Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Where Was The Body Hidden?

Richard and the girls picked me up at the airport, and we travelled home - chatting and catching up on the news all the way.

As we parked in the village and started to walk up the hill to our front door, I heard the girls whisper to Richard 'You have told her, right?'

What?! I was heard to ask.....

......and as we turned the corner I saw, outside our house:
We have suspected that our shower has been leaking for quite a while but it was not obvious where and how much.

Until I was away, and Richard went into the cave underneath and noticed black mould growing on the stone walls. So in the bathroon he took out the shower tray to see what was the problem. And he started to dig, and dig, and dig.....

200 kilos of sand later and he came across the rocks that had been supporting the shower fact about 200 kilos of rock as well! Finally he reached the villa flooring - about two feet below the level of the original shower tray!We are now trying to decide what on earth to do in the bathroom. So watch this space for further episodes of this saga....

The cat was nearly executed by Richard.
She thought Richard had found her the biggest, most salubrious litter tray in the world!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Makes You think

A couple of days ago, Richard went out in the morning to get bread from our favourite boulangerie in Lamalou.

As he drove down the steep narrow road to the town, he was as far over to the right hand side of the road as possible to avoid any vehicles coming up the hill. Where the drop is near-vertical, there is a low stone wall.

Being in a right-hand-drive car, he had a great view of the drop as he glanced out of his driver's window when he passed a part of the wall that had been breached.

And what he saw jolted him. The undercarriage of a four wheel drive vehicle, hanging suspended, upside down, caught in the trees. Roof smashed flat.

In France the law is that you MUST stop if you see evidence of an accident to check if any help can be provided.

Having been a police officer for many years, Richard has vivid memories of investigating car crashes on lonely roads in the UK. Too often, the bodies left undiscovered for many hours, sometimes days.

With no one else on the road, Richard then realised he did not have his mobile with him. Just typical!

He drove on a little way in the hope of seeing the local policeman who is usually there - but not this morning.

So he called in at the nearest house and asked them if they knew about the accident. No was the answer, so Richard and the householder walked back up the hill. And then down as near as they could get to the vehicle whilst telephoning the gendarmes.

They could not see anyone in or near the car - and then the police confirmed that it had happened the previous night. Luckily the accident had been seen 'as it happened' by another motorist. The people were helped out of the car and amazingly no one was seriously hurt.

Very lucky. Thank-goodness the accident was seen happening. Richard only saw the undercarriage because he was driving a right-hand-drive car. The driver in a left-hand-drive car would not have seen the vehicle.

The next morning, we saw the news about the three soldiers who were found dead in a vehicle that had crashed during the night in the UK, who were not found until several hours later.

A sobering story.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Get Real !

Following her great offer from the Royal Holloway University, LeeLee has been on a high and eagerly awaiting her next offer through UCAS......she never has been one to doubt that she is wanted!

When selecting her five UK Uni choices she primarily looked at those that ran a Mathematics course combined with Management or Finance and then at the 'standing' of the universities themselves.

Very much a realist, LeeLee knows she will need to work in order to be independent as an adult and she wants a long-term career. And, if possible, a well paid one in business! That is what comes of growing up with two working parents and a mother who successfully climbed the corporate ladder without any problems being female.

So her course and university choices were selected to 'impress' future employers - let's be honest, getting a job is becoming very much more difficult each year and she has no intention of living off her parents. Thank goodness.....

The girls were born and brought up near Guildford in Surrey and LeeLee in particular has fond memories of this town - albeit mainly the shopping centre!

And so she selected Surrey University as one of her choices. Not actually a very well thought of uni, especially in terms of the sciences, but somewhere that she knew she would be comfortable living.

And their offer came in yesterday. They want 16/20 overall and 17/20 in Mathematics.

Get real! That is a higher offer than Cambridge University! Who do they think they are......

....well certainly a uni that LeeLee has no intention of going to now!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Getting to French Uni

With the UK UCAS system we were fairly up to speed. The student chooses five universities/courses and completes the application on line. And waits for any offers forthcoming.

In parallel, LeeLee is doing well and actually getting to grips with the French process for 2009 - much to our amazement!

A student has an automatic right to go to a French University if they pass their French bac (ie get 10 or above out of 20, overall). However, the exams at the end of the first year, the second, etc at Uni are VERY difficult and students are chucked out then if they do not meet certain high criteria.

To get to French Uni is a complex process.......or seems so to us anyway!

First Deadline: 20th March
By that date the student has to have made known his/her 'wishes'. You make 36 'choices' in your preferred order - specific courses and specific institutions eg university, prépa, lycée professionelle, etc.

Second Deadline: 20 April
The student must have sent a copy of their dossier to all their choices. The 'dossier' will be specific to each choice - not the same for all. It will detail all their education history, school reports etc as defined by each choice. Some will want ALL your school reports going back through the years whilst others will just want copies of your lycée reports.

First Stage: 9-12 June
You will receive one definite offer from one of your choices. You do not receive any refusals, just offers.
You have to answer either:
1. Yes.
2. Yes But.
3. No But.

Answering (1) blocks offers from any other of your choices. The institution that made this offer, is where you will go.
Answering (2) blocks offers from any 'choice' below the institution that has made this first offer ie if the institution that was fifth on your list of choices, made this offer - answering 'Yes But' means you can only accept a subsequent offer if it is from one of the institutions positioned 1-4 on your list. Any offers from institutions 6-35 are blocked and you never 'see' them.

Second stage: 20-23 June
More offers arrive and you respond.

Third Deadline: 16 July
The student must have answered at least one offer with a yes, or you are thrown out of the system.

The final bac results are published 14 July and the student has the option of a maximum of two rattrapages. In loose terms, a re-examination if their results are not good enough, either overall or in specific subjects.

A rapprapage is ALWAYS an oral exam irrespective of the subject and can boost your result by a maximum of 5 marks. It is however VERY rare to get the full 5 (more usually an extra 1-3 marks are obtained if you are very lucky) since you can imagine how difficult it is to impress an examiner 'orally' in say Mathematics!

So wish LeeLee luck......

Apologies for any errors in my posts about the French education system - we are learning! Please do not take it all as gospel truth!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Fred & Frederique

Recognise us? I am the one on the left! Not sure that the anti-wrinkle cream is working.......

Champagne, chocolates, flowers, and Italian red wine.....what more could you ask for on St Valentine's Day!Heart shaped fried eggs of course! The teddybear ones were for the girls....

Friday, 13 February 2009


....always the best policy!

With final bac exams due in June, the students sit two (possibly three?) bac blancs before then - mock exams. LeeLee sat her first bac blanc in January and has been eagerly (!) awaiting the results. And so have Richard and I.

School work has always come easy to LeeLee and she has never had to 'pull out all the stops' like many students. But her French Bac results last year hit her hard and opened her eyes - we just hope it has not been forgotten since then!

Whilst away, I kept getting text messages as and when she got her results....with a yippee or a groan to reflect the marks.

To work out the overall bac result it is necessary to take account of the coefficients for each subject - which is where the French bac system gets complicated for us.

LeeLee is doing a bac scientifique which means her science subjects carry higher coeffs than say the languages. She chose mathematics as her speciality which means it carries the highest coeff of 9. For LeeLee, her maths mark is therefore taken account of NINE times whilst her French oral and written marks are only counted twice...thank goodness!

Also, for a bac S, you take your final French oral and written exams in 2008 and all the others in 2009.

For a bac L (languages) you would have taken your sciences in 2008 and the others in 2009. As clear as mud?!

The marks are summarised as 'points' above or below the pass mark of 10/20.

In summary, her results were (coeffs in brackets):

06/20 (2) French Oral (pts = coeff*(06-10) = -8)
04/20 (2) French Written (-12)
10/20 (2) TPE ( 0)

11/20 (9) Mathematics (pts = +9)
15/20 (6) Physique-Chimie (+30)
09/20 (6) SVT (-6)
10/20 (3) Hist-Geo (0)
10/20 (3) Philosophie (0)
19/20 (3) LV1 English (+27)
15/20 (2) LV2 German (+10)
13/20 (2) Sport (+6)

? (2) Art - no mark yet (an optional extra, so only counted if the student's mark is over 10 anyway).

After 2008, LeeLee was minus 20 points and can effectively 'ignore' her TPE, Philosophy and History/Geography marks as they reflect parity.

As expected, her English mark countered her French marks whilst her Physics mark (a pleasant surprise!) and her German both boosted her overall.

Maths was a disappointment but has a story behind it. All exams are each four hours long, and the maths paper had four questions, the last of which carried 50% of the marks. However, the school accidently forgot to give the students this last question until twenty minutes before the end of the exam - they had not realised it was on a seperate piece of paper! So all the students suffered low marks.

LeeLee's weakness is always going to be the quality of her French. In all the exams (even Maths for example) the student can lose marks for every spelling mistake or accent missed. Her professeurs admit there is a bit of a lottery - if your paper is marked early in the day, the examiner might take the time to try and understand your bad French. If it is late in the day - the examiner might hit you VERY hard!

She is pleased that in the German exam, you are always answering in German. But in English she has a 50/50 chance of either an essay in English (great!) or unfortunately comprehension where you answer in French.

SVT (biology) is her weakest science subject because there is always an essay to write - in French of course!

Last year we took advice and let LeeLee move up to terminale rather than resit premiere (in order to resit the French oral/written exams). And we can better understand why now. With only coeffs of 2, it is possible for her to counter these low French marks by her other languages. We hope.....

A letter arrived this week from the lycée detailing her exam results, and giving us her overall bac blanc mark (12.18 out of 20) and stating that she was 70 points ABOVE the average of 10/20.

She knows what she has to do now.....

When LeeLee saw the letter we got from the lycée, she laughed. And told us she was thankful she had told us the truth about her marks as and when she received them. Some of her classmates had 'fibbed' to their parents - not realising that the school would be officially informing their parents of their results!

French schools are not foolish.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Ups & Downs

Wondering why I have lost weight (subsisting on plain meat & veg) whilst the rest of the family haven't?!

Could it be the maple-cured bacon that Richard has been making at home whilst I have been away?!

They have been enjoying pan fried home-cured bacon in fresh baked baguette !!!So of course I just had to bring back some pork sausages from the Farmers' Market where I stayed in London.........
Richard asked me what I would like to eat on my return....and I opted for 'nothing plain' and French cheeses. So the first night we had a delicious homemade curry, and for lunch today Richard produced some ripe Brie de Meaux and a gooey St Félicien - so gooey it had to be put in a bowl by the end of the meal.
And Richard and the girls had.........a strong cheddar with malt-vinegar pickled onions and a smooth stilton. Happiness all round!
Flying with Easyjet out of Gatwick, my hold baggage allowance was 20kg plus unlimited hand luggage provided the bag fitted into their 'cage'. Now that was a challenge I could not refuse.....

It is amazing what you can carry/lug around London when you have too!!

I weighed in at 19.9kg (bag, not me!) and carried on a shoulder bag that left me with aching muscles for days.

It is amazing what English sweets and cheese, pickled onions, sausages, hot cross buns, Chilian (carmenere) and Italian (amerone) wine weighs!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

It Must Be Love

We had a great evening helping our friends Riet & Albert celebrate their 43rd wedding anniversary today!Congratulations!!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

A Mountain Of Debt?

We have been trying to find out what, if any, tuition/living loans LeeLee would be eligible for if she went to Uni in the UK. And it is confusing I can tell you.

First we understood that she would be treated as per any other student from the EU. And that was only to be expected. Basically the Government tuition/living loans are only available to students who have home addresses in the UK. Again, this seemed logical to us.

But we have been told by several people that she SHOULD be eligible....but we were not quite sure how and could not find anything to support this in all the documentation.

If in doubt, phone them up I that is what I did.

I spoke to the Student UK Department and they confirmed that a student has to have lived in the UK for the three years before commencing Uni. OK, clear enough.

Then, as I was just ringing off, they said 'Of course, she could just live in the UK for ONE DAY before the 1st September to be eligible as well.'

WHAT?! You cannot be serious! We just have to fill in the PN1 form on line, they said......

So that is what we did - attempted to do anyway. And when it asked if the student had lived in the UK for 3 years prior to starting, we answered honestly and said no. And it chucked us out and said we had to call the Student EU Department.

So that is what I did, explained the situation and was told that all she had to do was live for just one day in the UK before the 1st September....because OBVIOUSLY LeeLee was eligible for all the normal loans because not only did she have a UK passport but had lived there until she was 12 years old. The system was designed to stop hoards of non-UK students applying - not OBVIOUSLY eligible students like LeeLee!

Wonderful - a helpful Government department. Shame it is not documented anywhere - only PUSHY parents (like Me!) get to find out.

This department is sending us a paper copy of the PN1 form and have told us to write a covering letter explaining her situation - and to refer to this letter on any eligibility question that we answer in the negative.

Watch this space...
Uni in France or the UK? That is LeeLee's decision to make.

And, not least, the issue of cost is a major factor.

In France she will pay just under 300euros in tuition fees each year, plus living costs which will be means tested. There are no loans as we understand it but bursaries that are not repayable if your family income is low.

In the UK she will generate between £10-£15,000 of debt for tuition plus about the same for living costs (according to the Royal Holloway brochure). That is a massive £20-£30,000 of debt.

Quite daunting for a girl of eighteen years old.

Monday, 9 February 2009

LeeLee's Middle Name......


Anyone following our fairly uninteresting life will know that our eldest daughter is in the middle of the very complex process of applying to universities - in both France and the UK.

After many years of yearning to get started on Uni life in London, last year it hit her that she will find life there VERY different to the life she LOVES down here now. And so LeeLee has been voting for French Uni, including a two year course at a prépa.

Being parents, we encouraged her to keep her options open for as long as possible and to apply through UCAS as well......and with much nagging, she just made the deadline by couple of hours. That's our girl.....

And guess what?! Her top choice came back with an offer immediately! And I mean - within a couple of days of LeeLee pressing the GO button on the online application process!

Yes - the Royal Holloway University wants our daughter. Are they desperate for students on their Mathematics & Management course I hear you all ask?!

Even more surprising, they have offered 13/20 in her Bac General with 13/20 in her speciality Mathematics.

LeeLee is now going round the house on cloud nine and absolutely over the moon that they not only want her, but that she does not even have to get a very high mark......

As parents we have pointed out that she does have to actually GET these marks....but LeeLee has not quite grasped that fact, we think!

There is something about being wanted....she now thinks that maybe UNI in London might be worth reconsidering.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Retrospective White Out

Back in January and knowing I was going to be away for a while, I sat up late on my last night to set up a series of posts to be published in my absence. I did not want my regular 'readers' (that's just my sister Lesley, really!) to give up coming to my blog address.

It is only now, on my return, that I have been able to reread them 'live'. And I have so many apologies to make for bad spelling, incorrect usage (or lack of) commas and generally abysmal English (eg their instead of there).

I will try to do better in paraphrase my old teachers!
Staying in South London last week, what a surprise I got looking out of my bedroom window one morning.Now THAT is snow! One foot deep. The pond in the middle of the Common was well and truly frozen solid - people were even seen walking across it. Flying back today, I was lucky that I had booked with the only airport open - Gatwick.

Because there was going to be a special party in the village last night, I had unsuccessfully tried everything I could (a month ago) to sort out a flight for yesterday from Luton, Stansted, Heathrow or Bristol.

Someone was looking out for me - since I would still be stranded there now if I had been successful!!

Anyone recognise where I was staying?

Monday, 2 February 2009

Boxed Memories 3

In the boxes I came across just one School Report, and it was mine, aged six.

In every subject but one, the comment was GOOD. In Art, I was Very Good, showing great promise (!).These fairly begrudging comments were for a pupil who came FIRST in her class! Yes, I was FIRST!!

Please note, children today, what teachers were like in our day!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Boxed Memories 2

My Dad comes from a railway family.

His father was a Railway Engineer and was granted a 'railway house' for the duration of his lifetime and that of his widow if he died first (which he did).

Employers looked after their staff it seems in those days!

Grandad retired and it was some years later, when steam gave way to electrified rails, that he was asked to come out of retirement to oversee this change for the Southern Railways. His detailed knowledge of the 'old system' being viewed as far more useful than any records that had been kept!

Grandad dies before I ever knew him, but I have very early memories of my Nanny living at their 'railway house' in Campbell Road, Eastleigh.

Specifically I remember the pitch black soil in the garden that produced wonderful vegetables.

The fact that there was no bathroom in the house.

That the parlour was out of bounds to children! But held unbelievable treats! That was where the round jigsaw was kept - that we were only allowed to play with if we had been good!

That there was a runner along the sideboard on which all the china ornaments were placed. And how easy it was for a child running past (when they shouldn't) to accidently catch the runner and cause the china to tumble!

In the boxes, I came across the rent book for the 'railway house' for whilst Nanny lived their as a Railway Widow.

She was paying £1 10s 0d per week in 1966.

(if you do not understand this UK money, ask your parents. Or, good grief, your grandparents!).
Which was increased by 4d per week in 1967.
The rent man came every week to collect the rent in cash.
And every six months, the Railway sent a man to inspect the rent book.