Monday, 30 March 2009

Fire ! Fire !

We live surrounded by the garrigue. And with the constant fear, during most months of the year, of fire.

However, such a natural habitat has also to be 'managed' and looked after in basic ways.

Fire is a terrible risk but it also has a definite part to play in nature. It clears out the undergrowth that is choking the wild plants (thyme, rosemary, holme oak, etc) and is the trigger for many dormant seeds to sprout.

Also, the more undergrowth that is got rid of, the lower the risk of 'unmanaged' fires spreading - from a carelessly discarded cigarette for example.

For a few years now, the local hunters have been assigned the responsibility of providing the manpower to help with the management of the garrigue.

Each licenced group hunt in a strictly designated area around/near their village. And are given instructions on how and when maintenance needs to be carried out on the garrigue.

This week it has been 'controlled clearing by fire' and every able man in our village was out to ensure it was done safely and kept contained and under control.

And Richard was there to take pictures for me, since I was away!

One area was on the left as you drive into our village, covering an area all the way to the upper road to Taussac.The last two pictures above are from across the valley so that you can see the extent of the burn after the flames had all died down and everything was safe.

Another area was to the right as you enter our village - and where you can just see the little hut (with a red tiled roof) is Cyprian's vegetable garden. The fire surrounded his garden but it was kept safe. They are experts at this!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Just How Friendly Are You?!

.....I hear you ask.

Yep, we had some more friends around this evening for a meal. English and Scottish tonight. It was fun actually talking in just one language for a change.Thank-you Carole, John and Colin for travelling all this way south to see us and for making it such a great evening!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

More Friendly Meals !

Our social life is so busy! Tonight we invited our neighbours (Christel, Eric & Juliette) and village friends (Josette & Cyprian) to dinner and it was great. Lots of food, a very moreish punch (congrats to Richard) and two new desserts that were successful.

LeeLee's boyfriend (Kevin) braved the evening with promises that there were French speakers coming plus Juliette - who fell in love with him at the last party (she is only 4 years old, so no jealousy from his girlfriend!).But she was shy, and it was not until later that she was brave enough to sit with him for a cuddle. It is amazing what an ice-breaker Disney cartoons are!! Even when they are in English.....

In my usual fashion, I decided to plan ahead and make enough of the main course and the puddings to feed two armies - so that I would have enough left over for tomorrow's party.

This retirement lark is SO tiring.
***
I made a walnut tart and a bread & butter pudding for tonight. Neither of which I had made before.

Since I do not actually like b&b pudding (memories of it from school) I used a slightly different recipe that puts simmered dates between the layers of buttered bread and has NO raisins. I cannot stand raisins and I am the chef. So what I like is all that matters.....

The top is sprinkled with sugar and then caramelized under a grill or (if you do not have a grill) by your husband wielding a flame thrower!

OK. So now I know that it was not a good idea to leave a rim of baking parchment sticking up. How was I to know it would catch alight......

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Slobber Chops

You can take the girl out of the UK but not the UK out of the girl......

There is nothing like a Sunday morning brunch of a chunk of gros pain filled with English sausage, home-made bacon and two fried eggs!God, it tasted wonderful!!!!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Friendly Meals

Friends were round for a meal last week and it was one of those times when you look in your fridge and cupboard for inspiration. There was a little of Richard's home-smoked salmon left which would have been a shame to waste - but not enough for 6 people as a starter.

So line some ramekins with clingfilm, drap with some thin slices of smoked salmon, fill with prawns, chopped avocado and stick it all together with salmon taramasalata. Then keep your fingers crossed when you up-end them onto the plates..........Yummy!

After salad, we then had duck confit (found a tin in the cupboard) made into a pie and runner beans - yes, I lugged some runner beans all the way back from the UK in my luggage! Remind me why we are all putting on weight?!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Warming Up

Spring is here. And the cat is outside catching all the emerging wildlife - birds and of course snakes.

This is what we found on the terrace this morning - two poor snakes lying on their backs after being well and truly played with by Smokey.Richard went to pick them up to throw them into the ruin - when the first one immediately turned over and started having a go at the tongs! That gave him a surprise!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Richard's Wine Cellar

We are having a change around in our lounge due to a change of TV.

As a family we are all avid readers and collect books. None get thrown away because our favourites are read again and again.

And so we are always short on shelving.

We decided that it would be possible to build shelves on the wall to the left of the fireplace but wood is expensive.

In the UK Richard did a lot of woodwork, designing and building furniture, but it is not a hobby he has been able to continue here because of the cost of quality wood.

I suggested using bottle containers (like we used to have in our UK kitchen) as shelf supports and buying oak planks to provide the cross pieces.

In Castorama, a small plank of planed oak cost 68euros and by the time we filled the whole wall - we would need to be millionaires!

We decided to visit a wood specialist in Beziers where they store raw tree trunks split and ventilated for years to season them. Wonder if they would sell us one or two, or are they just for 'trade'?

We were like kids in a sweet shop!

You tell them what you are looking for (oak, chestnut etc) and using a forklift, they take down the whole split trunks and seperate each tranche for you whilst you look through until you find one you like. They then quote the price based on usable volume....

Getting ready to wince, we asked the price of our selected whole tranche of oak tree, 4.5m long, 27mm thick, 34cm usable width at its narrowest point - enough for 4 shelves. And they said 54 euros. What?! Are you sure?!

And so that is what we bought, as a start.

When we got it home, we decided that the shape and markings on the tranche were too beautiful (and the price so good) that we could afford to just cut its length in half to make two shelves.And so after spending a few hours sanding it down, Richard has the makings of his wine cellar.Or, as far as the cat is concerned, a climbing frame.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Getting Hot, Hot, Hot ......

...... but for the wrong reasons.

Yesterday I drove down the hill to Lamalou to get the bread and admired the clearing work still going on in our Commune.

As a new initiative, for several metres either side of all our roads they are clearing the terrain totally - to try and prevent fires spreading when inconsiderate travellers throw lighted cigarette ends out of vehicle windows.We are in the National Park and surrounded by the garrigue. There are strict rules on when we are allowed to have bonfires - basically, only in the midst of deep winter and snow is on the ground!

I drove down to Lamalou this morning to get bread and spotted a whole tranche of garrigue by the road that had obviously caught fire last night .....Luckily the clearing work did its job and the fire was contained - it only destroyed about 1/2 square kilometre of land.

But next time?

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Bread Is The Loaf Of Life

Last month, it was our neighbour's special birthday and a surprise party was arranged.

Whilst another neighbour took her to Montpellier shopping, everyone else piled into their lovingly restored house and set everything up.

And a great time was had by all. Chrystel had no idea and was completely taken by surprise. Even more so by the 'slightly suggestive' presents that took some explaining to her little girl.... I so want to order my bread for our next party by the metre!!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Accented Franglaises

When Nic started at college, a Scottish boy joined that same year after having only been in France for 6 months.

We asked her today how he was getting on 18 months down the line and (other than telling us 'he is just a silly boy') she commented that he still spoke French with a strange accent......

Oh, to be able to comment from such a position of perfectly midi-accented French!! I can continue to dream that one day, I too will be there.
***
Nic's English teacher believes in 'stretching' her native English speaking students, rather than letting them coast along at the same pace as the French kids in their class.

Not only does she give them extra, more difficult, tests but she also marks their work to a different base.

Today's test listed 40 questions to which they had to give the appropriate answer. The overall mark was to be out of 20 which meant that each question carried half a point. Unless you were English.....

Nic was not impressed to find out that she only scored 18/20 because she missed ONE WORD out.

For one question, the answer was 'During the game, we were all screaming'.

Nic realised that she had mis-spelled the last word, and tippexed it out. But forgot to go back (when it had dried) to write the correct word over the top.....and the teacher deducted two whole marks!

Hee Hee!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Germanic Franglaises

Both LeeLee and Nic have the same German teacher. A teacher who likes to point out to the students when any German words they come across are derived from other languages like English or Latin.

And who likes to ask the English speakers in the class to translate what the German phrases are in English, as a comparison to the equivalent French phrases.

In LeeLee's class there is one French boy who lived in the UK for a year - from the age of zero. That is - from birth.

A point that has passed the teacher by because she keeps asking him for the equivalent English phrases before asking LeeLee. Each time he points out that gaga and googoo is the extent of his English proficiency but it makes no difference.....
***
The students were discussing immigrant workers in their German lesson, and learning that they are called 'Invited Workers' in that country.

The teacher then asked LeeLee what the equivalent translation would be in English. And was not impressed when LeeLee replied 'Illegal Immigrants'.
***
The distinction between 'I will' and 'I want' causes some confusion when a native English speaker is learning German within a French school. Both of our daughters can attest to this and their teacher always asks them what 'Ich Vill' is NOT in English.

It is not 'I will', Madame.......they reply by rote.

Today her class were translating the phrase 'I want to watch TV' from the German into French. And the teacher asked LeeLee to confirm that in English you would say 'Vatch TV, I vill'.

Knowing when NOT to disagree with an pugnacious German, LeeLee meekly agreed.....

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Who Sniggered ?!

All I can say about a recent newspaper article reporting that a Police Officer (a male one, not a WPC, I hasten to add!) is suing his employer because his colleagues kept laughing at his beard....is that Richard should make a fortune too!

In the 20 odd years that he was a copper in London, he must have had a beard for at least half of that time. And I can assure you it caused great hilarity amongst his workmates.

And me!

I am sure I have a few pictures somewhere....... Yep! Those were the mug shots I was thinking of!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Peeved Franglaises

Needless to say, both Nic and LeeLee do well in their English lessons. And also expect to do well which is where they need to learn that life is not always as you expect.

Usually LeeLee averages 19/20 and today she received back last week's devoir maison. And got 15/20.

What?! Pissed-off, she ranted furiously at Richard all the way home in the car and seamlessly carried on as she entered the house and met me waiting to welcome her home.

Turns out they had had to write a summary of all that they had covered in their English lessons so far this school year. In English of course.

And LeeLee missed off several lessons-worth from her list. And therefore got marked down.....

You try keeping a straight face in the presence of this much righteous indignation!
***
Nic generally averages 18/20 in her English.

But was a seething mass of gobsmacked fury when she found out that her teacher had given her only 15/20 last term for Oral - because the teacher did not think she participated enough in the class.

She should put her hand up more often to answer questions it seems. Even though we had coached her to give the others a chance to answer since they needed the practise more, and explained that she should not expect to show-off too much.

Oh well. Parents do not always know best it seems.
***
Today Nic and her class had a controle (test) in their English lesson.

And then, whilst the rest of the class looked at 'situation' pictures to decide what the relevant question must have been to the answer quoted by the teacher, the teacher gave Nic an extra 4-page controle.

Which she thoroughly enjoyed doing, whilst also laughing as she listened in to the rest of the class' attempts at English.

Give that teacher an apple!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Artistic Surprise

Nic had her art lesson at college today. She was pleased that her usual teacher was back after he had been away for the last two weeks.

They started a new assignment today - artwork incorporating a slogan. A slogan in English rather than French.

Nic was in her element. Whilst eagerly choosing a slogan to use herself, she also dealt with the queue of students asking her to translate their ones - they wrote theirs in French first.

The teacher noticed this, and asked why everyone was pestering Nic. And they all laughed and said 'Because she is English of course!'

The teacher exclaimed 'What? Since when?!'

Turns out he had just spent two weeks on a language course in order to improve his English sufficiently to deal with this assignment!

Ah, bless.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Deja View....ing Apparatus

How come, each time I return home from a spell in the UK, something unexpected awaits me?!

At least this time I got into the house before the girls started giving each other surprised, knowing looks......unlike last time.

We carried (OK dragged) my baggage into the lounge to unload all the goodies they were hoping I had packed for them. But even I, in my tired state, noticed that they were more interested in looking at each other and then running out to the kitchen to whisper at Richard.

Puzzled, we carried on for a while until their patience ran out and they both started speaking at the same time - asking if I had noticed anything DIFFERENT in the room.

No, I replied.

So the girls then pointed out that the huge 27 year old TV (that we have had since we first got married) was sitting on the coffee table right next to me. Yes, that close and I had not noticed.

And that a new TV was in its place.

Well I was tired and that is my excuse. No mention of eye tests please from the back row.
***
Flying Easyjet so often, I am getting good, VERY good, at this travelling lark.

I take very little with me and bring whole shopping arcades of stuff back.

With one hold suitcase and a shoulder bag as my hand luggage, I am restricted to 20 kg in the first and as much as I can carry over my shoulder whilst nonchalently looking as if I am not weighed down by the equivalent of the national debt.

Before queuing up at check-in, I sneak to an unmanned (unwomaned?) weighing scales and have a quick check - my hold bag weighed 19.95kg. Am I good or what?!

At check-in, they weighed it in as 20.0kg exactly! And commented that they had never before had someone who had managed to that!