Saturday, 31 May 2008

Platella - Cassé

Richard tripped over in the house on Thursday evening and has been hobbling around since then.

After much pressure (What do you mean telling me it is OK?! You winced again in pain!), he agreed to go and let the Doctor have a look at it.

Seems he might have broken his knee cap - and so is off to two hospitals next week. One for an x-ray. The other for an arthroscopy to see what is actually going on inside.

If it is broken, then it is an operation for Richard.

He is SO thrilled.......especially since it is his 'good' knee. And not the one that has crumbled due to arthritis! Sod's Law.

Even more delighted when he saw the contraption he has to wear to keep the whole leg immobile. Not a happy chappy.

And not the time to have a 4x4 car that sits so high off the ground.
***
Happy birthday to my sister Una! Thinking of you on your special day - have a drink on us!

Friday, 30 May 2008

Twofold Felicitations!

Not only is it my birthday today, but also that of our blog.

Can you believe it! I have actually managed to keep this blog up for a whole year!!

Give yourself a laugh and look back at some of the early ones.

All I can say is that the posts have gradually got longer, less funny and probably more banal. But so what - that's our life!
***
I have had a great day. The girls were up early and gave me their homemade cards - absolutely lovely and covered in love.

I am a proud Mum.
***
They got me a special puzzle - a three dimensional one because Richard was a little bit pissed off when I completed my one they bought for Mother's Day within 24 hours.He is timing me on this one!!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Peace & Quiet

A day at home with no school run at lunchtime. As rare as ....a day at home with no school run!

Nic is off with her SVT class to go and plant some lentils beside a pond (I kid you not!).

And LeeLee took the hint and asked if she could take a sandwich to college.

So what shall Richard and I do?

Sigh. Must be time to fill in our 2007 Tax Return. Deep joy.
***
Guess what! Richard persuaded me that I really needed to be taken out to lunch to celebrate my birthday instead!

It is the prerogative of ladies of mature years to celebrate early - so I agreed. The deadline for our tax return is tomorrow - plenty of time!

We went to La Forge in Bedarieux and it was very good. After many days of storms and torrential rain, the sun shone and we sat outside on their terrace. And they certainly do some business at lunchtime. They ended up bringing tables out from the inside restaurant because so many people arrived and wanted to enjoy al fresco dining.

We enjoyed starters of avocado/smoked salmon and prawn/asparagus followed by main courses of duck tornados wrapped in bacon (and still pink inside) and porc traverse (which was meltingly tender!).A wide range of cheeses to choose from (about 10, all of which the young waiter knew by name!) was followed by desserts of tiramisu and creme brulee (with citron vert). All excellent and once again we ate too much. Wow. Was I tired this afternoon. Even though I had slept until 11:00am.

It is a hard life - retirement. But someone has to do it.

PS
Got the tax return done as well!
***
The college/lycée got a new Headmistress about 18 months ago. And she has certainly brought in some novel ideas. Just about all of which have been a success.

The latest one involves the shop they run in the Foyer for drinks, etc. The decision was taken not to install vending machines because the establishment wanted control over what the children were likely to buy. That was novel in itself! A school that does not want the kids to just buy crisps and sweets so that they make loads of money from a captive audience?!

She decided to introduce the concept of refunds.

For example, they sell cans of soft drinks for 1.20 euros. And if the child brings the empty can back with the ticket they were given when they bought it, they get a refund of 0.20 €.

Why? I hear you ask. Because the new Headmistress was not happy about litter on the school premises. And it has worked! Not a dropped crisp packet or an empty can in sight!

There is a little student café near the entrance to the school which sells all the things students might want to eat/drink. But the school has undercut them very successfully. There, a can of drink costs 1.50€, and you do not get the option of a refund.

I LOVE to see great ideas that actually work!
***
This is the same Headmistress who has banned the use of mobile phones anywhere on the premises except the playground.

Cynical? Think the kids will just ignore this rule? Not on your nellie!

Every time, and I mean EVERY time, a student is caught either using their mobile or even if it just rings, the phone is confiscated for the rest of the term and a parent has to make an appointment with the Headmistress to get it back.

Love to be a fly on her wall when she lets rip at them.
***
LeeLee had her second French Oral Bac Blanc this week and thinks it went very well. She had a great discussion of her various texts and the examiner said she had enjoyed such a stimulating and varied dialogue.

Me. I am not sure just how stimulating I would find discussing the works of Molière, Voltaire and all the other French writers on the list. But maybe I am wrong. (yeah, right!)
***
LeeLee and Nic were quite indignant this lunchtime, telling us about the importance of volley ball.

A lot of kids play it down here. Specifically a lot go to after-school clubs and also sign up for extra tuition.

Our two have always said - no way, not interested!

Now they realise what fools they have been.....

For your Bac result, your marks in sport get taken into account (coefficient two, I think).

Any external activities/clubs that you take part in can also be included in your Bac marks - if you wish. With coefficient three.

So, for example, if you take the time and make the effort to join and do well at a volley club (which abound down here) you not only boost your sports mark by being good at sport obviously, you also can ask to have your performance in your 'external volley club' assessed by an examiner as well!

Easy marks according to LeeLee! And most of her class take advantage of this, much to her chagrin.

We live and learn - just a bit too late for LeeLee!!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

A Day In The Life Of......

...... Nic. Happy 12th Birthday!

00:01am
Last night, after the girls had gone to bed, we set about 'making' Nic's main present.How come, when a piece of equipment comes with perfectly adequate and logical instructions, the man involved always thinks it is not necessary to follow them?!

Richard glanced through the manual provided whilst I was wrapping presents, and then started putting the trampoline together.

Need/want any help Dear? I asked.

No, of course not.

After a while, I decided to help anyway because where the instructions said to put in place the first 4 of the 48 (!) springs at intervals of every twelve loops, why was Richard insisting on putting them in in every tenth one?!

Because it is not going to make any difference in the long run, he said.....

In the middle of all this, LeeLee arrived with the card she had made for Nic and her wrapped present. And she insisted on me taking a picture of them for posterity. By what age will a teenager learn that pestering her Mother when her Mother is helping her Father with something tricky (especially when he doesn't want help!), is NOT a good idea.

Once built, we could not get the cat off it!Every time we turned our back, she was back there. Even after we turned off the lights and were going to bed. The dog got really wound up....she wanted to be up there as well! Sorry about the poor quality of the photos above. Someone (who shall remain nameless) was heard muttering about reading the instruction manual as he showed me that I had the camera on the wrong setting........

06:30am
What the hell is that in the middle of our salon?!Even then, Smokey had to get in on the act. Reading the instructions as insisted upon by her father (!), the cat had to be there as well. Well done! But don't hit your head on the beams......

10:30am
We took Nic to Beziers so that she could browse in all the shops and spend her birthday money.

Stopped off at our favourite café for chocolate chaud and a pain au chocolate!
12:30
Met LeeLee from college and went to the only Chinese restaurant in the region! And ate far too much....
18:00
Nic had ballet, so I knuckled down and made the required purple tutu (don't ask!). One down, another seven to sew!
21:30
Birthday cake time! Then bed. A Happy Birthday to Nic - hope you enjoyed your special day. We love you very much!!

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Paddling & Cold

How come the two people with birthdays this week, are the two with head colds?! Life is NOT fair!

Certainly not for Nic and me. We live in the sunny South of France for goodness sake - colds are not meant to exist down here!
***
The meteo all this week - torrential rain, thunder and lightening, with hail to follow in the next day or so.

When we first decided to move down here, our one concern was the arid landscape we would have to live with during the long hot summers. Having been born and brought up in lush and green Hampshire, we both were going to miss the rolling hills and flourishing flora of home.

Ha! Some joke! There is so much water in this region, we could almost be called an ocean.

Ok, who said we should have wondered why it was called the pays de source? It is all well and good being so clever in hindsight......

Rain?! You have not seen anything like what we have been having for the last three days!

This is the wide concrete conduit that Nic would walk along with her class to get from her school in Lamalou to the sports ground. And she never had to paddle, let alone swim!This is the wide concrete conduit through Bedarieux where everyone walks their dogs. And the dogs never use life jackets! By the way, the red colour is because the water is flowing from Pezenes Les Mines where the soil is famously a rich red colour because of the high level of bauxite in it. NOW we know that 'conduit' down here translates as 'storm drain'!!

These photos were taken at lunchtime. Looks almost like midnight. Richard is fretting about his runner bean plants (can they swim?). Whilst I kept on going out to check on the chemin I dug and cleared last week - was it all washing away down the road whilst the wall I undermined collapses?! Yes. Washing away down the chemin.......... and past the steps to our front door.On days like today, I remember why I never wanted to be a postman or dustman.

On days like this, I wish we had spent our savings on a new roof rather than a swimming pool! Pots everywhere in the lounge, to catch the leaks, is not a chic look.
***
Filled up the car with diesel today - and it cost over 100 euros! That is a 50% increase over the last six months!
***
With the storms ranging all around us, our electricity has been going on and off all day, and we have been without the Internet for almost three days.

This morning Richard got up early and went to find all the torches. I asked why this early?

So that LeeLee would have one ready next to her in case we lost power before she had finished doing her make-up.

Is he a wonderful, thoughtful Dad? Or a real sucker?
***
We are sitting up late tonight to build Nic her birthday pressie ready for when she wakes up tomorrow morning.

To give you a hint. We chose it so that it would fit (just!) between the house and the barn. Only problem is it is pouring with rain outside, so we have built it in the salon. Looks a bit unusual (you will see the photos tomorrow) but at least Richard does not have far to go to kneel on it!
***
In the midst of the storm, we went to pick up some more vrac wine (siege mentality - get your priorities right!). We got nervous when the overhead pylon and cables started sizzling......but then a tourist coach arrived and we decided they would be a far bigger and better target for the electricity if it decided to escape!

Monday, 26 May 2008

Holding Back The Marauding Hoards.....

...or alternatively - don't let the animals out of the zoo!!!!

The college that the girls go to in Bedarieux is surrounded by 15 foot high walls/fencing with gates at the front entrance.

At 7:45am and 17:00, the gates are very generously opened for 15 minutes and you can enter or leave freely.

At all other times the college gates are kept locked.

There is a caretaker who lives in a bungalow just inside the entrance, and her job is not to let anyone in or out of the gates unless they have a valid reason.

From the outside you ring the bell, talk into the intercom, and provided you look like a parent with an appointment at the Headmaster's office, she lets you in and then watches to ensure that you do in fact walk into the building and nowhere else.

From the inside, you go up to her main window looking out over the gate, and try and persuade her that you really DO have permission from your parents to leave the premises. And her answer is always NO unless (virtually!) your parents are standing right next to you!!! Even then she tells you (plus your parents) to go into Vie Scolaire and get the proper authorisation form signed in triplicate.

Each student has to carry their carnet at all times. It is like their passport to life at college. Amongst other things it contains:
- a certified photo of the student
- certified specimen signatures of their parents and/or guardian
- their timetable
- any mots from teachers, telling their parents about things they have done wrong or have not done at all (eg homework!)
- forms completed by their parents confirming when they missed school and why eg due to sickness
- the marks they get in their tests

AND, most importantly, the times they are allowed to leave the school premises each day. Or not, as is more often the case.

In order to get out the gate, a student has to show the caretaker their carnet, who then checks if the parent has certified that they are allowed to leave at that time, on that particular day. If it is not in the carnet, tough - the gate stays locked with the student inside!The adult you can (just about!) see in the narrow open gateway is in fact a teacher. He is young, good looking, wearing a chunky cardigan (think Starskey, not Hutch!) and today he was on guard duty.

Come 12:00, the college recognises that many students go home for lunch whilst demi-pensionaires stay and eat at the canteen. So at that time the gate is opened and manned for about 15 minutes by a teacher (sometimes two) who stand guard.

They check each student's carnet and only if it is in order, properly certified with permission to be let out at that time/day, do they allow the student to escape.

It is our daily amusement whilst waiting in the car for the girls to be let out, to see the various tactics employed by students trying to leave when they are not allowed to.

Watching sometimes the smallest, petitest young female teacher taking no nonsense from 15 year old young adults often nearly a foot taller, whilst a huge crowd of students is building up behind, all waiting in line for their chance to escape.

Here is Nic having just got through - still holding her carnet in her hand. When we first watched this system in practise, we were amazed and gob-smacked! It might seem draconian by UK standards, but it works.

The school's attitude is that between the hours of 8:00am and 17:00 the students are their responsibility, and they therefore have to ensure the students are on the premises unless certified by the parents to be allowed out.

In Bedarieux itself, shopkeepers do sometimes ask to see a student's carnet to ensure that they are allowed to be out in the town, before serving them.

Our kind of town!
***
When LeeLee first started school here, she was ALWAYS forgetting to take her carnet in to college. And we kept getting a letter sent to us each time telling us that she had broken one of the strict rules.

In order to be allowed out, we would either have to go into the Secretariat and sign a permission form, or bring the missing carnet with us and hand it through the bars of the fencing to LeeLee.

We got so fed up that we instigated our own rule. Forget it three times in a month and we REFUSED to get her out of jail free! That focused her attention - having to stay on the premises and either miss out on lunch or pay for a canteen meal out of her own pocket money!

Cruel, nasty parents?! Us?! You must have been talking to our daughters.....

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Mothering Sunday

I have had a wonderful day.

The girls each made me gorgeous cards - and I will gloss over the fact that on LeeLee's (the left hand one) the glue was still wet...... She had a hard weekend. Lots of studying and baby sitting until the early hours of this morning, so I will let her off.

As you saw earlier this week, my water garden and fountain (my present from the girls) looks wonderful, and I also got a new jigsaw puzzle!

Luckily I sat up late last night and finished the one we received this week from my sister Lesley and her husband Steve! Thanks to them both - they know we love jigsaw puzzles!!!
***
My babies are all growing up so fast! I spent today helping Nic to defuzz her legs for the first time.......and I feel so old!
***
For those of you sitting in the UK and bemoaning the awful Bank Holiday weather........it is pissing down here with gale force winds!

Richard is fretting about my Water Irises - the leaves are being bent into the water (technical problem I understand with water gardens!).

And I am worrying about the chemin I cleared over the last two weeks. Might find it was not such a good idea if all the newly exposed earth disappears down the road into the village......

Friday, 23 May 2008

Cherries

The cherry season is up and running, with the first ones available in the shops earlier this week.

They started at 10€ per kilo, or 7€ at the road side.

And finished the week at 6€ per kilo in the shops, or 3€ at the road side.

Supply and demand - the economics of of it.

Driving into our village, you could see it in reality.

Three fruiting cherry trees next to each other. The first in full bloom, with red cherries ripe and ready to pick. The first crop. The next tree was of 'white' cherries, pink in colour when ready and white fleshed. But not fully ripe yet. And the third tree will be the extra special morello-type rich claret coloured cherries. Super when used for home made liqueur....... but quite a while before they will be ready!Looking forward to all of them!!!
***
As with farmers the whole world over, the local cherry producers have been unhappy. They have been predicting and worrying about both the high winds and the low night time temperatures we are getting.

And with reason.

Look at the number of fruit that have been 'dropping'. All represent income desperately needed and sorely missed.
***
The grapes are coming along. Just hope the hail predicted possibly for this weekend, does not materialise!Goodness - I am starting to sound like a local.....

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Poetry In Motion

Richard and I have a love of the English language, both written and oral. We enjoy reading and have always delighted in the appropriate use of different words.

We have tried to pass this love onto our children, and are pleased that they spend a lot of their spare time reading.

Tonight we spent pre, post and pendant dinner discussing poetry.

As part of her French course, LeeLee and her fellow students are required to compile an anthology of their favourite poems.

LeeLee spoke to her teacher - and explained that her favourites were all English!

The teacher said - great, we would like to hear them!

So we have been discussing the vast number that she has to choose from. How about (to name but a few of her favourites):

Jaberwocky, by Lewis Carroll (try translating this one!)
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,And the mome raths outgrabe.'

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright, by William Blake
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


If, by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,

Macavity, by T S Elliot
Macavity's a Mystery Cat: he's called the Hidden Paw -
For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime - Macavity's not there!

The Cateract Of Lodore, by Robert Southey
The cataract strong
Then plunges along,
Striking and raging
As if a war raging
Its caverns and rocks among;
Rising and leaping,
Sinking and creeping,
Swelling and sweeping,
Showering and springing,
Etc.

The Owl And The Pussy Cat, by Edward Lear
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.

The girls, however, were instructing us on French poetry.

Nic mentioned how monotone and turgid French poems are in terms of their spoken rhythm. And both the girls explained that their French teachers get really het-up in class trying to get the students to 'read' poetry with expression and emphasis on different words and syllables. The teachers often get the English students (if there are any) to read to show the class how it should be done!!

LeeLee explained that when an author writes a French poem, he states the rhythm he wants it read with. Because the French language stresses each syllable the same, a reader of a poem needs to be told how the author wishes the rhythm of the poem to be, because it does not come naturally.

In the English language however, we stress syllables differently in a given word, and this determines the rhythm of a poem.

Consider: COMfortable (English) versus con-for-ta-ble (French).

In French poems, the rhythm is stated (eg Alexandrian or Romantic) and therefore whether, if there are 12 syllables per line for example, they are to be stressed:
4 by 4 by 4,
or 3 by 3 by 3 by 3,
or 6 by 6,
etc.

Richard and I found this an interesting discussion, not least because our two daughters were explaining it all to us in an articulate and clear way.

LeeLee then also mentioned something that she had learnt this week for the first time - a French poem is only said to rhyme properly if the rhyming words at the end of each line not only sound the same but are of the same gender!

We came to the conclusion that this must put a great restriction on an author. Only half the number of words to choose from.....

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Post Celebrations And Love Bites

Thank-yous from both Richard and LeeLee to everyone who sent best wishes, and of course pressies (!), for their birthdays.

They had great fun.....

......eating smoked salmon for lunch, ......drinking her first LEGAL alcoholic drink (and it just had to be a Pina Colada?!), ......and a delicious meal out in the evening, ......and the birthday cake when we got back. Since I was driving, we enjoyed pink champagne as well when we got home. You did not think I would let them get away with me not drinking on their birthdays, did you!

By the way, it was a rosé Mercier champagne - and very good it was. Fruity and full bodied. Better than the last time we tasted it a couple of years ago!
***
Today my chest area is covered with what look remarkably like love bites. And before you start imagining wild orgies in the depths of Herault (and get your hopes up!)......

........Richard was right. It is far easier for the Heart Specialist to run all his tests when you do not have chest hair!

Although Dr Labadie did say that 'boobs' cause him just as many problems, from an ECG point of view of course.

For the next 24 hours I am strapped up with a monitoring device that sounds like an aircraft revving up every 15 minutes. You should have seen the looks I got at the supermarket!
***
Am I the luckiest Mum in the world?! I got to see my Mother's Day pressie a few days early! I now have a water feature that I can sit next to whilst reading on the terrace. Thank-you girls!

And Richard of course, because I hope to God he did not let Nic or LeeLee wire up the fountain?!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Happy Birthday!

To Richard (21 again!) and Happy 18th Birthday to LeeLee! Wow - doesn't time fly! Here she is, an adult and ready to fly the nest, whilst it seems only yesterday.......
***
Eighteen years ago? What were we doing?!

I remember being woken up at 4:30am by a faint flutter at the base of my belly.

I was 9 months pregnant and the baby was due in seven days time. And we all know that babies are ALWAYS late - especially first ones, don't we!

The night before we had celebrated Richard's first night home after a week of night duty in the time-honoured way of loving couples the whole world over.

We had even joked about the warning given to us at our last meeting with the Midwife - according to her, three things can induce a baby to be born if it is over time:
1. eat a hot curry
2. make love
3. massage the outside edge of your little toe.

OK so the previous night's celebration suddenly seemed foolish in the extreme, but hindsight is a wonderful thing! And the baby was NOT due for another week....

I had planned Richard's last birthday as a DINKY (double income, no kids yet) down to the nth degree:

- long lie in
- lazy lunch of smoked salmon and champagne
- afternoon siesta
- meal out at our favourite up market Italian restaurant in Ripley (Surrey). They had two Tornado Rossinis and a bottle of old Barolo with our names on them!

Someone 'upstairs' was laughing their heads off at us.

I went to sit on the loo and realised that the flutter was now a regular twinge. Ooooo - getting exciting!

An hour later at 5:30am I was sure, and went and woke Richard up. Told him he was having a baby for his birthday.

I had never seen a person go from comatose to wide awake panic in two seconds flat before.

By 6:00am I was in serious pain and the contractions were two minutes apart. According to all the books we had read, it was time to go to hospital.

Richard phoned the Maternity Suite and was told:
Your first child, Sir? It all started just 1.5 hours ago? Don't panic - you have hours yet ! Call back in a few hours....

Half an hour later, Richard decided that this was it. However patronising the nurse had sounded over the phone, he was getting me to hospital.

My attitude throughout the pregnancy was that under no circumstance was I having the baby at home. No way was I being left with all the gory debris of birth in MY house to clean up, and I wanted every medical contraption known to man around me.

Richard drove across Guildford with a harridan beside him.
Don't drive so fast, I can feel every bump in the road!
Get there quick - I am NOT having this baby in my car! Think of the mess!!!
etc.

He swears to this day that he kept to the speed limit and drove really carefully - but all I remember is a journey from hell. Something from the Sweeney in fact.

We arrived at the hospital by 7:00am and when we told them that the twinges had started 2.5 hours before, they advised us to go home for a while.

Richard informed them in no uncertain terms that HIS WIFE WAS HAVING HER BABY NOW!!!! And so they had a quick look.

Absolute panic then ensued amongst the medical staff, and LeeLee was born 15 minutes later at 7:15am on the 20 May 1990.

And don't say "Ah, she was beautful!" Or am I the only person in the world who thinks that new-born babies are ugly?! LeeLee was born with black hair that rubbed off within a few days. She was then bald as a coot for nearly two years - and looked like Winston Churchill according to Richard!

Look - at four weeks old, she fitted into Richard's hand! I am pleased to say, she improved with time and is now definitely beautiful. Although at 6:00am this morning, I was not too sure?!
***
Motherly love - getting up at 6:00am to make your child banana pancakes for breakfast on her birthday.