Saturday, 28 June 2008

Runners Galore!

Richard is ready to give up on his runner beans, and threatening to dig them up.

So I went out and had a good look at them.

And guess what?! I found some!! They are just adapting to the climate and hiding under the tiles! Sort of.....I found about 6-8 but, just on principle, Richard says he is NOT going to eat them.

He does not consider this a productive enough return.....never satisfied, the girls and I say!

Friday, 27 June 2008

Happy Hop-a-long!

Richard had more x-rays on his knee this evening. The radio man was not happy (found lots to write in his letter to the Specialist) and Richard got very depressed waiting to see the Orthopaedic Surgeon, convinced he was going to be told that an operation was needed.

But, how wrong he was! He has been given the all clear! As long as he is careful over the next two weeks, Richard can walk, drive and swim from this moment onwards!

Happy chappy!!
Richard is thanking his lucky stars that he only had to wear a leg brace because of his kneecap.

My sister Una hurt her back whilst enjoying herself going very fast over the water in her new speedboat. The hospital thinks she has fractured a vertebrae and she has to wear a body brace! A very fetching number we think, reminiscent of the Moulin Rouge!
Nic was off to an 'end of school year' swimming party today.

Brings it home to us how locals adapt to the higher temperatures during the summer. The party started at 17:00 to ensure that there was less risk of sun stroke and sunburn.

It is too hot now to be out in the midday sun....

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Exam Fever

My alarm goes off. I wake up. It is 5:00am.

Oh, deep joy. I am driving LeeLee to her French bac Oral exam today,'ve guessed it, Clermont l'Herault. Why does that ring a bell?!

Up at 5:00am, on the road by 6:30am, and we arrive about 20 minutes ahead of time. As you might have guessed, I drove sedately and not once did I go over the speed limit this time!

Great! Having studied her papers during the journey, what does she now do?!Her written exam was last week, and she sat it in one of the salles at the lycée at Clermont. And a very impressive salle it was - and I know because I had to walk in up the front to hand over LeeLee's passport and admission paper! As I looked out at the vaste number of students sitting this paper, I was a trifle gobsmacked.

Next to the lycée was an ancient church which is now incorporated into the school premises, and the main church area is now just another salle. A beautifully proportioned, newly renovated stone salle with a high vaulted ceiling.

Leigh said it was inspiring sitting and writing in such a magnificent room.

This is the outside - where I parked the car when we had time to spare this morning.
Driving through Bedarieux at the crack of dawn en route to Clermont, the roads were deserted and there was no one around.

Except municipal staff.....who kept on stopping in front of me!

First there was the guy walking alongside a slow moving vehicle holding a tube. He was pressure hosing all the pavements and road surfaces - as he does EVERY MORNING at this time.

Next there were the two guys sitting on top of an open backed truck watering all the hanging baskets....with a watering can!? As they do EVERY MORNING at this time. Finally I got stuck whilst the big lorry was emptying the underground public dustbins. The new interre ones that have been set up recently everywhere in our area.Doesn't anyone sleep round here?!
Picked our next crop of artichokes. I LOVE artichokes.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Hot, Hot, Hot!

Summer has finally arrived - it is 34 degrees in the shade!

But Richard is getting very upset - as men have a habit of doing.

He wants to know how come our swimming pool has a temperature of only 20 degrees whilst our friends' pool is reaching 28 degrees?!

I do not see what he is complaining about. At Nic's party a couple of weeks ago it was only 18 degrees and they all enjoyed themselves! (Nic thought it was a super party - and look at the cakes we made for it!)
Richard could still be heard muttering to himself at odd moments though.

Since he will not even put a toe (let alone his whole body) into the water unless it is at least 28 degrees, I decided to investigate.

And because women think logically rather than laterally......I went and bought a new swimming pool thermometer.

And guess what?! Our swimming pool is now 30 degrees! Aren't I clever!

Richard can now be heard muttering about faulty goods, misrepresentation and smart-arsed wives.

Even though he is due to see the specialist this Friday, even though he cannot risk twisting or stumbling on his right leg because of his broken kneecap, what did Richard decide to do?

Go swimming of course!

God, give me strength......and patience with the man.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Yoga Evening

Today was to be the last yoga class of the term. We will not convene again until October and so tonight we were going to have a get together, after 'zenning' for an hour!

We met at the home of Bernard, one of our classmates, and Anna held the class on his lawn.

There is something completely different about being outside whilst 'expelling all your carbon gases from your internal organs' and focusing on relaxing each part of your body. Primarily bugs, bird song, and what looked remarkably like duck poo but even so it was enjoyable!

Afterwards we had champagne for an aperitif followed by a picnic made up of contributions from us all.

It was great fun, made even more special when Bernard and a friend (also called Bernard, just to confuse us!) kept us entertained. They sang a selection of popular songs whilst playing the piano/guitar.

A group of friends (all very different), a balmy summer evening, lounging in the garden and singing along to contented amateur musicians.


And no photos because once again I forgot the camera. Sorry!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Home Is Where Your Heart Is

Flying out of Perpignan to visit the UK, I looked out of the window and watched the landscape. A landscape that has become normal to us and is 'home'.

Vines as far as the eye could see, randomly dotted houses with large gaps between them and the bright blue of the essential swimming pool.

The craggy rocks of the mountains, sparsely covered with the dense grey-green scrubland known as the garrigue where we live.

Dry sand-coloured tracks that link the distant properties and cut along the contours of the land.

Flying into Southampton airport, I eagerly looked out on the landscape of the county I had been born and brought up in. A landscape that was, until 6 years ago, an integral part of me. That had shaped my childhood and helped to make me what I am as an adult. I am from Hampshire - and was 'going home', if only for a short spell.

I saw rolling fields of crops, a patchwork of colours reaching far into the distance. A landscape I remember having to draw and paint once long ago in a school art-assignment.

I saw the lush bright green of the trees, primarily oak, that clustered across this southern county. Black tarmac roads that wend their way between villages marked out invariably with a church spire.

Both my brother and my eldest sister live here and my father is currently in a care home close to them. So I spent my five-day visit driving lanes and passing through villages in the area that I had spent virtually every day of the first 18 years of my life.

It was a curious experience and, if I am honest, slightly sad and yet revealing. If Richard had been with me, he would have felt the same. The girls - no.

Everywhere I went became a mental prompt to compare how our life, and our home environment, has changed.

But for me, I admit, Hampshire is where my roots are and will always be.
I found driving down winding country lanes with leafy hedgerows such a contrast to the open roads of Herault.I found it amazing to see again and appreciate the cottages and walls of my county, built out of the true Hampshire building material - flint. I found it sad that all the local pubs had changed their traditional signs to be modern and chic - trying to get across to passers by that they were now gastro-pubs more usually found in trendy London suburbs.

How can 'The Coach & Horses' (where Richard and I spent some of our courting evenings) not have a sign with a coach and/or horses on it?! What does a squiggle represent, except an owner who had more money than sense and employed a city design company to come up with a 'logo'?!

How come 'The Trout' which was always a Gales pub in our day, has a few stylised lines on it's sign now to represent a fish for which the chalk streams and rivers of Hampshire are famous?!

In Alresford where I grew up, I was staying with my brother and his wife (thank-you Sue & Patrick for having me!). The local wine shop there has at least tried to reverse the trend. Whilst selling a wonderful range of wines, I was delighted to see that the whole window display of The Naked Grape was taken up with beer! Just down the road from them is the Itchen Brewery where I bought Richard some beer straight from the barrel - and managed to get it home through Customs successfully. It was like the nectar of the Gods to us - we sat out on our terrace, drinking it, and dreaming of our misspent youth in Hampshire pubs. We savoured every swallow - knowing it will probably be a few years before we taste true Hampshire Real Ale again!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

It's A Small World

We had a changeover of guests this week, the previous ones leaving whilst I was in the UK.

Hop-a-long (ie Richard!) went to the apartment to do the closing paperwork. The couple LOVED our apartment, wished it had not rained all the time and told him something amazing.

They come from up north, and are in Lamalou for a 'cure'.

Whilst walking down Lamalou main street, they unexpectedly met a man the wife had worked with for 10 years, some years ago.

They asked what he was doing in Lamalou.

He explained that he had recently bought an apartment in Lamalou and was living there whilst he sorted out a long-term rental tenant.

His apartment is the one directly above our one! Where the couple were staying!

Spooky or what?!
We had a delicious Sunday lunch with English friends who are visiting their holiday home in the village.

The husband's brother and his wife were staying with them.

The brother's wife comes from the north of England. Gateshead. And more specifically - Lowfell.

MY brother's wife is a Geordie. From Gateshead. And more specifically - Lowfell.

My brother and his wife lived most of their married life in the next road to where our friend's, brother's, wife was born and brought up!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Runners & Football

Returning from the UK, I wandered round our French estate and reviewed the progress of the various plants with the gardener.

The runner beans are looking good, said I to Richard.

They are bloody useless! I am going to rip them out tomorrow....or I would if I could walk, replied Richard.

Why?! I exclaimed. You have a bean! Ah - I see. That is the problem. You have ONE runner bean in total. Mmmm. Sorry.
We had a great meal round at Riet & Albert's tonight. A good mix of all their French friends, us (providing the English accents) and their son, daughter, son-in-law and grandson holding up the Dutch flag.

Or should I say - wearing the orange top hat. Later suggested by us all to be replaced by a Russian bear cap.

I had never seen a grandson, sitting comfortably on his Granddad's knee, be jettisoned so quickly in order for the Granddad to go and groan at the TV when the Russians scored in extra time! Albert will not live that down in the village for a long time. Nor the orange top hat!

Anyone for vodka?!

Not yet back in blog mode - I forgot to take the camera! (got any pictures Albert? I know you are reading this.....)

LeeLee was delighted obviously to find that everyone at the party also knew about my chronic morning yesterday. How on earth did they all know?!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Infanticide Should Be Legal.......

....if the child concerned is eighteen or older.

If I have not murdered LeeLee by the end of today, then miracles DO happen and I am due to be beatified!

If I do murder her, then Richard reckons I will get off because it would be classified as a 'justifiable homicide'.

Get a cup of tea and pull up a very comfy chair - this post is going to go on for hours!

Today is LeeLee's proper exam for her French Bac (written). Straight off I can tell you that I now know that when she is nervous, she babbles.

Even when she is meant to be eating her breakfast (fruit salad) and whilst I am saying - COME ON OR YOU SHALL BE LATE for the umpteenth time.

She set her alarm for 4:30am this morning. I set mine for 5:00am just to check that she had actually heard her one and got up.

The exam was at Clermont l'Herault (some distance away) and was due to start at 8:00am. A coach was therefore laid on to take the students, leaving Bedarieux at 6:45am.

LeeLee had to be at the coach stop for 6:15am. Because of the babbling, we finally left in the car at 6:10am. This was after I had run through all the obvious - got your pens? Plenty of spare ink? A biro? Ruler? sweets/water? etc....

Still with me?! Yawning yet?!

On the journey, my dear little cherub asked if I realised that I would have to drive her to the oral exam next week since there was no coach, and the conversation went as follows:

Where is the exam?
In Clermont of course.
Do you have the address?
You don't need an address! It is at the lycée there.
Which lycée?
The big one of course!
What is it called?
God knows - it will be easy for you to find.

A few minutes later, she started wondering if she was meant to have brought some paper for the exam.
What?! I exclaimed, rapidly trying to think of a shop that might sell the stuff at the crack of dawn.

She then wondered if maybe students had to present an ID in order to get in the exam room.
For goodness sake, I fumed, didn't they give you any instructions?!
She assures me no.....

Finally, as we entered Bedarieux, she wondered whether the coach was actually picking them up at school (where we were headed) or at the train station that I had driven passed a couple of kilometres before.
WHAT! screeched I.

A not-very-impressed mother then calmly (so as not to make LeeLee even more on edge than she was already) suggested that we would continue to the school and see if the coach plus everyone else were there. If not we still had time to turn around and go ALL THE WAY BACK to the station.

I also said that if there was still no trace of the coach, she could use her mobile to phone Richard, and he would hobble over to the piece of paper on the fridge and see if he could find any details.

The silence from the passenger seat beside me was deafening.

LeeLee admitted in a very quiet voice, and fully prepared for an explosion from me, that she had no credit at all on her mobile.......even though she had promised faithfully before I went to England that she would put some on it.

We arrive at the school. It is deserted. No coach, nothing.

I turn the car around, in even louder silence.

Half way to the station, LeeLee spots a class mate and launches herself out the car door and accosts him in the street. Turns out he thinks we need to be at the school, so around I turn the car again.....

Finally bundled onto the coach, and as I wish her good luck, she tells me that she was pleased it had been me driving not Richard. At least I am patient and calm in times of stress.

I drive sedately back home and see about getting Nic off to school. No problems whatsoever with that one.

I then made us a cup of tea and had just decided to go back to bed for a couple of hours, since it was only 7:45am.....

.....when the phone rings.

It is LeeLee.
A frantic LeeLee.
She not only needs ID to be let in the examination room, she also needs the piece of paper currently on the fridge. Can I get them to her in time?

I grab keys, my driving licence/money and head for the door. Then remembered to ask Richard for his mobile....which is nowhere to be found. LeeLee of course was the last person to use it sometime late last night. You would not have wanted to be a Catholic fly on our wall at that point - the language was colourful to say the least.

Half way down the hill to Hérépian, in the car, it dawns on me that she cannot be at school but must be already at Clermont. Which is usually a 55-minute journey and the exam is due to start in 15 minutes.

Bloody hell! Did I put my foot down! Luckily I know the road well, all its many twists and turns, badly cambered sections and also the places where the signs that say the speed limit is 70km/h should also have an extra bit that says:

"and if you ignore our advice - your tyres and undercarriage will be shredded to ruins by the concrete strips we have laid all across the road for the next 1/4 km."

For once, no gendarmes with speed cameras and I arrive in the town (only 30 minutes after I started) - to find absolutely no indication whatsoever of where the lycée might be.

I accost a woman in the high street who tells me I must go round the one way loop. And so I do, into streets that get progressively narrower and difficult for our large 4x4 truck. And still no signs....

I then accost an elderly gentleman who says he has no idea where the lycée might be.

And finally another stranger who tells me to carry on down this little narrow lane.....and sure enough, I find the lycee. And nowhere to park.

I then drive almost back to where I started in the high street, dump the car and start running back the way I had come. To then remember that I had not had time to dress properly and was in danger of knocking myself out with my bouncing boobs! Not a sight to be seen at that (or any other) time of day!

At the lycée I am presented with Fort Knox and an intercom (at the gate) that does not work. Much searching shows that you have to squeeze your hand and arm through the bars and reach round to the button on the INSIDE of the gate.

Once on the premises I am running through deserted corridors until I find a person. Who walks me to LeeLee's examination room.

Where I am told very sternly that they managed to find a teacher who said he recognised LeeLee and had been prepared to certify that fact so that she could start the exam - provided I was on the way with the required items.

I walked slowly back to the car. And drove soberly back home within the speed limit. Never again.....

It is 9:30am. I am knackered already, decide to take a high blood pressure tablet and tell Richard to move over on the sofa - I need a lie down!

LeeLee owes me bigtime. By the time she gets home tonight, she might be wishing it had not been me driving the car today....

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Normal Service Will Be Resumed Soon

Back again, and starting to wish I wasn't!

Many apologies to all (!) my regular readers for the lack of postings - I think I am just going to pretend June 2008 never happened!

After Richard got hurt, we lost our Internet connections for a few days - what a surprise I hear you shout.

Then I was so busy (think blue arsed fly...) that I did not seem to have enough minutes in the day to even put the kettle on! It is not until you try and cope with everything on your own, that you realise how much we both have to do to keep this family up and running. Poor Richard has been so frustrated not being able to get off the bed and help.

Then his right foot started going berserk and they thought he had actually broken the ankle at the same time as the knee.

Then I also had to deal with the Heart Specialist's concerns and new ideas for me, which means I now need to pee more frequently than a fountain.

Then I went off to the UK for 5 days since Richard assured me he could cope, especially after all the preparatory work I had done.....

Only to come back yesterday to find that his other foot had come out in painful sympathy and he had had to call out the emergency doctor one night whilst I was away!!

Two damaged knees and two damaged feet. Truly a 'walking wounded' without the walking part.

Goodness, weren't the girls pleased to see me back!

Goodness wasn't Richard pleased to see me back.

Goodness wasn't the dog pleased to finally realise that I had not been hiding from her upstairs for the last five days.

Goodness, I wish I was on holiday somewhere else!

We owe so many thanks to our wonderful friends Riet and Albert. In my absence, they have kept the Upex household fed and watered, and provided an excellent taxi service for Richard and the girls.

It is at times like this that you really appreciate kindness like this. THANK-YOU!!!!

With so much to catch up on in my posts, I have decided that each day I will tell you what we have been up to - now as well as from this 'missed' period called June. It might be a bit confusing, but hang in there!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Things Going Swimmingly....


Our doctor decided this morning that Richard needed to see the Orthopaedic Surgeon so he phoned up and made an appointment for this evening at 18:00 (that's France for you!).

The surgeon's view is that an operation might be avoided provided the knee is kept totally immobilised and is not bent AT ALL! Richard was just thankful to get away without a plaster cast.

Provided he keeps it straight, and hardly walks on it at all (!), the fracture should heal itself - gradually. After six weeks or so, physiotherapy will start.

In ten days time Richard goes back to see the surgeon who will then decide whether 'rest & relaxation' is working it's magic and an operation is not needed.

So this is Richard's 'home' for the next few weeks. The surgeon was from Belgium, and spoke excellent English. And asked all the obvious questions about us living down here - children coping, friendly locals, etc. Seems he is thinking of moving down here with three young children. It's a small world!
Nic's class are due to start swimming in their sport's lessons from tomorrow. So we ended up spending large amounts of dosh at Decathlon today - swimming costume (NOT a bikini because the boys will try and undo the ties!?), goggles, nose pinchers and flip-flops.

Doesn't she look a picture! The other class started last week - and even though it was thunder & lightening, they still ran the class. Health & safety?!
LeeLee learnt a valuable lesson in life last night.

Each evening she sits and 'talks' to her boyfriend on MSN, before going off to bed.

After she had gone up, I updated my blog and then started to shut down the PCs. And noticed that she had forgotten to shut down her MSN session with Kevin.

Luckily for LeeLee (and Kevin!), her Dad was not mobile enough to get across the room and read what was on the screen!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Busy - So Just This & That

Not much time to blog at the moment, so thought I would share with you (over the next few days) the various funny cards we got for our birthdays. For this one, also consider what a middle-aged woman looks like trying out her daughter's new trampoline!
With so much going on, I have neglected a lot of things.

Thought I ought to go and check out the garden - and realised it was time I cut our first artichoke of the year. Did not know that each one was designed to feed a family of four?!
In amongst everything else, I have a prescription for further tests that the Heart Specialist wants carried out.

I finally found the time to pop into the laboratory with my slip of paper.

Should have read it first.Seems Dr Labadie wants to monitor various levels in my urine over 24 hours. Charming.

I am now une Madame avec un flacon! The lady handed over this large container and gave me explicit instructions. You cannot imagine how complicated 'pee in it' can be!

This being Lamalou, she also provide a very chic, stylishly decorated shoulder bag to discretely carry it in.

I walked back to the car, nonchalantly swinging it, secure in the knowledge that no one would realise what I was carrying - when I realised that EVERYONE in Lamalou would probably recognise it!!
Decided to treat ourselves to a speciality of a local traiteur - a salami. Don't ask me what it is called!It was delicious, but very tough to cut. Richard nearly sprained his arm. Oh, God! Not another damaged limb I hear you shout!
Big congratulations to LeeLee. She got the results of her French Bac Blanc (mock) today. Over all the classes in her year doing the Bac Scientifique she got:

Oral - joint highest mark (she shared the top spot of 17/20 with the year's Genius!).

Written - joint second (she got 11/20 whilst the Genius came top with 12/20).

Not bad for a foreigner!! We are so proud of her!!
Apologies for any typing errors because I am attempting to blog in the dark whilst Richard is asleep behind me on the sofa/bed.

But how come when he sleeps in our bed, beside me, he snores? And yet on the bed in the lounge - nothing?!

Tell me - is it the perfume I wear?!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Official News Update

Yep. It's official. According to the pretty pictures captured at the hospital this afternoon, Richard has a broken kneecap.

It seems it does not matter how many times you say that it can't be, that it is just a torn ligament, it remains a broken kneecap.

It doesn't matter how many times you tell the medical staff that your knee never actually went near the ground, that it just bent quite suddenly when you tripped over the hoover head, it is a broken kneecap.

We await our Doctor's next pronouncement, but the X-ray Department Specialist said Richard might be lucky. It is possible that the broken off bit is not 'travelling' and might mend itself if the leg is kept immobile for a month or so.

Looks like the bed in the salon for Richard for the foreseeable future.
Friends have family visiting at the moment, and how lucky are we! Not only did their visitors kindly offer to cut my hair (it looks very chic now!), they also gave us some excellent white asparagus from Holland. Bought direct from a local farm rather than a shop.

I had never tried it before (did you know it must be peeled?) and it tasted delicious - with melted butter, ham and boiled eggs - the Dutch way!Think the cat fancied some.
The rain stopped.The sun came out. And Richard and I celebrated by dismantling the trampoline in the salon and rebuilding it outside. It fitted fine (I never doubted Richard at all!).

Then we heard thunder and the rain started again. Tough.

The dog was confused - thought we had had a burglary. But Xena was thrilled when she realised we had built her a shelter to crap under when it rains.
Happy Birthday to my brother Patrick! Hope your day has not just been work, but lots of good things as well!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Rain - The Good & The Bad

Or just the ugly?

The days (if not weeks) of torrential rain has brought with it many problems round here.

Local produce is an economic necessity for many of our friends and neighbours and the recent unseasonal weather has decimated their income for this year.

The white cherry crop has been a failure. The rain has caused the cherries to split whilst the high winds have made large numbers drop to the ground whilst unripe.

The current flush of strawberries has rotted, although most grow remontant ones and so expect the plants to repeat crop later - if the sun comes out.

I looked at ours. Our first crop was ready for picking and looked gorgeous and red - if you could get the cat out of the way long enough to see! But when you looked at them closely you found the botritis at the tip. Because the incessant rain falls and collects as a drip at the tip, it has caused the rot to set in. I had to remove them quick to try and prevent it spreading. And I just have a handful of plants. Think of our neighbours who have whole fields of them!

Their next major worry is the vines. Mildew - or the grape equivalent, is setting in after such huge amounts of rain. And they are starting to spray with fungicide desperately hoping to put a halt to it.

Guy was out early this morning and by 7:00am was walking up and down between the vines with a hand-steered motorised piece of equipment - one we have not seen in use in the 6 years since we arrived here. We were able to just about follow his progress by watching the plume of treatment. Each family has a vast array of equipment for every type of job needed whilst caring for vines - and the age of many of them is pre war. Some pre the first even! It is no wonder that they all have so many barns etc.
The unseasonal wet weather has brought out mushrooms. Lots of them, if you know where to go.

And our kind neighbours brought around some last night as a birthday present for us! Yummy! They explained though that summer fungi do not keep so they must be used up quickly. Not a problem.... Cubed some potatoes, parboiled them and then sautéed in butter, olive oil and garlic. Lots of ground pepper and then the mushrooms - all finished off together. Delicious, especially with the pork chops Richard cooked in a sherry, cream and mustard sauce.

OK, so the girls want me to admit that I now know NOT to parboil the pots next time - but it was delicious anyway!

Our friends Riet & Albert arrived back home last night after a horrendous journey back from Belgium - main roads more like rivers the whole way. And brought us loads of goodies! Thank-you very much! We are very lucky to have such great friends!Look at this. Peanut butter and Balti sauce to keep us going, plus the girls' favourite chocolate sprinkles. And a clever Tefal pan with a removable handle that means it can go in the oven as well as on the hob. Great for mushrooms and potato dishes.....

Why the old tin pan next to my new one on the hob? We were congratulating ourselves because we have no leaks at the moment - with no wind, the rain is not getting forced up and under the roof tiles. But then I found that it was managing to get into the kitchen chimney and down through the extractor fan....and dropping onto the hob!
Yes, with a lot of help from Nic, we finished the puzzle! Not bad - under 48 hours.