Thursday, 17 April 2008

Have A Nice Day!

LeeLee's boyfriend is one of the few people down here that does not speak any English. He missed so many lessons in his early years at college that he is struggling with the subject now, and is taking extra lessons from LeeLee - grammar lessons, I mean!

She came home last week quite gobsmacked. Kevin had no lessons after 15:00 the afternoon before, and so went 'into town' with a couple of friends.

They mooched around, a bit bored, and guess what?! Came across three English teenagers, who did not speak a word of French (Quelle suprise!).

Did they tousle and have a fight? Did they re-enact the Battle of Waterloo?

No! They all played football together until the evening!

Now what LeeLee wants to know is how can six teenagers who do not speak a word of each other's language, have such a great time together!
***
We are off for a few days for a family get-together. See you on Sunday/Monday!

No posts in the meantime, I am afraid. And just when the Internet is up and running again.......

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

All Muzzled Up

I really think that the French vets need to get more exposure to Sussex Spaniels. If they are to survive in one piece, that is.

They see a hairy brown sausage on four short legs, with a superb spaniel head and a beautiful fur coat three sizes too big for the body - and go:

Ah! Elle est trés belle! Sa couleur est magnifique, incroyable! Viens ici, ma petite!

And she goes:

1. You smell just like that bastard who hurt me the last time!

2. What the hell are you saying?! Can't you speak the Queen's English?!

3. That's it, I have had enough! Snap!

A Sussex Spaniel might be short, but goodness they are strong.

A Sussex Spaniel might have the softest mouth, the most protected teeth (enough flews to hide a dozen ducks in there) and be superb at carrying game without damaging them. But they do have teeth and an awful lot of them! And a jaw that can break bones! Human bones!

They are stubborn, get increasingly grumpy and pissed off in their old age, and have seen off enough vets to fill heaven.

In the UK, our vet was a spaniel groupie. He LOVED spaniels, and our Sussex Spaniels loved him. Even though they were nervously shaking at the time, and he invariably put a thermometer up their nether region, they still thought he was OK.

Now Xena has her vaccinations every year, and has become increasingly suspicious of French vets - and we have tried a few.

Last year, the young man told us, as we entered the surgery, that he was really a cat person. And that was that. He found out the hard way that a Sussex has very fast reflexes - and luckily has an owner that used to be a handy rugby player.

Richard knows how to neck-lock a Sussex, I can tell you!!

So we invested in a muzzle. The shop looked at this adorable, short spaniel and offered us a small/medium sized muzzle. Fat chance. She might be short, but Xena has a muzzle the same size as a rottweiler - so make that a large.

And that is what we have. And once in the blue moon, that is what Xena has put on her.Oh, such joy. I put it on her because even our Sussex is not stupid enough to bite me. Xena might have tried to nip me once, I think, when she was a puppy - but she learnt her lesson. She knows who is boss in this house! And it is not her!!

There she was in the boot of the car.

There was I putting on her muzzle.

She took one look at the vet, and her efforts to remove the muzzle increased to frightening proportions! But we survived. And so did the vet.

Richard and I are absolutely shattered.

Trouble is - she has to go back next month as well.......
***
For a long time now, we have been finding lumps appearing in various places on Xena. We have been getting increasingly worried about them, and in particular about the two either side of her tail.

So there we were, at the vets, with a muzzled dog, and thought that it was the ideal time for the vet to get a good look at the problems.

Could she find them?! No!

Could we find any lumps on Xena?! No!

Did we feel right pratts?! Yes!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Once Every Ten Years.....

....Richard goes on a bus.

And today was that day!

The 4x4 had its big service last week, and had to go back today to have a 'clunk' sorted out. We have been hearing this for the last month when we straighten up after a bend. The garage man had a good look last week during the service, and said:

1. It's not the steering - super!

2. It's not the drive shaft - excellent!

3. And it's not dangerous to drive whilst in this state - that's a relief!!!

So what was it?! It seems the anti-roll bar has an upright at each end (I knew that) - and one of these had sheered off. When Richard was driving, I expect.......

Richard dropped the car off and then decided that his knee was in a really bad state and hurting more than normal. A trip to the emergency department was on the cards....so he caught a bus.

And was given a hand-written ticket. Yes!! Hand written - in this day and age!! Trouble was, when he tried to sit in a seat, he found there was not enough distance between his seat and the one in front - it was shorter than the distance from his knee to the bottom of his spine!! The French must be very short. Or maybe just short legged.

I said he should have asked for a refund......
***
Sorry there have been no posts for a while - no Internet again! Aaaaah!!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Wij houden van u...........

.......Riet en Albert.

I am not sure, but I hope the above says: We love you, Riet & Albert!

They have kindly brought two carrier bags of goodies back from Belgium for us. Thank-you so much!
***
For a family who have not had peanut butter for over a year, we have managed to eat a lot of one of our presents today!

The two girls had some on toast for breakfast before getting on the bus for school this morning.

I had some on toast for brunch - after a lie-in whilst Richard took the Toyota for it's full service (money, money, money!). And Richard had some on a bit of baguette after his lunch today.

We all LOVE peanut butter!!
***
Books! Lots of English books were in the carrier bags as well!!! Goodness, we miss English books.....

LeeLee finished her first one by this evening.

Both Richard and I started ones last night.

When I came down this morning, I could not find my one! A thief was in the house....Richard had nicked it to take with him to read whilst he waited for the car to be serviced! The cheek of it - it is war over the books now in our house!!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Teenagers....

....who would have them?!

I have decided that babes-in-arms (they don't talk or walk!) are infinitely preferable.
***
Two points to note:

1. LeeLee was off to a party in the evening recently,
and
2. I do not lose my temper very often!

Why are these two statements mutually exclusive?
(that was for the mathematicians amongst you!)

Because, as we now know to our cost, when LeeLee goes to a party she decides to take with her our only tube of toothpaste, our only hairbrush (she had broken the other one!) and our only deodorant spray!!!

The next morning, I had 'words' with her about what she had taken....only to then find out that she had also forgotten to bring them back!!! She told me that we would need to just drive to her friend's house in the car to get them!!!!!

Words failed me for about two seconds and then all hell let loose.

Don't think she will do that again in a hurry.
***
In the south of France, there is a lot of lavender - and most local shops offer a multitude of products made out of the stuff.

Several months ago, in a cost cutting exercise, we started looking for cheaper alternatives to many day to day items - including the bars of soap we have for the shower.

And, living where we do, the most reasonable alternative was (you have guessed it!) a lavender based soap.

Now perfumed soap would not normally be our first choice for an item that has to be used by Richard as well as three females....but needs must when you are poor!

So that is what we now use. And guess what?! It has become a favourite with the two girls.

Why? Because, as per all young girls, spots are an issue. And lavender is an excellent anti-spot treatment would you believe!

Since we have started using lavender soap in the shower, spots have virtually disappeared from them!!!

Richard is now outvoted - teenagers rule in this house where soap is concerned!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Optimism Over Experience

Each year I have a go at making strawberry jam.

Now I am not one of those 'earth mothers' but I have got into the local ethos to a certain extent - making use of nature's bounties, when it is easy to do and cost effective.

I also need to regularly have home made things available to give to friends in the village who are so generous in giving us so much of their own produce!

So I have a go at making strawberry jam each year, using the same recipe each time with jam sugar. Trouble is, it is always too runny.

Therefore this year I have tried a recipe for conserve (meant to be firmer than jam!) and used jelly sugar. Am I getting too technical? Have I lost you yet?! Well it was a little less runny but still not like all the experts make it. But we tried it on our breakfast baguette and Richard declared it super!

But then again, God help him if he hadn't said that......
***
There is at least one vegetable that Richard REALLY misses - and that is runner beans.

For the first few years he tried to grow them and whilst we had enough for one meal (yes, I said ONE meal!), it was never a success.

Seems it is too hot for the bees to be really serious at pollinating the flowers, and you need truly frantic bees to get runner beans to develop.

Anyway, this year it seems he has been secretly doing more research, and has found some runner bean seeds actually on sale down here in the Mediterranean region - and he has planted some.

Look! We even have some shoots showing! Will keep you posted on progress. But don't hold your breath.......
***
Trout was on offer at the shop, so guess what we had?! They even looked great on the plates when Richard served them - but we ate them too quickly and I had no time to get the camera out!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Alternatives

I am one of life's cynics.
I freely admit it. I know I am.
My family know it.
And most people who meet me, soon realise it.

But I am not a blinkered, non-accepting type of cynic.

I am just someone who is aware of the negatives of human nature more than many people (from being married to a police officer for so many years probably!) - and am therefore more likely to take a step back and look again closely at something or someone before accepting what is being said or claimed.

I believe in objectivity. Not gut-reaction, immediate, blind, belief.

That brings me onto alternative therapies, currently a topic in the news.

I fully 100% believe that there are lots and lots of natural remedies that have true medicinal properties. What else do you think most of our artificially synthesised drugs were originally derived from for goodness sakes?!

I believe that many alternative therapies DO have a positive effect.

I even believe that, where some of the improvements are not actually due to physical changes but more as a result of patients 'mentally believing that they will help', these therapies have a valid use in the medical world.

What I have an issue with are the MANY charlatans that profess that their alternative therapies WILL provide miraculous cures, etc, especially in the direst of situations.

They are targeting people at their most vulnerable, and some sort of regulation should be imposed. For every genuine practitioner there must be a few hundred who are just jumping on the bandwagon. And that is not right.

The good points of these alternative therapies, are being overshadowed by the many con-artists just taking advantage of the seriously ill.

I was extremely impressed with Terry Pratchet, who was interviewed this week. He has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers. He was articulate, open and very upfront about what he is going through.

He mentioned that he had had all his old mercury fillings removed from his teeth.

Not because he thought that it would help delay his Alzheimers.
He fully believed the medical profession who say that there is no documented proof that mercury fillings bring on this terrible disease.
He just felt that it was something he could do, and because he would feel exceedingly stupid if (in the long run) it might have helped!!

***
When we came to live in France, we were surprised at how homoeopathy runs alongside traditional medicine here. Very comfortably.

Many fully-qualified doctors also train and are qualified in homoeopathy. They do not, in any way, advocate homoeopathy instead of traditional medicine. They believe in running them side by side, complementary as it were.

During our first summer here, LeeLee was badly injured in an accident outside our house.

The road is a very steep slope and she set off down it on an old-fashioned scooter - handlebars, one foot on the plate and push yourself along with your other foot.

The slope caused her to reach a dangerously high speed at which point she fell off and skidded down the rest of the hill on her knees and hands, and finally on her side.

She lost vast areas of skin and muscle/flesh from her arms, legs, hands and knees. She was in a terrible state.

After an operation to remove as much of the dirt and gravel as possible, and to cut away all the torn skin/flesh - she was left with large open areas. Very vulnerable to infection.

She was bandaged up as a 'mummy' and a nurse visited our house each day to remove the bandages, treat the raw flesh and to replace the mummy-like wrappings. Painful in the extreme! A brave little girl we had - even if she swore at the nurse and doctor each time. At least it was in English and not the French that they would have understood!!!

What we found fascinating was the treatment.

LeeLee was obviously pumped full of antibiotics as well as painkillers. But she was also treated homoeopathically as well.

Each day she was put in the bath to soak off the bandages and to cleanse the wounds. Pure lavender oil was put in the bath water because of its natural anti-septic properties. In addition, this oil (neat) was dripped onto all the open wounds before the bandages were replaced.

When we asked why, it was explained. It is now understood that (with large areas of open wounds) it is better to NOT let a scab form. A scab results in a scar.

By keeping the wound open, new (un-scarred) skin is formed naturally from the outer edges towards the centre. It takes a long time, but is worth it in the long run. Gradually the open area shrinks naturally leaving no trace of a wound. And no scar.

However, keeping the wound open increases the risk of infection - and that is where the lavender oil comes in. It is excellent at preventing infection, even in such large open wounds! It provides an infection-proof barrier whilst also fighting any infection already in the wound.

In addition, LeeLee was prescribed charcoal - to be put under her tongue each day and allowed to dissolve and be absorbed.

Again we asked why?!

Charcoal has been know to absorb poison in the human system since time immemorial. What they now know is that it also absorbs the bacteria in the blood that can spread infection through the body. It is just another 'poison' to be absorbed by the charcoal!

By 'eating' charcoal, any infection from the wounds was prevented from being transmitted further afield in LeeLee's body. Fascinating!

Whether we believe or not in the homoeopathy that was prescribed - all I can say is that LeeLee recovered totally.

She NEVER had any infection in the wounds even though they were open for months. And has only one area of scarring - and that is on one of her knees only, which had the worst friction burns they had ever seen at the hospital.

She was a very brave (and lucky) girl, and did not let it stop her enjoying the summer with her best friend, over from England! And I honour the medical staff who quite happily used all their traditional medical experience whilst introducing homoeopathy along side.

PS
LeeLee would just die if she realised I had posted this, so don't tell her!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Slated

That's what we have lots of.
Slate.
Large sheets, medium sized, 'dressed' or natural. We have got them all.

Why?

Left over from when our house was a ruin.
And when our barn was a ruin.
And whilst the old forge (originally attached to our place) continues to be a ruin.


Our current house was originally three properties - of which one became totally collapsed, the middle one only partially crumbled whilst the third survived reasonably intact.

About twenty five years ago a gentleman rebuilt two out of the three with a lot of help from our friend in the village, Robert.

The third that was a 'total ruin' could not be rebuilt because by then there was a new villa next door and it would have infringed on their privacy. So it was 'capped' and became the terrace, with it's glorious panoramic view over the village and the valley. Actually what sold the property to us!
Our barn was originally where the horses were kept ready to be shoed by the farrier at the forge next door. It was allowed to fall into disrepair until just before we bought the ensemble - the previous owners had just had it's walls built up to the original level and a roof put on. Great - it meant we had somewhere to put all our packing cases when the removal lorries arrived from the UK!! Traditionally slate was used in a variety of ways in buildings down here.

As a guttering, it was laid along the top of the stone walls before the roof went on. It still exists along the original back wall of our house. And also on the smaller part of the barn.

But it is interesting to notice - on the house, the slate is neat and top quality. On the barn, it is rough and not very 'dressed'. Not surprising I suppose when you think about it.

Slate was also used to help level up the stones as a wall was built. When using stones of all different sizes, it was impossible to keep a horizontal line. Slate was introduced ever so often to provide a new perfect level.

Again it is interesting to note - on the back (original, and still standing) wall of our house, the stones were partially 'dressed'. That is, roughly cut to make the laying more uniform and smart. Slates were still used, but not to a great extent. However, the walls of the barn were constructed out of stones of varying sizes and shapes - more like rubble that was piled on top of each other, and much more unstable if the wall is breached. Here slate was used in order to help provide some horizental levelling - much more important than with dressed stones! The arch between our house and the barn is not original. It was built by our friend Robert about 25 years ago when he was helping the owner rebuild the house(s). The skill needed to produce a secure and stable arch out of stones of varying sizes and shapes - is awe inspiring to us. He explains that he laid out hundreds of stones on the ground first, and then selected the most appropriate as he went along. I would have loved to have seen the whole process! And what astonishes us is that such stone building skills still exist here - even in the younger generations in the village. There is so much stone around in this region, that it is seen as a resource not to be wasted.

The Communes all have staff who are able to built with such stone, and it is regularly used when new road structures are built. We have the smartest and prettiest roundabouts and walls along public roads you have ever seen!

Anyway - what do WE use the slate for?! For marking out the blackberry plants we have put in along our barn wall of course!! Not exactly a highly skilled process I admit....... Richard started by digging a trench along the wall. In went the shovel, and he followed this by chucking the soil/gravel over his shoulder onto a heap behind him. He had quite a rhythm going.What he did not notice was Xena, behind him, chasing each shovel full as it flew past. She was trying to catch it for him!!! One brick short of a wall, I say.....or maybe just one light on, but nobody home!They look smart anyway. We all love blackberries. And what they pick locally in the hedgerows are so small and dry - we would not even think them worth picking in the UK!

Hopefully a proper apple and blackberry pie next year.......

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Lobster Chaos

What have I been doing today? Other than getting sunburnt, do you mean?!

For goodness sake, it is early April and I only did a bit of gardening (on and off) on the terrace....and I look like a lobster!!! My back and shoulders do anyway.

But no, I did not take a picture for the blog. It is a little bit difficult to 'zoom' a camera over your head, as you can imagine.....
***
Simple and perfectly logical ideas, always seem to end up complicated. With us anyway.

We had two hanging baskets on the terrace last year - and they looked great. You could even see them from the main road!

So, there we were today visiting all the local places that sell plants, looking for trailing petunias. To plant in last year's baskets. And all they had were normal ones.

But we noticed that they had some wonderful ready-planted hanging baskets of trailing fuchsias. I LOVE fuchsias, and it did not take much persuasion to convince me that the price differential would not be large enough to worry about.... so why not buy them 'ready made'.

Technically, we should have got them home and put them straight up on the brackets.....but we didn't. We left them on the table until after lunch.

And in that time, someone (I won't mention any names, will I Richard!!) just happened to say that the new baskets were smaller than last year's baskets, and wouldn't it be better to replant the fuchsias into last year's baskets........

Sounded so logical. So simple. Just did not allow for the fact that fuchsias are remarkably fragile. Their stems break as soon as you look at them.

Anyway, they look great don't they?! And so does the glass full of broken off stems as well.
***
Planted the courgettes, After trimming the triffid-like honeysuckle, And potted the two replacement herbs. How come I have no luck with parsley? It dies every year after a couple of months. Wonder if it's the cat?!

Wherever I go, the dog goes too. So she spent a lazy day absorbing the rays on the terrace. And wherever the dog goes, the cat loves to come too - to annoy the dog. Who tries to ignore her for as long as possible, or until the furry feline lying on her nose stops her being able to breathe!
***
I LOVE the current weather. There is nothing better than standing on the terrace with a glass of ice-cold rosé in your hand whilst Richard barbecues dinner. Marinated pork loin chops, lamb kebabs and griddled courgettes. I did the last items on the hob - there is only space for one chef round a barbecue!!
***
The last few weeks have been all about a party.
A party that LeeLee has been invited to by her boyfriend's parents. A 'major' party being given by some friends of theirs.

A party that is taking place about 45 minutes drive away, starting after 22:00 and not expected to finish until 5 or 6 in the morning.

It started with gentle hints, asking LeeLee if she had a skirt or something special that she might wear. It seems it is a very 'smart' do.

Lots of traumatising and trying on of clothes later....and I finally say to LeeLee that she could look suitably smart, girlie and special even wearing trousers - provided that they are smart trousers. You see, LeeLee does not 'do' skirts if she can at all help it!

OK. LeeLee cheers up and starts trying on a whole different wardrobe of clothes. MINE to be exact - because I have a whole, now redundant, work wardrobe of smart trousers. But I do think it is a cheek when someone wants to borrow YOUR clothes, then spends all the time criticising the cut of the afore mentioned trousers....why aren't they straight legged? Why aren't they baggy at the knees but fitted at the waist?

Because they are MY trousers and I bought what I liked, and what suited me!!!!!

OK. Move on another week and LeeLee comes home having found out that Kevin's Mum is planning on wearing jeans! What ever happened to smart?!

So LeeLee starts trying on yet another wardrobe of clothes, mostly mine again - just all my black/grey jeans this time!!!

I won't bore you with all the gory details, but this goes on right up until this afternoon - the day of the party.

Finally, I get her out the house, and drop her at Kevin's house. I say 'have a great time' and do not expect to see her again until tomorrow morning. How wrong can a parent be!!!!

At 18:00 the phone rings. Guess what?! Turns out it is a fancy dress party........

"Come and get me quick and dig out my old English school uniform!" she yells.

I end up having to chuck her shirt in the wash, tumble it dry and then drive her back to Kevin's house.

So there we are, sitting round the dinner table after a delicious meal and several glasses of ice-cold rosé, when the phone rings. Oh God, don't let it be LeeLee AGAIN!

You guessed it - LeeLee again!

"Can you come and get me quick so that I can dash home and search for my old lab coat coz they need it for their fancy dress costumes!"

NO! NON! NEIN!

Please rearrange the following words into a well known phrase:

Piss-up
Brewery
Cannot
In
A
Organise

Friday, 4 April 2008

Post Renovation - This & That (3)

What a wonderful Friday we have had.

For the first time in ages, Richard and I saw the girls off to school and then jumped in the car and went to Beziers for the flower market.

First we walked up the Allée Paul Riquet looking at all the stalls and stopped at the top at our favourite café/restaurant for breakfast. They were SO busy - all locals popping in with either paperwork, babies & buggies or indeed groups of 'ladies who breakfast' catching up on the gossip. I bet there are a lot of restaurants who would be delighted to have this amount of custom - all before 10:00am!!

The top half of the market is garden plants and cut flowers - this particular stall makes up the most fantastic bouquets for you, to order. Just pick your stemmed flowers and they do it there and then. Lower down you get all the fruit/veg/bedding plant stalls - where we were heading. It is time to start planting out our terrace! This is where you come to buy your quail..... .....or chickens. For your chicken run, of course, not the table!!! We then spent the afternoon planting out our purchases. Three pepper plants. One aubergine. And I started clearing out the pots and putting in the pansies, and tidying up the palms. It is too early for the geraniums and the tomatoes - because we still might get a late frost unfortunately, like last year.

Richard spent the time setting up the watering system, and we are all set now. Tomorrow, I must put in the two courgettes, the two mures (blackberries) and the new herbs.

Nic was helping me - and we both ended up with sun tans on our backs! It was 20 degrees in the shade!
***
Spring is bursting out all over our area. Down on the plain (the flat area between us and Beziers, and the Mediterranean) it was surprising how further advanced they are - many of the vines are already dressed in new leaves. You can see our line of hills as we drove back home and stopped off to buy some vrac rosé at Schiste- we live just behind the hills, in the first valley! As we drove up the hill to towards the turn off to our village, the acres of cherry and peach blossom was as pretty as a picture. As far as the eye could see. Shame I could not do them justice!! As we drove into the village, we saw Robert's recently trimmed vines with glorious yellow between. The very, very old cherry trees just beyond Jean-Paul's old-type vine field on the right. Continuing towards home, on the left, we passed Robert's 'special' cherry trees that he never treats with chemicals - producing fruit just for family and friends. And we could look across the valley and see blossom appearing here and there in the garrigue - where fields of fruit trees are almost invisible to outsiders. Can you see Jacquie's peach trees in the distance?! My photo is not very good I am afraid. Nature at its finest!