Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Mouldy & Missing

Do not EVER be tempted to paint mouldings any other colour except white!

Do not EVER be tempted to paint mouldings with gloss paint!!Because it has taken two days, and three coats of paint, to change the mouldings in the apartment's bedroom from orangey-beige gloss to white Dulux Satin! Never again.....

And if anyone in the future decides to wallpaper our apartment - I will personally come back to haunt them.

It has taken us a month to remove the wallpaper in the two main rooms - wallpaper going back to when the house was originally built (a century ago at least!), papered over again (and again!) and painted on top with the most heavy, glossy deep pink paint you can imagine.

And we still have to decide whether to attack the bathroom........will keep you posted!
***
One of the excellent controls in place at schools here, is the Demande de Justificatif to parents if their child misses a class. The notification arrives at home first thing in the morning the next day! Impressive or what?!

Both parents (and the legal guardian if different) must then complete/sign the notification - and return it to the school secretariat personally.

Each half day missed by a student, is held in their records FOREVER, categorised by the reason for the absences (eg illness, unjustified, justified). Illness that lasts more than a couple of days, has to be supported by a Doctor's certificate.

When a child moves school, progresses up to the next level or goes on to college, lycée, university or indeed employment, these records are supplied.

They are taken into account when deciding whether a student is to be accepted. And it took us some time to realise that this was the case.

We were lax at the beginning - if we were notified incorrectly that one of the girls missed a class, we did not always bother to correct the school and get the records amended.

We do religiously now! We now know how important these records are!!

In the last week, we have received several notifications.

LeeLee has been ill for a couple of weeks, so has missed a day here and there - going in on the days when she felt up to it.

We would phone the first morning that she was ill but kept forgetting to ring again the second day. A demande was dispatched and would reach us in the post the VERY NEXT MORNING - telling us that she had missed two half-days 'unjustified'.

Last week there was a grève on thursday - a strike which some teachers were supporting and therefore not turning up to class. At lunchtime Nic was told her first afternoon class was not on and so we took her back for 15:00.
The next morning a letter was in our post box notifying us that she had missed the half day - and off we had to go to have the records altered again!!

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Cooking The Books

I have white splodges all over me - but no photos to prove it.

Today we painted the bedroom of our apartment with white undercoat, and 'cut-in the ceilings of both rooms. But have no photos to prove it.

Why?

Because the camera, with the photos, is inside the cooker at the apartment, that's why!!!

Along with my sunglasses - which is why I am squinting when I drive home from the apartment this afternoon.

Why inside the cooker?! I hear you ask.......

......because it is the only place where the dust (from the sanding) and the paint (from me painting) does not infiltrate!!

Hopefully I will remember to bring the camera home with me tomorrow.....

Monday, 28 January 2008

Painting & Presenting

What did we do today, Dear?

We hoovered the walls (since they had previously been sanded, in case you were wondering!).

We 'cut in' all the corners, etc with paint brushes.
And then roller-painted all the walls of the main room of our apartment with a white undercoat.Goodness - doesn't it look so much brighter!Goodness, don't we ache!!

PS
Look at the fabulous French anti-wrinkle treatment Richard bought me!
***
I want to tell you about LeeLee's French Bac oral mock exam today, but first a bit of tedious background that might help.

The baccalaureate is a three year course.

In the first year you study all the usual subjects.
Compulsory: French, English, one other language, Maths, Physics/Chemistry, History/Geography, SVT (Biology/Zoology), Technology, Education Civique, Sport.
Optional: Art, Latin, Occitan, Music.

At the start of the second year, you finalise which bac you want to do (Science, Languages, Economics, Sport) and this determines the number of hours you do in each subject. Note you do not get to give up any subjects!!

At the end of the second year, you take your French Bac exams.

At the start of the third year, you choose which subject you are going to 'specialise' in within your chosen bac.

Once again, you do not get to give up any subjects except French (remember you did your French Bac at the end of the second year - keep up with the story!), it just changes the number of hours each week you study for each subject and the 'loading' given to your results.

LeeLee is currently in the second year of her Science Bac and hopes to specialise in Mathematics next year.

Today she had a French Bac oral mock exam - and very interesting it was, when compared to the system in the UK.

Throughout the year, the students study various excerpts from different literary works by different authors, eg Voltaire.

In preparation for the exam, each student gets to choose three that they must revise thoroughly.

Half an hour before the exam, the Examiner tells the student which of their three chosen texts has been chosen for their exam, and the 'query' they will have to address.

Thirty minutes later the student enters the room where the Examiner is, and sits down.

The student is asked to read the text.

Students only have to read for a couple of minutes to show that they are fluent. The Examiner does not interrupt the student.

LeeLee had to read the whole text - since this is an area that they have concerns about, with foreign students.

The student then has to talk to the Examiner for ten minutes expanding on the 'query' they have been posed, exploring it from the perspective of the various characters in the text, associating it with the era of the author and the author's views on the society of the time, and referring to other works by the author and specific occurrences in the author's life. Etcetera, etcetera!!!!

The student is expected to be able to 'judge' the ten minutes, presenting an introduction, a narrative and a conclusion with closing statement. All timed to finish at the appropriate time - without looking at their watches!

The student is also judged on their presentation skills - their talking style, their interpersonal skills and their ability to 'engage' and keep the attention of the Examiner.

The Examiner does not interrupt the student, but gets up, walks around the room, goes and gets something, appears at times to be 'ignoring' the student - all designed to put them off! And to see how they cope!

At the end, because it is a mock exam, the Examiner gives the student an analysis of their performance. The actual mark they get will not be given to the students however for a couple of weeks.

The examiner was very impressed, she said, with LeeLee!!

1. LeeLee read with fluency - and the Examiner said she was better than most of the French students she had seen that morning.

2. She said LeeLee had 'charm' and should take full advantage of this for the actual exam. In an oral exam, you must keep the attention of the Examiner and 'engage' them during your presentation - and charm works it seems!

3. LeeLee talked TO the Examiner and made eye contact the whole time. Most students are nervous and look at their hands, the floor, the ceiling - basically anywhere except at the Examiner! Even when the Examiner got up, went and opened a packet of biscuits and ate one - LeeLee kept her cool and still made eye contact.

4. She gave LeeLee some good pointers on further expanding her arguments - pros and cons - and researching more about the worldwide events that took place during the lifetime of the author. All of which would have had an impact on their literary works.

5. She said that LeeLee's English accent was worth its weight in gold for her oral exam. Her total fluency in spoken French (!) was incredible - and the English accent would enhance the effect on the Examiner. It would make her fluency seem even more incredible - given that it made it obvious to the Examiner that she was not in fact French at all yet as fluent (if not more so!) than the actual French-born students.

6. Although she would not tell LeeLee her mark - she said she was the highest so far that day.....

We are so proud of our charming, bilingual LeeLee!!

We were astonished at the exam - it was like no oral exam we had ever come across before!!

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

Sadness reigns today in LeeLee's world.

Her boyfriend is on stage next week (work experience) so he will not be at school.

They will not get to see each other every day. How will they cope?

I dread to think what our phone bill will be this month!
***
I had my 3-monthly checkup at the Doctor's yesterday.

Since I was busy getting everything ready for dinner (friends coming round!) as well as trying to get the house all clean - I was tempted to get to the surgery a bit later than the appointment time. I knew I would be very frustrated sitting there - doctors are always behind in their appointment system, aren't they!

Anyway, my usual time-keeping policy took over (I HATE it when people are late, so I never am!) and I arrived a few minutes ahead of my appointment.....

..... to find the surgery complex totally deserted. And I mean TOTALLY deserted! I started to think I had got the wrong day, when my doctor's door opened and he ushered out his previous patient and invited me in - exactly on time!!!!

I take it all back. Doctors are great timekeepers!!

Anyway, he was very pleased with me since my blood pressure was perfect. And I had lost some weight - even though we had just had Christmas and Reveillon (miracles DO happen).

He told me though that I still had some way to go - at least another 5 kilos to lose - and he realises how difficult it is for me. There is very little that I can give up - since I do not eat sweet things, nor much bread!! So I will just have to persevere with no alcohol.....

I also asked him how my recent blood test results looked since I had noticed some things had gone up since my last test.

He said everything was excellent - although certain hormones had increased which showed I was now in the menopause.

I asked if that was not a bit early?!

He said - well you are 43 years old!

Thank-you so very much, Dr Caston, for pointing that out to me! I said.

He smiled.

He knows that I know that he is 46 years old.

And I know that he knows that he only looks 26 years old!!!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Parents Live To Embarrass Their Offspring

Seems I have more readers of this blog than I realised. Several of LeeLee's friends read it now, and also the parents of her boyfriend.

Maybe the English Teachers at college will see an improvement in their marks?! But she has informed me she wants less embarrassing things written about her.......
***
A couple of nights ago, LeeLee came down whilst I was sitting up late 'posting'.

She informed me she had something to ask me - which she was SURE I would say no to, but was going to ask anyway.

Her boyfriend had invited her to sleep over on Saturday night.......

In no particular order, the conversation continued along the lines of:

Oh yeah?!

In your dreams (or rather in HIS dreams)!

No chance!

Good night!
***
This afternoon, LeeLee went round to her boyfriend's house and later his parents invited her to stay to dinner. She had a great time.

She was pleased to find they were so similar to us - a very close family, who talk openly about everything and anything. LeeLee enjoyed herself very much.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Unsavoury Dilemmas

When we bought our current house, we were aware that the septic tank was ancient, and not functioning very well. But we knew that the Government had decreed that all villages must implement mains drainage within a couple of years.

So we put up with it.

When the cement pipe from it started to crack, we asked our neighbour (the local builder) to look at it and quote to replace the whole system. He would not think of us spending money replacing it when mains drainage was due - so he patched it up for free.

When it started to need emptying every 18 months, we had a discussion with the assainissement company - who would not think of letting us waste our money replacing it when mains drainage was due. They analysed that it was still cheaper to have it emptied more frequently than pay to replace it.

When it started to need emptying every 12 months, we were recommended by everyone we talked to, that it was not worth having the system replaced since mains drainage was due.

When it started to need emptying every 10 months, the Mairie confirmed it was worth hanging in there because mains drainage was due....

Maybe you are starting to see a pattern?!

But WHEN will mains drainage be due?! We are despairing. Our ancient septic tank is getting worse and worse.

Chatting at various village parties over the recent holidays about such a salubrious topic (sewage removal options!) it started to dawn on us that several people in the village no longer had septic tanks - they had sanibroyeurs. These are toilets that chop up everything and send the waste down a standard bore pipe.

But we commented that surely the waste still had to go through some sort of treatment/tank - so how come they had got rid of their septic tanks?! After a little bit of persuasion, they explained that they send the waste straight into the drainage system .

What?!

Surely that was not right?!

Talking to one of our local councillors (who just happens to be our friend and neighbour) we are told that you do not need permission from the Mairie to install a sanibroyeur toilet. It seems that you would have originally been registered as having a septic tank - and no one comes round and checks that you still have one. Or indeed are still actually using one!

The general view appears to be - what the Mairie does not 'officially' know about, doesn't worry them!

So we have been spending a fortune having our tank emptied now every 10 months, putting expensive treatment down the pan every three days......when virtually no one else in the village bothers any more.

We started investigating a sanibroyeur. They are not cheap, but we calculate that it would soon pay for itself. However, we would have to move the position of the toilet, which in turn means repositioning the bathroom..........so not a simple thing to take on.

Whilst investigating all our options over Christmas - guess what happened?! The septic tank stopped working properly - and needed emptying!!

What bad luck! What bad timing!

So we have had to fork out 222euros for that - before we had a chance of installing a new toilet!!

Oh well. We are now planning ahead for later this year - when hopefully we will have some money to pay for everything!!

***

Picture is of Richard 'helping' the man with the tanker - by pressing the appropriate buttons when instructed.

To visit our village, they have to remember to send the little old tanker because of the steep slope - and the driver has to remember to point it down hill or else a disaster ensues. I will not go into details - I am sure you can use your imagination!!

Afterwards they filled up with fresh water at the bassins in the centre of our village - with our permission. And in return, offered to clean out the outflow from our kitchen sink for free.

It seems that any water flowing in a village is 'owned' by the villagers themselves and no one else is allowed to come a get some water without permission! Did not know we are Water Rich Barons!!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Breaking The Law

I made a mistake yesterday - and yes, I do, sometimes make mistakes it seems!!

I now know that the Independent Arbitration system not only upheld the percentage increase the Police should get, but also that it should be backdated to 1 September.

Irrespective of whether you agree or not with the Police getting a pay increase, surely there is a bigger issue that ALL UK people should be concerned about.

How can an elected Government refuse to obey a legally binding, Independent Tribunal ruling?! And get away with it!!
***
About 22,000 off-duty Police Officers attended the rally in London, some travelling from Scotland and even Northern Ireland. And wasn't it a great example of a peaceful, law-abiding gathering.

But will it do any good? We will see...

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Best Of Luck !!

I am usually careful not to get too political and pro-police in this blog because
(1) there are plenty of others out there doing it better than I could ever do and
(2) it is difficult to get across to people unconnected with the police, things that are not even remotely similar to their own lives. Their perception of the job done by a Police Officer is so distant from the reality.


There is a third reason, which is cowardly - when I read the type of comments some of the police blogs generate, I realise again that not all the vile weirdos are locked up. And it frightens me that they might latch onto this family-orientated blog.

But today I want to say - WISH THEM LUCK. Police Officers in England have been well and truly shafted by the current Government over their pay dispute. Do not fall into the usual trap of believing the headlines - check out the facts before you condemn them for being 'greedy'.

Some things to ponder:

1. The police gave up their right to strike in exchange for a guaranteed annual pay increase to cover increases in the cost of living/inflation. Correctly, it was not thought appropriate for such a crucial service to be able to 'hold us to ransom' in order to get whatever they want.

2. The last police officers who went on strike, lost their jobs, their homes and all their pension rights.

3. The Police pay-year has been September to September for as long as anyone remembers, so the annual increase has always been instigated in the September pay packets.

4. The error in judgement was that the Police Federation thought the Government would play fair when the PF directed the pay dispute at the independent and legally binding arbitration system.
Since the 'difference of opinion' with the Government was over the percentage being offered (lower than it was supposed to be), this is what the PF took to arbitration - where the original agreement was upheld!!
Then a Government bright spark noticed that the commencement date had not been included - so realised they could refuse to backdate the increase to September and still technically not be breaking the arbitration agreement.

5. Police Officers in Scotland are getting the full percentage backdated to September!

6. The civilian support staff and PCSOs are getting the full percentage backdated to September!

Where is the justice for our Police Officers?!

I recommend you read some of the Police blogs - it will be quite an eye opener. The general public has no concept what so ever of the true state of the Police Force in this day and age.

This was an interesting article from a non-police blog.

***
I loved the comment in 200 Weeks - if rent-a-mob turns up at the rally, there will be the biggest collection of professional witnesses ready to testify against them in court!!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Promotion!

Renovation update.

I have been promoted!

I am now allowed to use machinery! Because I have run out of wallpaper to strip....Don't you just dig those baggy builder's jeans?!
***
Righteous indignation arrived home this afternoon from college.

Nic informed up that she had got 19.5 out of 20 in her English test today.

The lost half a mark? When translating some English sentences into French - she missed the X off of Je peux.

Nic was not impressed. According to her, she got all the English correct so surely she should have got 20 out of 20!!!
***
Righteous indignation became pissed-off and sulking within the hour.

When LeeLee started at college here in France, we tried various 'encouragements' for persevering with her school work - even though it was in a language she did not yet speak!

The most successful strategy was to pay her 10euros for every 20 out of 20 she got. We very quickly put in some exceptions - namely those for English, Art and Sport.

English - well, fairly obvious I should think! We are not rich!!!

Art - LeeLee is a natural and gifted artist and, as I have said before, we are not rich you know!!!!

Sport - not LeeLee's best subject, but here the sport's teachers mark the students in relation to their natural ability, so even she started getting high marks every lesson!!!

So move on a few years and Nic has just started college - and has been looking forward to the monetary reward system.

She arrived home tonight to tell us that she had just got her third (this term!) 20 out of 20 in Sport today - and could we go shopping tomorrow so that she could spend all her newly acquired wealth.

Sport is excluded, I reminded her.

No way is sport excluded! she said.

Oh yes it is! I said.

Nic then ran up to LeeLee's bedroom to check with her - and then shut herself away, sulking and pissed-off......

PS
Nic got her perfect mark today doing endurance running. Twenty minutes of running round the sport's stadium track at a steady and constant speed. Impressive or what?! Richard and I do not know where we got a long-legged, full of energy, enjoys sports, type of child!

Monday, 21 January 2008

Oink ! Oink !

When I call my two girls 'piglets', I do mean PIGLETS!

They arrived home for lunch and happily tucked into home-made Winter Minestrone Soup - basically Mum's way of 'hiding' this season's vegetables in a soup they like!

As they started to clear the table afterwards, the girls noticed the bain-marie in the kitchen with the left over chocolate. Left over from the chocolate fountain (Saturday) and the impromptu chocolate fondue (yesterday)......

Mum?! This can't go into the dishwasher - there is some chocolate left!!! Can we scrape it out......
***
I have a new career! Has-been, high flying executive. Up and coming, Assistant Workperson (we are very politically correct, you know)!

The renovation of our apartment continues.

I am the one who loves coming up with a list of the options available, drawing the various plans to-scale, working out the supplies needed, etc.

Richard is the one with all the expert and practical knowledge. He is the one that tells me which of my ideas are impossible (usually most of them!) and which are within our capability.

But show me a wall that needs to come down or wallpaper that needs to be removed - and I seem to have the necessary skills. I am the demolition expert. Nothing technical, just destruction - I can do that! Look at my progress.And no comments on the implied height of the person stripping the wallpaper - the ceilings are FAR too high and the scrapper was not long enough! It is not that I am short....

Then Richard is able to do all the highly skilled jobs!! He is the one with all the required knowledge!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Post Party Sleeping & Pigging Out

Sunday. Always a lazy day in this house since it is the only day with no school. But some people REALLY take the piss.....

We all had a lie in, but Richard and I got up at 10:00am - you have to show willing when the sleepover friends' parents are turning up at 11:00am!

At 10:15, I tapped on the girls' bedroom door and told LeeLee what time it was. I got a 'come back at half past.....' so (being a WONDERFUL parent) that is what I did.

The girls were bleary eyed and decided that they would pass on breakfast - since it had taken them 25 minutes just to make it downstairs. They were still pulling clothes on when we had to open the front door to their chauffeurs!

By 11:05am LeeLee was back in bed and fast asleep! I finally woke her at 18:30 to say that dinner would be in half an hour!!!
***
With some chocolate left over from the fountain yesterday, I remelted it and set it up after dinner.The girls had eaten all the marshmallows and so we had to make do with a few boudoir biscuits and the fresh bananas. A good balanced dessert according to LeeLee......

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Party Time & Giggles

LeeLee had several friends round for a get together this afternoon - as a surprise birthday party for one of her best friends.

What is it about LeeLee and organising?! Richard and I sometimes think we speak a different language to her.

Which bit of : 'if it is OK with you, Mum & Dad, we will be driving them back tomorrow'
translates as : 'Anaise's Dad is picking them up from here, of course, didn't you realise?!'

Anyway, the best friend was expecting to come round for a sleep over only, but was scheduled to arrive half an hour after everyone else - thus getting a surprise. Problems started because she was off school ill most of last week ....

In the end, she insisted on dragging herself off her death bed if I was going to make my famous chocolate cheesecake - which I did, with birthday candles on!

Two of the guys had to pull out at the last minute - and nearly spoiled it all. They went up to the birthday girl that morning and said they were very sorry - but could not tell her why, but that she would understand later! How 'DERRRRRR' can you be?!

In the end only one guy came - and decided that 8 giggly girls were too much to take on on his own and so he went home after a couple of hours. I was tempted to say again - how 'DERRRRRR' can you be?! - but maybe playing Twister did not appeal.Well, hot tortillas chips (covered with salsa, cheese sauce and grated cheese) were followed by the aforementioned chocolate cheesecake and .......... a chocolate fountain!Piglets or what?! LeeLee tried to convince us that it was HEALTHY because it was balanced by the fresh bananas they dunked in the melted chocolate. But how many fresh bananas do you have to eat to balance 1 kilo of chocolate?!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Society Today

Listening to a UK programme whilst getting ready for dinner, Nicole commented that a lot of people seem to be getting stabbed in England. The discussions were about an incident where a youth died on the street from a single stab wound.

I mentioned to Richard that you would have to be very unlucky to die following just one stab - but that this often was the case. Given that the heart is protected by a sturdy rib cage and that most people surely stab from the hip and therefore would aim for the stomach area - how come?

Richard's view was that it was probably more due to the fact that people around the victim did not know what to do in such a situation. That is - what first aid to administer. Possibly also because the victim was not found until some time later.

Most single stab wounds are fatal because a major artery is slashed - which can be stemmed with the prompt, correct knowledge. On the rare occasions when the heart itself is punctured - there is virtually nothing you can do in time.

He remembers clearly an incident he was called to whilst walking the beat in South London, early in his career. Richard and his partner arrived at an 'under the railway arches' nightclub after a report of a stabbing.

They opened the door - and saw a blood bath.

A person had been stabbed once directly into their heart - which had then pumped out every drop of blood they possessed within a few minutes. Everyone on the premises was covered - it was as if a hose had been used to spray them all with red paint.

Mind numbing - and still fixed in Richard's memory after all these years.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Pain & Shock

Oh, I just know that tomorrow when I wake up I will be as stiff as a board and in pain.

How do I know? Well after 2.5 hours this morning followed by 2.5 hours this afternoon stripping wallpaper - I just KNOW that my shoulders, arms and everything else I possess will hurt!

Only problem - I kept forgetting to take the camera down with us to the apartment to show you the progress I am making. Bummer!
***
Tonight was LeeLee's Parents/Teachers get together at college. With five rendez-vous set up, we had a long evening ahead of us.

And as predicted, the first trimestre of the premiere year has been a shock. Every teacher said it is always the case. Last year was seconde, and students do well. They have the fun of finally being lycéens, and doing a course that they have chosen. Also, although the work is harder than before, the pace is not too extreme.

Then premiere starts. The work is extremely hard (especially for the BAC Scientifique that LeeLee has chosen) and the pace has picked up considerably.

LeeLee was in shock. Never before had she had an average in Mathematics that was the moyenne! Used to always managing to get a average of 16-18 out of 20 in all her subjects, without having to REALLY apply herself - this hit home rather brutally.

All her scientific teachers said not to worry - she was very clever (one of the cleverest in the class) and just needed to try and put a bit of effort in - they all said she was capable of a lot more.

LeeLee was stunned enough to announce immediately that she was not going to EVER have such an average again!! Long may this attitude continue, we say!!

Her French teacher was delighted with LeeLee and her work. She said that she always looked forward to reading LeeLee's work because it was a real pleasure to have a student with such a command of the language and such an ability to elucidate her thoughts and ideas. Impressive or what?! We were so proud of LeeLee!

By the by - her English teacher said virtually the same, but some how it did not seem so impressive......

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Differences & New Relationships

Today a friend in the village (RJ) delivered our tractor load of wood. Each load lasts about two weeks - which might sound bad until you realise that it provides ALL the heating for our house!

The only other warmth is in the girls' bedrooms - they each have an electric heater which is on over night (cheap electricity!) so that it is not cold when they get up for school. Ah! In my day we had to put up with ice on the inside of our bedroom windows in the morning.......

In between us all trundling back and forth with the wheelbarrows, RJ stopped and asked what we thought about the fact that Monsieur N was incinéré (cremated) yesterday. Richard and I surprised him by saying that it was very common in the UK.

RJ was curious - why? Surely everyone wants to be buried with their family?!

We explained that one reason was that land in the UK is very expensive compared to France and that cemeteries are filling up rapidly and space is now limited for burials.

RJ shuddered - the thought of being reduced to a small pile of ashes was not for him, he said. He wants to be put in his family's tombeau with his parents, grandparents, etc. He could not understand just being ashes, in a small pot, in the house.

I quickly said - not in the house itself! RJ said - but surely, yes, in the family home?!

I said definitely not, usually!

But of course?! he exclaimed.

We explained that usually the ashes are sprinkled in a garden or somewhere similar, and often a plant like a rosier would be planted on top.

RJ said - surely not!

We said - yes, that's why the UK is famous for having roses everywhere!!

Ha! Ha! chuckled RJ.

PS
RJ did confirm something we suspected. He mentioned that when a tombeau is opened for a new resident - oh, what a smell!!

PPS
It is true, cremations are very rare down here. The only place anywhere near that can provide this service is in Beziers!
***
LeeLee is all a glow at the moment, eyes twinkling and going round with a big smile on her face all the time. Ain't love grand at that age!!

When Kevin went and told his friends that LeeLee had agreed to go out with him, they immediately said - her little sister is so like LeeLee. Do you know if she has a boyfriend because we would like to ask her out!

When LeeLee heard this, she said - no way are any of YOUR mates coming near my little sister! They are all 'players' so tell them to keep away or else.....

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Rest In Peace, Monsieur N

After a cold night, this morning dawned very frosty but with glorious sunshine and a clear blue sky.Our local Catholic church at Taussac looked beautiful. Recently fully restored, the outside walls have been carefully re-pointed with a warm cream coloured chaum. The inside has murals on the walls, stencilled patterns and an impressive altar, re-gilded where necessary. The bells are functioning and played 'live' at the masses - not a recording in sight!

It is such a shame that it is no longer 'active' but at least it is available for baptisms, weddings and of course funerals.

And this morning was the funeral of our neighbour's father.

Monsieur N did not live around here but, when he was in good health, visited his son and family regularly. As friends of his son, many of us in the village had occasion to meet him and say hello. As his health deteriorated rapidly, he moved into a local Maison de Retrait so as to be near his son and family.

Today at the funeral, it was interesting. Virtually every family in our village was represented. We were all there not because we were close friends of Monsieur N but out of respect for his son, our friend. This is what happens down here. The majority of these people took time off work to be there. In a village like ours, you are there for each other at times like this.

We all contributed to a display of flowers - and they were lovely. Instead of the usual cut flowers you find in the UK, these were actual plants (in flower) and potted up into a large garden planter which will last indefinitely by the grave if looked after.

Later today, Mr N was to be cremated in Beziers. Outside the church, after the mass, we all kissed and offered our condolences to our friend and his family, and stood silent as the cortege left on its final journey.
***
The pews in the church were a tight fit. Three people per pew was comfortable, four was a squeeze. But they were obviously originally designed for five people - locals must have been a lot thinner in those days!!

As a practising Catholic in the UK, I found it interesting to take part in a mass in France. Do you know that they do not kneel here? You stand for most of the mass, with only a few chances to sit down, and then only for a minute or so.

The arc heaters along the top of the walls inside the church, kept our upper torsos warm. But oh my feet were blocks of ice after 15 minutes! The cold stone floor really was not good to stand on wearing shoes with thin leather soles!!
***
At the last local funeral we attended, after the mass we walked in procession behind the coffin to the cemetery. Each family has their own crypt I suppose you would call it.

The ornate stone tops are removed to expose the vault where other older coffins are then visible. The new occupant is placed inside and then the family followed by everyone else, file past to pay their respects. It was slightly disconcerting to be looking into the vault at not only the new coffin but also those going back goodness knows how many decades.

The file past of people then wends its way out through the cemetery gate where ALL the family are lined up - and you then kiss each family member three times on their cheeks and offer your condolences. All very formal and traditional.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Developing At Night

Been busy sitting up late each night (all right, into the early hours if you must know!) tinkering with the idea of a web site for a friends' studio in Lamalou-les-Bains.

Since I am also setting up one for our apartment, and also a 'home page' for accommodation in Lamalou in general, it has been a case of trial and error - when I code something I like, I then have to do the same in the other two websites! Trouble is - I keep finding a different way of doing things - and keep spotting mistakes!!

Did I also mention that I am doing them all in French as well.......

So hang in there and one day I will be able to let you look at them - but for now, if you have a mo, have a quick look at http://lamalou-studio-1.blogspot.com . I know this great little studio in the south of France that is available to rent, with charming managers ........
***
As an aside, our friends in La Sesquière who rent out their villa during the summer have just joined this holiday site http://www.bonjour.nl/ - and within a day had a couple of bookings!! Impressive since it is not expensive to sign up to. Helps though if you speak Dutch!

There again, I have just noticed it is in English as well - and they will translate your advert into Dutch and other languages for you - how clever is that!!

Sunday, 13 January 2008

It's Official .........

......... they are going out! And I have been given permission to tell you!!

A similar conversation to last time (see Teenage Conversations) took place on Friday. LeeLee was being invited round to a friend's house for the day today.
Yes - JUST A FRIEND's house. The same JUST A FRIEND as last time.

Last time Richard was not impressed.
What boy on earth, when taking a girl out to the cinema (especially for the first time), takes her to see 'Alien versus Predator 2' ?! For goodness sake, what encouragement is that to put your arm around her?!

Anyway, after putting up with so much stick from us for that, it got better this time.........

Seems he said how about watching a dvd today? And then proposed watching his ALL TIME FAVOURITE FILM. Three guesses - well even if I let you have ten, I don't think you would guess!!

But before I tell you, it gets better.......unable to find HIS FAVOURITE OF ALL TIME, they had to make do with HIS SECOND FAVOURITE OF ALL TIME!

If I tell you that the second favourite was called Predator 2, you might guess what they could not find...

Richard is despairing! What is it with guys nowadays?! Have they no sense?!

Anyway, LeeLee had fun. And I now know some MSN 'teenage speak' (OK, so I was looking over her shoulder this evening whilst she was MSNing the guy - but I am her mother!!). JTM came up a lot!

PS
Hearing from LeeLee that 'Mum is terrible! If you are not careful, she spills all the beans on her blog...' , he sent through some pictures so I could post them! He needs some help with his make-up, though, I think!
PPS
And LeeLee, I do not care how sexy a French accent you say it with, Kevin is still an Essex-boys-name in my book!

PPPS
JTM = je t'aime!
***
This evening the dog was passed out on her bed by the fire and the cat was asleep on the bed upstairs (on the mezzanine) next to Richard.

Peace reigned in the house.

Then I heard the cat flap go, and loud miaows from the kitchen. I assumed that our cat had brought in a mouse or something and was loudly proclaiming the fact.....until I saw OUR cat peering down at me from the mezzanine!

What the ...?!

Oh God! The village cat most hated by Xena was in the house and now in a panic! Even Xena woke up, revved up her short legs and was trying to get some grip on the slippery floor tiles - when it raced into the lounge straight towards her and then straight past her over her head!

It was now hiding behind the TV cabinet, Richard was trying to hold onto a struggling and 'growling' Smokey up above whilst I was trying to keep hold of Xena's collar at the same time dragging her backwards into the kitchen!

Once we got the WRONG CAT out of our house and locked all the doors so as to prevent our two animals going out after it, Xena and Smokey spent the next hour chasing round and round the various rooms following in the footsteps of the intruder. They have not had so much exercise for months!

Saturday, 12 January 2008

What exactly Are Mobile Phones For?!

LeeLee left the house this morning for college in a bit of a rush........as usual, you might say. Why, since she gets herself up an hour and a half before she needs to leave the house, is there (more often than not) a panic?!

Anyway, move on a few hours till 13:15 when I notice that LeeLee should have been home by now - and isn't.

Discuss with Richard.

He phones her on her mobile. No answer, just voicemail.

He texts her. No response in the next quarter of an hour.

We consider going to see if the others in the village have arrived home on the bus, only to remember that it is only lycéenes on Saturday and the only other one in our village did not go today. Bummer.

Richard gets the car keys and starts down to the car to go looking......when I suddenly remember that LeeLee mentioned a few days ago an idea of one of her friends - to go shopping after school in Beziers.

Was it today? We could not remember.

Why had she not mentioned it this morning? Probably because she was in a rush and barely said a word to Richard......

So we rang the friend's house and sure enough - the Mum was driving them to Beziers. Panic over.

Spoke to LeeLee and asked why on earth she had pestered for a mobile - only to never answer/reply when we call/text her?!

No credit as usual. But it still takes great photos Mum!!!!!

AHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Death In A Foreign Land

Today the father of our friend (and neighbour) died.

This is the second death in our village since we moved here and we are realising that there are different protocols associated with this in France. Wishing very much to fit in with the village way of life here, we are always aware that we are most probably falling short - but at least we are trying.

The health of our neighbour's Dad had been deteriorating fast over the last few days, and we were pleased to have been able to help (albeit in such a minor way) by looking after their little girl when necessary.

We heard today though that he had died this morning and on our return home this evening, we met friends and their family walking back down to their own house in the village. When (embarrassingly!) I asked if they were out for an evening stroll, they explained that they had just been to see our neighbour to offer their condolences.

We asked whether this would be appropriate for us to do - given that we were not such close friends as they were of the family. And we were told very clearly that it was normal for everyone in a village to do this, however distant the relationship. Our English reserve at times of grief was certainly, it seems, not the way here!

So that is what we did. Richard and I went indoors first and changed into dark clothes (we had noted that everyone had been dressed in black to visit, even the children) and then went over the road and spent a few minutes with the family. Our broken French was woefully inadequate to express our sorrow, but the sentiment was heartfelt.

Throughout this evening we have since observed a regular stream of visitors - and are thankful that we did not (unwittingly!) cause offence by 'not wishing to intrude'.
***
The first death was of the husband, father and grandparent of one of the main families in our little village - all of whom had welcomed unreservedly the new English family in their midst!

He was taken ill suddenly and when the ambulance did not arrive soon enough, the Doctor said he had to be taken to the hospital immediately. We realised that our car was the biggest and took out all the extra seats in the hope that he could travel lying down. Unfortunately it was still not possible. But his widow remembers even now that we tried - and we feel humbled by this.

When we were told that he had died and his body was laid out in his bedroom, we were shocked when asked if we wanted to go up to him. We could not imagine intruding on the family's time of grief, but now realise that this was wrong.


Unbeknownst to us, we were in fact being invited to take part in the vigil. It is normal here for friends and family to take turns spending time with the body (15 minutes each on average) throughout the night and day until the funeral. If only we had realised.
***
Tonight was the commune get together - to hear about the future plans for the villages and how much had been spent (and on what!) this past year. The fact that it also offers free booze and nibbles was of no interest what so ever....

There is an American who has had a house in our village for 10-15 years, and who lives here for about nine months of the year. Not the most 'fitting in' type of person you can meet, but she asked if she could come with us tonight.

Various people we knew introduced us as 'their friends from La Sesquière' - and then, after a slight pause, said 'And this is the American'.

So it is official! We are fitting in! And are not classified by our nationality - one up on the USA!!

PS
When we first moved here, there were about 300 residents in our commune, and we were the first English family to arrive.

Nearly six years later there are over 500 people - and we are still the only English! Isn't that wonderful!!

Various people tonight expressed to us their disquiet about this increase in numbers - because the majority are outsiders. We, slightly sheepishly, mentioned - like us?! 'No, certainly not!' we were told. It seems we have 'joined in with the village as one of them' as against these incomers (from the Auvergne and even Paris!) who just keep to themselves!!

So we must be doing something right.......

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Lighting Up

For some time we have been looking for a lamp to go on the wooden 'pillar' we have in the corner of our lounge, inherited from Richard's Mum.

At Christmas, our friends in the village came round for a meal - and clubbed together to buy us some presents. One of these was a lamp! And doesn't it look good!!
***
Tonight was Nic's Parents/Teachers meeting(s).

She had managed to get us 'bookings' with five of her teachers - not a bad haul!

The first two - excellent reports. The next two - diabolical. We have a problem Houston. Which bit of NO TALKING IN CLASS and LISTEN TO THE TEACHER does she not understand?!

Before our final appointment/teacher (Occitan), we had a 30 minutes gap. Then, he still had not appeared on the school premises 20 minutes after our appointed time - so we went home. I have NO PATIENCE with people who do not keep appointments!

Tomorrow we (well me!) are laying down the future rules with Nic - sitting down as soon as she gets home each day to go through the lessons/work she has had that day, followed by doing all her homework before dinner and going on the computer. I do not expect this to go down well with her - but tough!

LeeLee works very well on her own, and gets excellent marks at school - it is easy to forget that this is as a result of similar monitoring and supervising on our part, all those years ago when she was a similar age to Nic!
***
When all the chairs are occupied, a cat has to rough it and settle on the floor in front of the fire!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Improvement In The Weather

I have seen the light!

And it isn't 24 hours of darkness anymore - I have got my contact lenses in again. It is amazing how great food looks when you can see it!
***
The new smoking ban here has probably not been very noticable except in the arrival of 'patio heaters' outside of the cafés. Smokers are legally allowed to smoke on outdoor terraces and areas.
***
LeeLee went for her second session of vaccines today. What a brave girl - for the first time ever, she did not have us there to hold her hand.

However we did think she milked it during the afternoon - how many times do you need to say 'Oh! Hurty arms! I need chocolate....!'

In December she was due to have three different vaccines, one of which was the first of the series for Cervical Cancer. The doctor would only do a maximum of two at any visit - so this has drawn out the process for LeeLee.

In addition, for the new cancer vaccine(s), you have to have three injections in total. The second one a month after the first, and the third and final one four months after that one. Very complicated!

Our new 2008 diary has her appointments filled in - so we do not forget!!

Monday, 7 January 2008

Typing Blind

That is it. I give up. I admit defeat.

Whilst I have to wear my VERY DARK prescription sunglasses for a few days, it is virtually impossible to sit up after everyone has gone to bed to type my posts.

With the lights down low so as not to keep Richard awake, I cannot see the keyboard, let alone what letters I am actually typing!

See you in a day or so....

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Vegetarianism & Cruelty To Animals

As you can imagine, during 7 hours of réveillon eating and drinking, lots of conversations took place. And very interesting they all were.

We also ate a diverse selection of meat and vegetable dishes. But it was curious to note that most had been shot, caught or picked locally from the wild. There was no pork, beef or lamb at all - these animals are not farmed down here (because the climate is not suitable for them?). We ate what were natural resources in this area.

Locals do not tend to buy meat that has been farmed a long way away or has travelled far after slaughter.

What they eat tends to be local. Local farmers/producers, local abattoirs and what they hunt or find themselves. To them, that is healthy and correct.

We are still bemused when choosing a chicken at the supermarket, to be able to select one that was running around in a field visible from the car (when we drive to Beziers) only about 15 minutes from here - and which was slaughtered at the abattoir in the next village to the farm! We could even find out who 'did the deed' if we particularly wanted too I am sure!
***
It is true. Vegetarianism is a concept that our French friends down here are bemused and confused about. They see animals as a natural food source. Why would you not eat them?!

They are as equally bemused and confused by animal cruelty. It is not a concept they condone or actually compehend. They consider that everyone has a responsibility to everything else - and that includes animals. They are not sentimental in the English sense, but they would NEVER consider cruelty as even vaguely justified, nor would ever 'ignore' it.

Animals might be a natural food source - but, as far as they are concerned, you have a responsibility to respect them and dispatch them in the most efficient and humanitarian way possible. They are never loath to speak out against cruelty and, more importantly, do something about it.

***
A couple moved into our village and soon after the man was seen kicking out at his dog. The person who saw it went over and had a chat with the man about it straight away.
***
Last year a family moved in to our village who gradually aquired several horses. Everyone in the village was worried about whether the animals were being looked after well enough. A 'friend of a friend' who knows horses was asked to come and have a quick look at them - the villagers would not consider just 'talking' about maybe doing something - they act on it!
***
Flora and fauna are looked after down here - there are whole battalions of people paid by the State to do just that. The wildlife is 'cared' for. You might find this an anomaly given that most of the wildlife then gets 'hunted' for eating purposes, but it is not. It is all very logical when you put aside your sentimentality for a moment and consider it unemotionally.

Every year, the state of the local flora and fauna is reported on, and decisions made on the quotas allowed for the coming year for the hunting of the animals. Also noted is the state of the wild plants (eg leeks, asparagus, mushrooms and orchids).

If it has been a bad year for a given wild vegetable, the locals automatically know not to over-crop in the coming year. The same with the animals. If the wild boar numbers are down, they would not dream of over-hunting them. To them this is just commonsense. You 'look after' your natural resource, not decimate it!

Again, a concept that seems to have disappeared from our consciousness perhaps.

Here, the next generation is being 'taught' these concepts at their mothers' (or fathers'!) knees. It is the way of life down here.
***
English incomers usually have a problem with the hunting dogs - kept in purpose built kennels. As far as they are concerned this is cruelty - if you have a dog, it should be in the house and treated as a pet.

But in real terms, where is the cruelty? They are pack animals and are in the kennels as a group. The hunting dogs get first class vetinarian care (no expense spared!) because they have a serious value down here and you look after your resources. They are fed and watered regularly each day and the kennels are kept very clean - again, you do not put at risk your resources.

I know that I too have a deep rooted feeling that 'it is wrong' but in reality cannot pinpoint factual reasons for this. Like many others, I still think of dogs as pets I suppose! I am not overly sentimental where animals are concerned though (compared with others) and so I respect the differences down here and indeed applaud them in many cases.

***
Stray dogs appear in our village from time to time.

Someone will check their ears/inner-thighs for tattoos almost immediately, but the dogs will be left for a couple of days just in case the owner turns up. They will be fed though during this time!

If no one knows or recognises them then the local Vet is contacted and the dogs taken there. The Vet is responsible for contacting the central database for tracing owners, etc and will deal with the animals.

Do people elsewhere bother like this? I am not sure.

The reason here is twofold. Firstly, they would not consider leaving a dog without food and certainly worry about their health - living rough as it were. They also know that their hunting dogs often 'get lost' when out - and would hope/expect someone would take the same care over their dogs if they found them!

***
There is a different attitude to animals down here - but it is not necessarily a worse attitude.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Phishing Warning !!

Guess what ?! I have been PHISHED !!!! The cheek of it !!!

Given what I used to do for years (!) - we have as many protections on our PCs as possible. Anti everything I can think of.

Even so, this morning I found an e-mail from "security@PayPal.com" telling me my PayPal account might have been compromised, and it had been temporarily suspended for security. And if I was who I claimed to be, then I should click on the link to reactivate my account. And I had 72 hours, or else it would be deleted.

I have to say - it looked convincing, and it was in French. Very complicated to translate and understand.

My hesitation was because ..... I had NEVER used PayPal and therefore had NEVER opened an account. But I do use Amazon (UK and FR) and started to wonder if they used PayPal behind the scenes. I thought not, but for the first time I bought something second hand from Amazon at Christmas, and I started to wonder if third-party sellers with Amazon used PayPal.

As you can see - I started to FIND reasons why it might have been a genuine e-mail!

But old IT habits die hard - if in doubt, DON'T!!!! So I didn't.

A couple of hints were there - the e-mail had an attachment for a start. And when I tried to save the e-mail itself as text - it would not let me. This is a good giveaway that it has programmimg code hidden in it.

Then, I vaguely remembered reading many months ago (possibly on e-Bay) about spoof PayPal e-mails.

So I went on e-Bay. Found a link to the PayPal site, and clicked on the link for their Security Centre.

There I found various warnings etc about fake e-mails and websites - and most importantly, a request to send ANY suspicious e-mails to spoof@paypal.com.

And this I did - and unfortunately, with quite a pissed-off, terse message. Along the lines of - if this is PayPal trying to get me to sign up to an account, I am not impressed, etc!!

I immediately got a response back thanking me and telling me it was a phishing e-mail. I did feel guilty about my rude message to them!!

***
Thanks for taking an active role by reporting suspicious-looking emails.
The email you forwarded to us is a phishing email, and our security teamis working to disable it.
Phishing emails attempt to steal your identity and will often ask you to reveal your password or other personal or financial information.
PayPal will never ask for your password over the phone or in an email and will always address you by your first and last name.
Take our Fight Phishing Challenge at
https://www.paypal.com/fightphishing to learn 5 things you should know about phishing.
You'll also see what we're doing to help fight fraud every day.
You've made a difference.
Every email counts.
By forwarding a suspicious-looking email to
spoof@paypal.com, you've helped keep yourself and others safe from identity theft.
Thanks,
The PayPal Team
***
On their website Security Centre, they mentioned about ICONIX which is a free download that will confirm whether an e-mail is genuine or not.

Something else I have now added to our PCs......

BE SAFE - PROTECT YOUR PCS !