Friday, 29 February 2008

Will You Marry Me?

...... or is bigamy not allowed in France?!
I have never laughed so much in a long time when I read this article - "Campaigner abandons cashless 'peace walk' from Britain to India". Priceless!
We went out for a meal last night at the Petite Abbaye in Lamalou les bains - and it was wonderful. It was to be a surprise for the girls but at the last minute LeeLee rang to say she had been invited to stay at Kevin's for dinner. So then there were three....

It is a little unpretentious place loved by locals so you need to book unless you always get there just as they open like us! Within 30 minutes they are usually turning people away. Their basic premise is that the table you sit at (or book ahead) is yours for the evening, and if you leave early, it is a bonus and they will slot a second sitting in if asked. But no chivvying to get a move on. Many an early evening we have watched them turn incredulous diners away even though tables were empty - because they were booked for later in the evening!

There are not separate starters and main courses - everything is just listed and you can choose what you like, for when you like.

And they welcome sharing - anything on the menu! We REALLY like that!!

Their salads are to die for and easily big enough for two. Up until this year you could have fed a family of four on one - but we were impressed to see a little more sophistication has crept in this year - but not too much!.

Their 'wheel of mussels', baked whole camembert (with prunes and bacon) and their super-duper pizzas are all cooked on a wood fire.

So first we shared two salads between the three of us:
1. Lettuce, goat's cheese baked in filo pastry parcels, toasted almonds and slivers of dried mountain ham. 2. Lettuce with sliced avocado, pineapple, crab and a warm crab/egg flan on top.Then Nic dived into a plate of open mussels with garlic, parsley and cheese, the metal serving plate of which she scraped within an inch of its life first with a load of bread and then a fork to dislodge the baked on cheese!
Richard and I went for their new idea - ham in madeira sauce. When we asked what the garniture was - we were told potatoes and green beans. OK, not particularly inspiring but OK. What the waiter did not mention was - potato in a pottery dish covered in a cheese sauce with grated cheese on top and then baked in the wood fire, with green beans rolled in melted garlic butter.....

The service was exemplary. The young man looking after us all was shaven-headed except for a crest of spiky hair, with studs and sticking out ears. He was charming and attentive, and had great fun chatting with Nic - asking her what marks she got in her English classes, etc. It surprisingly was a quiet night, he thought because the first 21 day 'cure' of the season finished this week - so changeover time.

As we were eating our salads, the chef kept discretely peering over the divider to check whether it was time to put Nic's mussels in the fire. It was funny - but even I did not have the guts to get the camera out!

The restaurant is very popular with the curistes. They might share a salad and the baked camembert between two - and with just a carafe of water on the table, eat an excellant meal for two for 16€ !

The restaurant never batted an eye when others came in last night and just shared a salad and water on their way home. The service was as friendly and attentive as ever - even though the total bill for two would have been 7€ only!

Places like this are few and far between.
Richard and the girls came to live out here about six months ahead of me (I had a LONG notice period!) and tried out the various Lamalou restaurants - and the girls graded them basically on their toilet facilities. Because, boy, does Lamalou have fancy toilets!

On their first visits, they would return from the toilets with eyes popping and gabbling about what they had found. Then we each in turn would have to go and inspect their latest discovery.

Now I am not a toilet fetishist by any means and do not make a habit of taking a camera with me when I go - but the one at the Petite Abbaye was one of their old favourites and I just had to share it with you all ......
Press the button on the side and the thin plastic cover that totally encases the toilet seat rotates round delivering a new length for every patron.
Strolling back leisurely to the car, we had to admire the Casino. Worth a visit just to see the 1920's architecture - and the room full of machines à sous (slot machines) where it is the law that refreshment must be offered free of charge continually.
Setting off from home, we decided to take Xena in the car as well. As I bundled her in, Smokey rushed across the road, between my legs and jumped straight in and settled on the back seat.

I know this is France but even they must draw the line at bringing a big fat tabby cat to a restaurant! Surely?!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Pickled Cabbage

Normal service resumes today on this blog. I expelled a lot of my frustration in my rant yesterday!

(Me?! Smug? Upset? Don't get me started again!)
There we were wandering along the meat shelves at Intermarché looking at all the reduced prices that appear on a Monday. Why else do we have a large very ancient chest freezer in the cave (that cost us more to transport down here than it was actually worth) but to fill it with bargains!

This looks interesting (I said) - a little box containing a ham hock, a lump of pork and a raw sausage. Wonder what that is all for? I will buy it anyway and see....

Got home and found the right recipe - seems it is choucroute time here in the South! Anyone NOT like sauerkraut (put you hand down Richard, you don't count!)? Then, let's cook it for dinner.

Have you noticed a flaw in my planning? Whilst at the shops, I had not realised I should have bought my back we went.

Standing there in front of two large pots of the stuff, Richard wanted to buy the one 'in champagne' (if he was going to have to eat the awful stuff, he wanted to get the best) - but I said I was not spending three times the money just because of the champagne which would not even be noticeable after slow cooking for hours!

Well the recipe wanted to use 1.25 kg of the stuff, so I bought 700g. I am not that cruel a wife or parent - I was not going to make the family eat a lot of it obviously!

Following the recipe I added what I thought was a reasonable amount - and it looked like loads! In fact I had used only about a third of the 700g I had bought - anyone want me to send the unused bag load their way?!

Anyway, the final dish was not too bad - even Richard agreed. But not something I would choose to order when out and about. It is the 'special' in EVERY local restaurant here at the moment - and you get a pile of the stuff! How on earth do people love it so much?!
We all know there is never a policeman around when you need one. However, I was very safe yesterday evening - there were three (ex) UK ones in the house. And a great evening it was - thanks for our presents Andy & Keith!

Not sure they will be back though - I did serve up choucroute garni to them for goodness sake!!
Glad none of us had read this first! (from Wikipedia)

Sauerkraut is finely sliced cabbage fermented by various lactic acid bacteria including Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus. It has good keeping qualities and a distinctive sour flavour, both of which result from the lactic acid that forms when bacteria ferment the sugars in the fresh cabbage.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Warning - Approach With Caution !

Once again I succumbed to ‘optimism over experience’ and I really should have learnt my lesson by now. I have just wasted two days of my life, and can’t afford to do this at my age!About on a 6-monthly cycle, I start to notice a guilty niggle at the back of my mind. Having moved from the UK and settled here in France, I am aware that there are many people considering or just embarking on the same life-changing experience. Both would love to get help, ask questions and generally seek details of what it was like for other Expats and those attempting to make money by renting out property here.

I am of course talking about Help Forums on the Internet.

Two days was enough for me though – then I gave up again. I do not think I have been so angry and disbelieving in a very long time….in fact since the last time I made the effort to contribute to a Help Forum!!

Looked innocent enough – a lady was asking how other parents got on bringing teenagers to France and the time it took them to pick up the language.

OK, I think I can do that. I told them how our two girls managed. What a mistake!!! What a furore I caused! Did you know:

1. I am a smug parent who lives in a dream world in no way bearing any relation to real life.

2. I am just spouting the usual preconceived misconceptions of the British about the non-existent utopia of living in France – a crime-infested , delinquency ridden society (from an Expat living in Brittany?! Not sure which part though....).

3. Forcing children to live in the drug infested countryside makes me cruel and Victorian, allowing the religious narrow-minded locals to stifle their creativity.

4. I was told that all children should be compulsory drug-tested everytime they go out of the house and on their return.

5. It seems how well your children turn out is totally the luck of the draw and NOT related in any way to your ability as a parent.

6. Etc, etc.

Responses to my post came from members such as:
- Drug-Fixated-of-America,
- Proof-That-Aggression-Therapy-Does-Not-Work,
- Know-It-All,
- And also a few genuine conscientious members of the Forum who tried to stem the stream of drivel, tosh and rudeness unsuccessfully.

What have I learned (just like last time, I have to admit):

1. A Forum is only as good as the Administrator/Moderator – who needs to be a hard-nosed tough cookie. The girls immediately wanted to nominated me!
This one informed us that he deliberately was not moderating this specific thread because it was a reasoned discussion and too many other Forums were too polite.

2. Too often, a Forum ends up with a core group of weirdoes who always seem to highjack discussion threads.

3. Some members use the Forums as a means of expelling their aggression and bullying tendencies.

4. There is always at least one Know-It-All who thinks his opinion is all that matters and whose experiences in his little piece of the world is what happens everywhere. So many of the threads in this Forum degenerated because of this and similar members into – him saying no that did not happen to you, yes it did, no it didn’t, I tell you yes it did!

5. Members really need to learn to differentiate between someone expressing an opinion (which they can disagree with and can generate a good discussion thread) and someone recounting what actually happened to them and their family (to which another person CANNOT respond by stating this did NOT occur!).

As you have probably gathered – I did not take kindly to being told I was lying through my teeth when I described our actual experiences here – and made it very plain! To then find the Administrator posting that he was sorry I was upset but that this Forum encourages such good lively debates…….

Upset?! I was bloody furious that I had wasted two days on this!

The final straw came when I noticed that some of the earlier controversial posts had been discretely edited by the author(s) so as to seem less confrontational – thus making the later posts suddenly appear over reacting! And that it had happened before according to a 'normal' and very nice member.

My final post? What a load of tosh and drivel – Goodbye!

I know there are some very good Forums out there – and I would be happy to hear from readers with recommendations. I am sure it would help the rest of us stop wasting our precious days on the others!

One brilliant thing did come out of it. It was an excellent example to the girls of the care you must take when deciding to ‘converse’ on the web, the type of weirdoes out there and how easy it is to get latched onto by them. They had been very interested when I originally posted about their experiences and very gobsmacked/appalled when they saw the tone of the following responses. Foolishly I had added our blog address to one or two of my posts before I realised what some of the members were like (the girls were quick to point out that I had not followed the advice I had drummed into them!) and ended up sitting at the PC all night working out how to delete it as quickly as possible!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Express Delivery!

Look what arrived today!Now just need to decide the best way of plumbing in the washing machine - why isn't anything easy?!
Forgot to mention about yesterday - what lovely weather it was.

Our neighbour's boy asked if Nic would like to come and play - his two cousins were visiting, all of whom she knows. They set off on their bikes and the two dogs and had great fun. They went to the ford at one end of our village and on to the next little 'bridge' where they paddled. Yes! Paddled, in February!
LeeLee had a complicated day. First we delivered her to her boyfriend's house. Later that afternoon, he walked her round to one of her friend's house - who she was going to a party with.

It is curious - here if you were invited to a party, your boyfriend would only come too if he also was a friend of the person giving the fete and had been actually invited as an individual. Hangers on are not allowed!

Anyway, as instructed, LeeLee then found out the address and telephone number of the friend (whose father was kindly taking them to and picking them up from the party) where she was also sleeping over afterwards.

The problems started when she wanted the address and number of where the party was. LeeLee was to call us and tell us all this info in case of emergencies - we could just imagine getting a call from her asking us to come and get her, and being unable to follow her directions to where she was (LeeLee is not know for her spatial awareness and map reading abilities!).

Turns out the parents of the sixteen year old boy whose party it was, cancelled it at the last minute when they found out he had not finished all the homework set for the holidays! We are impressed with parents like that!!

Monday, 25 February 2008

Interesting Week

We have been 'scammed' for the first time ever. The cheek of it!

Luckily I have read with great interest (on the various Expat sites) about the scams around that target people renting out property.

And we have now joined the legion it seems.

The e-mail below arrived - and I am sure it is one. If it isn't, and I have deleted a genuine enquiry - I am sorry, but not that sorry because we already have bookings for part of the period they wanted!

If you want to follow up the potential booking, you are welcome to.....

Bonjour Mr , Mme ,

Je suis Mr Alain Leblan , j'aimerai faire une reservation dans votre local pour les dates suivantes :15/03/2008 au 15/05/2008.
J'aimerai vous reglez en avance par virement bancaire.
Je tiens a vous dire que nous avons eu votre adresse par nos recherches sur le net , aussi nous venons dans votre local pour notre lune de miel.
Alors si possible veuillez nous faire parvenir par email en pj votre RIB complet ainsi que un contrat de locations y compris la facture globale.
Dès réception de ces documents nous allons faire le necessaires.
Nous sommes en attente d'une reponse favorable.

Mr et Mme LEBLAN .
11 BP 974 ABJ 11

Why I was suspicious:

It was not addressed to us personally and all our advertising uses our specific names.

It was not sent to our e-mail address, but it was 'sent' to the same person it was coming from. Showing it was a 'generated by code' e-mail.

It did not refer to our actual rental property as we had described it. It just called it the 'local'.

It asked for our bank details up front, whilst NOT asking for any details about the property or the area!!

Need I go on?!

Most of the scams I have read about finally come down to the person paying you MORE than your rental fee, and asking you to send on the monetary difference to a particular person/bank.

You put the money they have sent you into your bank account, check it has cleared and then send the extra onwards.

The problem is that certain types of 'deposits' into a bank show up as having been cleared - but when your bank actually tries to transfer the ACTUAL money, it does not come! But by this time you would have sent a cheque (for example) for the difference and this HAS been cashed.

I have probably not explained it very well - so do read up about it yourselves if it is relevant. It is amazing the number of variations there are - but they all seem to boil down to the same thing....
Whilst painting the shutters this past week, a lady approached me to ask (in French) if we were fully booked yet?!

Now, I had to negotiate getting down the ladder, finding a safe place to put my open paint tin and brush - whilst understanding what she had said to me whilst I was facing away from her. Please remember this!

I explained that we had bookings already for various months (I listed them) - was she interested in having some details sent to her? And would she like a look around the apartment whilst she was there.......

Of course she said yes, and we proudly showed her all the fruits of our recent labour.

She asked what we charged roughly, and I gave her the details for the high season which we are soon entering.

She asked what the lowest season's cost was. I explained that the lowest season was just about finished by now?!

And she looked slightly lost, and said 'For 2009?'

Oh! She wants to book for February 2009!!! It seems she comes for the 'cure' every year at this time!!

Wow! Our first potential client for 2009!! I must really get the hang of this rental business......

We always thought that your doctor prescribed a three week 'cure' in response to (and to actually cure!) a specific medical issue. We did not realise that people often come back year after year for the said 'cure'.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Glossy & All Burgered Out

We finished painting the inside of the shutters - and that is it. All the painting done in the apartment. Don't they look smart now!Trouble is, when we drill through the outside wall in order to instal the washing machine (don't ask!) - we just KNOW we will have to touch up some of the fresh paint .......
Last sunday, LeeLee's boyfriend declined our invitation to lunch because he does not like vegetables, we always have vegetables and (in our house) everyone has to eat their vegetables.

Just to be evil, LeeLee told him he had missed homemade burgers (sans les legumes!) - my speciality!

We agreed that if he came today, I would make some more.....and not vegi-burgers. This joke/threat fell a little flat though because we had to explain what these were since no one has heard of vegi-burgers down here!

An easy DIY lunch. Set out all the possible things people like to put in their bun - and let them assemble their own.Only trouble - we did not realise that French people put dijon mustard on their burger buns, but we had some in the cupboard anyway.Kevin asked what the green stuff was that Nic and I were adding - and tasted the roquette. Loved it and had some as well! His Mum will not believe this!!
For afters, we had homemade milk chocolate ice cream, with grated white chocolate on top as well as........Belgium chocolate sauce!

Our friends Riet & Albert gave us this sachet which contains granules of chocolate. So easy - just pop in the microwave for a couple of minutes - and you have a yummy rich pourable sauce!Who said oink?!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Perdu & Gagné

LOST: one Sussex Spaniel, answers infrequently to the name Xena. Last seen curled up on her bed by the fire.Wait a minute?! There she is! In a sunbeam! Summer must have arrived.
Allez les Anglaises!!!!

Are we gloating or what!!!!

The girls are wishing they were at school on Monday - they LOVE gloating.

And Richard and I are off to the bank. We don't actually need to go - but when we were there on friday, Marti behind the counter immediately started talking about the rugby game, and predicting (along with everyone else there) that we would lose ......
After a couple of very hot days, the soil is warming up. In the pots especially!

Smokey has moved into her favourite spot - curling up around the palm on the terrace.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Headline News !

Large stash of coke discovered by police sniffer dog in the South of France.
Happy Birthday Colin! Thinking of you on your special day!

When I wrote this , I did not realise I had got the date wrong! Sorry - Happy Birthday for yesterday!

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Slaving Away

Just in case you thought we had been lazing around, just look at the progress we are making!

Richard painted the outside of the windows. Shame he put his metal paint pot down on my newly whitened I will be touching that up tomorrow! After gloss painting all the internal doors, Richard was able to put on the new wrought-iron handles.
The masonry around the front door is being done (by me) - I LOVE white in case you have not noticed! Richard sanding the shutters. He said they were too heavy to take off and work on. Did he really mean that his assistant was just not up to the heavy labour required?! Me, painting the shutters. I did the high bits - difficult to go up a ladder for long if you have a knee that does not work.I also did the bottom bits. Me thinks I am being underpaid. Please admire the fact that this worker took the time to use masking tape to protect the hinges and brackets!

You won't notice any difference, but I also started attacking the front garden - give me a pair of secateurs and I am a demon with rampant roses! Shame my fingers are sore and full of thorns tonight....

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

I Knew It........

..... said Richard. THAT is why our Internet has been chronic this week!

Today fellow bloggers Jan and Alex came for lunch - and a super time we all had. They were kind enough to drive all this way to visit us in our ruin and with the weather so miserable.

We love reading about their life, along with the Editor's enjoyably irreverent asides, on their excellent blog - the first one I ever found, and still the best I read!

It is the second time we have met people who read our blog and it is slightly disconcerting in one way - you have not met before yet they know so much about you. Do I really 'tell all' on my blog?! The girls say yes, and mainly about them!!

We chattered away like old friends, happily eating and drinking away the afternoon. We have become so French - lunch now tends to fill the gap until it is time for dinner!

I was so engrossed that I even forgot to take photos.

The main course was a favourite of the girls - roast chicken. But not any old roast chicken - a recipe from Alsace that entails encasing a chicken (suitably stuffed with garlic, onion, fresh herbs and a large lump of butter) in a bread dough. One of the best uses for an old bread-making machine you have languishing in the cupboard!
Before cooking:I admit I burnt it a bit this time, but tearing off chunks of the bread and dunking them in all the juices pouring out - is divine. And the bread under the chicken is the best!

I had planned on doing a lemon tart, but then LeeLee complained. Why couldn't we have chocolate cheesecake?! Because we have had it so often recently I exclaimed!

But since LeeLee had missed all these other occasions - she thought that unfair. And because I am such a wonderful mother - I gave in and we had two desserts on offer.

Alex and Jan brought us some yummy chocolates hand-made in their village - and I am ashamed to say we ate them all later that evening! But we have not tried the bottles of wine they gave us yet - that is a treat we are saving!

Isn't it a small world!

A couple of days ago, a nice lady sent a comment to our blog (I LOVE to get comments!) and followed up with an interesting e-mail.

Tara mentioned that she knew an Alex who also writes a blog about life in the South of France - the same Alex who was visiting us today!

She also mentioned that she had met a man (whilst walking her dog) who said that he knew someone called Jacqui - that's me! He does work for a couple who have a holiday home in our village. And in the UK, he had lived only 15 minutes from where we lived!

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Evil Incarnate and Petits Pois

Bounced out of bed, all raring to go! Yes, me!

Rushed down to the apartment to do the white surround for the front door......

....and found it was drizzling in Lamalou!

Oh. Bummer. Back home we went.
We have one remaining cat, but most people do not realise this.

She has the extra sensory perception to detect visitors to our house as they enter the village - and scarpers tres vite! Skid marks on the tiles, fast.

Never has she been actually in the house when friends and family arrive.

Until LeeLee brought home a boyfriend.......allergic to felines (so he says!) and thus scared of cats.

You look into Smokey's eyes and see evil glinting back at you. Not only does she NOT run away when Kevin visits, she actually stalks him and rubs herself all around his ankles.

And then sits down to enjoy his wimpering!

Today she waited until he had chosen which seat to sit on - then jumped up onto it. Being brave (and, I have to admit, having taken a lot of stick from us!) Kevin tentatively stroked her gently.

That was it - you never saw a tabby cat disappear so quickly - that was not playing her game!! He was no fun any more.
Now Kevin is equally famous in our household for not liking vegetables - and trying therefore to void coming round for a meal because you have to eat everything on your plate in our house!

LeeLee offered him the chance to stay for dinner today, telling him we were having pasta with ham and peas.

He stayed for dinner.

And looked in dismay when he saw the plates.

He thought LeeLee had meant we were having pasta.....with ham on the side.....and peas on the side seperately. So he thought he could just eat the first two items and leave the pile of petits pois on the side......

....not in this house! We mix it all together in the pot first!

Looks like we won't be seeing him again at meal times for a while.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Time Is Flying By

It seems only yesterday that the girls were starting back at college for this school year, and we are already half way through. Five months gone, only five months to go until the Summer holidays!

We have just received the forms for the September 2008 rentrée will be Christmas soon after!?
I have started tackling the outside painting, whilst Richard is 'glossing' inside. Look at how dirty the window surrounds were before I got to them. Trouble is, now I have finished, no one will know they were ever bad!
Then I moved on to the courtyard door surrround. I got the level, a long piece of straight edge, the ladder and STRETCHED up high to draw the upper boundary for the white 'surround'.

Only problem?! When I got down and stepped back, it did not look straight.

I checked the level AGAIN and got down and stepped back - it still did not look straight!

Turns out the door lintel is at an angle - so I had to 'fiddle' my lovely straight line so that it looked OK. Why do I bother being accurate?!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Don't shout!

Had a long lie-in to recover from yesterday's fantastic birthday celebration.......

.....then fell out of bed and managed to get ready and out of the house by midday.

Staggered across the road and started all over again!

Another great meal - thank you Chrys and Eric!! We LOVE post-party leftovers!

Woke LeeLee up as we left.
She had to stay at home and do an SVT 'controle'. Whilst she was off ill last week she missed this test, so has to do it now and e-mail it to the prof by tomorrow morning!

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Getting Older

This evening we were off to celebrate our neighbour's fortieth birthday - and great fun it was! We came home very stuffed - and lucky that we only had a short distance across the road to stagger.

It was very much a family affair, with friends from the village as well.

After nibbles and plenty of pastis, we moved on to the entrées - a vast selection of terrines made by Eric's various family members, plus salads. I particularly liked the paté de tete - but Richard still baulks at something made from the head of a pig or sanglier!

The local baker was asked to make a loaf to feed us all - and he judged that 3m would suffice! Look at all us women sitting round nattering. A right 'coven of witches'. The main course was a cassoulet made by Eric himself - and the various arguments about what should and should not be included for this dish were still going on!! Especially after a few drinks!

The large pot was big enough to feed 130 people - let alone the 30 that were there! It needed transporting to the open fire for the final touch - white lard put into a special cone shaped device that is then set alight, so that the fat melts and dribbles into the cassoulet. By this time, Eric looked happy whilst Jaquie looked in a panic - the pot was tipping dangerously his way!!

The pudding was especially ordered - a mountain of choux buns (filled with creme anglais) drizzled with caramel. The top was a sheet of nougatine (yummy nuts and caramel) which had been decorated with a picture of Einstein, his famous equation and planets - Eric is an Astro Physicist!
Eric received a box of presents.
Many were jokey ones including an apron, and a baby's bottle that was then filled with a lethal concoction of alcohol that everyone had to sample.His main present though was a cookery course for two people - where you can choose from a selection on offer in various regions in France. Hope he does not take this as a hint about his current cooking skills!
Guess what we are doing tomorrow? Going round at lunch time to do it all again.......