Sunday, 30 September 2007

Party La Sesquiere

Whilst LeeLee was enjoying herself in the middle of nowhere (see yesterday's post!) Richard, Nic and I were in a garage.....enjoying ourselves last night with friends in the village.

Always wondered why virtually every French home has a huge garage? To have parties in of course! And every time we go to one - Richard is so jealous - he really yearns for a large garage like everyone else has.

We got there at 20:00 and were only the third to leave at 1:00am - it went on for a while!

The food was great - and SO SO MUCH. Richard gave up on the last couple of courses, he was so full.

Me - I paced myself and had a bit of everything. I absolutely adored the 'potatoes and ceps' dish - an incredible combination of flavours. Our local experts are not too hopeful though - they do not think the mushroom season will be good this year.

Thirty people were at the party, ranging in age from:

3 years old

to two 80+ years young!

With the rest of us in between. It was great to see so many generations represented - as is always the case here.
What did we all talk about? Just about everything - except one noticeable exception. TV programmes are never discussed round here because no one watches the box!

Hunting:
They shot two sanglier this morning. This year's quota for our sector (La Sesquiere) is very low because the numbers of sanglier are down. However the sector right next door has a very high quota this year - it seems all our sanglier have emigrated 1/2 kilometre down the road!

Health:
The two oldest present had just had a series of injections into their knees to relieve their arthritic problems. Paulette had both her knees done and finds she is moving around like a youngster - and says she felt nothing when it was done! Nicole had one knee done (which had been smashed in a car accident many years ago) and said it hurt. But is pleased with the results.
Richard is going to see the same specialist tomorrow - he will try anything to put off having to have a knee replacement operation!

Children:
Thibault arrived with a box of snails - and proceeded to add to their number during the party, with Nic and little Juliette in tow all around the gardens. We threatened to cook them (the snails not the children!) for the party - and they (the children not the snails!) ran away.

Animals:
Our neighbour's breton spaniel dog gave birth to eight puppies this morning - as a result of an unplanned 'get together' with our other neighbour's springer spaniel. With only four puppies 'assigned' to new homes, the other four were put down straight after birth. Might seem callous to us, but here they consider letting unwanted animals 'live' as cruel. None of the local children were bothered by this decision (and it was not hidden from them) - they accepted it as a natural part of life.

Smoking:
In the last few years, it is astonishing how many of the 25 - 55 year olds have given up smoking. The teenage generation are still heavy smokers in comparison to other countries, but certainly their parents have taken to heart the health risks.
The two smokers at the party automatically stood outside the garage when they needed a puff.
Social Diaries:
Both Richard and I are quiet, stay at home people but in a village like ours we get invited to join in with anything and everything.
I am now booked to go to an exercise and yoga class tuesday evening in the next village - with about 5 other ladies from our village.
I received invitations to go with friends to two different hairdressers - just because I asked one where they all went to get their hair cut!
Nic is booked to go to HipHop/Funk dance classes with Thibault, and I resisted gym sessions specifically designed to deal with un-firm bottoms!

Language:
We were the only English, our friends Riet and Albert were representing the Dutch at the party - whilst everyone else was happily French. It was quite funny seeing how, at times, the wrong language was spoken to the wrong person - getting worse as the evening progressed and the alcohol consumption increased!

PS
Photos courtesy of Nic who wielded the camera all evening!



Saturday, 29 September 2007

Party Boussagues

Continuing LeeLee's saga this week.......she set her alarm (to get herself up for college) for 6:00am. And she actually got up then! So that's something!

Richard got up at 7:00am to check, and found out that LeeLee had also woken Nic at 6:30am as usually required.

Only problem? Nic does not have school on Saturdays! So she was pissed off with her sister again!!!!

***
Boussagues is a fortified mountain village about 30 minutes from here. It is situated on a fairly inaccessible hill side (higher altitude than us) and surrounded by the garrigue ie a wilderness of scrub land.

Further up the mountain behind Boussigues is the house of a friend-of-a-friend of LeeLee's, and their land runs down from the house to the village. In the midst of this garrigue, they have a small wood cabin linked up to electricity.

Having set the scene for you - LeeLee was invited to a party there this evening and over night. And when I said 'there' I mean in the garrigue around the cabin, and 'overnight' means you are welcome to bring a tent and sleeping bag.

After sorting out the logistics of getting four friends who all live far away from each other, in one place to then go to/from the party, LeeLee looks out at the rain starting to fall at 19:00 and decides that sleeping under canvas is not her idea of fun. So can we come and pick them up at one in the morning instead of 10:00am tomorrow?

No! Because we are also at a party this evening and would not be in a fit state to drive!

Found another parent able to pick them up and all is hunky dory.

What was interesting was everything we heard about the party from LeeLee and her friends the next day.

About thirty teenagers were there, all knowing each other - some well, others as friends-of-friends. Many cycled there (up hill all the way over rough tracks!) and would cycle home the next day.

On average they drank 6 bottles of lager each - that is, the small dumpy bottles!

The 'drunkest' were two particular people - who were still able to walk though. So not 'seriously drunk' by English standards, by any means! Only two people threw up during the evening/night - and goodness, didn't they have to take some stick for this!

There were no fights whatsoever, and indeed no arguments at all.

Only about five of them smoked, and always went outside the cabin to do so. They also always made sure they were 'down wind' so that their smoke did not annoy anyone! Ah, bless!

They all looked out for each other. If a friend was not around, they phoned them on their mobile to check where they were, and that they were OK. If they did not answer, the word went round that someone was missing and EVERYONE searched around the garrigue until they were found. These are children brought up to understand the dangers of getting lost in a wilderness that is all around them every day. Many of the children live in isolated mas.

The light drizzle did not bother these 'outdoor' youngsters, and having to go behind a bush to answer the call of nature, was not even commented on - other than the fact that the 'English girl' forgot to bring tissues with her like they all did!

The party crowd included a handful of 'hippies', some glamour girls in their glitz and heels and also two punks (with blond Mohican's and black/white checked trousers?!). Everyone got along fine - no aggro at all between the groups.

The two punks had brought along guitars and played during the party. Weird punk songs? Not on your life - songs that everyone knew and could sing along to of course!

The youngsters drank what they liked the taste of - they did not drink with the primary intention of just getting rat-arsed. There was NO CONCERN about drinks being spiked - they were horrified at the very idea!

LeeLee and her friends thoroughly enjoyed themselves. She was sad that her friends and young cousins in England do not get to go to parties like this. She is unfortunately too aware that teenage life back in England is very different.

We do worry about her when/if she goes back to England for university - it will now be quite a culture shock. She recognises this as well.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Bad Week and Meat

I think LeeLee is just going to write off this week.

She announced last night that she would get herself and Nic up this morning, so both Richard and I could have lie-ins.

We set our alarm for 7:00am just to make sure they were both ready to catch the bus.........does this sound familiar to you?!

I got up and opened our bedroom door to be met with 'Don't speak to me!' from LeeLee.

I looked left into Nic's bedroom and I asked if she was almost ready. The answer: 'Ask her!!'

Turns out that LeeLee heard her alarm go off (vaguely!), thought she would give herself five minutes of snuggle, and guess what - her clock SUDDENLY said 6:59am instead of 5:59am!

Never did I expect to see two young females get themselves ready in 20 minutes - but they did. Mind you, I did not speak to them, so as not to distract them!

LeeLee knows from experience though that if she misses the bus, she had better start walking to college......We are such nasty parents remember!
***
Whilst admiring the foire de vins in our local supermarket, we saw that they were selling whole longue de porc - whole sides (between the front and back legs) of pork.

Out came the hidden 'butcher' in Richard and we bought two.

What good value! After boning them out, we ended up with two large loin joints and 28 thick chops! All for a total of 21 Euros!

Guess what we are having for Sunday lunch.......with crackling of course!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Pressie!

Oh, how we love my sister Lesley and her husband Steve!

Mentioned on the blog that we are stuck indoors (winter has arrived!) and doing jigsaws, and what arrives in the post from them today?!

A pressie! A jigsaw!!! And more to the point - a WASGIJ? NUMBER 10. Our favourite type!

Thank-you, thank-you.......

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Teenagers and Timepieces

LeeLee is really having a bad week!

She is a very bright kid, but sometimes we do wonder what goes on between the ears....

Last night she said that she was too tired to get up for exercises this morning, so I could have a lie in. She would set her alarm and get up at 6:00am, then wake Nic up 30 minutes later at 6:30am.

Note: an eleven year old does not need as much time to get ready as a 17 year old!

I set my alarm for 7:00am so that I could make sure they were ready in time for the bus at 7:20am. Still with me so far?!

Lying in bed this morning I woke up and heard Nic's voice - so was reassured that LeeLee had not forgotten to wake her. That's a good start, I thought!

Dozing on and off for 30 minutes before my alarm went off.......but hang on - seems like more than 30 minutes have passed and still no alarm?!

Got up to check the clock/alarm which is on Richard's side of the bed (don't ask!) - and was surprised to see it say 6:10 am. Curious?!

Went down stairs to find two children totally ready and fully dressed with coats on and their school bags by the door.

Asked Nic what on earth she was doing up and ready at that time - according to the plan, she should be asleep for another 20 minutes!

'Ask LeeLee!' she said in a pissed off voice.

LeeLee's explanation:

Well.....I woke up and looked at my bedroom clock which said 5:59am. Thought I might as well get up - and started to get ready.

Checked my clock regularly (so I would not forget!) and when is said 6:30 am, I woke Nic.

Nic started to get ready. When I was all dressed, I went down to the kitchen to see if I had time for a piece of toast - and was surprised to see that according to the kitchen clock it was only 6:00am!

OK, don't go on about it! So I can't read a clock properly........ it's not that funny!
***
Every supermarket within a 30 minute driving time of us, has a Foire de Vins at the moment. And if you want to see seriously good wines - I recommend you go along to one.

If only we had money - it is amazing what you can pick up!

For various reasons, we had occasion to visit Auchun (Beziers) and both SuperU and Intermarché in Bedarieux today. In all three, we came across restauranteurs buying box loads of the very expensive wines.

We are talking 70-170 euros a bottle ones!

And champagne - they were nudging each other out of the way to pick up vintage Dom Perignan, non-vintage Krug and our favourite 'La Grande Dame'!

Oh, if only we were both working in England and earning the same as before.....

We consoled ourselves with buying some Pouilly Vinzelles (very difficult to find down here) and some Casanove Harlequin champagne (not in the same league as our favourites, but quite drinkable) that was selling for 50% off!!

That's Christmas sorted - if it lasts that long!
***
All our love and 'Happy Birthday' to my brother-in-law Steve! Don't work too hard on your special day!!!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Teenagers and Mobile Technology


For many years LeeLee has pestered for her own mobile phone.

Today we ate burnt chicken soup for lunch.

What is the connection? Well read on.........

When we lived in Surrey, we had to put up with the usual:
'All my friends have a mobile, and a TV/video in their room, and their own computer! Why can I not have one? It's not fair!'

The thing to note is that this started when she was 8 years old and yes, just about all her friends in the affluent South of England did have mobiles and TV/videos/computers in their bedrooms at that age!!!

Being 'nasty' parents, Richard and I refused to be swayed. As far as we were concerned, children are part of a family and should not spend all their time in their bedrooms watching God knows what on TV, looking at uncontrolled web pages, etc. Also we believe firmly that you buy them technology when it is NEEDED not when it is just WANTED!

When we moved to France, the 'need' for a mobile phone was still regularly argued by LeeLee. However, as we invariably pointed out, it was even less required here! She was taken and picked up at school by a bus from our front door. She did not go out clubbing (there are no clubs here!), did not attend late night parties (they do not have them here!) and on the rare occasions when she did need a mobile phone - Richard's one was available for her to use. They were allowed to call their friends on the home phone at any time.

Note that the demand for TV/videos and computers in the bedroom has ceased - because none of their friends here in the South of France have them. They spend far more time out and about walking/cycling and as a family, and do not watch TV very often. They were very impressed when they discovered that we had a family computer!

As LeeLee approached her 16th birthday, we said that she was allowed to have a mobile as her present from us, on the understanding that she would fund the phone calls from her allowance. Yippee! she said.

As the special day approached, she came to talk to Richard and I - she had decided that it was not worth having one. She felt that she would be 'wasting' her birthday money on something she would seldom actually need, and would rather spend the money on clothes! Result!!

As her and her friends approached their 17th birthdays, they came up with an interesting idea. They all buy little presents for each other, usually under10 euros, because they do not get lots of pocket money - unlike their contemporaries in Surrey! So why not pool their money and buy a mobile phone for the birthday person each time. That way they each end up with a good phone - whereas if a parent chose one, it probably would not have all the extras that they wanted as well!

It worked fine, and when her turn came round, LeeLee received for her 17th birthday a 'just what she wanted' mobile phone from her friends and was delighted.

Now, they all have to pay for their own calls from their allowances, and it is amazing what they work out to be most cost effective. Where there is a will there is a way! Basically they text rather than call. By leaving a very small amount on their 'pay as you go' they are able to continue texting for free.

What this means is that we have to text or leave a voicemail for LeeLee on her phone. It is no good expecting her to answer it - that costs money for Gods sake, and it would be HER money!

So move on to yesterday. We were due at college for Nic's parents/teachers meeting which was not going to finish until 19:00. LeeLee would get home at 18:00.

Something simple was needed for dinner that would cook whilst we were at college. I put a chicken in to roast and just needed LeeLee to switch off the oven when she got home.
Richard texted her at 17:15 when she would be out of classes and on her way home on the bus.

Richard left a voicemail at 17:40.

As we left the college at 19:00, I phoned the home machine and spoke to LeeLee to check she had got the messages and switched off the oven.

What messages she asked?! The ones Dad had been leaving for her on her mobile!!

Oh, you mean the mobile that did not have enough charge in it for her to access her messages?!

Not impressed, we got home to a burnt roast chicken and a teenager who said - I often forget to fully charge it because it still works for the things I need it for - like as a mirror, and for photos!

All I can say is - it was a bloody expensive mirror and camera!!!

PS
Whenever we have a roast chicken, we always have homemade chicken soup the next day (I am a bit of a Jewish Mama), so today it was a new recipe - burnt chicken soup!

Monday, 24 September 2007

Parents & Teachers - French Style


Tonight saw the first of our Parent/Teacher meetings for this school year. Nic has just started college (senior school) and I thought it would be interesting to detail some of the information passed onto us for her year 6 ieme.

There is rather a lot - we were there nearly two hours!

I make no comparison to English education - I leave that for you to do!
  1. There are 90 children in the whole year, in 6 classes.

  2. There are several hours within their weekly timetable set aside. The teachers run extra classes at these times for
    (a) children who need extra help in a particular topic and
    (b) children who are advanced and would be 'kept interested' by having topics gone into in more detail.

    Each week a selection of children are 'invited' to attend these (compulsory) sessions.

  3. Children are regularly tested each week in their various subjects - some are 'surprise' 10 minute ones, others are scheduled so that they can prepare for them. The teachers are therefore alerted immediately if a child is struggling, and deal with it straight away. The children do not get 'stressed' by all this testing - they take it in their stride and it ensures they are constantly revisiting their previous work as well as their new lessons.

  4. In Maths, a initial test assessed the ability of each child and the teachers decided to set up classes as follows:

    a class of 10 for the children seriously struggling;
    a class of 20 for those struggling in several areas;
    two classes of 30 for the children coping at the level required at college.

    These are not fixed - children will be moved between these classes as and when required.

  5. For French, a few extra hours are set aside each week. An initial test assesses the ability of each child and the teachers run these sessions (max 8 students) for children who need to be brought up to the standard level. Different children are 'invited' to these compulsory sessions each week. A child who is above average at the beginning, can still find certain topics difficult - and will attend these sessions when required.

  6. The English and Techno teachers have got together and have selected a couple of hours each week which they alternate between their two subjects. This week Nic has an extra 1.5 hours of techno, next week it will be an extra 1.5 hours of English. This enables the teachers to alter the size of their classes sometimes when they feel it is necessary for a particular (maybe difficult) topic.

  7. French and English are compulsory at French schools.

    In addition the children HAVE to study one other language of their choice - in our college they choose between Spanish, German or Italian.

    Children can also choose to do Occitan, Latin or Italian as an optional extra.

  8. Up until now, children chose their 'Language Vivante 1' to study from this their first year at college (English, German or Italian). eg LeeLee chose German as her LV1.

    From their second year they then studied their LV2 - English if they had not chosen it as their LV1, or their other language if they started English in their first year. eg LeeLee therefore had to have English as her LV2.

    When you come to do your baccalaureate, your LV1 has a higher 'loading' than LV2. LeeLee therefore swapped her LV1 and LV2 around this year ready for the Bac - to maximise the score for her native language!!

    This year, the college has decided to only offer English as LV1 - their reasoning is that since English is the language of the Internet/computers (ie the future!), students should have the extra year of study to make sure they are as fluent as possible. Next year they will choose their LV2 from German, Spanish and Italian. Occitan, Latin and Italian are still offered as 'extra' lessons.

    Nic will therefore have no choice but to do English as her LV1 and will probably choose German or Spanish as her LV2 next year. She is also doing Occitan as an extra language. LeeLee had done Latin as her 'extra'.

  9. If a child misbehaves, they receive a 'punishment' which is detailed on their school record, and is notified to the parents in writing. The parents have to sign that they have received this notification and return it to the school personally.

  10. Specimen signatures are taken from the parents each year and are held on record. Any form that purports to be from a parent - is checked against the central specimens to ensure that children are NOT falsifying them!

  11. At the moment 'collective punishments' are being handed out to whole class groups. eg Nic's class did not line up properly outside the classroom (in a straight line two by two) so were given 30 lines each to be completed before they were allowed out for break.

    The Maths class were not quiet when they were queuing up - and had to write out three times a section of text from a book. Details of these punishments are sent to each parent who had to sign and return them personally.

  12. The French teacher informed us that the children will be required to read a book every 2-4 weeks. Some will be chosen by the teacher (eg Voltaire), some by the children from a selection provided by the teacher. They will average 10 pages to read a night.

    After finishing each book, they will write a synopsis and also prepare a presentation to give to the class - detailing their views on the book, etc, for a class discussion.

  13. Mobile phones are banned from use within the school premises - including the classrooms, corridors and halls. They are allowed to be used outside in the play areas.

    If a student is found using a phone in a prohibited area, it WILL be confiscated and held in the central office. A parent will be required to come in and collect it, and will be spoken to by the Headmistress. If it happens more than 3 (I think?!) times, it will not be returned to the parent until the end of term.

I LOVE IT !!!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Sunday, Lazy Sunday .....

Keep your fingers crossed. Internet working for two hours on the trot! Miracles do happen!!
***
I love lazy Sundays. A lie in followed by ham'n'eggs for lunch.

But you can tell that winter is on its way down here in the South - we spent the afternoon indoors doing jigsaws!

Sad, I know.....

PS
Goodness, my toes are cold sitting at the computer at midnight. Glad we are back to having a duvet on the bed. Nic even asked when Richard is going to start lighting the fire!?

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Blimey! Bellinis!

Yep, I knew it. I feel a bit hung over today. It MUST have been those bellini cocktails we decided to make for the first time last night.

Blame it on the supermarket - if we had not seen peach juice on the shelves, we would not have thought about making them.....but they were good!!
***
Poor old LeeLee was at lycée this morning, so it was an early start as usual - after a very late yesterday evening!
Our alarm went off at 6:30am and I got up to check that LeeLee was awake.

Went back to bed.

Our alarm went off at 7:00am and I got up to check that LeeLee was going to be ready in time for the coach.

Waved her off at 7:20am. Went back to bed.

Vaguely remembered Richard getting up about 9:00am.

Next thing I know, he is calling up to me saying - it's 11:30am, and didn't you want to be up and about this morning?!

Groan........

LeeLee arrived back at 12:45. Ate some lunch and went to bed.

She woke up at 17:00 just in time to have a shower, and get ready to go round to a friend's house.
***

Best thing about today? Having a dinner made up of all the things left over from the party last night of course!!

Friday, 21 September 2007

It's a Small Small World


Our friends who took us out for dinner this week, came round for a meal here tonight. We enjoyed a great evening! Think I will feel it tomorrow though .....

Another friend came over from England this week to work on his house in the village - and asked if he could take us out for a meal! We like friends like that!!

However, we said - why not come round tonight and join the party! Andy is also an ex-copper, and we knew he would get on well with everyone - coppers always do. They can chat to anyone, about anything and for as long as you like! Maybe I was meant to have been a policewoman?! Oh, Ha! Ha! Richard has just reminded me that I would not have made the height criteria!

It was interesting. Seven adults (three couples plus Andy) who only met here in the village over the last year or so, and guess what? We all live, or in our case 'lived' in the past tense, within a few miles of each other in Surrey! Spooky or what?!

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Hidden Bugs


Why are we bothering to pay Orange for an Internet service we are seldom able to enjoy?! I am now having a go at loading several posts in one go (quickly) before the line 'drops' !
***
With friends round for dinner tomorrow night, we decided to have a spring clean on the terrace, and also trimmed back some of our triffids - otherwise known as Richard's tomato plants.

Bummer! Bummer! I got bitten by the never seen, nasty, 'big bug' and am now swelling up in various places. Why me?! Because I am the one that reacts badly to them, that's why!

Many anti-histamine tablets later.....I am still swollen but no worse. I will just have to drown my sorrows and anaesthetise the pain!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Generous Friends

Taking us by surprise, friends who have a holiday home in the village that we keep an eye on, invited us out to a restaurant tonight. We all had a great time as you can see!
They are fairly serious 'walkers' and the many tracks around the village and in the surrounding countryside, are what originally tempted them to buy here.


When they first came down they set off for the gentle stroll up to the auberge at Le Pradal only to be disappointed - it was shut. They tried several times afterwards only to find the same - it was always shut.


Further investigation showed that it was an unusual establishment. There was always a fixed menu with no choices (it does change regularly though), and it did not open unless there would be a minimum of 10 people sitting down to eat! Not a place you could just turn up to, it seems!


With charm and persuasion, Jan and Colin got the owner to open tonight even though there would only be eight of us in total. It was an interesting experience - a bit like a dinner party with someone else doing all the cooking behind the scenes.


The food was tasty, although for a restaurant that set out all these rules, maybe we expected a bit of je ne sais quoi? It was, however, a genuine family auberge with homemade produce it's speciality.

We started with a salad and a wide selection of salamis and a terrine - all made by the owner(s) and their family. Main course was duck in a rich green olive sauce with fried potato cubes and mushrooms. Dessert was an apple crumble and miniature strawberry tart. With coffee we had cherries steeped in alcohol a la maison.


Aperitifs were their speciality. White wine kirs made with any of the following liqueurs: violette, peach, orange, gentian or walnut. We tried them all (!) and very good they were, if a bit unusual!


So if you have a large family or group of friends - you should consider trying L'Ostal Viehl !

As we were leaving and wishing the patron goodnight, he suddenly noticed the girls' perfect French accents - and started exclaiming over them. Seems his daughter is at the same college, and we realised as we got back in the car that we recognised him. We think he goes to some of our village get-togethers.

It's a small world down here!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

****ing Felines - Who Needs Them?!

Twenty Eight minutes past midnight and our unmentionable feline has just run in meowing strangely from the side of her mouth. And dropped a very lively, long-legged, kangaroo-hopping mouse next to me which has proceeded to run over my feet as I am typing. What has Smokey now done? Pushed off - she feels she has done her bit by 'bringing' a present to the party!

Finally got to bed and snoozing happily. Tonight I decided to celebrate not having guests in the house by leaving our bedroom door open as we prefer. It allows the cool air to circulate round the upper rooms under the roof and there is no risk of shocking our guests because we sleep in the nude!

Early hours of the morning, and excited meowing signals that the cat is also pleased to see our door open - she loves to snuggle up to us in bed, after waking the dog by snuzzling up to her first!

Dozed off only to then be woken up by said cat playing with something. Richard mutters that he will kill her if she has brought him a mouse again - and I tell him to shut his eyes whilst I turn on the light to check.

I then tell the cat to leg it quick since a delicately placed dead rodent is lying under Richard's foot......

We only agreed to let the kids have a cat each in order to tackle the mouse population in our stone built ruin. Did not expect them to import their own when our supply was exterminated!!!

PS
Did feel guilty this morning though.

Got up at the unearthly hour of 5:50am for our exercise routine. Staggered into the kitchen afterwards to make a much needed cup of tea. Noticed that the shutters were shut - and had been throughout the night, during lots of rain.

Oops! Forgot we had a cat. Forgot to open the shutters before I went to bed last night! Opened them immediately this morning!

Two seconds later, a very aggrieved, high speed feline charged through the cat flap. A very wet feline unfortunately!

Today, she has barely moved off a chair in the sitting room and scowls at anyone who goes past.

Monday, 17 September 2007

New Rivers

Internet down again, but I won't blame Orange this time because.........we had no electricity either!

I blame our Best Man who sent us an e-mail asking whether it was sunny down here! Within a few hours, the lights started flickering, the computers went down along with the satellite and we then lost all power in our village. All hell broke loose outside as we made sure we had torches and candles everywhere important - like the loo!

I grabbed the camera (I am starting to remember I am a Blogger first and foremost!) and took some photos of Capimont as it disappeared within the torrents of rain sweeping our way.


In the time it took me to do this and then run to the front door (camera in hand of course!), we had two new rivers rushing past us.

One coming down the road past the front of the house (top middle down towards the post box) and another down the chemin past the side of the house (from the left, flowing towards the post box), to join it.

The chemin river rushes past our steps:

Unfortunately it also brings all the stone debris from the chemin with it to clog the drain just by us - and they only cleaned it out a couple of days ago! They must have known what was coming!

If you look carefully, you can see the rain POURING down between our side patio doors and our remise, and off our neighbours roof to join the rivers. Absolutely incredible - brilliant sunshine one minute, a monsoon the next. We never have drizzle!
Lessons to be learnt:

1. Old houses were built when they KNEW where the rain would go during a storm. Our house does not have any damp even though it gets surrounded by the new rivers - we are built on solid rock mountain-side!

2. Beware new villas - often built during the warmer months, and with no allowance for rain and natural springs. Our village is FULL of natural springs which only appear on days like today. Several new villas (built by non-locals) have actually been put right on top of some of these - I will leave you to imagine what happens then! One we know has had to have three permanent water pumps put in its basement just to cope with days like today!

3. If you go out for a little while in bright sunshine - remember to batten down the hatches before you go, just like the locals! The flash floods come quickly and go just as fast - but, my goodness, they bring some water with them.

4. Keep an eye on your (local) neighbours. If, when going to bed, you notice them putting everything away and shutting up shop - it is usually because they know exactly what is coming during the night. We have learnt our lesson - we ignore Michael our neighbour at our peril! I cannot remember the number of times when we have had to get up in the middle of the night to brave the elements and put our outdoor furniture away before it disappeared over the wall!

By the way - it is brilliantly sunny again!

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Divine Food.....

....Even if I say so myself.

With friends round for lunch today, I included a couple of new recipes.

***
First course, I found a VERY EASY recipe for garlic prawns. Using individual little oven-proof dishes, I put in a lump of butter, some olive oil, a whole pressed garlic clove and some chopped chili into each one. Being lazy, I always buy ready chopped chili in a jar - but don't tell the experts!

You then put them in the oven (about 200-220 degrees C, GasMark 6/7 - but not too crucial to be honest) for about 5 minutes until the butter is melted and everything is bubbling.

Add the uncooked prawns (de-headed, de-shelled, leaving just the tails on if you are patient enough!) to each dish and put back in the oven for about 8 minutes - until the prawns look cooked.

Serve with plenty of bread to mop up the garlic/chili butter/oil - voted superb by all!

***
With a guest who has a serious sweet tooth, I decided to make something to go with the after dinner coffee - sticky semolina cake squares.

Of Middle Eastern origin, you bake the sponge first (with some cardamon) and then drench it with a syrup made with orange flower water. Absolutely what it says - sticky - but impressively you do not find it sickly sweet at all - which suits me.

Orders already received for more!

PS
No photos - it was all eaten before I remembered!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Bleach, not Beach

The Internet (or more specifically ORANGE) is appalling at the moment so it is virtually impossible to get on the Net to do my blog! So apologies for the sporadic nature of my posts.

Not that you have missed much.

Got up with the alarm at 5:50am to do the exercise session with LeeLee - only to be groaned at from under the duvet. 'Oh, Mum, I need more sleep - can we give it a miss for today....Pleeeeeze?!'

Being a cruel person, I said 'NO! I am now awake, so get up!'

No, I didn't really. I went back to bed, woke up Richard as I did so (oops), and grumbled at him! He then grumbled at LeeLee half an hour later.....

Decided it was about time the house had a good clean - so that was about it, day over. One good thing did come about, though. After five years of trying everything to get the tiles on the floor of the bathroom clean, we have finally succeeded.

They are pale grey and non-slip, which is the problem. The grainy, uneven surface holds dirt and in the past someone covered them with some sort of liquid polish or glaze which has absorbed all the muck.

We saw a gallon of bleach and bought it - after much elbow grease, it is starting to make the tiles look paler! Brilliant! Richard did one to begin with and then realised that, since we had friends coming to lunch tomorrow, he would have to do the whole floor - and quickly!

We even showed the friends the floor when they came round - we were so proud of it! It seems their daughter has exactly the same problem - so we passed on our tip of the week - use Javel bleach.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Lo Divendês 14 de Setembre

Why did I feel inordinately proud when Nic came home spouting another language?

Basically because I was impressed that after just one lesson she was speaking a little bit of Occitan, with a noticeably non-French and non-English accent - in fact she sounded just like our neighbours when they speak it!! Unintelligible!

I was gob-smacked when she then proceeded to explain that she must correct her pronunciation of one particular word because she just knew she was saying it wrong.

When Richard asked Nic whether she thought Occitan was more like French or Spanish, she looked at him rather puzzled, and said that since they all have common roots in Latin primarily, they all have similarities with each other - and illustrated her point with various examples...... ! Ask a silly question....?!

Her poem went like this:

Mon paire pecaire avia qu'una dent,
Amas trantolava quand fasia de vent.
Ma maire paire avia qu'una dent,
Amas......etc......etc

Roughly translated (I think!):

My father has only one tooth,
When it is windy it moves.
My mother has only one tooth,
When it is windy it moves.
My brother has only one tooth,
When it is windy it moves.
My father, my mother, my brother all only have one tooth,
My family only have three teeth between them!

No comment from me on the level of conversation you can obviously have in Occitan......

Thursday, 13 September 2007

rue du Four

Most little villages and towns in France have a 'rue du Four' - roughly translated as the 'street of the oven' - and La Sesquière is no exception. This is where we live.

Probably like most foreigners, we imagined that the name was a holdover from the past and did not imagine that it had any relevance today. How wrong could we be!

When we first came here, we looked at the chunk of stone outside our house and noticed the arch (that accesses the hollow inside) and the metal lid. Further investigation showed that under the lid was a circle of metal covering a deep metal pot suspended over the hollow inside. Curious?! And obviously a bit of history.

Move on a few months and we were woken up by the sound of activity around this stone/metal contraption. Old vine stumps were being pushed through the arch and lit. The deep metal pot was half filled with water and the open boot of a car parked nearby was filled with kilner jars of vegetables, and meat terrines.

As the water came up to heat, the jars were added and the metal lid put on......many hours later a vacuum had been generated in the jars and the owner had food to add to their winter store cupboard! Throughout the day, whoever passed by the oven checked it and added more wood as required.

Incredibly, the oven is used by most families in the village, 2-3 times a year! Freezers are not that common here at all. When our chest freezer was moved into our cave - it was a village event of great interest!

Our neighbour has even built his own 'oven' in the garden and when his wife is 'preserving', they use both ovens.

Last night as we returned from our walk, we found a fire alight and metal pot half filled with water - all ready...

Michael our neighbour was at the road side and I asked if it was him. No! he said - it is Miguel, and he is doing it all wrong!!! Michael was coming out to set him right.

The oven seen from our terrace:
When we walked by, Xena wanted to stay by the fire - and tried to get right inside!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Friendly Bacteria

Never in a million years did I expect to hear the girls arguing over plain yoghurt - each wanting to make sure the other did not get more than them!

Now I do not know about you, but plain yoghurt is not something any of us have ever liked. We have a yoghurt a day - Richard likes fig ones; the girls like almost any other flavour except fig (!) and I am happy to have whatever is left.

At school here, plain yoghurt regularly features as the dessert - on its own, with fruit in some form or with crunchy bits. I realised that LeeLee and Nic were eating it there - why?! Because they had cottoned on to what their friends did - which is add a sachet of sugar, or a spoonful of confiture.

So I thought - why on earth am I spending money on flavoured yoghurts when they will eat plain with a spoonful of jam! And that's what I did. After a few initial grumbles, they settled down to this each day - the person that held out against the idea was Richard!

Then I remembered I actually had a yoghurt maker somewhere (used once many years ago and then hidden away!) and decided to have a go......

.....and the very next day, the girls were arguing about who should have the most! They are hooked! Oh, all right, maybe 'hooked' is a bit of an exaggeration but certainly LeeLee is happy because she is allowed a spoonful of Nutella in hers, Nic has strawberry jam (home made of course as well!) and even Richard tried it today with honey.

I decided to put in a spoonful of the orange curd I made yesterday, and then had to give away spoonfuls to both LeeLee and Nic - who both said they wished they had chosen that option!

It looks like I will need to make some more curd as well as plain yoghurt then!

PS
Explaining to the girls how yoghurt is made they were not impressed to find that 'friendly bacteria' was needed - Urgh! Gross! We're eating germs?!

***
As promised, pictures of:

1. lemon and orange curd
2. tomato and herb jelly dripping happily through a coffee filter.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Curd Everywhere.....

.......but not in the jars.

With all this time on my hands (both girls at the same scholarly establishment finally), I decided to be a 'Nigella' again.

Out came the recipe books and we now have jars of home-made lemon curd, orange curd - and by tomorrow, a tomato and herb jelly that goes really well with lamb.

Of course lamb was on the menu for tonight and when I decided to make the accompanying jelly - I glossed over the fact that the ingredients for a jelly need to drip though a jelly bag for several hours!

Oh well, when we next have lamb, I shall be all ready!

Of course I could not find my jelly bag (last used in England about 10 years ago so somewhere in a box in the remise I suspect!). Trip to Bricomarché, only to find they had all sold out - everyone making jelly in Hérault?!

Anyway, with a plastic coffee filter in its place - it is 'dripping' well.

I will take some pictures - and try loading them tomorrow. That's if the Internet is still running......

PS
Lemon/orange curd is a pig to pour into jars through a sieve - it goes everywhere except where it is meant to !!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Pump and Burn

Very fed up with Orange and our 'non-existent' Internet connection!!!!! Sorry this post is late - all complaints should be forwarded to their head office!

Not risking pictures - maybe in a few days.
***
Today saw the start of our first full week with the girls back at college. After a couple of days last week to get reorientated into early mornings, LeeLee decided there was no excuse - it was time to commence the exercise regime.

And since misery loves company, she insists that it would be good for me to join in as usual. Excuse me - but I am not the one who binged on takeaways whilst in England!!

Anyway, 5:50am the alarm goes off. I knock on their doors (yes - Nic decides that this is obviously something all collegians do) and for half an hour all three of us 'pump and burn' to an exercise DVD in the sitting room. I hope none of the village can see us?! It is not a pretty sight!

Afterwards, its a queue for the shower and then me yelling up the stairs at regular intervals 'Hurry up - only XX minutes until the bus arrives'. Finally a quick panic as they both rush for a last visit to the toilet, always just as the bus appears on the hill of course!

7:20am and peace reigns once again in our household.

Whilst we are exercising, the dog peers down through the railings of the mezzanine - wonder what her doggy brain makes of it all?! Probably not a lot - I think you have to have a brain cell in order to have a thought.

When she hears the front door slam, Xena rushes down to howl 'they have left me all alone' only to find I am standing there with her lead in my hand. Yes - even the dog gets some exercise in the mornings - well from today anyway.

She got more exercise than normal because she decided to race down the hill after the girls as they were heading onto the bus - luckily Sussex Spaniel enthusiasm for running lasts about 30 seconds before apathy returns!

Richard? He slept through it all. Sensible man.
***
Move the clock on to 20:30pm. We pick up Xena's lead for our evening promenade around the village before bed - and she looks at us as if we are mad! Two walks in one day?! You must be kidding! No way, José!

Not one to be beaten by a four-legged dumb animal, I order her out the door - after which she proceeds to drag every one of those four feet round the village. In the end, I had to actually put her on the lead and drag her along!
Meanwhile, all Richard did was laugh........

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Day Out

Today we went out with friends - first to the Abbaye de Valmagne and then on to lunch by the water at Meze. We all had a lovely time!The Abbaye is well worth a visit. Still in private ownership (and one part lived in by the family) it must be the only church with huge wine barrels inside. That's my idea of a religious establishment!
Built originally in the 11-12th centuries on the site of a Roman villa, it was expanded and fortified, and then decimated during the revolution. With the stain glass windows smashed to smithereens, and stone used to fill the gaps, it was purchase in about 1790 by a private individual who used the massive church as his wine cellar - no windows meant no light and so a perfect environment to mature your wine!
Because of this use, the local peasants refrained from nicking all the stones to build their houses - it is therefore reasonably intact.

The current owners have been gradually renovating this massive project - by that I mean trying to prevent further deterioration! Unfortunately the stone used in its construction is too porous and weathers very badly - but it is such a pretty pink colour, we are told!!
I certainly would not like their bills - the last 18 months of work cost 635,000 Euro and they footed 41% of this themselves! Begs the question about whose responsibility it is to care for what is a certified 'national treasure'?!
Note the crucifix - made out of 'ceps de vigne', which are the gnarled vine stumps. Only a wine making Frenchman would think of this!
Also note this tree and the wall - the tree continued growing so much that they had to slice a bit off the side of the trunk so that it would not push over the wall. And when it continued to grow even more, they cut an arch through the wall to make room! That's a French gardening solution for you - we would probably have cut down the tree - it is not as if it is a special one!!And look at this massive fireplace!
***
We had a nice meal at a seafood restaurant - but do not even ask about the service!!

This man spent the whole time on his feet shucking oysters - everyone was eating huge platters of them!


Lee and Nic.


Riet and Albert.




Albert and Richard.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Homely Pleasures

What simple pleasure you can get from the most unexpected things - including making stuff to go in the store cupboard!

Remember the profusion of tomatoes we grow every year - and the fact that Richard is the only one that eats them......

Well today he picked a mountain, roasted them in the oven and then ran them through our fancy juicer/coulis maker.

So after a very tasty lunch of homemade (NOT Heinz!) tomato soup with garlic croutons, we bottled the remainder for the future!

And spent an afternoon admiring our handiwork. Sad or what?!
***
What joy - I can sit here typing in the semi darkness, actually seeing the keyboard!

I wear contact lenses that you leave in for two months at a stretch, then take out and throw away. You then have to do without them (wearing glasses if you are as totally blind as I am!) for two days before putting the new lenses in.

What's the trouble? I hear you asking....

Well, in one word - miserliness!

Some years ago when my prescription changed I bought a pair of glasses as well as a pair of prescription sunglasses. And goodness they cost a fortune when you have such bad eyesight as I have!

Within one month I had lost the glasses, of course.

Now I cannot see (no pun intended!) the sense in paying out yet more money for glasses I only wear for two days in every two months. Which means I have to wear my prescription sunglasses for those two days in every two months - irrespective of how wintery the weather is - or how dark it is inside the house!!

And much to the hilarity of the girls, Richard and just about all the village who have seen me looking like the 'Blues Brothers' whilst deep snow is all around!

This morning the new lenses went in - and wow - is it bright or what today?!

Friday, 7 September 2007

One Of The Good Ones.....

Sometimes a teacher comes along who will linger in a child's mind all their life - for all the good reasons.

After just two days of the new school year, LeeLee has come home in awe of such a person.

Her SVT professeur is a young man, but oh is he one of the good ones! With a class of 26 students not very much younger than himself and with a high proportion of boys, he has them listening intently, participating actively in all the discussions and WANTING to work hard!

First lesson:

He informed them that he would be giving them a test the next day - but not to worry because it was going to be the same test that he gives to the 4iemes ie the class they were all in 3 years ago! So obviously (he says) he knows that they are not going to have any problems with it, but that it would give him an idea of how they structure their answers.

Result:

Every one of them rushed home, demanded of their parents where their old old school books were, and sat up revising throughout the evening. No way were they going to let him think they were not able to pass a test designed for 12 year olds - they are 17 you know!!

Second Lesson (The structure of the Earth, surface to the centre):

Instead of lecturing to them and getting them to take notes, he first asked them to get into groups and to build up a diagram of their idea of what the Earth is made of - any ideas welcome as long as they can give a reasoned argument.

These were discussed and then he handed out several sheets showing the actual structure - but each sheet had one error, and a different error on each sheet.

They participated in open discussions to work out the correct structure - by using logic to decide the error on each sheet.

They all took part, and loved every minute - it was like no lesson they had ever had before. On the bus home they were bragging to the other classes that they had the best teacher in the school - so there!

The homework he gave out for next week's lesson has already been done by LeeLee - long may this continue!!
***
The Pumas won!? Oh, how depressed all our friends and neighbours are going to be. And how 'rubbing it in' LeeLee will be on the bus tomorrow!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

From Dawn 'til Dusk

This morning the alarms were set for early - today both our girls were going to college and lycée together for the first time, on the bus that picks them up (and delivers them back!) from the centre of our village.
Standing out on the terrace with a cup of tea in my hand, I watched as the sun rose, gradually adding a splash of colour to the side of Capimont. In the distance, the contours of the hills were picked out as the undulations became highlighted by the morning rays.Magic!

Childless by 7:20 am, I took the dog for an early stroll round the village. It was incredibly peaceful - the sky an intense blue, the light sparkling and fresh.

Heaven!

As the day drew to a close, we went for our evening stroll and on returning I once again stood on the terrace and looked out at our beautiful view.

This time the sun was dropping behind the mountains on our right, and the last rays were creeping across the foothills of Capimont. In the distance the contours of the hills were once again highlighted.After a day like this I find it even more difficult to comprehend the degree of evil that exists in this world.

Watching the incredibly moving programme 'Who Do You Think You Are' tracing the family of Natasha Kaplinsky back to the horrors of the Holocaust, a researcher said that if only we could make history so personal for everyone, we might learn not to make the same mistakes again.

Poignant and true.