Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Who's Been Eating My Porridge ?!

Una and Mike took us out to dinner tonight and we had a wonderful time. After much deliberation, we took them to the Chantier at Bedarieux which cooks a lot of its dishes on an outdoor, wood fire. It is also next door to René (the shellfish man) so their mussels and oysters are super fresh! Yummy! We were all happy bunnies by the end of the evening!

Our starters:
Richard and Mike shared a camembert wrapped in bacon, and roasted quickly on the fire whilst Una and I had foie gras with chutney. Thank goodness we all decided to share - the plates that arrived were massive!

Our main courses included:
Moules marinière, moules au roquefort, moules gratinée and moules/huitres gratinée. Do I need to go on?! They were all excellent.
As an aside - the girls voted the chips 'heaven on a plate', and the desserts made a teenage chocoholic very happy!

Monday, 30 July 2007

Natural Exfoliation

According to the Internet, I should now have a glowing complexion and any fine lines I might have had (!) should now be less visible.

Why?

Because I was naturally exfoliated today!

Before you get any strange ideas about what us retired folk get up to in a hot climate........

I took the girls to the beach again as promised and there was a brisk breeze - which meant sand flying at us all the time. It seems I have had 'all the surface layer of dead cells' removed by this natural exfoliating phenomena - and without having to pay salon prices!

Do I look any different? Well according to Richard we all look a bit red - does that count?!

We stuck it out for three hours - nothing was going to get two teenagers away from sunbathing on a beach even if it meant wrapping a towel around their heads to try and stop the sand going in their eyes and ears. Then we headed home in time to get the house all clean and tidy before my sister Una and her husband Mike arrived at 15:00.

What happened?! They arrived early, just half an hour after us!

So is the house still a mess? Yes!

Did we have a great afternoon and evening, eating and drinking copiously? Well what do you think!!!

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Our Pictures This Week (3)

Nic's PictureShe says: " At the beginning this picture was meant to be like a bracelet shape, but I got bored and changed it. I don't normally like yellow but it now looks like lemon slices around a yellow orange! "

It is done with watercolour pencils, on 90g/m2 paper, 24 x 32 cm.


Thibault's Picture
(our neighbour's son who came round to play with Nic)

He says: " J'aime les voitures et les requins. Aussi j'aime dessiner les mandalas parceque c'est jolie. C'est amusant de dessiner avec Nic."

C'est fait avec les crayons d'aquarelles, sur une feuille de papier 90g/m2 , 24 x 32 cm.


LeeLee's PictureShe says: " It's a pencil sketch of me and my best mate in the world, Jenny. We have known each other since we were four years old and I realised that I had never actually drawn a picture of her. And after sketching and rubbing out for four hours, I realised why! And if you ever get around to reading this Jenny, I love you loads Babe!!! lol "

It is done with an HB pencil, on 300g/m2 paper, 24 x 32 cm.


Mum's Picture
" I love the beach - but not as a sunbather. My ultimate dream (one of them anyway!) would be to have a house right on the beach, with no one else around. I like the beauty with the solitude. Valras-Plage is a place we visit most weeks in the winter, and it is perfect early morning before everyone else is up and around! You can see Mont St Clair (Sète) in the distance. I could happily walk for miles on a sandy beach, listening to nothing more intrusive than the water lapping back and forth. Richard and I intend one year to drive down onto the beach on Christmas Day for a picnic - to us that would be heaven! "

It is done with watercolour paints, on 300g/m2 paper, 24 x 32 cm.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Party Time!

We had a great time tonight at a party- our social life is far more busy here than it ever was in England!

Friends in the village, Josette and Cyprien, were celebrating their 50th birthdays and it was set to take place on the boule court. We all turned out in the afternoon to help decorate and to set out the tables, chairs, bar and kitchen area. It was gloriously sunny but a bit windy, so Jean-Paul brought his little tractor with a full water tank on the back, and the court was liberally sprayed to dampen down the dust for the evening.

All the fun and alcohol started at 20:00, and we left at 3:00am the next morning - with the party still in full swing! We just do not have the stamina!

Following on from an entrée of melon and jambon sec, the centre piece of the main course was a spit roasted whole sheep (mouton). When you order this, it comes with its very own chef - and became quite a spectator sport as the evening progressed! The professional told Richard that it takes 5 hours to roast a sheep and just 3 hours for a lamb - and recommended we try the stuffing. It was delicious as promised!
A large board covered with old photos of our hosts provided lots of laughter and the 'present' caused even more. We all gave money which was going towards a holiday but on the night a huge gift-wrapped box was given to them. They had to work their way through various empty bottles (suggesting they might like alcohol perhaps?!) and all the other embarrassing items until they managed to reach the tickets. It was great fun!
A local man had also been 'booked' - he is famous for being a raconteur, telling hilarious stories of day to day life down here. Richard and I just about coped with this whilst he was speaking French (alcohol does reduce your ability to understand the Midi accent I can assure you!) but when he then carried on in Occitan - we gave up. It was fascinating to us though that there was no reduction in the audience's laughter - virtually all the adults present were equally fluent in the two languages and if a child was not quite sure of a word or two in Occitan, an adult was there to translate for them.

Sunday is going to be a long lie-in, drinking lots of water and maybe a dunk in the pool if we can work up the energy!

Friday, 27 July 2007

Sand Between The Toes

MORNING

I promised the girls a trip to the beach - so decided to go somewhere different that would have fewer people.

The coast road from Marseillan-Plage to Sète follows the long offshore sand bar that separates the Mediterranean and the Etang du Thau. This means that alongside the road, there is a glorious, clean, narrow sandy stretch of beach with the Med just beyond. Miles of it!

Because there are no facilities (and I mean No FACILITIES!), many tourists are deterred from coming here to swim and sunbath. It does however attract the motorhomes, because you can just pull up and park by the side of the road, and step out the door directly onto the sand.
Don't get me wrong, it gets busy and the road becomes clogged - but the beach is nowhere near as crowded as places like Valras-Plage and Vias-Plage.

So that's where I decided to take the girls. They were very sceptical at first - especially when they heard that we had to be out the door by 8:30, which meant they needed to be woken up at 7:30 (even to go to the beach and get wet, they need an hour to get ready?!).

The trip was easy with no traffic problems - and we were on the beach 50 minutes after we left the house. It was wonderful - still hot even at that time in the morning but not seriously hot. A light breeze. Some people already in the water swimming and plenty of empty sand to lay down our towels!
I went in immediately, but the girls were not too sure - however two minutes of watching me floating gently on the waves and they were in as well!We then lay on our towels reading and listening to music through headphones. Heaven!
Unfortunately, because we had to be back by lunchtime (we were picking up the bread on the way) and I needed to stop off at a shop on the outskirts of Beziers, we had to hit the road by 10:40. It took us one hour just to reach Beziers because all the world and their mothers were out and about - that's the tourist season for you!

The children voted it better than either of their favourite beaches! Monday we are going there again - but with a picnic for lunch this time!

PS
Remember to take plenty of water. We half fill plastic bottles and keep them in the big freezer. When we go out, we top some up with water (or squash) and take them with us. An ice cold drink, as and when you want it!
This is also done in the village when there is a party coming up. We all take a few topped-up bottles with us and it provides water for the pastis!


AFTERNOON

Lounging in the pool and stretched out on the decking, I think. It's a hard life - are we making you jealous?!

lll

Happy Birthday Jenny (Leigh's best friend since Reception Class in England)! Looking forward to seeing you next week!

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Short Back and Sides

Sitting at the dinner table tonight, we got to talking about hair colours.

My niece, Dani, is sporting a very good-looking auburn head of hair at the moment, just a bit redder than her natural, very dark brown. We started to initiate her into the terms used for hair colours down here - and realised how confusing it all is. It teaches you to beware going to the hairdressers unprepared - get the lingo right before you set off!

Our 'knowledge' stems from a friendship started when we first moved into La Sesquière all those years ago. Whilst taking the dog for her very first promenade in our new village, we spotted the silhouette of a fearsome beast looking down on us from the top of a wall. Outlined against the evening sky was a frightening animal - think 'Hound of the Baskervilles' and then multiply the fear factor!

Telling the girls to move on swiftly and not to attract it's attention, we were horrified to find that the dog was coming down off it's mountain and ending up on the road in front of us. It approached us with no tail wagging, and just as we were trying to decide our next course of action ..... she turned into a banana shape with her head almost touching her backend. It was a super-friendly, very bendy, tailless boxer dog with trimmed ears.

As we realised that she was fawning all over us, her owner appeared down the drive, apologising all the time in fluent French.

He introduced himself as Samuel just as his two daughters appeared running down behind him in their nightdresses (Alex 6 and Astrid 3). Two weeks before, Sam and his partner Laurence had given birth to their third child, a little boy named Axel.
(Photo: Sam making a snowman on our terrace with Nic)

This was the start of a continuing friendship, which brings us back to the topic for this post. Sam is a very experienced, and exceptionally good, hairdresser who has corrected us on the translations for different hair colours (might be different in different areas though!):

Brown hair = blonde in French
Light brown = blonde claire
Blond hair = blanc
Dark brown hair = chataigne
Black hair = brun

Now I am by no means an ardent feminist, but when someone tells me that I am a 'blonde typique' my hackles tend to rise whatever language they are using. I informed Sam that I most certainly wasn't - and he proceeded to tell me even more firmly that I was! It was then that our dual confusion was worked out - although I am most certainly brown-haired in English, it seems my hair colouring is definitely blonde down here!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Suncream and Fish

This summer is great because lots of family and friends are coming all this way to see us. We love it!
lll
It has struck us, though, how unprepared English people often are for the level of sunshine here in the South - believe me it can be seriously hot! We use suncream of factors 30 and 40 (with 50 for the face) and are not actually sun worshippers - we just live with it all around us. Visitors bring out factor 15 - with that you show signs of sunburn after an hour on our terrace!
lll
Lets talk fish. Not the swimming around in water type, but the 'on your plate looking tasty' ones.

We love fish and shellfish - yes, all of us including the girls. Even in England we tried to eat it regularly.

Now we live down here we are in fish-eating heaven. All the restaurants offer a good range of fish/shellfish and in general meat takes more of a back seat than at home.

I suppose we had never really considered ourselves unusual (?!), but it is surprising how many English people do not like fish.

I am puzzled how you can say you do not like fish. There are so many different textures and flavours of fish. I can understand not liking salmon (say) but preferring haddock. Or liking dover sole but not cod (by the way, have you seen the price of dover sole - it went over 30 euro a kilo this week!). But not liking 'fish' is such a generalisation. Why not try various ones, in different recipes and find out what you do/don't like more specifically.

Would anyone ever say as a generalisation 'I do not like meat' -unless they were vegetarian obviously!
lll
We are being taken out to dinner next week by my sister and her family, who prefer meat to fish - so we are going to try the Boucherie at Magalas. This restaurant is set in the original butcher's shop and specialises in meat dishes. Will let you know what it is like!

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Another Of Those Days

We seem to have an inordinate number of 'one of those days'! Come on, be honest - is it us?!

Got up REALLY early today in order to go to Montpellier airport to pick up my youngest niece (almost 17 - I am getting old!), and found the dog having an epileptic fit. Xena has them about once every three months and the vet says just to comfort her - they are infrequent and so medication is not going to make any difference. I sat with her for half an hour, stroking and talking to her all the time, until it passed. She then gets up all bouncy and looks at you as if to say - What?!

Richard carried her down the stairs (which are dangerous at the best of times for both man and dog) and Xena was NOT impressed at all!

Not sure what set her off. Hope it wasn't because I trimmed about three inches off her ears a few days ago! Doesn't she look odd - big head, short ears - not a true Sussex Spaniel trim! But better for her in this hot weather.

By then I was running very late - even LeeLee was ready (yes, miracles sometimes happen). Whilst in the shower, Richard came to tell me that one of the PC monitors was not working - he swapped them over just to check and sure enough it was defunct. So that is another expense. It also means having to use the gaming PC, much to the girls' disgust, which does not have my usual programmes.

Picked up Dani at the airport with no problems - other than we ended up with time to spare since very few others were on the road. Why do men always leave either far too much or far too little time for journeys?!

I am now attempting to check our four e-mail accounts using Orange FR (abysmal) and trying to update my blog via E-Blog in French. Ten minutes later I remembered I could change the language. Der!

Apologies to Alex (I read his excellent blog everyday) for taking so long to upload his comment!

This afternoon Richard took some of our little tomatoes to Eric & Chrystel - and they kindly gave us a courgette. Yes, Richard came back with ONE courgette which you might think odd (he correctly said one would be enough even though we do like courgettes) but look at the picture!
The bottom one - we pick our own courgettes when they are 'baby'.
The middle one - the market sells them 'normal' sized.
The top one - a La Sesquière special!


PS Almost forgot the good news!
The owner of our apartment has agreed to extend the deadline for our mortgage by one month and we went to sign the paperwork at her place today. She mentioned that one of her 'regulars' wanted to book his favourite apartment (our one!) for next year - would we consider letting him book it from us? He has been renting the same apartment for the same month for many years. Yes! We love you Mme Daniel!


PPS I have gone off daughters!
Reading this over my shoulder, LeeLee has just reminded me that I have a Great-Nephew who is 17. Therefore I lied earlier - I am not old, but ancient!!!!

Monday, 23 July 2007

Ups and Downs of the Tourist Season

The weekend of the 14/15 July saw a dramatic change down here in the south - the tourist season well and truely started in earnest. This brings about various changes, most of which are of the negative kind - but I will try and think of some positives!

I will leave you to decide which are which:

1. Went to pick up bread at Intermarché (our favourite baker is shut on Mondays) and could not find a single free car parking space.

2. Bread shelves had been cleaned out - they also were not prepared for that weekend rush!

3. Our favourite baker opens on Tuesdays now the tourists are here.

4. Graffiti arrives all of a sudden - the rest of the year we have virtually none.

5. The markets are VERY busy.

6. Some of the brocantes charge for you to look around the stalls!

7. You have to remember to book at the local restaurants.

8. More cars on the road - watch out at junctions and roundabouts even more than usual!

9. The police do not set up mobile speed checks.
lll
Survived the latest influx of schoolfriends round for the afternoon - luckily they stayed in the pool/garden most of the time! LeeLee requested 'food on the go' by the pool rather than a sit down dinner with the family. Told her she was responsible if any ended up in the pool filter!!

Chosen menu:
Starter - crisps
Main course - chicken strips coated in breadcrumbs and fried (ketchup on the side)
Pudding - chocolate cheesecake

With my niece arriving tomorrow, Richard and I were cleaning the house etc, and finally sat down ourselves to eat at 21:20.

LeeLee said she was hungry again, and joined in as well!

Nic had been invited by our neighbour's son to go round for dinner and then a swim - she arrived back at 21:30 and joined us at the table. Supposedly they only had seiche (squid) to eat and she was hungry again!!!

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Family Readathon

Yesterday was the day that LeeLee has been counting down to - along with millions of other people around the world! Yes, she is a Harry Potter fan!

9:30
Saw her with Richard at the Presse in Bedarieux, buying the second to last copy of the latest Harry Potter book.


10:00
LeeLee started reading it, curled up on the sofa.


16:00
LeeLee finished the book (with a short break for lunch in the interim).

Verdict:
Brilliant! Very detailed, which meant she read it more slowly than normal. She was worried about missing important info if she speed-read as she normally does! LeeLee thought it tied up all the bits from all the other novels brilliantly, and you really had to have remembered all these bits - just one mention in passing to a 'name' in one book became important in this the last book for example. She can't wait to read it again! And all the 'cheats' on the internet (which she went and read after finishing the book) were lies!

16:05
Richard started reading the book.

22:00
Richard finished the book.

Verdict:
Excellent! Very detailed and covered everything you always wondered about from the other books and much, much more.

22:15
I started reading the book, but unlike LeeLee and Richard (who have done this before), I have no intention of reading through the night! I will continue it today - with breaks for cleaning the house, getting things ready for LeeLee's sleepover, cooking, etc.

Will keep you posted!

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Our Pictures This Week (2)

Nic's Picture

She says: " Nothing to say. I just decided to draw a seat hanging from two trees, in front of two mountains with the sun shining between them. I like drawing trees - they are an interesting shape and a mixture of colours. "


It is done with watercolour pencils washed with water, on 90g/m2 paper, 24 x 32 cm.


LeeLee's Picture

She says: " I've always been a fan of proverbs and a few weeks ago I printed off a load of them. A French one caught my eye - "L'habit ne fait pas le moine" or " the cowl does not make the monk". It gave me the idea of a figure clothed in a traditional cowl, with half of the face in shadow and the other being that of a beautiful woman, with a sexy but evil half-smile. I thought that the leg, the only other part of the figure showing, in a sexy stiletto boot really added to the idea that one's outward appearance is often hiding a surprisingly different character. And so I drew it or tried to! It looked better in my head! "


It is done with a HB pencil on 90g/m2 paper, 24 x 32 cm.


Mum's Picture

" This is the house of our friends Eric & Chrystal who live just over the road from us with their lovely 3-year-old daughter Juliette. It took them about 5 years to renovate it from an 'almost ruin' with lots of help from just about everyone in the village. They just made it in time for their wedding in July 2002! Inside it is absolutely gorgeous - one day we hope our ruin will look as good! The road is a very steep slope so it is not just my bad painting that makes it look like their barbecue is rearing up and the plant pots are at different angles! As is common in the South, they often eat their evening meal very late - they are regularly barbecuing in the street at Midnight!
For the second time I have attempted to use watercolours - and I am still not sure. I think I am not 'loose' enough - I try to be too detailed! "



It is done with watercolour paints on 300g/m2 paper, 24 x 32 cm.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Bits and Pieces

Richard went down to the other bank in Lamalou-les-Bains today and spoke to the Manager there who confirmed that they have no problem lending 100% including the Notaire's fees. We have an appointment for 9:00 Monday morning. Wish us luck! He at least seemed more on the ball about mortgages!

I therefore spent the afternoon copying all the necessary documents (again!) - what fun!
lll
We hired a DVD for Nic's sleepover called L'Ecole Fantastique (Sky High) - about kids of Super Heroes and their school. I have to admit we all enjoyed it - well worth a looksee for a lazy day if you have kids (or even if you don't!).

There were jokes for the kids as well as for adults. The Headmistress was played by Linda Carter who had a throw-away line saying 'I'm not Wonder Woman you know!' Of course the girls looked at us strangely when we laughed - only Richard and I are old enough to remember her playing that role all those years ago!
lll

The Tour de France arrived just down the road at Hérépian today. Did we go and watch the bikes go past? Get real! One blink and you miss them!

Instead we helped our neighbours unload a truck full of furniture and things from Eric's Dad's house (he has moved into an apartment). It is amazing how much you can stuff into a garage! As usual, by the time we finished there were about 12 people from the village there helping - all without being asked!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Bummer, Bummer, Bummer

What a bummer of a day. It started off OK, just degenerated from 15:00 onwards.

Afternoon:

Richard and I presented ourselves at the bank with our glasses on (well Richard anyway) and a pen in our grubby mitts, all ready to sign the mortgage documents this afternoon. Hurrah!

Until the bank manager mentioned in passing:
1. The bank has agreed to the lower, original interest rate.
Great we said.
2. The term has had to be reduced by 5 months because a mortgage has to finish by the time you are 70 years old (life insurance rockets after that age it seems).
OK, we say, that's not a great problem.
3. The bank will not loan the Notaire's fees of 4,900 euros, so we are not actually getting a full 100% mortgage.
What? we exclaim!
Just bring over the excess 5,000 euros from England, says Mr Palumbo. You surely have money over there?

So that was that. What do we do now? We do NOT have a spare 5,000 euros sitting around doing nothing in England.

Back home, we have sent an e-mail to the Immobilier asking him to call urgently.

Lets go and get drunk. Oh, forgot, tonight we are taking the girls out to dinner for their 'it's the holidays' meal - Buffalo Grill in Beziers (their choice). So only one of us able to get drunk and it won't be me because I'm driving!

Evening (22:00):

Just home from the restaurant and stuffed to the gills with good food. The Buffalo Grill is not a 'french' restaurant by any means but it consistently delivers a perfect fillet steak with roquefort sauce - and sometimes that is what you really fancy!
(Sorry none of the pictures are brilliant tonight - but I had other things on my mind!)




Evening cont. (22:30)

It is a muggy evening, so Nic and I decide on a swim. The others chickened out so it was just us two under the stars. It was wonderful! 28 degrees in the pool and it cooled us down perfectly! See you tomorrow....


Going To Bed (23:00):

Just shutting down the PCs on my way to bed and find an e-mail from our Immobilier. He has found two banks that will loan 100% including the Notaire's fees - and has included a contact name and telephone number! And is going to phone to speak to us tomorrow!!!!!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Sleepovers

Now, I would be the first to admit that I am not an overly maternal person. By that, I mean an overly 'they-can-do-no-wrong', child-adoring human being. I love my girls with every ounce of my being, but I am not a soppy 'Ah, Bless' type of parent.

Richard and I had a wonderful 9 years of married bliss before, one drunken walk home from friends, we chatted seriously about having children. We both recognised that we had not envisaged being childless, and that 'I suppose sooner or later we would get around to it' basically said it all. We decided that night that maybe we should get on with it.

A visit to our doctor for health checks, etc and a pep talk from him explaining that it often took many months before you got pregnant once you come off the pill - and we set off. Never believe the experts - I was pregnant within a month!

As parents, with our precious new 'LeeLee' in our arms, we always looked astonished at everyone who told us that she was beautiful - all crumpled up and red?! I don't think so! Get your eyes tested!

Like everyone else, we could not wait for her to start crawling. Then we wanted talking and walking upright! How foolish parents are - it is only then that you realise how much easier they are to look after when they stay in one place when you put them down!

Anyway, our life as a family continued happily, and 6 years later we thought about having another - we both did not feel comfortable leaving LeeLee as an only child. Once again 'super fertility' (as our Doctor laughingly called it) came into play and we were pregnant as soon as the thought was converted into action!

The girls are growing up fast with LeeLee virtually an adult, and Nic - an eleven year old going on twenty!

Which brings us back to today....

Nic has a friend staying for a sleepover (which meant Richard and I frantically cleaning the house and the girls attacking the playroom cum spare bedroom) whilst LeeLee is going to a friend's for the night.

What this means in reality is... PANIC!

Sweets, popcorn, crisps and a rented DVD for Nic.
Little present, homemade marmalade and homegrown aubergine for LeeLee.
All at the last minute because as usual with kids - they never plan ahead!

So Fréderique arriving at 14:00. LeeLee to be delivered to Bedarieux for 17:00. And Richard and I cooking the 'menu' as selected by Nic - tortillas with salsa and melted cheese to start followed by chicken fajitas.

Then we find out that LeeLee would like to have some friends over next week - two girls sleeping over Sunday night and three boys joining them on the Monday (Richard is not yet ready for mixed sleepovers!).

Oh well - we try and convince ourselves that our pre-children days were not really so wonderful as we remember them!
lll
Just found an answer machine message left today by our Bank Manager - our mortgage has been agreed and we can go ahead with buying our apartment in Lamalou-les-Bains. Time to open the champagne we have in the fridge!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Father-Of-The-Bride

I have said it before, and I will say it again - how can two people produce two children so totally different!

Now LeeLee is a very bright, intelligent child - but sometimes we think that someone forgot to put commonsense into the mix.

There we were strolling around the village for our evening promenade with the dog and the girls.

There we were going past the garden of one of the little rented-out villas, with new occupants this month.

There we were chatting away when LeeLee spots the two (very plastic!) pheasants adorning their garden.

And she says ..... they aren't real are they? Seriously!

So another story for Richard to add to his Father-Of-The-Bride speech. Trouble is, it is two hours long already!
lll
For dessert tonight I chose the smallest peach, and just for a laugh went and weighed it. Only 290 grammes (or 10.25 ounces for us dinosaurs)!
lll
Happy Birthday to Denise, Richard's sister! Hope you have a wonderful day!

Monday, 16 July 2007

The Things Mothers Stoop To....

There is an advert on TV at the moment that makes us laugh. Paraphrased, it goes a bit like this:

A little boy explains to his pet worm that his Mum had said 'If you don't eat your brown bread, you will have to eat your pet worm' and that he was holding out because basically she was kidding. Next minute, the Mum calls out for the boy to bring in the worm, and would he like it fried or roasted. The boy admits defeat and eats his bread.....

Children will always try it on - until they learn that when their parents (in our case, usually Me!) threaten to do something, they WILL follow it through.

Go back a few years to a young Nic sitting at the table refusing to finish her last bit of dinner. We explained that she had to finish her meat. She held out for quite some time, with LeeLee all the while telling her that she 'would not win!' She was left at the table on her own for a little while, and then called out that she had finished - and sure enough her plate was empty. So the evening passed happily and the girls went to bed.

We were puzzled as to why the dog (Xena) was totally focused on the computer table, lying with her nose stuffed into the crack between it and the wall. Further investigation - and we had found the meat off Nic's plate!

Next morning, we brightly told Nic that we had found some meat she had 'missed' eating from the night before and presented her with it on a plate - for her to eat. What she did not know was that we had taken some fresh beef, cut it into small pieces and cooked it just before.

With wide open, shocked eyes, and knowing there was no way out of it, she finished her 'meal from last night' with LeeLee looking on knowingly and saying 'I told you so!'

It was only recently that we admitted what we had done - and both girls exclaimed 'I don't believe it!'

lll
What shall we have for dessert tonight? I know - how about some huge, gorgeous, juicy, sweet, picked today, just delivered, peaches! Thank-you Martine and Jean-Paul!! The crate is a bit empty because I only got around to taking a picture after we had eaten some!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Our Pictures This week (1)

LeeLee's Picture She says: "To start off with I knew that I would choose to paint an animal - because for me it is one of the hardest things to paint. And I love a challenge! I have always been in awe of the beauty of tigers - and the white one in a photo I found on the internet, reminded me of ME, the big sister trying to ignore the annoying younger sibling who is trying to muscle in on my photo! "

It is done in acrylics on 180g/m2 paper, 24 x 32 cm.

Nic's PictureShe says: "I enjoy doing mandalas because they are fun to work out with a compass, and there is no limit to what they can look like. This one is special because I decided to cut out pieces to change the style and design. I chose summer colours on the outside patterns and used more sombre colours on the inside. "
(the solid red background is the paper put behind it so that it would scan OK)

It is done with watercolour pencils on 180g/m2 paper, 22.5 cm in diameter.

Mum's Picture:" I am fascinated with the contorted shapes of the old vines, and took several photos of interesting ones when the new shoots had just burst open to reveal the leaves. I have never tried water colours before, so thought I would have a go with them! "

It is done with watercolour paints on 300g/m2 paper, 24 x 32 cm.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Telling Them What You Think....

I remember seeing people on the television turning up at Number 10 Downing Street with box loads of signatures, handing in their petitions. And I always wondered if it was ever worth it.

Well, did you know you can now do it on-line? Yes! You can both create and sign petitions on this website !

Am I the only thinking person - surely all the world and the weirdos will come out of the woodwork and have a go?!

Consider this example !
lll
Tonight I have been trawling through a load of blogs (don't ask why - that's another long story!) and noticed that several put copyright statements at the end of each posting. I am pondering the reasons behind it. Maybe because at some time in the future they might get a book deal?

Friday, 13 July 2007

Battle of Passchendaele

This news story about the fact that it is 90 years since the Battle of Passchendaele captured my attention because of a book I have just finished reading. It is called 'The First Casualty' by Ben Elton - we picked it up at a charity secondhand book sale at the weekend.

Like most people, I had learnt about the horrors of the First World War and the terrible conditions experienced by the soldiers. I have to admit though that I had no real conception of the reality of life (or indeed death) in the trenches. This book is explicit and so well written - you would almost believe he was writing from actual experience. It also deals with the side issues including those willing to speak out against the war, weaving the story around a murder enquiry.

I have never been interested in reading any of Ben Elton's novels before because I assumed his writing style would be short, sharp and more suited to comedy. How wrong I was! This book impressed me - and I will be looking out for more to read.
lll

Just packing up for the night when LeeLee joined Richard and I downstairs, after having been on the phone for HOURS to her longterm friend. She was telling us all the things they talked about and to be honest I was zoning out a bit. But my parent's ears suddenly retuned into ...... "and her best friend at sixth form had sex for the first time this week and described it in detail and, well, we both thought TOO MUCH DETAIL!"

Well I think Richard thought so too as he hurriedly left the room!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Blogging and the Police

Members of the public have no real conception of how demoralised, frustrated and increasingly volcanic (ready to erupt) the run-of-the mill police officers are in the UK.

Being swamped by the ever increasing demand for duplicate, triplicate, even quadruplicate (?) paperwork as well as being shackled by the 'Political Correctness' rules, means that forces are reaching crisis levels. So many long-serving, dedicated officers are ready to throw in their helmets, if they have not done so already.

When blogs originally started, people discovered they were a perfect way to let off steam and police officers were no exception.

However, a directive that came out in early 2006 made it a serious offence in the Met (other forces possibly did the same) to write work-related blogs if you were a serving officer.

With so much to lose (not only your job, your pension but for some people their home if they live in a police house) most blogs written by police officers were discontinued.

However a few brave bloggers have continued to post - and one in particular is the anonymous Inspector Gadget.

I found his post that details the Jedi Knight legend from the Met - and it was amusing to read it again. One of those 'believe it or not' stories that worryingly you know could have actually happened!

An interesting point however, is that some senior officers have realised the power of the 'blogged word'. They have set up pseudo bloggs and use them as vehicles to disseminate the official line on various issues!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Doctors

Today was my three-monthly check up at the doctors. Our medecin traitment is a slim, fit, handsome, charming Frenchman who you would guess to be in his early thirties or younger. However since we know his son started college the same year as LeeLee, he must be at least 36.

Anyway, he was very very pleased with me - all pulse points good and consistent, blood pressure perfect, chest and heart as they should be and the arthritis in the top of my spine - not bothering me too much at the moment. Great! I got up to leave.....

But, he said, we might as well check your weight etc whilst you are here. Oh, I said, OK.

Height and weight input into his new computerised record keeping system - told him my BMI (Body Mass Index) was 27 when it should be 25.

He said "Your height is a little bit short for your weight, so we just need to lose 4 kilos and your BMI will be as it should."

I mentioned that at my age (44) weight can a problem, I imagine.

He agreed, and sympathised since he was going to be 46 in August this year! If I could have remembered sufficient swear words in French I would have used them all!

The conversation continued:
Do you eat chocolate or sweets?
- No.
Cakes?
- No
Bread?
- A little but not much.
Ah, what else is there?!
- I suppose it will have to be exercise then.

Interestingly, not once was alcohol mentioned....

PS I knew it was not a good idea to get patient records computerised!

lll
Whilst typing this in the semi-darkness (everyone else is in bed fast asleep), I missed keyed a strange combination and my blog editing window went 'full screen'.

Since some bright spark decided to get one of these fancy 'lots of extra buttons which you never actually use' keyboards, I have just spent an embarrassing 15 minutes trying to remember how to toggle back. I resorted to the age old IT Department last resort solution (press everything and see what happens) but it did not work - even with all those extra buttons to press!

However remembering some dim and distant instructions I managed to get the help screens up and found the right answer - Alt Enter. It is easy when you remember how......

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Shopping

Who was the fool that mentioned he had seen 'sales' signs outside the various shops on the way to Bedarieux?! Or more to the point - said it in a voice that could be picked up by the highly-developed hearing systems of teenage daughters! So that finished off our quiet day.

We visited:

Stylico
(40 minutes and lots of trying on, some buying),

Chauss34
(20 minutes, nothing of interest in the cheap enough range),

Vetimarché
(40 minutes, lots of trying on, sulks when told NO)

Sport 2000
(30 minutes, lots of yearning looks at the 'still too expensive even when in the sale' designer trainers).


What we ended up with was:

Dad
(regretting not putting his book in the car),

Mum
(losing her patience over the usual recurring whingeing from the children),

Teenager
(I know I chose to have an allowance rather than pocket money but I still don't see why that means I have to pay for all my own clothes whilst she doesn't),

Almost Teenager
(why can't I have this even if it is not the right size).

We must be suckers - we mentioned going to Beziers this week to buy some more teaspoons, and once again have acquired two passengers who imagine our sole aim is to visit every clothing establishment in the town.

I hope the holidays are over soon?!
lll
This week was meant to have a few days 'free' at the apartment so we could do some measuring up, etc.
Not so - it is fully booked now unfortunately! A disabled person needed accommodation that would take a wheelchair - and that meant the owner had to fill in the remaining gaps in the bookings for our apartment. Oh well, it does mean it is in demand and therefore a good investment!

She hopes to be able to juggle a couple of free days in August for us. I suppose we could book it ourselves?!
lll
Happy birthday to my sister Lesley today! Unfortunately she is at work, so will be celebrating at the weekend- we hope you enjoy yourself!

Monday, 9 July 2007

Fruit and Fur

With our cherry tomatoes in full production now, we were delighted to be able to begin paying back our various friends in the village.

They are incredibly generous giving us so much in the way of sanglier, fruit, veg and eggs during the year. So a few days ago we delivered our first consignment of tomates cerises - which they tend not to grow locally.

Today the door bell rings and as a thank-you, Martine has brought us a basket of their 'just picked' peaches. And look at the size of them! Yes that is a large egg next to them for comparison!

They tasted absolutely incredible - juicy and flavoursome, still warm from the sun!

lll

We have not made much progress today with our jigsaw. Cannot think why?!


lll

We have just watched an incredible programme on BBC1 called 'Fight For Life'. This first episode examined the birth process showing how babies deal with the trauma, and what happens when something goes wrong. The graphics and camera work were superb - we all were enthralled!

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Things to do in the holidays...

I am really getting fed up with our Internet link. We have it for barely one hour a day at the moment and with the girls also wanting to be on the web I am starting to think we need more PCs in this house!! The lounge would start to look like an IT Department though......
lll
The one thing about school holidays here is that because the girls love school so much, they get bored being at home within a week. Especially Nic.

LeeLee is far happier sitting reading (books or the web!), drawing, checking through all her clothes' boxes and being phoned up by her friends who have her mobile on their illimité list.

Nic however is a naturally 'active' child - Richard and I are not sure where we got her from! She loves to be 'doing', whether it is walking, cycling, running, jumping, swimming or indeed cutting and pasting craft ideas together.
For her birthday we gave her a proper bicycle and are allowing her more freedom to ride around the village on her own. This is quite a change for us too.

One side-effect of Richard's job has been that we are always careful about the children - they were not allowed out on their own in England even to go to the shop opposite for sweets. Although we both worked full time, one of us always picked them up and dropped them off at school - and always on the premises. They did not 'walk up the road' to meet us for example (like some of the other children) just because parking was difficult. Many police officers sent their children to this particular school (it is a known fact that police officers commonly choose catholic schools for their kids but that is another story) and because of working shifts, were usually the parents picking up and dropping off. It meant that the school gate environment was safer than many other schools - on the days when known local paedophiles were spotted outside (don't kid yourself - they are often there!) the police officers would walk with the children up the road to their parents' cars - without the kids being any the wiser. They just thought that their friend's dad/mum was 'going that way' anyway.

However discussions with the girls this week showed that they were totally unaware of our vigilance, and consider they had a wonderful growing-up in England with freedom to spend time on their own and do things on their own. And this pleased us very much. Our plan had been to provide them with a safe environment within the home that allowed them privacy when they wanted it and places to go on their own. They had a large safely contained garden with play areas, play houses and climbing frames as well as individual bedrooms in the house, and lots of friends to stay. Looks like we succeeded!

Over here, in our village, life is very different. Firstly there is no through road and therefore we do not get 'passing traffic'. Also the people are far more vigilant - everyone looks out for each other and in particularly the children. Every (and I mean every!) strange car that enters the village is noted, watched to see where it goes, and if necessary approached to ask if they are lost. Nothing is missed. We have therefore gradually relaxed some of our carefulness. LeeLee is allowed to walk around the village on her own, and Nic is now also given some freedom - although not out of sight of the main route. This means she can cycle and run off some of her boundless energy each day. Although Richard and I still fret just a little - it will take some time before we are totally relaxed!

Last week Nic was away longer than normal and we started to worry just a bit. But when she got back she explained - she had met one of her friends and had stopped to chat. Soon they were joined by two others and ended up playing football - watched over by the grandmother of one of the girls from her balcony. We only had to ask that next time could she pop back and tell us - "no probs" said Nic.

Anyway, getting back to the holidays. After much discussion, the girls have decided on two 'plans' for the hols.

Firstly - they want to learn to cook some of their favourite dishes, with LeeLee majoring on 'cost effective' ones ready for when she goes to university. Richard said 'Good Luck' and left the kitchen by the nearest exit.

So today I initiated LeeLee into making spaghetti carbonara or as the girls call it 'pea and ham pasta'. Now I am a patient person and was (many years ago) trained to be an IT trainer. But how can two children be so different?! One is naturally good with anything manual - the other is, well, a bit cack handed. But we got there in the end and it tasted very good! But she has to learn to chop vegetables a bit more efficiently and safely!

Secondly - we are each going to draw, paint or collage a picture each week. And when I say 'we' I mean excluding the one that has left by the nearest exit already! So I will keep you posted - we intend publishing them on this blog!

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Taking Responsibility

Is it just me or should people take more responsibility for their own actions?

For the past week we have been following the terrible stories on the news about all the flooding in England, and feeling incredibly sorry for the people involved.

However, I have just been listening to the news on TV where they were interviewing households effected. The main story was: why are the Government not doing more to help us, and where is all the compensation money - we need it now.

What appalled me was this statistic - one in four householders did not have any household insurance. And these were the vocal people being interviewed, screeching at the cameras that the Government (ie us UK taxpayers) should be paying for all their damage.

I am sorry - but why should money be given to repair damage that would have been covered under a normal insurance policy?! And before you say it - both Richard and I have been UK taxpayers all our working lives, and continue to pay tax in the UK even though we are now retired in the South of France.

Compensation money is valid for unforeseen events not normally covered, and for extremes of damage. Not for people who have been saving money over many years by not paying premiums.
lll
OK, I feel better now!
Its 36 degrees outside, and the water in the pool is 27 degrees. Heaven!

Friday, 6 July 2007

Holiday in the South

Tomorrow is changeover day for a house we keep an eye on for friends. It is a large 3-bedroomed town house with garage and roof terrace in Autignac - a typical French village (with the usual bar/café, restaurants, etc) midway between us and the Mediterranean.

What surprised us was that a family has rented it for 3 weeks (whilst they sort out buying their own place in Autignac) for just under £600 ! For three weeks in July in the South of France!! How come there were no bargains like that when we wanted to come down here for a holiday from the UK!
lll
The girls and I love doing jigsaw puzzles (I know, we are a bit odd but you have to make your own entertainment down here!) and have discovered two new types that are amazing.

In the past Mordillo and Loup jigsaws have been our favourites - very detailed cartoon pictures with lots going on.

Now we are into WASGIJ? These are also very 'busy' cartoons but there are two particular types we love:

1. The picture on the box is not what you have to make. You imagine yourself in this picture but looking back out of the picture. What you see is what the puzzle is. Great fun! Lesley & Steve bought one for us this visit, and we have done it again three times since they left!
2. Once again the picture on the box is not what you have to make. The puzzle is the same picture but moved on in time. So the people are older, and the buildings etc have been developed on, becoming more modern for example. Even more difficult!

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Mortgage Application

Things are getting serious!

With written confirmation that a standing order is set up to send the required amount of 'income' from our English bank account to our French, our mortgage application has been completed for our apartment in Lamalou.

In case you have not been keeping up with the story........

Richard's pension can only be paid into an English bank account.

To get a French mortgage, your monthly repayment cannot be more than one third of your net monthly income - and this income has to be going into a French bank account.

You see our problem?!

So now the pension goes into our NatWest account, a standing order transfers approx three times the mortgage repayment (allowing for the euro exchange rate!) over to our SMC account.

Still with me?!

Interestingly, even though the mortgage repayment will easily be covered by the rental income, this is not taken into account as income - because we do not have a history of this yet. That is, we do not have a history of declaring it on a French tax return yet.

Anyway - we are getting there. Mortgages are relatively rare here in France compared to England, because a far higher proportion of people rent rather than buy due to the difficult inheritance laws.

When we first spoke to our SMC Bank Manager about our idea of buying a second place to rent out, I knew more than he did about mortgages - which is maybe not surprising since I have worked in the financial sector all my life!

However on our return visit (once we had found a possible place to buy and knew the amount we wanted to borrow), he had done his homework.

Today as we made the final application (you can only proceed formally once you have the compromis du vente), he certainly was on the ball. He checked whether we needed the full assurance and realised (as we did) that we only needed it on death - not if we are sick and unable to work since our 'income' is in fact a pension that would not alter during illness. So that reduced the monthly repayment a bit!

He also noticed that the interest rate has gone up 0.5% since we had our preliminary quote and is going to challenge it - he feels we should pay based on the original interest rate. Good luck to Mr Palembo!

He even checked that the rental income (the curiste season is only 9 months of the year which he knew) minus the mortgage payments, will leave enough to not only pay the taxe fonciere/habitation but might also provide us with a bit of surplus.

Finally, since he knows the local rental market (the apartment is just up the road from the bank) and the notaire we are using (his preferred one as well) it will all go through quickly.

As you can see, French banks are far more insistent that you are able to actually afford the mortgage repayments than English banks.

So .... watch this space!
lll
A couple of things in passing.

The Internet has been 'down' the last few days so I am posting early today just in case I lose the connection!

Also, in preparation for our meeting at the bank today, Richard went there yesterday to get all the originals of the documents and their translations that we might need to have copies of. As recommended, we store everything important in a bank box because if/when you have a house fire or burglary, having no documentation is not considered a valid excuse - if you cannot produce them you cannot get anything done in France!

You go into a secure vault. The bank then use their master key to 'open' the lock of your box and leave the room. You are then left to actually open your box with your own key. All very simple.

When Richard was there, the bank man was showing a new employee the procedure. When Richard got home, he got an urgent message from the bank - he had not by any chance accidentally picked up their master key? They had lost it!!

Today at the meeting we were asked about our current house, the fact that we own it outright, and what was its value? We explained that the deeds, etc were in their bank vault and ..... unobtainable because they had lost their master key.

Ah! said Mr Palembo - maybe he did not actually need to see the deeds......

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Bonnes Vacances!

School has finished for this scholastic year and for Nic in particular it is a milestone - she has progressed right through from maternelle to the end of primaire, and will go on to college in September. LeeLee will be starting her second year (of her three-year Science Baccalaureate) at lycee - taking her French Bac exams this coming year, and her Science Bac exams the following year. It made Richard and I realise how we as a family (and the children in particular) have moved on.

Five years ago (28 April 2002), Richard moved down here with the girls and the first thing he did was get them into school. I was still working my notice period (until August) and so all the hard work fell to him.

For Nic, he turned up at the front door of the Ecole Paul Valery in Lamalou, walked in and at the first classroom he came to - knocked on the door. The teacher called entrez and as Richard and Nic entered, all the children immediately stood up. That impressed him! It turned out to be the top class (CM2) and the teacher was the Headmaster Mr Fillou. Richard explained in French what he was there for, and Mr Fillou walked them immediately to the reception class (CP) and introduced Nic to her new teacher - and left her there, saying to Richard to come back at the end of the day to pick Nic up and to complete the forms! And that was it! Nic loved it from day one!

Three points became apparent when Richard returned.
One, that Nic was actually too young to be in CP and so from the next day was to be in the last class at maternelle - she would return to CP in September.
Two, the school took everything in their stride and although they all had some English, the teachers only resorted to it if Nic needed help - they knew from experience that immersing a child in French from day one was the best way forward.
Three, the other children in the school were so welcoming and thrilled to have a foreign child in the school - they were all falling over themselves to play with Nic!

For LeeLee it was more complicated. Richard presented himself and LeeLee at the college and spoke to the secrétariat (the fount of all knowledge, as we were to learn). She explained that LeeLee would start there in September, but for the last few months of that school year, she would go to a primaire (class CM2). Her official primaire was the one in Lamalou, but the secretariat recommended that she went to Herepian instead where the teacher spoke better English and could help LeeLee more - and she immediately phoned the two schools, got their agreement and it was all sorted.

(first day at school - picture)
Richard drove straight away to the Herepian school, LeeLee was introduced to her new class and teacher, and Richard was told to go home and come back for her at the end of the day. The other children were thrilled to welcome LeeLee and each day for the first month, she was invited home to different houses for lunch. Talk about thrown in at the deep end. LeeLee was almost eleven years of age when we moved here, and we worried that it would be a more difficult transition for her - supposedly a child's ability to absorb a new language wanes by the age of ten. But I can confidently say that this is not the case!

Both children are totally fluent in French, although Nic has the strongest local accent - villagers find it amazing that she sounds indistinguishable from the local children. A temporary teacher came to teach her class English whilst their normal teacher was away - and complimented Nic on her very good pronunciation and accent. The whole class went into fits of laughter - and an embarrassed Nic had to explain to the teacher that she was indeed English. The teacher could not believe that it was possible - so the children went and got the teacher next door to confirm it!

When Nic joined a ballet class last year, Richard was surprised to be approached by one of the other fathers dropping their children off - he was English and they had a chat. It turned out his daughter was in the class with Nic - but what was interesting (or a shame in fact) was that she did not know or speak any English. With a French wife, the parents had decided it would be easier for their daughter to just get introduced to one language - what an opportunity lost!

So to anyone contemplating moving out here with children - irrespective to what you hear to the contrary, dropping them in at the deep end is the best! It does seem cruel, but do not give in - it is by far the best in the long run. Nic was fluent within two months; LeeLee within six.