a surge of frustration in the air. Nothing seemed to go right and it was as if there were something maliciously poltergeisty in the universal zeitgeist stirring up all the ghosts in the machine. I wrote several things that then ‘disappeared’ into the ether. I completed several tasks that just evaporated and my early diligence was rewarded by having to do things again.

I went to the supermarket. Shut for stocktaking. The Casino supermarket was open, but with things over double the price, it’s not worth doing a weekly shop there. I bought enough for the day and went home.

Steve had gone out and locked the gate. Luckily, I knew where he’d gone. Unluckily, there are several routes back from where he’d gone and he could have been on any of them. I raced off in the car. He wasn’t at Roy’s. I raced back. Luckily, I found him just about to off-road under a bridge. I always knew he was a troll.

I got back for my lesson with minutes to spare.

Then all hell broke loose in the afternoon. I can even begin to say the changes that must unfold as a result, but suffice to say it sent me to bed early.

Lucky for me, I get to wake up with a quince tree outside my window, with a happy cat and a giddy dog and no matter how hard I have to work for it all, I can always find something to bring a smile to my face as I remember just how very lucky I am. Sisters, mums, nanas, friends: I’m a lucky, lucky girl. I only have to look at Tilly to have a smile come to my face. When I wake up in the night, she is always right there, her i.d. tags tinkling and her little tail a-wagging. She is a funny, funny, cute little dog and sometimes, a cute little teddy-bear of a dog is just enough to send me back to sleep with a smile on my face.

Finding my bliss…

Yesterday, I read a piece about some butterflies and it reminded me of the simple bliss that I find every day, so here’s my list…

Finding some bliss...
  • when the chickens come running
  • when the chickens sit on the window sill and watch us and we’re like chicken television
  • watching the chickens chase butterflies
  • warm nights in bed
  • Tilly getting all giddy to be awake
  • knowing that Tilly knows what petting is about these days
  • Tilly trotting in to bed
  • cold floors when you’ve got hot feet
  • unexpected bursts of sunshine in October
  • watching my freezer fill up
  • watching the butterflies dancing in the asters
  • picking out seeds for next year
  • going to little festivals where a display of enormous pumpkins is about all to be seen
  • seeing a lovely, weed-free patch of soil and knowing the effort that went in to it
  • reading a good book on the hammock in the later afternoon autumn warmth
  • bright blue skies
  • watching a flock of birds dive and swoop over the fields
  • seeing an old lady in a pinny and a huge straw hat and hob-nailed boots
  • old-fashioned stuff
  • baskets of apples
  • apple pies
  • apple crumbles
  • all things apple!
  • huge pumpkins
  • working out a complicated knitting pattern
  • sharing a little something cool with friends who get excited about it
  • quiet Sunday mornings when the only sound is the snoring do
  • collecting seeds
  • starting on new, exciting projects
  • cycling in the sunshine
And not on my bliss-list… mosquito bites. It’s October. Go and hibernate or something.

Simple minds and simple pleasures

I make no secret of the fact I moved to France to put an end to the miserable, crabby, cross me. Life is too short to spend it so angry. I used to do lists of rants and I didn’t have a short fuse. I had an incredibly long fuse. But aside from the sleep-work-sleep routine, the only joy I really got was at work, and that’s never a good thing. Escaping for holidays here and there just wasn’t enough to help me cope with the ten tonnes of pressure that work life can bring when you know that your results can generate an Ofsted inspection with a team of inspectors who  have already made up their mind upon seeing your results that your school is failing. And the results they look at? English and Maths. No improvements? Schools are closed within a year. Up to 1,800 students, their parents, a staff of 200 depending on you. No wonder I was working from 7am – 7 pm and then bringing work home.

But I don’t have that pressure here. It’s a different sort of pressure, like where the next euro is coming from or whether the hens have got mites. I used to have all kinds of little things to get me through the day – my Paperchase pens, my cute stationery, a well-decorated office, good coffee, lovely make-up, a beautiful car – and here it’s no exception. It’s always the little things that bring a smile to my face. It used to be those days when the English department would all be using furry, light-up Mr Incredible pens or when I’d prank-call Phil for the fiftieth time. Now it’s different stuff that brings a smile to my face.

  • Tilly when she wags her tail in the mornings because she’s so glad to be awake and she lies with her back legs sticking out and her tail wagging and wagging
  • Seeing the stars out of my bedroom window over the quince tree
  • Mr Fox coming in and purring
  • Tilly wagging to see Foxy. Never was a dog so happy to see a cat
  • Feeling cool air blowing in through the kitchen window after a hot night
  • Cool tiles under my feet
  • The quiet of the house in the morning
  • Tilly popping up onto the settee at the side of me for a little bit of company (but not too much or she’ll get off!)
  • Spending a couple of hours digging and unearthing a few kilos of potatoes
  • Clearing weeds – never did I think brown earth could be so satisfying!
  • Baguettes for lunch with egg mayo
  • Seeing the chicken ladies sitting on the windowsill
  • Seeing a chicken run
  • Picking apples from the tree and eating them in the garden
  • Picking up walnuts from the floor
  • Eating grapes off the vine
  • Picking a few kilos of tomatoes for passata and sauce and home-made ketchup and soups
  • Pulling up vegetables
  • Walking in my vegetable garden – leeks, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, cauliflower, courgettes, beetroot, carrots and parsnips still to come
  • Planting  a handful of seeds
  • Picking fresh herbs to dry
  • Collecting the eggs
  • Making cakes and jams and jellies and chutneys and pies with stuff from the garden
  • Cuddles from Molly and curling up with her for an afternoon nap
  • Looking out of the window to see the cows across the street – our nearest neighbours with a heart-beat
  • Tilly foraging for tomatoes
  • Teaching French people to say ‘bath’ properly, and ‘mother’ properly so that it doesn’t sound like ‘muzzer’
  • Seeing people go from one-or-two words of English to being able to have a conversation
A tired Tilly Pop - too tired to stand up to drink
  • When Tilly’s been for a walk and she lies on the kitchen floor with her head resting on her water bowl because she’s too tired to do anything else
  • When Molly wants to get in her bed but she can’t because it’s been stolen by Mr Fox
  • When Fox lies almost on top of Molly on the settee – and Molly is too uncomfortable to sleep and too polite to move

Aren’t Nanas brilliant?!

I ♥ my Nana. Not only is she my biggest fan, she’s funny too.

Nanas are brilliant. They always have cake for you, far too many sweeties, several types of biscuit and Turkish Delight secreted about their person. Nanas always have welcoming boo-sums (as my Nana likes to call them) and nothing feels as good as getting a hug from your Nana. Nothing is ever any trouble for a Nana when it involves their grandchildren. Nanas watch cookery programmes and read ‘Good Housekeeping’ and have ornaments and good china. And you could break that good china by accident and they wouldn’t even really mind, even if it was 50 years old and a present. Nanas always have toffees in their handbag and a packet of tissues. Nanas are always glad to get a phone call from you and make the best sandwiches. It’s compulsory for Nanas’ sandwiches to taste far nicer than everyone else’s.

Nanas are always proud of you. I’m proud of my Nana. She does loads of stuff online, sends texts, knows mobile phones and cameras better than I do, always looks stylish and glamorous. She’s not proud of my dirty gardening shorts. That’s one thing she’s not proud of.

I’m not sure my Nana knows how funny she is, in a naturally comical way. She comes out with lines, spontaneously, that comedy writers sit and search for. What’s worse is that my Nana has a loud Manchester whisper and I’m sure other people are in stitches about the things she says.

Once, I took her to RBG in Manchester. Restaurant Bar Grill is a restaurant where lots of famous people hang out. I’ve seen Graham Norton in there, Dwight Yorke, several other footballers and so on. It’s good food, but for a while in the 90s, it was uber-fashionable. We went for lunch one day.

I don’t know why, but she decided to tell a joke about Jesus on the cross. My nana is not at all religious, and she thinks Jesus is funny. She did all the actions – arms out wide – funny voice… and when she got to the punchline: “Peter…. I can see your house from here…” half the waiters were behind her trying so hard not to laugh and keep their cool ‘game face’ on.

Today, we were talking about books. We love to read. She’s found an author we’d not read and she was explaining about the opening event in the first novel. She’d said it was a man getting tortured for being in Ikea. Only my Nana can mix up Ikea and Al-Qaida. Only my nana can mix up HRT with HIV and raise eyebrows about middle aged ladies getting HIV treatment. I love the images she creates, though. I like thinking of Bin Laden in Warrington Ikea with all the screeching plastic scousers and their numerous rowdy scouser offspring. That would be torture. If someone had put his house right next to Warrington and made him go to Ikea every Sunday, I feel sure he’d have given up before then. Or else Sweden would have been in for a bombing.

What I also love about my Nana is she can make anyone smile. She had a full-on conversation with the lady in Gregg’s, and then with the lady in the travel agents, and then when a girl backed in to her in the post office, she thought my Nana was staring at her for being rude, gave her a stare back and my Nana said ‘Oooh, you have LOVELY hair!’

She then said ‘Do you think it was a wig?’ to me. That’s what I love about my Nana. She’s funny and she’s kind. She gets people talking. She’s the nicest lady you could ever meet except maybe my Auntie Mary, one of her very best friends.

Anyway, me and my Nana are planning a Thelma-and-Louise-style road trip through the Dordogne. I’m not sure if it’s where she thought she wanted to go – sometimes things in my Nana’s head are nicer than they really are. She likes the idea of sitting in French cafes drinking coffee, but in reality, she asks for tea, gets something weaker than gnat’s piss with sterilised milk to boot – and it’s not quite how she imagines it. Maybe I will take her some PG Tips in my handbag and some fresh milk in a mini-flask.

One thing is for sure though. We’re having separate rooms. One of us snores. I’m not saying who, but one of us didn’t get much sleep in Bruges and one of us was very crabby when she arrived in Reims. One of us slept perfectly fine thank you very much.

After the rant, a little rave…

I wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t swing from politics to parsnips in one day. I guess it’s all under the same banner of ‘disenfranchised middle-class white-girl values’.

Anyway, we’ve harvested 3 kg of cherries today – the first lot. I’m kind of hoping we can get between 8-10 kg of cherries. Right now, cherries in Asda are 2.97 for 200g – which makes 1 kg come in at about 7.50. Let’s call it 8 euros per kilo. Not a bad little haul. I want every single last cherry off the trees, because cherries are my absolute favourite.

Cherries and elderflower

And I have a renewed thank you to make – to Steve’s uncle Chris and his wife Nush, who kindly gave me a cherry stoner for Christmas. It’s absolutely excellent. I’m in love with it. I could stone cherries all day.

I boiled 1 kg up in syrup to freeze; I have put another kilo in the freezer straight off. 500 g are in the fridge for munching and 500 g are in a cherry crumble that’s currently in the oven. Tomorrow, I want enough to make a couple of pots of jam. Cherry pie and cream during the week, I think. I’m going to do some glacé cherries and some cherries in kirsch too – if I can get 10 kg of cherries, that’s 500g every other week – and that’ll keep me going until next year!!

You can also see that our elderflower are blossoming. I’m off to get some citric acid tomorrow to make elderflower cordial – and I’d really like to do some elderflower fritters too. I love elderflower and ginger cordial – so might make a batch of that to store over the summer.

We had 2 kg of marteau turnips yesterday, too. Now, the turnip is an unfashionable vegetable, and I don’t know why. I cook it in a little butter and it caramelises wonderfully. Yesterday, we had it mashed with carrots – parfait!

Turnip 'Marteau'

Although, I was kind of hoping now that the garden has stopped being on steroids, that it would be a little quieter and I’ve just reminded myself, via aching legs, that most of what happens from now on is in the kitchen preparing stuff to keep us going through the year! It’s not so pleasant in there right now – hot and sweaty. Between the kitchen and the super-sweaty poly-tunnel, I reckon I’ve sweated out 10 kg.

Zen and the Art of Garden Maintenance

Things are coming on apace chez nous. Things are growing like you wouldn’t believe – and things that were poor little seedlings are now mammoth triffids. The cherries are beginning to ripen on the tree and I quite believe I could spend from now until October just eating stuff in the garden. I’d probably get the trots, but c’est la vie. Stephen has yet to accept my request that we adorn ourselves with fig leaves to wander about eating from the trees. If only Adam had such a stubborn streak, humanity wouldn’t be in this mess.

So far, we have five plots and a polytunnel in operation.

In the first, we have savoy cabbages, red cabbage and ‘tete de Pierre’ cabbage. Either this is ‘Peter’s head’ cabbage or ‘stone-head’ cabbage. Either way, it made me laugh, so into the ground it went.  Parsnips, salsify, turnips, cauliflowers and leeks have also made this their home. We also have a few straggly beetroot and a whole load of potatoes I couldn’t find last year. Oops. It’s kind of a ‘root vegetable/winter vegetable’ plot with some companion planting to keep beasts away.

In the second, we have nothing but potatoes. Mona Lisa and Belle de Fontenay. I’m going to plant in some of the marigolds to keep it pretty and keep beasts off.

Mona Lisa pomme de terre

This plot was filled with convolvulus and a couple of stray hollyhock beasts, which are mostly gone now. It’s not a bad plot considering it was grass this time last year.

The third plot is a combination of things: sweetcorn, borlotti beans, melons, courgettes and Roma and suncherry tomatoes – sweet plum tomatoes. I’ve kind of rooted it around Mexican three sisters planting: a corn, a bean and a pumpkin – although I’ve gone a bit more melon than pumpkin. Pumpkins are pretty but a bit rubbish at everything apart from Hallowe’en. I might get some in yet. Still time!

The three new plots Steve dug up

The fourth plot is tomatoes: Gardener’s Delight, Cerise, Roma, with a good load of French and English marigolds in there just to keep the nasties away.

Finally, there’s the pea/bean plot which has Kelvedon Wonder, Serpette Guilloteaux and some broad beans, borlotti beans and a couple of spare tomatoes.

The only thing that haven’t grown – at all – are carrots. No luck whatsoever, though I’ve sown about five packets of various different ones!

I’ve got only the swede to sow out – and then August/September sowings for overwintering – so it’s just a matter of keeping the weeds down, the pests at bay and reaping what we sow. I’m getting all Biblical today, obviously, what with the fig leaves and the sowing imagery. Sorry. I shall try and keep it to a minimum!

The polytunnel is the piece-de-resistance. It’s like an amazing science experiment in there. Peas, lettuces – red, oakleaf, curly – radish, turnips, beans, thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, more tomatoes ready to be moved outside – although I’m learning tomatoes don’t like being moved too much. Next year, I might start them a little later in pots and then plant them straight out. Leeks, gherkins, melons, peppers and chili peppers. We’ve got some wild strawberries in there too, courtesy of Madame Arrouet who left them in.

Things I love today…

Loving The Bird and The Fox, who play all day long. Fox has caught two mice today and no birds. Both of them have played underneath the sofa for at least an hour, climbing under the throw.

Loving the long evenings

Loving the fact my Mum will be here on Friday

Loving having my Dad over here too

Loving my turnips which are coming on great guns

Loving the garden

Loving the Tilly Flop when she skip-dances and when she skips back to the door, her ears flapping

Loving the Moll and her random energy bursts where she races about

Loving being in my comfy bed

Loving having  a bedroom that’s now 16 degrees at night

Loving having a posse of boys wave at me and call me Madame Lee

Loving how gorgeously made-up Marine, one of my Bac students, is – subtlety and style – no thick make-up that I went for when I was too young and dumb to realise what perfect skin I had.

Loving Deb and Joanne: how lovely it is to have some sensible company beyond my family

Loving cauliflower cheese and hoping that my cauliflowers grow into big ones

Loving finding photos of Dylan I’d forgotten I’d taken

And loving Jake, who is very sweet and very funny. I hope he knows he’s fantastic.

He came in after school and asked me what a ‘tire-bouchon’ was. I didn’t know. I know a bouchon is a cork or a traffic jam, a bottle neck. And I know tirer is to take. So ‘take-cork’??! Corkscrew of course. Not only did he have to read in class, but he handled it with aplomb. I’m so proud of him. Later, I was uncorking a bottle of wine for Steve and I said to Jake: “What’s this?” as I brandished the corkscrew.

“It’s a C-O-R-K-S-C-R-E-W…” he said, totally deadpan. “God, Emma, you’re so clever, but you don’t even know that??!”

And not loving??

Death threats

Sore ankles and feet from being on my feet all day

Tilly jingling all night last night. Back to the crate

How some people spend less time on their kids than I do with my plants. 81 minutes a week, say the stats. How can you justify that??

Walking in the January sunshine

I have kind of made a mental note to keep a seasonal journal of what the weather is like, what gets planted and so on. I started doing this last August and lasted about a couple of months, but then life got in the way. The great Reptily Family blog keeps a record in the same way, and I like it. It’s super-organised. It also helps me make sense of what’s going on seasonally, and how things compare year-on-year. Plus, it helps to know how to do things better next year.

I also decided I would take a photo a day, to capture the weather and the mood and the moment. Kind of a photographic haiku. I like haiku. I might write one for each photo. At least, I’d intend to. Starting things is my forte, finishing them, not so. If every idea I had came to fruition, I’d need 200 of me.

Moss-covered stone-fall

Cold January Landscapes

A French Karesansui!

I did keep to week 1 of my resolutions: to take the dogs for three long walks a week. We’ve done seven hours of long walks this week. I’d forgotten today was hunting – and the forest was thick with men in 4x4s (cat-cats as they are in Morocco – or quatre-quatre if you don’t know what I’m on about!) with big dogs and guns – and although I’m always worried about a dog getting shot, I’m more worried one of the hunters will run us over in his bloody great Mitsubishi off-roader. Is there really a need??!

Saturday – New Year’s Day – was bleak and felt colder than it was. Don’t think we saw the sun that day, though I saw a flock of egrets about 50 deep! I think it got to about 4 degrees, but it felt a whole lot colder. Too cold to be outside other than for walks. We went on the bitches’ walk (really, Lac de la Biche, which is actually a puddle, but the walk is about 3 km) and got back quickly to the warmth.

La Nouvelle Année:

Solitary wanderer

and three happy dogs

Sunday – the 2nd – was a little brighter – we got bursts of sun. I’d started out on the 9 km ‘route du Gros Fayard’ but immediately took a wrong turning, ended up off the beaten track (always better walks, but with me – a huge sense of being able to get lost and die and be eaten by dogs) and walked through some absolutely wonderful woodland – the kind of woodland you imagine in  Little Red Riding Hood. Although Charles Perrault was Paris-born and bred, you can imagine the fairy stories he collected coming from people who’d grown up in places like this.

Molly swinging on a dog-swing

Molly found a ‘dog swing’ – a branch still attached – and swung up and down on it for ages. It was just the right height for her to grab, but I had visions of her being catapulted over the woods.

Today – the 3rd – I’d planned on going back to do the 9 km walk I’d planned yesterday, but to no avail. Having broken the cistern, I spent much of the afternoon fashioning a makeshift device to keep it water-free until Steve returns tomorrow. I really wanted to fix it and to fix it properly, but my will was lost the second cold water spurted in my face. So… a shorter 2 hour walk, but in glorious late-afternoon winter-cold sunshine.

Winter-blue cold skies

Wood-cutters  in the distance

Do they look up too?

I had planned on planting my leeks this week, as well as getting some begonias and petunias started, and with the temperatures predicted to rise above 5 degrees from Thursday, it seemed like a good time to do it. However, the French seem to be fairly obsessed by Lunar gardening (it’s an obsession when you can buy several magazines based on the premise…) and Rustica said it was an inauspicious time to do it. Apparently there is a solar eclipse tomorrow – cool! I don’t know how I missed the one in 2000, but I did. Maybe I was sleeping.

So… the leeks will wait for more auspicious weather.