Archive for February, 2008

Today’s headlines

February 29, 2008

Local paper

The waitresses at La Fontaine had their heads together over the counter reading the newspaper and giggling. Arlette, the manageress tried to look stern but couldn’t suppress a smile.So what was the cause of this hilarity?

The headline translates as “Rapes: Man from Charleville acquitted because of his small willy.”

The story on the inside pages was not so funny. Two elderly ladies had been accosted in their own homes. They were  hit and dragged into the bedroom where their attacker tried, unsuccessfully, to have sex with them and then forced them to have oral sex.

However, in the witness box, one lady judged that his penis was ‘not very long but quite fat’ while the other reckoned it was about 6 centimetres.

The defendant, who had spent 20 months in jail awaiting his trial, claimed that he was only endowed with a couple of centimetres and was unable to have an erection, therefore he could not have been the culprit.

Amazingly, he got away with it despite previous convictions for violence and sexual assault. The prosecution had claimed that he attacked women about his mother’s age because he blamed her for ‘his affliction’. They even pointed out that after being beaten and terrified it wasn’t very likely that a woman would take too much notice of the size of a man’s penis.

So the Law is an Ass on this side of the Channel too.

Bear and Bricolage

February 25, 2008

The one problem of asking Pascal to do a job is that you never know when he’s coming to continue the work.

The bedroom makeover spanned two months or more and it looks as though we will have quite a  wait for the tiling in the new toilet.

His parting words, over a week ago were,

“I don’t know when I’ll be coming to finish but it won’t be next weekend. I’m helping someone to do his office.”


I actually made enquiries about other chaps who might do tiling but the only one I found was even more expensive than Pascal. 

Along with the tiling work goes replacing the light and switch -the results of another ‘Bear job’ – adequate for a cupboard but not very convenient for a toilet.

Yes, it is a bit awkward to reach up on the left hand side when you open the door but we could live with it – or so I thought.

light switchThis morning there were sounds of drilling, huffing and puffing and the odd swear word from Bear. He was fiddling with the light in the toilet.

Abandoning the ironing I went to see what was going on.

There were wires trailing from the garage to the toilet and Bear was in the doorway with a screwdriver in his hand.

“You always come to criticise,” he grumbled, “Why can’t you leave me alone to do what I want to do?”

Visions of a power failure danced before my eyes but I said as calmly as I could,

“Well, it will all have to be done when Pascal comes to do the  tiling and I don’t want you risking doing yourself an injury.”

“I know what I’m doing. Now you go and get on with what you’re doing and let me get on with this.”

Fortunately the electricity remained uninterrupted but the switch is now on the right hand side – still too high and stuck on the wall with sellotape . . . . . .

brico-002.jpgBear then finished his morning’s work by cleaning the garage floor, leaving a neat pile of dirt in front of the fridge for me to clear up.

Rubbish collection.

February 20, 2008

There seems to be alot of concern in the UK about cutting down on rubbish collection. So that’s another reason to be grateful we live in France.

Although we live in a village there are two collections every week; one for recycled and one for ‘normal’ rubbish. Transparent bags for the former are provided by the Mairie but you have to buy your own black bags.  “Green Waste” is disposed of in a huge skip and glass is taken to the bottle banks (three of them around the village).

There is only one ‘downside to this excellent service: we have to pay according to the number of people in the household, but it helps me feel less guilty when we put out five dustbin bags on a Thursday night ready to be collected early on Friday.

old_stuffNow, what about the times when you want to get rid of a fridge or something big? Well that is taken care of very easily. In the past there were two ‘Monster Collections’ a year when you were allowed two cubic metres of stuff per household provided nothing was too heavy to be lifted by two men.

trash_truckNow, however, you have to telephone Emmaus or Bell ‘Occas, two charities which undertake to collect just about anything. They then clean and repair it for resale, if appropriate, or dispose of it by proper means. All profits go to the homeless or handicapped.

I have given various things to Emmaus in the past but my neighbour persuaded me to try Bell’Occas this week because they work with the home for the handicapped where her daughter is looked after.

CC and I have been sorting out the Summer kitchen. We repainted it and decided to throw out the old fridge, gas cooker (which we never use) and microwave. We also sorted through the linen cupboard and filled three dustbin bags with sheets and towels which were surplus to requirements.

Bell’Occas came today and two hefty fellows carried the stuff through the house to their van.

new_stuffNow we can get on with Spring cleaning the conservatory and deciding how to rearrange the Summer kitchen.


February 16, 2008

Next month sees the elections for all the Maires in France and Bear and I have the right to vote!

Our mayor has lost popularity over the controversial roadworks which have been going on for months. They should have been finished by Christmas but there’s still a long way to go – even now.

travaux2It seems they ran into difficulties with water and gas pipes and as time and cost increased so did the local anger.

The mayor was adamant that his pet project was worth all the time and money. They are laying a magnificent pavement – each brick lovingly knocked in by hand – the main road through the village has new lamp-posts and flower beds and it seems there’s going to be a fountain as well.

travaux1According to him the rise in local taxes (taxe d’habitation) has got nothing to do with this extravagant facelift.

But some of his team disagree and several of them have defected to make up their own ‘liste’ for the election. It’s certainly not as complicated as the American Presidential affair but, in France, each potential mayor draws up a list of people he or she intends to work with. A large town like Charleville has 44 names; our village, with a population  of less than 1500, has 9 on each list.

Now, I’ve not voted for the local council yet, but if I understand correctly you can ‘panacher’ your voting paper by crossing out names on the liste you are voting for and substitituting the equivalent number of names from other lists. As if I’d dare!

travaux3However, it’s going to be difficult when the canvassing starts. The outgoing mayor wants a third term of office to see through his plans and with him are two adjoints whom I like and respect. I also know two of the five ladies on his new list and consider them to be hardworking and very suitable candidates, so, despite seeing both sides of the argument over the ‘travaux’ I feel inclined to vote for this list.

On the other hand, I’ve just learned that a very good friend who lives in our road has attached himself to a rival list. Then there’s the third group, as yet an unknown factor. It will be interesting to see what they all have to say for themselves when they come knocking at our door.


It may be of interest to those of you who blog to submit a post to this proposed book for the charity Warchild.

A New Loo (pt 1)

February 13, 2008

Every time Whale goes into the toilet Bear and I groan inwardly. It means he’ll be in there for at least 45 minutes – sometimes longer – and although there’s another loo upstairs it’s not always easy to get there in time if you have a gammy knee.

So, the solution is another ‘petit coin’ downstairs. I asked Pascal about it before Christmas and he thought it wouldn’t be a problem. There were two possible places: in the bathroom cupboard or under the stairs. The former is rather narrow and it would mean losing valuable storage for towels etc but it does back onto the existing toilet so plumbing would be straightforward.

Plan B is the cupboard under the stairs but Pascal thought that would involve a ‘sanibroyeur’ – a much more expensive option.

Anyway, we waited – and waited –  but Pascal didn’t make any move towards starting so I looked up a  local plumber and asked for an estimate. A chap from the village turned up over a week ago, looked around, found a drain in the garage which would mean a ‘normal’ toilet could go under the stairs and said he would let me know the price.

Inevitably, Pascal turned up last Wednesday and said he was ready to start. If he didn’t have to work on Saturday he would take me shopping for the materials in the morning and make a start in the afternoon. Oops. I hadn’t had the other chap’s estimate. It was possible he wouldn’t get back to me anyway so I had to agree.

I thought Pascal said he would ring me on Friday evening if he were coming. We heard nothing so I didn’t hurry to get up on Saturday morning. You’ve guessed it. He turned up at 8.30. I was up but hadn’t had time to make a coffee, let alone  prepare anyone’s breakfast.

I dashed upstairs to tell CC she’d have to do all the  morning chores, threw on my coat, grabbed my handbag and jumped into Pascal’s van. As he drove off I realised I was still wearing my indoor sandals. Never mind, it wasn’t raining for once.

Shopping for D.I.Y. stuff is not my favourite occupation, especially on an empty stomach, and when Pascal arrived at Brico Depot my heart sank. I hate that store. First of all he wasted a good 20 minutes at the ‘Accueil’ (Welcome desk – huh) trying to get a rebate for a previous purchase but the sullen woman on duty resisted strongly and he had to insist on seeing her superior.

While he was doing battle I looked around and spotted a rather neat looking ‘sanibroyeur’ on special offer at 169 euros complete. However, when I asked Pascal if that would mean he needn’t dig a trench in the garage (thus saving a good half day’s work/pay) he said no, he’d still have to do that.

toilet1.jpgHe showed me the cheapest toilets and they were not very nice; lots of nooks and crannies at the back and sides to make cleaning difficult. In the end I chose a much simpler design at over twice the price. Bear wouldn’t approve but he’s not the one who has to clean it.

We then wandered round looking for bits of  pipe and other stuff for fixing it. It seemed there was a severe shortage of necessary items in the right size so we had to go to Leroy Merlin as well.

“It’s all here.” exclaimed Pascal in delight. “I wish we’d come here first”.

“So do I.” I thought to myself.

New Loo (part 2)

February 13, 2008

On the way back Pascal started tapping on his mobile. They are getting very strict about phoning while driving here so I was doublely nervous – a possible accident and/or a fine.

Anyway, he was asking a friend if he could borrow his trailer so we stopped off to get it and then came home to unload. As  expected, Bear did not approve of my choice of toilet but we tried it in place and I thought it looked quite good.

After making careful measurements Pascal marked out a trench in the garage and then produced an electric cutter.

toilet2.jpg“You’ll have to ‘water’ the blade as I go.” he said handing me the hosepipe. The noise and dust were horrendous.

“I’ll need Jay to help me this afternoon,” he announced, “to fetch some more wood for you and then shovel the concrete into the trailer.”

Jay was not ecstatic about his enforced labourer’s job but he worked with a will and by 4.30 the trench was dug, the drain laid and he was able to put back the earth. The broken concrete and slabs of stone they had dug up were  piled in the trailer and Pascal  talked of going to see a builder friend of his to offload our rubbish and scrounge some cement as the packet we had in the garden shed had gone solid.

They were back just before five with the news that the builder wasn’t home.

“We’ll have to go and buy some cement.” said Pascal.

toilet3.jpgOff we went to a supplier where he was known. We went into the office to pay and then took the receipt to a man outside who was obviously a mate. He loaded the the trailer with ‘stoney sand’, Pascal helped himself to a few shovelsworth of something else and then they added a bag of cement. You could feel the weight of the trailer as we drove home.

The latest ‘shopping’ was parked in the garage overnight and Pascal was back to concrete the trench on Sunday morning. He had to take the trailer back to his mate so he dumped the unused  sandy stones in a heap front of the garage, had a beer and went off for lunch, saying he’d be back one evening to finish off.

garden.jpgCC, Jay and I had the job of shovelling the little mountain of sand into bags and transporting most of it to the back garden where we created a base for me to put pots for growing herbs. I’m just hoping the cats don’t decide it would serve as a giant litter tray.

Repas St Agathe

February 6, 2008

1The AGM  (of the Club Soleil d’Automne) was due to start at 11 o’clock but when we arrived a couple of minutes after that there were only a few people already gathered. We shook hands or kissed those present and then paid our dues – 10 euros each for the annual subscription plus 18 euros a head for the meal.

Eventually people gravitated towards the seats and Bear made for the back row. Other people dribbled in and went round greeting everyone else. It was a bit like having to stand up to let others pass at the cinema as latecomers made their way up and down the rows.

At about 11.30 the president called the meeting to order – at least she tried, but as she had a cold, her croak was not loud enough and several stronger voices were necessary before silence was attained. Being at the back, I couldn’t hear a word and Bear had ‘switched off’ anyway,  so I don’t really know exactly what was said.

It appeared she went through the list of last years events, followed by this year’s planning and then people put their hands up.

“What are we voting for?” I asked my neighbour.

“They’re planning a dance for 2009.” he replied.

There were indignant whispers from the ladies in front of us.

“Fancy talking about 2009 now.”

Fortunately the meeting was short and it seemed to come to an end ‘gradually’. No-one announced it but some of the committee members  got up and wondered round talking to people and then a few others made for the dining room – a signal for a sedate stampede by everyone.

The tables were attractively set by the caterer – who is the son of the president’s boyfriend. The meal was to be served by four of the male members of the club; a tradition for St. Agathe, and Madame President dressed the four volunteers in white caps and aprons.

The aperitif was champagne and I think we must have got through about 20 bottles between the 43 of us. (No wonder the accounts we had just read showed expenditure of 670 euros for the local wine last year).

The first course was casserole of sweetbreads. That’s something I’d never have the courage to order at a restaurant but I was determined to try it. Even Bear was hungry (tiddly) enough to give it a go and we both found it very tasty.

Then came more alcohol – the Trou Normande – traditionally an apple sorbet with calvados, but this time a delicious pear sorbet generously laced with plum liqueur.

The meal was very relaxed and laid back with our four gallant waiters doing a magnificent job at serving and clearing away while, in between, managing to eat their own lunch. Even Alain, the chef, sat down at the end of a table from time to time to chat or eat while his long-suffering assistant slaved away at the washing up in the kitchen.

The main course was pork fillet with dauphinoise potatoes, green beans wrapped in bacon and stuffed tomato, then we had cheese served with lettuce and, finally the St Agathe Gateaux – three magnificent concoctions of light sponge, fruit and cream – accompanied by yet more champagne.

By this time it was 4.30 and there was still coffee and brioche to come, plus, (if past experience is anything to go by) large helpings of digestifs. But Bear was aching and uncomfortable so we had to call it a day and go home.

It has to be admitted that I had a bit of a hangover.

Out for Lunch

February 4, 2008

This is the time of year when our friends from the next village celebrate their birthdays. Michel’s is January 29th and Marie’s is February 4th.  We usually try to get together the weekend in between the two dates.

This year we were invited to their house and, as usual, Marie laid on a superb spread. We met  a friend of theirs who was staying with them: a  lovely lady who spoke excellent English.

michel and marieWe started with aperitifs and nibbles. Marie had the brilliant idea of giving everyone thier own dish of  ‘amuses bouches’  – savoury pastries – so that she didn’t have to keep passing things round. It also ensured that people ate what they were given.

Yaris, the dog kept trying her luck at begging and, although I know Marie disapproves, I couldn’t resist giving in and letting her share some of mine.

YarisWe chatted about this and that and Michel told us about his grandmother’s custom for Chandeleur. (It falls on 2nd February and it’s traditional to make pancakes). She used to tell the children that if you tossed a pancake up the chimney and then ran outside and caught it in the pan you would be rich. I’d heard about tossing the pancake with one hand while holding a coin in the other but I wonder how many people ever succeeded with the chimney version!

michel and marieSoon Marie called ‘ a table’ and there we found the starter waiting: a terrine of venison with crudités. Even Bear ate up all his vegetables – a miracle.

This was followed by guinea fowl with roast potatoes and green beans, then a selection of cheeses and the meal was rounded off with Marie’s homemade applecake, a wonderfully light concoction like an egg custard.

Coffee and digestifs were served in the comfort of the armchairs and Bear was soon snoring loudly.

The rest of us chatted for a while and then Bear woke up and claimed he hadn’t been asleep. Michel gave him a copy of a CD which was of particular local interest. The music was by Louis and Ernest Letrange. Louis had taught piano to Arthur Rimbaud (a poet associated with Charlevillle) and his son Ernest had been Michel’s organ teacher. Michel had been given lots of their compositions for piano which he donated  to the Conservatoire in Charleville where one of the teachers arranged certain pieces for trumpet and organ and then they were recorded.

We came home about half past five feeling wellfed and ‘watered’.

On Tuesday it’s the Repas des Anciens – another huge meal to look forward to.


February 1, 2008

Claude’s latest post has brought back childhood memories of cars for me.

autin_seven_ruby.jpgMy grandfather was a motor mechanic and when the family moved from London to Norwich in about 1948 he owned one of  the few motor cars around – an Austin Seven.

I remember when I started school and he came to pick me up on rainy afternoons, there was one little boy who stared in disbelief and asked me if I was a filmstar.

Of course, the car had no modern conveniences – such as heating – and a trip to London was a major event. While my mum and grandmother planned and prepared the food and other necessities for the journey I would watch grandad  take the engine to pieces and clean the parts carefully before putting it all back together again.

We would set off early in the morning with blankets wrapped round our legs. It took an eternity to reach our destination as in those days, 30m.p.h. was an adventure. The visit was often to combine a hospital appointment for Nanna with a chance to go and see Uncle Ernie, Mum’s brother.

He had followed in his father’s footsteps and become a mechanic, owning a small garage in east London. Grandad would take us there and we’d all get out and stretch our legs while Uncle Ernie administered something called RedX. It used to frighten the life out of me because it involved revving up the engine – goodness knows why.

We’d go and have tea at Ernie’s flat where my cousin and I would play nicely for a while before fighting like cat and dog and then it would be time to set off for the return to Norwich – usually in the dark and well wrapped up under our blankets.

Maybe it was the suspension – or lack of it  – in those days, but I was often carsick and mum got used to reading the signs and calling for a halt so I could throw up outside the car rather than all over her.

When I was about 7 I was allowed to start the engine, after carefully checking it wasn’t in gear – and as soon as I could reach the pedals grandad would let me drive from the gate to the garage. Then he would reverse the car and let me do it again, several times.

At that age I was convinced I wanted to be a motor mechanic too. That idea didn’t last but I was always eager to drive.

When I was about 12 and out in the country with mum and nanna (grandad had died by then) I persuaded mum to let me take the wheel. It all went fine until she said,

“What would you do if another car came towards us?” (we were in a narrow lane).

Before I could answer another car appeared and I jammed on the brakes. Nanna wasn’t paying attention and nearly fell off the back seat. Mum and I changed places sharpish and I wasn’t allowed to drive again until I was 17.

licenceBut I had my provisional licence ready and waiting for my birthday and pestered mum till she tied  L plates to her car and took me out.

I think I was a bit over confident because my driving made her rather nervous and she decided the best bet was to pay for me to have lessons.

I fell in love with my driving instructor and  pretended I couldn’t find the gears so that he would put his hand over mine for guidance. Eventually he told me off and said it was time I did it myself. The driving school car was a Triumph Herald but I also managed some extra practice in the Ford van which belonged to the shop my step-dad ran.

The test was one day straight after school so I turned up in school uniform. The first problem was reading a number plate because I’ve always been terribly shortsighted.  After two attempts the examiner went to get a tape measure to stand me exactly 25 yards form the car in question. Thankfully I just managed it – and passed first time.

bike.jpgFrom then on I drove anything I could get my hands on until my parents bought me a secondhand Triumph Herald when I finished college.

And to think that nowadays I have lost all confidence in myself to drive. It’s time I pulled myself together and got back behind the wheel again.

From the local Rag

February 1, 2008

In the local paper  this week there were two articles which I found interesting.

One concerned an incident on a school bus. The driver was ‘agressé’ (but it wasn’t clear whether this was verbal or physical), and the entire bus company held a  strike of school transport in protest.  In other words, they are not prepared to tolerate any form of misconduct among school children.  Good for them!

The second was about the ‘Doyenne de notre region’ – a lady who was celebrating her 110th birthday. She had lived with her daughter and son-on-law (ages 87 and 90) for the last 40 years and was still mentally alert though not very physically active.

She was widowed at the tender age of 32 and  never remarried. Her life revolves round her five grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, 14 great-great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-great-grandchildren, the youngest of whom is 4, and they all gathered round to watch her blow out the candles on her cake and toast her longevity with champagne.