Tag Archives: Life in France

To Butlins or not to Butlins?

I’m foregoing Top Ten Tuesday til later in the week because I’ve got more pressing things to show you.

A few weeks ago, on a cold, wet, miserable day, I started to imagine what I could do with a little bit of land I have in the courtyard.

It’s a bare bit of land with conifers on one side, the peach tree at the back and a lovely flowering currant Ribes King Edward VII and a viburnum ‘Snowball‘. There are sometimes some nettles and some hollyhocks and in the winter, there were quite a few mushrooms. The outpipe for the bath runs underneath this plot, and at some point there was a tree here too – now just a stump. I’ve said before that the garden is a very functional thing here – we have a few no-maintenance or low-maintenance shrubs left by Madame A, but essentially, if it doesn’t produce something or need very little maintenance, it’s not got a place in the garden.

The space looked like this when we moved in:

Two years ago!
What there was once…

And this is what it looked like a month ago – before Steve got giddy with the rotavator

I had a bit of a plan about what I wanted – a kind of spiral/keyhole shape that goes up higher in the middle.

A bit of a sketch

I’d started planting out what I wanted in the plot – a mixture of herbacious perennials and annuals – and I’d bought a couple that it was harder to find seeds for here in France, or that were part of our local pepinière’s 5 for 10€ deal. Not much has changed, except I’ve added a space for delphiniums and lupins.

So… what’s in it?

Pinterest board
  • campanula
  • calendula
  • zinnia
  • french marigolds
  • limonium
  • immortelles
  • marguerites
  • monarda
  • rudbeckia
  • coleopsis
  • dicentra bleeding heart
  • dahlia
  • aquilegia

And this is what it looks like now… of course, there’s a lot of growing still to do!

What it looks like now…

Now, I had a great idea. I like plant markers very much, on account of I often forget where things are and what they are. I decided I was going to make little rustic bunting-style flags with the name of the plant on it in permanent marker, tied with gardening twine.


However, this is the source of consternation. Steve liked the bed idea and followed my instructions to the letter as to how to make it. He shifted all the grass and put down the weed suppressing carpet of newspaper, then the top soil. He liked the plant arrangement.

He doesn’t like the flags. Apparently, hate is too strong a word and he feels the same about these flags as he does about kidney beans. He laughed at the flags, though, and gave them a 2 out of 10. He said it made the garden look like Butlins.

I obviously DON’T think they make it look like Butlins. I think they are cool.

He also is taking far more of the credit than he should. He compared himself to Michelangelo and said that just because I came up with the idea doesn’t mean that I could execute it (I hasten to add, I did the actual picking, growing and planting and he moved some soil and put in the border) and he has laughed at my attempts.

This aside, I would like to thank him for his realisation of the foundation of my border.

Now all I have to do is get Noireau to realise it’s not a nice, plush outdoor toilet and convince a few people that the flags are a great, inspired idea!

A certain friend may find herself abandoned at the airport with her children when she turns up here for her summer trip unless she admits that they DON’T look like washing on a line and that people just don’t have knickers that look like this.

Hailstones and grey skies

This weather is hard work. I’ve got stuff queuing up to be planted out, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I was bored on Thursday – restless. I wanted to get outside. We don’t have television – only DVDs and downloads, and so there’s no opportunity to get lost in MTV when I feel a bit restless. I make no apologies for being hypnotised by MTV. It’s very soothing. It’s like sticking a baby in front of a washing machine. But No TV, no MTV.

But it was so very foul I didn’t want to go outside. I daren’t plant anything out. Most of the painting was outside and I was teaching in the evening, so I didn’t want to get messy and start painting the kitchen. Plus, I was just feeling plain irritable. I just want to get out of cardigans and jumpers – but it seems like this weather is lasting until at least the middle of next week. I even got my hot water bottle out again. It’s the middle of April!

Anyway, it was nice to have a break from the routine, the dirt, the seeds, the planting, and get a little glammed up. Well, a bit. I went out for lunch yesterday. I love going to lunch. It feels so much more interesting than going for tea. If you go for lunch, it’s like you can still go out for tea as well. In fact, I did. We went to a fabulous little restaurant on the bank of the Charente at Chateauneuf-sur-Charente. It was amazing. The food was wonderful – I judge everything by Le Cheval Blanc in Luxé which is superb – and whilst it wasn’t right up there, it was definitely on a par with a few others I’ve been to, like Le Vieux Moulin at Chabanais. And for 16.50€ for wine, apéros, coffee and a three-course meal, you can’t go wrong. The Cheval Blanc is 19€ for a five course lunch and if I could and I didn’t get massively fat, I’d eat lunch there every single day.

I’m not sure where I stand on lunch. I don’t eat much in the morning and I only usually have a sandwich for lunch, so a proper lunch always puts me in a food coma. Luckily, that didn’t happen yesterday. I managed to keep up my end of the conversation.

What I mostly like about it (apart from sitting next to lovely ladies) is that it’s so anti Samantha Brick. If you recall, Sam Brick is the somewhat controversial lady who wrote a column about how she has no female friends because she’s beautiful and therefore everyone hates her. We must have been at the ugly table then, because all the women there were delightfully non-bitchy. Funny, since I’ve not seen so many glam women for a while – but then again, I’m not used to seeing made-up faces. The lunch party really was super-glamorous. I’d worn jeans and I felt a little under-glam, although I confess I’d put my make-up on. Like I said before, confidence and happiness are the two things that make a woman beautiful, and the company certainly was that.

I also would like to hold my hand up and say I put a bit of a foot in it – well, a toe, maybe – with a ‘friend’ of Mrs. Brick’s. I know. I thought she said all the women she knew hated her….

Anyway, this person had posted a link to a follow-up article of Mrs. Brick’s, in which she says out of the five English couples who arrived in her village at the same time as her, only her marriage is strong and all the rest have fallen apart. Mostly, she seems to blame this on their lack-of-preparedness for French (country) life. I thought she was very remiss in not shouldering some of the blame herself, since apparently, ALL men fancy her and therefore that must surely cause a lot of marital distress. I like how she left out the unnecessary explanation that no man in his right mind would leave her. To be fair, the article wasn’t that outrageous, even if one of her ‘sources’ was her husband. But I accidentally looked through her back issue articles, I realised she’s one of those ‘anti-women’ who hate women and blame them for everything wrong in their life.

Now, that, I can’t stand. As if I hadn’t got enough of this picture before, here she is in all her full-fledged mean-ness and misery. Women are the reason her business failed. Women hate her. She has no friends.

What I dislike is that I’m only one generation up from Women’s Lib. It’s not even 100 years ago that women in England got the vote (and the same for a lot of men, I know) and I am proud I went to a school where girls did physics and chemistry alongside biology (having worked with a science consultant, I know how few female physics teachers there are – so I feel a little privileged that my school had three…) and where no career option was out-of-bounds. I am proud that it made us all amazing, unconstrained women who never felt that they should do domestic science instead of electronics. We had this bus that came round  – the WISE bus – women in science and engineering – and it never even crossed our tiny minds that women wouldn’t have careers in science or engineering. I think it made us great women, not having boys in class. We lived in a world of women who were glamorous and educated and worldy-wise. And yes, we bitched. We bitched and we fell out. Girls do that. Boys do too. But I’m immensely proud of being a woman, and I’ve got a strong sense of sisterhood. My sisters, even those from another mother, are the biggest part of my life.

So I’m pretty glad I come here and I see amazing women doing amazing things – not least of which is bringing up a family – not unlike herding cats at some times, and not unlike soothing angry tigers at others – running businesses, doing everything with flair and a bit of wow! And I remember that I grew up in a time where most mums I knew stayed at home and didn’t have careers and only worked if they had to, or had ‘little’ jobs in shops or hair salons, in offices or as secretaries. I’m only one generation out of oppression – I’ve never known inequality because I’m a woman. Nobody ever paid me less, or asked me if I planned to get pregnant in a job interview (well, not getting pregnant IN the interview… some time afterwards) but I remember wondering if it would be appropriate to wear trousers to a job interview.

So I don’t really care if my mutual acquaintance tells Mrs. Brick I disagree with her, or if Mrs Brick sees my comments on her friend’s page (I was very diplomatic, too! I said I thought the article was quite sensible, despite my feelings about the author…) and if this mutual acquaintance can get past her jealousy of Samantha Brick’s beauty, then maybe there’s hope for us all. I don’t think I would like to be friends with a woman who admits her husband would divorce her if she got fat. I think I’d want to tell her to divorce the husband for being an idiot. He bought her an exercise bike and she took to it. I’d punch that husband and then run away. I hope all my friends would too.

Maybe I should have a little test to carry around with me, just so my new acquaintances can fill it in.

Would you be with a man who’d dump you if you got fat?



Then I can decide whether they’re good people to be friends with. Anyway, none of the women I was with yesterday would have ticked the Y button, and that’s a good job because that food was delicious and I’d rather eat lovely lemon curd cheesecake than be a size 8, and I think the women with me would agree on the same thing – skinny as some of them are!

And that’s what I liked best about yesterday. The sisterhood. And we’re funny and wise and smart and cool and we make a lot of noise. But that’s the fun of it. I think I love France more and more, the more ladies I meet like these!

What’s new pussycat?

In this amazing and glorious weather we’ve had in the last couple of weeks, we’ve got a lot done outside. I even mowed the grass for the first time since last year. I know I did it a lot earlier last year, and my grass REALLY REALLY needed it, but the rotavator has been hogging all the petrol, I was busy last week and Steve was painting the house. I’m leaving off posting a picture of his painting until it’s all done, mainly because it looks kind of worse, being half done, than it did before. It’s looking wonderful, though. It looks like a brand new house. Amazing what a lick of paint can do. At 8.99€ a tub for a giant-sized tub of paint, it’s a bargain as well. Hopefully, it won’t all wash off or something.

We’ve even got trees growing paintbrushes!

I have repotted a lot of our plants on, and I’ve even done something a little cute with some cheap terracotta pots. I’ve painted them with black gloss paint, then added ‘Yokoso!’, ‘Welkom’ and ‘Bienvenido’ – though Jake asked a) if I didn’t know any words in English and then b) asked if I’d forgotten how to spell welcome. Bah.

Hopefully, give it a couple of weeks and this will start to have some plants in. I’ve planted a whole load of yellow and white plants in it – think it will look mighty fine! I’ve gone for short, bright, colourful things – a mixture of various different marigolds in yellows – to be honest, I might make a bigger series – this was a 28″, 22″ and 14″ series. Given that the pots themselves are less than 2€ each, it’s not an expensive way to decorate. I’d totally stolen the idea from Diggerslist

which of course looks a lot smarter than mine on account of the fact that their plants have grown already. I confess I looked at the picture and then did it my way. The next one I do, I’m going to run a piece of pipe down through the holes so that it’s a bit more stable. They’ve also got a lovely red door and I’ve got cement bricks. Oh well. Steve’s painting will no doubt get round to rendering these bricks, or, at the very least, painting them. And then it will look pretty too. I’d not done ‘Home Sweet Home’ because I like to be a bit more original and not COMPLETELY steal someone’s idea. I love the gloss paint, though. I did all my lettering by hand. I really, really, really want a Cameo stencil cutting machine. I guess I could make my own stencils with OHT sheets and a stanley knife, but I’m too impatient and too lazy to do things properly.

I’d done Yokoso! first and then thought about German and Italian, but then that accidentally looks like I’m welcoming people to some kind of Axis powers summit, so I’d gone for Dutch and Spanish. Steve thinks it’s amusing I’ve tucked them away behind the gates but I don’t want anyone to steal my treasures and also, if it’s only me that sees them, so be it. I might do some for outside the house though, since he’s done such a good job of tidying it up. I thought about doing Kanji lettering, but my Japanese handwriting is not good and it’d look rubbish, so romanji it is. You wouldn’t believe how many languages I went through to get to these. If I do another, I might do an ‘England/Gaelic/Welsh version’ with Welcome-Failte-Croese on it, though that might make people think I know Welsh and Gaelic, though I do not. An Irishman once taught me to ask how to go to the toilet in Gaelic, and I can say Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-gogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch after a summer holiday in Anglesey with the Ellisons. Japanese is easy after you’ve mastered Llanfair.

In the garden, the beans and peas are almost ready to be staked. Potatoes should be in by now, but Steve’s been too busy to rotavate another time, so I’ll be either digging the plots over (not much of a chore anyway) or planting them anyway. I still hold by the Good Friday planting – it’s a reason not to plant until Friday, anyway!

The propagator is still in full-time use – I guess it will be until the weather heats up properly. It’s a marvel. Whatever goes in pops into life. It takes away all those will they?/won’t they? moments when I wonder what will come up. At the moment, it’s gloriosa in there, as well as some passionfruit – not been too successful – and some Super Marmande. Given that temperatures are due to dip, I’m glad I’ve not planted any tomatoes outside yet.

Since I’ve finally given up Madame Verity’s tresor, I feel I can share with you my joyous vide-grenier find:

If the truth be told, I’d sprayed it with degreasant and it has come up like new, which is a shame. I liked it tatty and unloved. I love the whole cheesy ‘Bromance’ picture, those nasty, nasty suits, the cheesy faces, the lilac suit, the hairy-hands-guy, the tie-pin, the fact it says La Vérité (I think I’m going to rename Verity ‘La Vérité’) – she needs a La in front of her name for when she’s being flamboyant, like I do when I am La Lee. For 1€, it was a worthwhile find. It was in return for this little grannified tea-pot she bought me:

I think this ‘tit-for-tat’ (or ‘tatt-for-tatt’) vide-grenier game needs to stop before we end up with a house full of ‘treasures’ and have to do our own sale, hoping that there might be some ladies out there doing a similar thing as us who will take the whole lot off our hands.

I’m not safe at vide-greniers. I’m still regretting not having bought those Nana Mouskouri LPs. Who’s to say when I’ll see them again?

Probably the next vide-grenier I go to, in all honesty…

Have a lovely Wednesday, all!

Silent Sunday…

It’s been a while!

I love my cutie Popsicle
Winter is on his way out
First major planting of 2012 - a little later than last year because of the snow
Moved into the tunnel for a little warmth
Hand-painted pots
Three of my ladies
Good to go!

Oh England…

… What have you done to Steve and Jake??!

I sent you two healthy, excited, rosy-cheeked (well, Jake maybe!) well-fed, well-rested boys and you send me back two hacking, coughing, wheezing hags who’ve slept for the last 20 hours??! How’s that work?!

I think it goes to show how good the country living is out here. Less contact with sick people, fewer diseases. I was only sick once last year, when I got a nasty bout of laryngite from a woman in a doctor’s waiting room. Fact. Doctors’ waiting rooms MAKE you ill. I think they should give everyone masks and isolation booths.

Seriously, in a population of 499, when you see one or two people a day for a prolonged period and very few people meet up with Typhoid Marys, it’s much easier to stay healthy. If there’s a flu pandemic, I’m staying here! I shall live off my WTSHTF pack (when the shit hits the fan, of course!) and not go out for weeks until either everyone is dead, or everyone is better. This is true of a) zombie-pandemics b) ‘I am Legend’ scenarios and c) coughs and colds.

Not only that, without a pizza place or chippy on our doorstep, there is NO temptation. Not at all. You just can’t have an unhealthy meal because they aren’t there at your fingertips. This has me in mixed feelings. Yes it’s great to be virtuous, but it is a pain in the neck to always be cooking something. I usually spend an hour a day in the kitchen. I do all my shopping in one fell swoop, like Mother Used To. The good thing is Jake can’t whine about what just isn’t there. It’s like whining about having a spaceship. We just don’t have those conversations which go:

“What do you want for tea tonight?”


“You had chippy last night.”

“Burger King.”

If it were not a potato or some sweetcorn in his tuna, or the ubiquitous vegetables with the Christmas roasts, I bet that boy has not had a vegetable pass his lips in two weeks. And here’s me cramming 5-a-day down his gob, including lentils, beans, peas, pulses… no vitamin deficiencies on my watch!

I’m way past accepting that food has an effect on your health. Give me a full-fat 500 ml coke and a packet of Haribo sours and see mania take a grip. My boss used to give me these when he wanted me to do meetings extra quick. When I was a runner and preparing for triathlons, I was SO clean at eating. SO clean. This is when I weighed 7 stone 10 (49 kg??!) and I ate so many vegetables and pulses. Plus, I was vegetarian too, which I plan on being again from June. Claire will no doubt be pleased. Mostly, it’s just laziness. If I’m cooking, I end up doing one meal for Jake, one for Steve and one for me. And at least 5 nights a week when we now all eat the same thing, it’s SO much easier.

But whilst the boys weren’t here, in between the toffee crisps and the biscuits my sister sent me, I was a rice-and-beans kind of a girl. Lentils and pasta. Rice and haricot beans. And it makes you feel clean inside.

Last night, whilst the boys were still asleep (they were both in bed for 2 p.m.) I made a pie. Pie and mash and peas and carrots. Steve was already semi-awake by the time I was getting to the finishing touches.

“None for me, thanks. I’m not feeling too good.”


I took some through for Jake. He barely woke up. Thirty minutes later, the plate was still there, untouched. Ah well. The dogs ate well last night.

This morning, I’ve had 2000 mg of vitamin C and I’m hoping I won’t catch whatever it is they have. Mainly, I think it’s tiredness. Lack of routine, hyperactive brothers and eating junk food will do that to a boy. Jake’s got an absolutely terrible cough. He used to get really ill when we lived in Bury. He’d regularly be off school. I think he had two weeks off in Year 4 and similar in Year 5. Here, he’s never off school. I’m off out to get some glycerine and I’m going to make some home-made cough syrup. It was the only thing that made a difference when I had laryngitis.

Not sure if the boys will be back England-side again before they go back in June, but if they are, I bloody well hope that they come back in better condition! I’m already tired of making food nobody eats, putting blankets on people and saying ‘there, there!’ and going from looking after just me, the cat and the dogs to having a houseful again – especially a houseful who are lying on sofas coughing up a lung like some old smoker with emphysema… Ah joy!


The stars are brightly shining…

Amid all the commercialism, it can be easy to forget the ‘real’ message of Christmas. The first and most historical is that those there Romans once they’d put aside their heathen ways were unlikely to win over the dark nations without a few parties. The most significant of those are Easter and Christmas. I know people get upset about all the bunnies and eggs at Easter, but they’re as much a part of the festival as anything: rebirth, renewal, spring. New life. And Christmas? It’s no secret the Romans married it to Saturnalia, the festival to celebrate the passing of the world from long nights and remind us at the darkest of times that the light will return.

Christmas Eve walk

For me, Christmas is about that – the returning light. When you’ve had darkness from five o’clock until nine o’clock – all those sixteen hours of darkness can seem like they’re never going to disappear. Winter hits me hard when it first arrives. I’ve got a friend who gets depressed around the middle of June because he says it’s all downhill from there. In a way, he’s right. The days darken a little every single day after that, and by bringing all this light and shiny life inside, the berries of holly, mistletoe, the evergreen pines and ivy, the baubles and the lights – we remind ourselves of the natural order of things: just as light disappears, so it returns.

It’s also about a family. Whether it’s about the holy family or about your family, for some of us, it’s the only time we have with our nearest and dearest. This year is the first in many years that my sister and her husband haven’t worked on Christmas Day – and we all struggle to make sure everyone sees someone who’s family. It reminds us of the importance of the people who we love – whether they’re a happy accident of birth or whether they’re the people we’ve found through life that bring us a lot of light and love.

My garden - Christmas morning 2011

The second thing I do is ring family. The first is open my presents. That’s natural.

Whether it was those early mornings as a child when we’d all get up to get presents out, sitting around in our pyjamas and dressing gowns, or whether it’s a little later as a grown-up opening them on my own, presents are my family’s way of showing how much we care about each other. And it’s never been about cost. Sometimes, we’ve got a lot of money. Sometimes, we’ve got none. Either way, the best gifts are those that show how much our families or friends know us and care, no matter if they cost 79p or nothing, or whether they cost £200. It’s our way of saying ‘you mean the world to me’.

My sister’s was the first I opened yesterday and I was weeping as soon as I opened it – with joy, of course. Toffee Crisps. Not really my chocolate of choice, but a real family thing – as much as Blue Ribands used to be. My sister has ALWAYS got Toffee Crisps in her fridge and it’s just this thing we have between us – me snaffling her Toffee Crisps. I might live in the land of the chocolaterie these days, but a Toffee Crisp isn’t just a Toffee Crisp – an inelegant, bright-orange, sugary treat – it’s sisterhood. There was all sorts in that hamper, and every single one of them was thoughtful. From spices that cost the earth here to instant coffee (it’s all about quality in France and do you know what? I just can’t always be bothered to brew the cafetiere… and British instant coffee might be the source of ridicule – it’s on the shelf with chicory coffee and the French see it as some terrible throwback to the war, but our instant coffee beats much of their cheap ground coffee hands down!) and Viennese biscuits and hair dye, every single thing in that box was a treasure. Yes, hair dye. Over here, it costs a small fortune and I can’t fathom why. The home dye job is about the easiest way to do something about being glamorous.

Abi's Christmas Hamper... mmmm....

My mum’s also got me laughing and smiling. How well she knows me! Wool was the first thing out – three huge, rich burgundy balls of wool and a cute cardigan pattern. That’ll keep me busy for a couple of weeks and help beat off the darkness! Some netting to keep the birds off my sweetcorn (of course, I’ll plant them their own corn!) – an Alys Fowler recommendation I’d seen in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago and thought ‘Yes!’ – and my mum just must have known, a thousand kilometers away that’s what I was thinking. A weeding pad with ‘Keep Calm and Get Weeding’ on it – oh how I love it! All kinds of knitting accoutrements – and nothing I already had. How can someone know that you are missing 6.5 mm needles and stitch holders??!

Mum's Santa Sack

My Nana doesn’t need to give me a gift at all – because she IS my gift. I phoned her and she reminds me of all things I had forgotten – how me and Abi went down to the beach on Christmas morning in Mexico and watched the sun come up over the sea, then she says we went to her room, all three of us, and sang a carol at the door. I don’t remember doing it, but it sounds like something we’d do! I do remember ringing her room and telling her she’d need to pack her suitcase and go down to reception. We were trying to prank her but I was laughing so much that as soon as she answered, all she heard was me going ‘hee-hee-hee, hee-hee-hee’ and Abi and Al laughing at me laughing. Imagine getting a phone call of someone laughing insanely and saying nothing! But my Nana had sent me some money to spend in Moulin de Tin Tin – my current favourite shop.

Yesterday, the day was bright and cold – I’d set off to my dad’s about elevenish. I make no bones about it – my dad’s roasts are a masterpiece. Cooking is my family’s way of being a family – whether it’s a slice of Mary cake or whether it’s a Sunday roast. Al was cooking for his girlfriend, her daughter, my mum and step-dad. Abi was cooking for her husband and my Nana. My dad was cooking for me and my step-mum, as well as assorted guests. We have it down pat and I would challenge you to find any family that are so kitchen-gifted. There’s never a let-down. I’ve eaten Christmas dinners at other people’s houses and they are never the same. Never. Our family’s gravy is thick and sumptuous. Our roast potatoes are crisp and fluffy and crunchy. Nobody (except my sister…) does carrots like my Nana. If I had a last meal choice, my family’s Sunday roast would be it. Dad had done scallops and bacon on a bed of rocket and salad leaves, then the standard turkey with pigs in blankets, stuffing, roast, boiled and gratin potatoes, roasted leeks, sprouts, gravy. Brenda had done her Christmas ice-cream bombe and an apple topless tart. Then cheese. All this after a mountain of aperitifs, champagne, wine, crackers, dips, nuts, cheeses, charcuterie, dried sausages, gherkins, sausage rolls, sloe gin truffles, chocolates. I’m not eating again for weeks.

My own efforts seem a little humble. I’ve made most of my presents this year, and whilst there are some I can’t put up yet because they’ve not yet reached their recipients, I’d done a set of paintings for Brenda and my dad. I thought it would be nice to do their wedding love song words on a kind of painty-collagey thing with a photo I took of their wedding rings, all in a kind of  a heart shape. I’ve also been busy with the jigsaw and the dremel and I’ve done some other stuff, but I’m not putting that up yet!

Painting I did for my dad and step-mum

My best gifts, as always are the things that no-one could put in a package – not easily anyway! My mum, dad and respective step-parents, my sister and brother-in-law, my brother, my Nana. Family are a blessing when you get a good one! I know not everyone is so lucky. My dogs and my cat – who always bring light into my life, no matter what the weather and really are the best friends you can have. And then my friends, those people who make my day a whole lot brighter even if all I do is bring them to mind. The night was star-bright last night – and you can’t put a price on that beauty. This morning, I watched the sun rise from the warmth of my little house and with all these things, I am one blessed creature!

The little lights of my life...

The sun will come out tomorrow…

Well, actually, it came out today.

It’s been gale-force winds here. The little wind ornaments have been driven mental, turning one way and another, not knowing where to go in the wind. A winter storm had passed over France, leaving some people’s houses flooded – others without electricity. We’re lucky. We had electric and I sorted out candles, matches, dynamo torches and the paraffin lamp last time we had a power cut so I think we would have survived.

But yesterday it was so bleak – the sky a tungsten and charcoal grey – and it didn’t really get light. Jake went to school in the pouring rain, we stayed in and I wrote. Steve had had a crap night’s sleep – so had I – something about worrying the shutters are about to come off their hinges at any point makes you worry too much to sleep. Sheets of rain came driving down off the roof, totally overwhelming the gutter and then slamming down onto the glass roof of the lean-to. I’ve never seen so much rain. It was like we got a month’s worth in five minutes. Tilly went out for a wazz and was soaked to the bone by the time when she got back in. Frankly, I’m surprised she even bothered going outside. Usually, the hint of rain makes her want to wee in the living room or the dining room or Jake’s room or the bathroom or the lean-to.

And I won’t deny it. I was feeling utterly miserable. Some days, you’re entitled to a poor-me moment.

Today, I woke up a bit later than usual. The sun was out – first time in three weeks – and an hour later, my dad finally arrived. I think he’s forgotten it was my birthday on Thursday, though I’m well-used to this. He forgets Abi’s birthday and it’s the day after his. Mostly, he just wanted to get my junk out of his car and go to the supermarket, so he didn’t stop, just dropped off parcels and packages.

And oh what a joy.

My mum has made me a fabulous – and I mean TOTALLY fabulous card that is so beautiful I’m going to frame it afterwards. I opened my birthday present from her and it was a beautiful jumper – at first I thought she’d knitted it – she’s a seriously wonderful knitter – but was only a little disappointed that it was from a shop instead, because it’s beautiful. I also got some very timely hand-warmers, a very lovely pair of stretchy jodhpurs and an undershirt.

The second present was off my Nana. Her card had arrived yesterday a little damp and worse for wear, but another beautiful, sparkly jumper. My mum and Nana have such good taste. I absolutely love them.

Then it was on to my sister’s. A gorgeous cardigan and THE COOLEST (well, warmest!) slippers. Love. ♥

New slipper boots. So warm.... soooo comfy

However, since some of my last boxes have made their way out here, opening them was like opening birthday presents too. I found my ‘hug me’ hot water bottle, a body warmer I had for horse riding, a couple of jumpers I forgot I had, my photographic enlarger (which was the only bit of kit missing and once it warms up, I’m totally out there making my dark room. Watch this space!) my other Moroccan pouffe, more Christmas decorations and the likes. Oh, it was wonderful. I’m strongly of the opinion that you should – once a year or so – let someone run loose in your house, take a few boxes of things, keep them from you for a year and then give you them back. It’s amazing how much more you appreciate them.

And with the passing of the torrential rain, we are left with a flood, but it feels like these sunny moments are so much more precious. A lot like life. It does feel like the sun has lifted on what has been a very crappy week. Thanks for all your love yesterday, too. xx

Some photos for you…

The bridge is a good two metres above the river bed...

The river bed was dry on Thursday so this has come up by about 2 metres over 36 hours. The Tardoire disappears down a limestone sink hole just between Rivieres and La Rochefoucauld, and I guess it goes to some underground lake or cavern or river. Then, when that’s full, the river starts flowing again down our way. But to go from being the foot-deep stream it usually is for four or five months (from November to April) to the bottom of the bridge, and flood the road entirely, well that’s a lot of rain to fall in one day!

A good two metres more than usual...

But, and if you’ll forgive the dirty lens, the village is looking lovely in blue.

The back lane to La Rochette

Molly nearly met her maker here – the ditch alongside must be a good two foot drop, if not more, and she went in over her head without realising there was no land underneath. For a dog who doesn’t like water on her belly, she did well. Steve was prepared to dive in after her. I had Tilly on the lead. She’s far too stupid to be round anything that might cause problems!

Much love Mondays…

I might not have managed much silence yesterday, but I’m sure I can manage a little Monday Morning love. It’s Monday. It’s December. Here, it’s bleak, wet and miserable – it rained all yesterday and the house looks like a Chinese laundry as I try to dry all the clothes off. It’s yucky. Steve won’t let me start my Christmas playlist and got all Grinchy when it accidentally started itself (I swear I had nothing to do with it!) so Much ♥ Monday is Much Needed…

So what are my raves today?

♥ my sister who has put together a mystery package and I’m so excited I can barely contain myself

♥  Tilly who got very wet yesterday and I had to wash her in Timotei because I’d run out of dog shampoo. It’s not so bad. I once used Dog Shampoo to wash my hair, so fair’s fair.

♥ the fact I’m up to Medusa in the poetry anthology and I ♥  Carol Anne Duffy in a non-lesbionic way – she rocks the poetry world.

♥ Aurelio Zen – just working my way through the second book.

♥ Fires and cute dogs.

♥ Marge’s new tail feathers, even though she still looks very pale and her legs are very yellow – moulting must be horrible

Marge's new tail feathers!

♥ that it’s only 10 days to my birthday

♥  planning a new Alphabet lesson for Lilia – teaching primary literacy is SO much fun!

♥  Christmas tinsel

♥  Mr Fox who is scabby but purring. I ♥  Mr Fox our beautiful cannelle cat

♥  having great ideas about what to do with that big square of  “grass” that is really just dandelions and mud – oh just you wait and see!

♥ my Christmas ladder

Welcome to Autumn

Autumn has been long in the coming. The first leaves started falling in mid-July. You don’t notice how early Autumn starts when you live in the city. It’s definitely the season of harvesting.

French people are all ready for Autumn. I saw my first scarf-wearer in the supermarket in the tail-end of August when it was still 27 ° out there. Their logs are all collected and chopped, and I smelled my first wood fire in the air the other evening. Hopefully, they were just testing. Our fire hasn’t been lit since March and I don’t want to light it until September is out. We’ll see, though.

The preparations are underfoot to get all the grapes in (I’m making juice concentrate to freeze this year… a lot of effort went into the wine harvest last year, and to be honest, whilst the wine was potent, it tasted like anti-freeze) and to prepare the garden for Winter. You might laugh. It’s only just September and it was 25 ° yesterday. Steve chainsawed the big beech hedge. I pruned the little bits. The hedges in the garden are now done, the soil has been dug over once – though I’ll do it again and then rotavate it before Winter really gets here. Pots are being emptied, the compost heap is at full capacity and I’m thinking about bonfires. Any wood we prune goes to kindling.

I battled yesterday with the bittersweet nightshade that seems to have sprung up from nowhere in a patch I cleared in April. It’s not quite as toxic as deadly nightshade but it can still give you a good dose of poisoning and is toxic to many animals. If Steve goes missing, you know how I killed him. What amazed me was that the chickens – ever interested in whatever is being dug up – were pecking around, missing the berries and finding the insects. Even they know. I worried about them getting paralysed or hallucinating (not sure how one would know that a chicken was hallucinating though!) but they seem fine and are all present and correct this morning. The Cicely M. Barker Flower Fairies illustration for deadly nightshade was always one of my favourites – he was a Middle Eastern boy with a purple and gold turban – and I think it’s always been instantly recognisable to me because of that drawing.

After I’d reduced the size of the patch quite considerably, I decided it was about time I cycled somewhere. I’ve been so busy it has escaped me. It was early evening by the time I set off and I did a 20km circuit in the most pleasant of circumstances (except the for the bit where I cycled into a cloud of insect and I accidentally ingested some). It was warm and the cornfields smelled like breakfast cereal. The best time for everything smelling like breakfast is in May, when all the wheat and corn are ripe. It’s amazing. It smells like warm cereal – none of the yeasty smell of bread – but it’s gorgeous. There are a couple of innocuous, tiny peach trees about a kilometre from here which I could smell from a good 100 metres away. In fact, I could smell the peaches before I even knew the trees were there. In many other places, the smell of fermenting fruit left to rot is boozy and thick in the air. Pears are the strongest. Then in other places, there’s a grapey, clean smell – hard to explain, but I know precisely which type of grape it is. We have some that smell like that too. And late cow parsley adds to the scented melange.

I cycled past hedgerows almost devoid of blackberries, and some still with fat, huge blackberries waiting for someone to come along and harvest them. The sweet chestnuts are starting to fall, and their lime-green armour litters the floor. Walnuts are everywhere.

As I cycled back, the sun had sunk on the horizon and the sky was all shades – dark blue, indigo, lavender, lilac, soft pink, muted oranges. The moon was up already, ghostly and ephemeral, but it was still warm and the last downhill stretch coming home was delicious.

I guess that’s what I’m living for these days. How I love Autumn.


And now for something completely different…

… In the next few weeks, I’m hoping a new venture will take off. I’m not telling you what it is yet because I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it before it’s actually all carved in stone (p.s. did you know the definition of ‘sincerely’ is ‘without wax’  sin cire because they used to use wax to fill in the gaps in marble, so ‘without wax’ means ‘no faking’… I might start signing all my letters ‘yours without wax… etc’ just to be over-intellectual) and if it goes a bit pear-shaped as some of my plans sometimes do, then I hate it when people say ‘And what happened to that?’ – although, to be fair, it’s only when my plans rest in other people’s hands that they go pear-shaped.

Anyway, suffice to say it will involve my great loves (and hates) writing, the Internet, news, English and French. How’s that for lucky? I need a break anyway.

I’ve actually never believed in luck, or talent, just hard work and determination. I don’t believe in success just landing in people’s laps. I have also come to believe that in this life, it’s never what you know, but who you know. And who you know is never a matter of chance. People think ‘Oh, she’s lucky because she knows such-and-such-a-body’ and it’s all as if I’ve just got naturally great connections. It’s not. It’s because I work them. I network, baby. Knowing someone who knows someone is always the way to get somewhere else. People think it’s luck. It’s not. I cultivate those connections. And not by schmoozing, but by working. I’ve always thought if you do a thing for someone for free and you enjoy doing it and give your time as freely as you can, they’ll always repay you in triple, quadruple. I know I do. To those friends and family who’ve been there for me, I’d do pretty much anything for them. If I can do it, I will do it.

For instance, I know in the media, it’s not talent that gets you published or on television, it’s knowing the right people and being prepared to work hard and take low-paid jobs as stepping stones for bigger things. And it’s being honest. Even if it’s being honest about what you can’t do. I’ve got a few friends who say ‘how do you get published?’ – and it’s as if talent will out. It doesn’t usually. People look to JK Rowling (who tells a cracking great yarn, captured the zeitgeist but did little else than farm a very well-told quest) and say ‘oh, she got published’ – as if you can be published just by being a good writer.

Yet when I look at my published stuff, it’s always come through recommendation. I never sent anything to anyone and said ‘what do you think of this?’ and got it published. I was asked. And I was asked because I’d done it somewhere else for free first.

Take my education writing. First I did some work for a consultant in Lancashire. Lovely guy. I did quite a lot of stuff for him at a time when everyone was whinging about the new National Curriculum. I might moan a lot in reality, but at work, I don’t moan. Often. No point. I just do it. Whatever it is. Because I’d done a favour for this guy, he asked me to write a column for a magazine he edited. I did. Then another editor read it and liked it, and she said she’d give me £125.00 to write another one. I did. A whole £125.00 for an article. Whoo!

I wrote about ten in total.

When I got another job, I started writing things and giving them out for free. I did some work for my boss and she passed it on to her boss. They liked it. So they asked me to start writing for the Department for Education, and I did. I didn’t get paid, but it was good work.

Then I got asked to write by someone who knew the big boss. And then by someone else. And then I got a phone call to do some work on a textbook. I only wrote four chapters, but it was real writing. A real book. None of this internet malarky. A book with my name on it. Albeit with other people’s names on it too.

I’ve never solicited writing particularly – although if I am doing something already and another opportunity comes up to do something in the same line, I’ll put my name forward. I do a lot for free. That takes up a lot of time. I don’t care. If I painted (which I do) I’d do that for free. If I could write and never need money, I’d be happy as anything. Unfortunately, I need to pay the bills from time to time.

I’m not, and I never have been, a talented writer. I’ve been a dedicated, hard-working writer and I’ve been a poor writer. I think we’ve all got a niche in life, and if we’re lucky, we get to do the things we love. All work should be vocational I think, but in practice it doesn’t work like that. I wish good writers got published, but they don’t always know how to network in such a way as to draw their work to the eyes of the people in control. It’s going to get harder too. Kindle, whilst making publishing available to all, will quickly be trial by self-marketing to most. And most writers can’t market what they write. That’s why publishers were invented. Soon, we’ll need online marketing to draw attention to online writers.

Anyway, suffice to say with this new work, I’ve been thrown right in at the deep end – albeit with a very nice lifeguard watching over me  – and if I didn’t know how SEO and RSS and Mailchimp and all manner of stuff worked already, I’d be drowning, not swimming. Thank heavens for my eager curiosity! Luckily, my suck-it-and-see motto has worked well so far.

Wish me the Best of British and I’ll let you all know as soon as it’s more firm what my new project will be! See you in the ether some time soon!