Thursday, 18 December 2008

Joyeux Noel !! See You Next Year!

Lots of things happening at this end, so I have not been able to find the time to blog.

I promise to resume the 'tales of our life' towards the end of January 2009 (wow, that sounds funny as I type! 2009 ?!).

Until then, we would like to wish you and all your loved ones a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

When The Chicken Crossed The Road

I love soup. When I say love, I mean LOVE.

So that means we have homemade soup fairly regularly - which the girls are oh so happy about, as you can imagine!

Roast chicken for dinner - the odds are that we will be having chicken soup the next day for lunch. And I never believe the girls when they suddenly remember that they have an unexpected extra lesson slotted in between 12 and 2 o'clock at school and therefore need packed lunches!

With 'hard to find' parsnips and swede in the veg basket at the moment, it will be chicken and veg soup of course.And delicious it was. Absolutely yummy. And I was feeling very proud of myself, until Nic asked why she did not appear to have any chicken in her bowl............ turns out I had forgotten to add it. It was still on a plate in the fridge.

The dog is happy....the chicken crossed the road into her dinner bowl that night!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Chilly Toes & Gobble Gobble

My hands and feet are naturally cold - and I get quite uncomfortable if they get warm. Especially my feet.

I now know that the cold weather has well and truly arrived here because last night I found I had chilblains in all my toes on my left foot. As far back as I can remember, I have had chilblains each winter.

I mentioned them to Richard and he was suitably sympathetic - but said that he did not know what they felt like because he had never had them! Now that is not normal is it?!
***
Guess what?! Christmas is going to be a good one....

....whilst in Intermarché yesterday to buy another whole salmon (to make gravlax, keep up with the story!), Richard saw that they had some turkeys!

Yes, real fresh turkeys! So one went into his shopping basket as quick as a flash - they only had four!And at Les Halles, would you believe, we found some super looking parsnips and swede - so that is our veg basket filled up for the winter!

It is the little things that you miss.....

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Must Be Love

My husband loves mince pies.

But the necessary 'mincemeat' does not exist in French food culture. You try and translate it for your neighbours - we have and they were VERY confused and bemused, I can assure you!

You cannot buy it here - unless you are prepared to drive miles and pay a king's ransom for a small jar of it.

Christmas is coming, so what does a devoted wife do?!

Make some of course!!! Surely, something with 1lb of butter and 2lb of brown sugar in it, cannot be all bad?!

I will tell you in two weeks time when it is ready to make mincepies with!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Advent

Just as the girls were going to bed last night, they formed a deputation and came to check: You have remembered to get us Advent Calendars, haven't you?!

Given that they are 12 (going on 25) and 18 years of age, I said: Surely you are both too old for them?!

Nic immediately stated that since LeeLee had had one when she was 12 years of age, Nic ought to have one!

LeeLee replied that it would be unfair if Nic had one and not her.

And so they went off to bed grumbling to each other.

This morning, happiness reigned.

I remembered where I had hidden the Advent Calendars a month ago (yes, I have been known to forget where their presents are secreted around the house!) and they were delighted to eat a minuscule morsel of cheap chocolate before going to school.

Ah! Christmas is coming!
***
My brother and his wife kindly sent the girls English magazines as 'alternative' Advent Calendars - and they were thrilled. Thank-you so much, Sue & Pat!

Sunday, 30 November 2008

In The Clouds

We were astonished to see snow falling yesterday evening.

Yes! Snow!

Albeit, slightly slushy snow, but snow none the less.

This morning we woke up in the clouds. But soon after, the sun shone through and the sky was clear blue and bright.

I LOVE winters like this!

PS
It was so cold last night that I went to bed wearing socks, leggings, a T-shirt and a fleece.
Richard went to bed in just underpants.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Swimmingly Delicious

Many, many years ago Richard had an absolute triumph making gravlax (or gravad lax) - Swedish/Danish style salt-cured raw salmon.

At Intermarché a few days ago he noticed whole fresh salmon on special offer and suddenly his eyes gleamed. And he decided to have a go again.

Even though it was impossible to get true dark muscovada sugar, it was a great success - and very delicious!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Fathers Everywhere ......

......... will empathise with Richard.

That is, if they have daughters!

Richard deals with getting the girls ready for school in the morning (more patience than I!) whilst I have to sit up into the early hours of the morning listening to them recounting their day - in the minutest detail.

Anyway, this morning I got up to be met by a very disgruntled Dad.

Richard exclaimed that he could not understand how our two daughters, both of whom had been wearing jeans every day throughout the summer for school, should suddenly decide that mini-skirts were suitable wear now that the temperature outside has dropped below zero!Ah, bless! Don't you just love Dads with daughters!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Contentment

Not only is Richard happy that I am home again (I hope so anyway!), but he is also pleased with his presents.

You did not think I would forget him, did you?!

Mince pies......... and a new book to read.I know my man!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Welcome Home!

Richard's sister kindly dropped me off at Stansted airport in plenty of time for my flight this morning - having warned me about the diabolical queues that have been plaguing travellers trying to get through security there.

Don't know about everyone else, but I obviously look VERY honest.

No one stopped me.

No one weighed my bag.

No one opened my luggage.

They all just waved me through.
***
Richard & Nic met me at Carcassone; en route we picked LeeLee up at college and I was happy to be home.

The girls said they missed me - even though they had spent HOURS on the phone each night telling me all about their days (minute by detailed minute!).

And then asked what English delights I had brought them!After ogling all the sweets (Refreshers, Dolly Mixtures, Polos, Fruit Pastels, Wine Gums, etc), drooling over the Terry's Chocolate Oranges and reminising over the Prawn Cocktail Flavoured Skips.....they gave me lots of hugs, and asked when I would be going back to the UK again.

Don't think they will be worried if I go to work there, on and off, provided I do not use up all my luggage allowance with clothes!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Serious Patience Required

Interview day.

I had forgotten how difficult people can be - or rather how many not very bright people there in the world.

Four ladies were called for an interview today. Five turned up. Three from Spain, one from Scotland and myself.

I should have realised there and then that it was not going to go to plan. The extra one had travelled from Spain for an interview that was actually not until NEXT week! Good grief!

The first 15 minutes was for completion of the request form for a Criminal Record Bureau check. One hour later and we were finally getting there - the Interviewer was just about retaining her sanity through clenched teeth and a smile that had become fixed and rigid.

We had all been sent a letter detailing EXPLICITELY the documentation we had to bring, and the payment method required for the CRB check (UK bank cheque or postal order, card details on the back; no cash accepted).

If I tell you that I was the ONLY lady who had actually brought the right stuff - you should have some idea of the trouble the poor Interviewer had with the others.

They did not comprehend the idea of the CRB check at all - that it is based on your current address and that all supporting documentation must be for this address and in your own name.

Forgotten your passport (left it in the hotel) - no good, ID required.

Forgotten your driving license - no good, impossible therefore to be registered as a driver.

A bank statement for an account in only your husband's name - no good.

A utility bill in your parents' name because you have recently moved back to live with them - no good.

A UK driving licence with your old UK address on it even though you have lived in Spain for the last eight years - no good.

Documentation based on the UK address of your son even though you have lived in Spain for six years - no good.

Cash offered in Sterling or Euros - no good, not accepted by the CRB.

UK cheque with no supporting cheque card - no good, not accepted by the CRB

I could go on, but I think you are getting the idea.

I do not think I am particularly unusual - but I can at least read and comprehend written instructions!

PS
Two days after I got back home, I received an acceptance letter from the Company. I would love to know if any of the others got through!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Weary Traveller

With the exchange rates hitting our income heavily, I have been investigating job options back in the UK and have an interview tomorrow in Surrey.

So off I am travelling the world, you might say.

Planes, cars and trains - that has been me today.

Excellant trip with Easyjet to Gatwick from Montpellier.

Shame about the uncouth British two-family group that were on the plane - straight out of central casting as the 'anti-frog' brigade. Made us embarassed to be from the same country.

However, they were put in their place quite delightfully by a dapper elderly Frenchman who spoke perfect English.

Whilst they were pushing and shoving me and several other people (all the time loudly proclaiming that it was unfair that the French were being given priority boarding ahead of the English), this charming gentleman turned to me and said 'Ladies first - please go ahead of me'. That shut them up, until we got on the plane anyway.

But I can tell you, NOTHING would make me work as a steward on a plane!

With the interview tomorrow, I found a guest house close to Gatwick airport for the night and I was actually very impressed with their service.

The free pick-up at the airport was prompt and they had already investigated the train/station options for me to ensure my free return journey tomorrow would get me to my appointment in plenty of time.

Since they had a triple room unoccupied, they had upgraded me at no extra cost from my single/en suite. All for an inclusive price of £40. Not bad at all, I thought.

So if you are in need of a room, breakfast, free airport transfers, and helpful servive near Gatwick, try the Springwood Guest House.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

By The Fireside

The cat decided today that she was not comfortable lying on the floor in front of the fire.

So she moved onto the dog's bed and snuggled up to Xena.

The dog realised, and pushed off, very pissed off. Leaving a happy cat.Knowing that she is NOT allowed to be nasty to the pesky feline, Xena looked for help to her human family. Did not get any, so lay down trying to look despondent but well behaved.This did not work, so she went back to her bed, turned around on it a few times to get comfortable - whilst 'accidentally' treading on the cat.

Who then pushed off, very pissed off. Leaving a very happy dog.So the cat went and nicked someone's chair instead.That's the most exciting thing that has happened today, by the way.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Fondue Time

Homemade white vegetable soup for lunch today.

That's what we call it anyway in this family.

Basically cauliflower soup - with any other white (ish) vegetable that I can sneak in without the girls noticing.

So today that was leeks, potatoes, courgettes, parsnips...............couldn't think of any others.

At the table we then sprinkle on cheese. Yummy!

Nic must of got a bit carried away with the cheese though because by the time she had eaten the soup - she was left with a large amount of 'fondue' at the bottom!According to Nic - extra yummy!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

What's My Name ?

Guess the fairytale character that is called the following in French ?!

GRIGRIGREDINMENUFRETIN

Not a lot of people know that!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Farewell PinPin

Today, the young children in the village said good-bye to a much loved pet.

Our neighbour's young son came round to see Nic last evening to tell her that his rabbit Pin Pin had died ..... and that the funeral would be today.

At 10:00am this morning Thibault, Nic and a few friends from the village met up and designed/drew the 'farewell' posters. And at 14:00, PanPan was laid to rest and the children built a cairn over his grave with his name made out of bent wire.Enjoying life, it is good for children to also understand that death is a part of the cycle.

Monday, 10 November 2008

A Tearful Evening

I am as blind as a short-sighted bat, and therefore I wear contact lenses.

Special ones that I keep in 24/7 for two months and then throw away. My eyes are very un-sensitive and I totally forget I am wearing lenses.

However, when I change over the lenses every second month, I have to give my eyes a rest and wear glasses for two days.

And I HATE glasses!!

Glasses are expensive and I only have to wear them for two days every two months - that's only 12 days in any year.

So when I lost my glasses a few years ago, I decided that I was NOT going to waste money replacing them for just 12 days a year - I would make do with my prescription sunglasses. Call me a miser if you wish. Whatever.

Only problem is, my sunglasses are VERY BLACK sunglasses.........

......and so for 12 days a year, I go round looking like the Blues Brothers irrespective of how sunny or overcast the weather is. Even in the dead of night, I am wearing sunglasses.

And, as you can imagine, I am a great source of amusement for Richard, the girls and just about everyone in the village, the local supermarket and anywhere else I cannot avoid going.

Now I am the official 'onion chopper' in our household. Always have been. Always will be.

Because I wear contact lenses, I do not notice the usual problems when cutting up onions. Chopping them has absolutely no effect on my eyes. I do not weep. I do not cry. I feel no pain.

Until I forget that I am wearing glasses instead..........and then I howl pitifully, with tears pouring down my cheeks!

Whilst Richard and the girls look on in amusement, with no sympathy what so ever - and Nic runs for the camera!Yes, very funny, ha, ha.
***
Think the recent storms have done for our one and only aubergine plant.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

What shall We do Today ?!

It was cold and wet outside today.And I think you can guess what the animals decided to do. The following photos were taken over a period of three hours this afternoon.
And Nic managed to stagger from her bedroom to the chair in front of the fire, picking up a couverture on the way!
***
If you draw a straight line from the tip of Xena's tail to the end of her nose, and then extrapolate to the right.......

......you will hit the exact spot on the kitchen floor where her dinner bowl will be placed at 18:00 precisely.

Clever or what?!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

At The Going Down Of The Sun.....

“They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
This evening I am watching the Royal British Legion Festival Of Remembrance as I do every year. With pride, with sorrow and in tears.

And I feel a connection with my Dad who I know will be watching also. In the past, my Mum would have been with him as well, and I am sure she is looking down now.
***
My childhood is full of memories of Dad in uniform. He was a soldier and also taught music in the Battalion and played the euphonium in the Parachute Regiment's Military Band.

I am, to this day, deeply moved and uplifted when I hear a military band.

I remember many a cold day, wrapped up in scarves, mittens and a woolly hat, watching Dad on parade with the band. And always, at the end, the promised visit to pat Ringway (the 2nd, 3rd, etc) - their regimental mascot, a minature pony. Who seemed to change appearance slightly every few years?! I loved watching their manoeuvres on the parade ground, always impressed that they could play music and march in complicated formations at the same time!

I loved trying to spot Dad, as well as the 'dishmop' drummers and of course the soldier that had the tiger's skin to stop the massive drum rubbing against his uniform. I always wished Dad had had a tiger's skin .........

Friday, 7 November 2008

What's On Tonight, Dear?

LeeLee babysits for the young couple who live next door to us.

They have an adorable little girl who has been very well brought up - she sleeps every night, right through the night.

That's our idea of an adorable child. It is also LeeLee's idea of a perfect baby to sit.

Anyway, the Mum asked if LeeLee would be able to babysit tomorrow night - but on two conditions.

1. LeeLee must not, ON ANY ACCOUNT, mention to the Dad that France are playing rugby tomorrow night. If he finds out, she would never get him out the door!

2. LeeLee must not, ON ANY ACCOUNT, change channels on the TV. It will be recording the match for the Dad whilst they are out!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Tizzies & Tranquility

First day back at school. What joy.

LeeLee is not at her best in the mornings. Especially on the first day back after a holiday and certainly not if it is before midday!

That is why Richard deals with the girls in the morning!!! I have not that amount of patience.

I get up when our first alarm goes off at 5:50am. And wake Nic so that she can go in the shower first - LeeLee takes absolutely AGES!

Five minutes later I wake LeeLee, get a grunt, tell her to buck up and get moving...and then I go back to bed.

Richard gets up when the second alarm goes off at 7:00am, makes the girls' packed lunches, yells at LeeLee three times before she will get off the loo, and pushes them out the door just as the school bus is about to give up on them and leave.

Then he comes back to bed and we pass out for a couple of hours.

It is a hard life!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Sad But True

The last day of the holidays, and the girls are in a panic.

- Must tidy bedrooms.
- Must do homework.
- Must find all our school stuff and pack our bags!!!!

And then the phone rings. LeeLee's boyfriend and his best friend invite LeeLee and Nic for a surprise picnic.

But it's raining?! Oh well. Whatever.

The surprise was ...... it wasn't a picnic, of course!

No seriously - they were taken to McDonalds, and the surprise was that Ronald the Clown was there! Yes! I can hear you all getting REALLY jealous!!

The chaps were over the moon at having an excuse to be there to see Ronald. Not sure that Nic counts as a child though.

Anyway, the girls sat in general embarrassement whilst the two boys put up their hands to answer every question in order to win 'prizes'. And whilst the boys sang along to every song, and generally joined in with all the little kiddies. Even pushing to the front when the gifts were being handed out!

Finally LeeLee reminded them that Mum & Dad had INSISTED that they were back by 15:00 in order to get ready for school tomorrow.

Neither Richard nor I remember saying this - but LeeLee ASSURED US THAT WE HAD!!!!!!

And guess what?! After dropping the girls off at home, the boys went back for the second performance of Ronald the Clown!

Have I ever mentioned before that there is not a lot for young people to do around here.....

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

What Seems So Simple....

....invariably gets complicated in this household!

There we were giving the kitchen a spring-clean. It is amazing how finding weevils in your flour concentrates your mind.

The 'weevil' cupboard is now only for things in jars. And the next cupboard along was getting a thorough sort through. Guess how many old spice jars etc we had?!

Then I remembered that we had once bought a spice rack but never built it.

Then I asked Richard if he thought it would be something we could make use of - thus enabling us to clear out the current cupboard and give it a good clean.....

Seemed such a great idea.

First problem, the spice rack needed to be built. But that is what husbands are for!

Then it was an itzy bit bigger than we remembered. And there was only one wall in the kitchen where it would fit.

Doesn't it look great?!Only problem - what to do with the clock and the paper/bacofoil/clingfilm dispenser that was on this wall.......

OK. The clock went up here. Only trouble - we all keep looking at the old wall!Then the dispenser. Trouble is - there are no other walls with enough space for it. Finally Richard said it could only go beside the window.

OK. That works. Except that the wall is lined with chestnut panels. Rock hard chestnut panels.So Richard now has a very sore wrist from screwing in the fittings!

But then again - that's what husbands are for! Isn't it?!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Late Nights Or Early Mornings

With no school lessons to occupy themselves, the girls seem to be dwelling on their stomachs all this holiday.

How can two daughters be so hungry all the time?!

Long lie-ins. Then it is a case of trying to fit in both a breakfast and a lunch into the short length of time before they come and ask 'What's for tea, Mum?'

Out come the recipe books and their good old Mum spoils them with something home-made and sweet.

Queen of Puddings.Bread Pudding. PS
Bread pudding needs to be left to soak up the milk a lot longer when you are using up old baguette!! My Mum never had this problem when she made it for us as a treat.


PPS
And who was the clever Mum who brought back mixed peel from the UK in her hand luggage?! Only 59 pence a pot from Tescos whilst very expensive and VERY difficult to find here.


So something else you can all bring us from 'home' when you visit......
***
The girls are enjoying not having to go to bed at 21:00 in order to be vaguely awake for school.

We are getting to watch late night programmes and sitting up chatting into the early hours of the morning. That is - me and the girls are. Not Richard. He still goes to bed ......

Last night, Nic asked if we could play cards.

It was already 23:00 but so what.......I finally managed to thrash them at Newmarket at 2:00am and went to bed happy!
***
This last week, we three have been watching the 'Embarrassing Teenagers' health programme. And quite fascinating it has been to us all.

If you could get over the perpetual 'Ew, gross!' from both LeeLee and Nic when the close-ups of the parts of boys that very seldom get washed came on......

The biggest eye-opener was the fact that the UK has FIVE TIMES the teenage pregnancy rate of Germany and THREE TIMES that of France!

We discussed and dissected this for hours. How on earth, with a generation exposed to full disclosure and information on sex, pregnancy, contraception and STDs - can this be possible?!

The girls came to the sad and astonishing conclusion that it must be due to alcohol consumption. They thought the pregnancy statistics were horrifying given that these figures detailed pregnancies that went to term - and excluded those that were countered by the morning-after pill or an abortion.

They could not understand how teenagers could be so reckless and unappreciative of the consequences of their lifestyle.

The programme set up to interview the new students starting at the University of Manchester for this academic year - and struggled to find ANY who had NOT had unprotected sex. Virtually all of whom, had no accurate knowledge of the various STDs.

As a parent I found it horrifying and baffling.

As the parent of LeeLee and Nic I was impressed with THEIR knowledge and views on these topics. I am proud of my girls!
***
LeeLee was out at a party on Saturday night.

One of her friends was celebrating her eighteenth birthday with a big get-together of school friends at the village hall in Hérépian.

Two of the many teenagers at the party got very drunk. That is - two out of the 40+ teenagers that were at the party.

And those two have been getting some serious stick since then.

Says it all really. Life down here is very different.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

Yesterday evening, whilst the wind was still howling round our village, Richard mentioned that it was unusual for Meteo France to be so wrong. Where was the rain and thunder & lightening that they claimed we were in for?!

Well, it arrived during last night! Thank-you very much, Richard!

As the monsoon rain hit, and the thunder started rolling, Richard & I lept out of bed and started putting out the towels and pots under all the drips.

You cannot imagine the amount of rain that is falling, and the force of the wind blowing! We can hear cars screeching as they are blown across the road surface whilst the drivers are trying to control them. Frightening.

The cat decided that inside the house was for her - she has not been out for 36 hours. Goodness, she can cross her legs!

Xena has had to be sent out (she has epileptic fits if she does not wee often enough, would you believe!) and you have never seen a dog widdle so quickly. Nose into the gale and ears fanning out sideways.

The rain is being hurled against our house wall on the terrace side so forcefully, that it is being forced through where the panes of glass meet the beading in the patio doors, and dribbling down the inside!!! Never seen that before!Our poor palm tree is taking a battering - spending most of its time bent sideways. Cannot see Hérépian. Starting to lose sight of Capimont. Now cannot even see our neighbour's house!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Wind In The ........

.......... pantiles!

We have had a gale-force wind blowing all night and throughout today. No rain. No thunder & lightening. Just wind.

I would not have believed it could be SO NOISY!

Incredible! It kept us both awake all night long, hearing the marine howling up the valley, buffeting the house and causing the tiles to ripple across the roof like waves on a beach. Constantly, all night long.

God, I need a siesta today. If only it was quieter.

So that is us today. Shutters shut, fire on and all our hatches battened down.

Autumn in the South of France. Bring your woollies and ear plugs.
***
We had stacked all our chairs in a sheltered corner of our terrace and made sure there was very little to be lost over the walls into our neighbours' gardens. Next morning, the chairs were the other side of the terrace and it is amazing what you do not realise you have that can end up in your neighbours' garden! Like several bottles that I use for candles. Unbroken as well. They make wine bottles to last down here!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Scary Night!

A romantic dinner on our own for Richard and I tonight. Scary or what?!

LeeLee's boyfriend has invited her round for a Hallowe'en night of watching horror movies, with a large bowl of sweets. One slight problem....the boyfriend is scared of frightening films. But what the hey - that's love for you!

Nic is off to a double birthday party this afternoon, followed by a spooky Hallowe'en 'trick or treat' around to family/friends' houses in the village.

So what do Richard and I do?! Get ourselves the largest piece of steak you can imagine, open a bottle of red wine and make ourselves tournedos rossini (a meat-eaters heaven on a plate) plus potato cubes pan-fried with mixed wild mushrooms (Martine's speciality)! And a rich red wine and onion sauce! Yummy!OK. So the photo did not do it justice - but I had to be quick with the camera because we were VERY hungry!

***
Look what is coming our way! Getting seriously worried, Richard checks the Meteo France website and finds that we are on 'orange' alert for major storms. Rain, thunder and lightening plus the gale-force winds off the sea.

Oh, deep joy!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Snow !

Richard woke me up this morning to tell me that he had been right to light the fire last night - winter has arrived.

He went to get the bread this morning and there was snow on the Espinouse Mountains behind us!

Well that is me NOT getting out of bed today - it is lovely and warm under the duvet.

PS
Last night, Richard lit the fire at 18:00. Tonight it was 16:00. Any guesses how early it will be tomorrow?!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Winter ?!

The temperature is dropping this evening and Richard walked up to Robert's house to ask for a delivery of firewood.

On his return, whilst trying to get some blood flowing in his fingers, he decided that enough was enough and that he would light the fire.

You have never seen such contented pets. Xena refused to get off her bed to come upstairs at bedtime (but I am more stubborn than she is, and so she was booted up the backside!) and Smokey sat rather pointedly in front of the flames until a sucker moved a chair close to the warmth for her! Winter has arrived in the South of France according to the Upex household.

PS
Luckily, Richard noticed part way through the evening that the candles in the bottles on top of the fire were starting to get Brewer's Droop!