Archive for March, 2008

The tale of the tiling (cont.)

March 30, 2008

tiling12.jpg Pascal rang on Friday evening to say he’d be round on Saturday.

Wow, we might get a full day’s work done!

His 8 o’clock arrival was more like 25 past and he has come to expect a coffee laced with whisky before embarking on his labours.

By lunchtime he was saying he hoped to finish by the evening.

But – during the afternoon there were sounds of swearing.  He came to find me, looking a bit sheepish.

“You have got more of those pink tiles in the attic haven’t you?”

tiling2.jpgNow the pink tiles were left over from a previous job (by the original owner) and Pascal had calculated that there were enough to do the top part of the walls. As it was no longer possible to buy more I had chosen blue for the lower half and ‘shelves’  with a pink and blue freize in between – also left overs found in the attic.

I distinctly remember suggesting to Pascal that if there was a danger of running out of pink tiles, maybe he could do a second row of freize and finish with blue again at the top.

“No, I’ve counted them. There will be enough.” he said, dismissively.

Now it was a different story. He was three short. And he had used up all the frieze to decorate the shelves.

We searched the attic in vain for matching pink tiles.

“I thought you had counted them.” I ventured.

Yes, but he hadn’t taken into account the fact that the understairs cupboard  new loo is not symmetrical and therefore the left side is longer than the right side.

“Well, we’ll just have to finish off with blue”. I said.

Pascal was all for ripping off the top row from the other side as well but as that would involve lots of cutting minute fragments to fit I couldn’t bear the thought of all that extra time and mess (and money).

“Non!” I protested. “We’ll live with it. People won’t notice.”

Pascal gave an exhasperated shrug and muttered something about “Vous anglais….”

At least, by 5.30 the tiling was finished and he graciously gave me the opportunity to clean all the mess off the walls and floor while he washed his tools in the garage.

(Bear is, at this moment, trying to unblock the sink which is solid with a kind of concrete resulting from that little operation).

loo1.jpgPascal then spent quite a long time repairing the flush mechanism when he put the toilet back. (I’m convinced it stopped working as a result of his constant removing it to the garage).

It was then time for an ‘apero’ of beer and whisky before he wandered off home.

“I’ll be back to do the grouting.” were his parting words.

Pity he didn’t say when that might be.

The Fourniret Trial

March 26, 2008

News on the trial is updated on my other blog – here.

A few days ago we were walking round town, minding our own business when a young lady approached us, stuck a microphone on my face and asked,

“Do you live locally? Have you heard about the Fourniret trial?”

I told her we lived near and, yes, we knew about the trial. The local paper has been full of it. Two notorious serial murderers moved to the prison  to be tried in Mezieres from tomorrow: the resultant disruption to parking has already been well broadcast and they estimate the total cost could be over a billion euros.

She held the microphone closer to my face.

“Can you tell me what you think about it then?”

I wanted to let rip with my feelings about a lifelong rapist and murderer whose first conviction dates back to when he was 25 (he’s now in his 60’s) and how he could be allowed to get away with it for so long – and how, if he’s proved guilty, they should lock him up in a deep dark cellar and throw away the key. . . . . .

But my French deserted me and I could only babble about how terrible it must be for the victim’s parents to have to sit through this all over again, listening to such a monster going over his crimes.

Hopefully, it was not a live programme and no-one will actually hear what I said.

But, tomorrow, Michel Founiret starts his trial for the kidnap, rape and murder of about seven of his victims.

His wife, Monique Olivier, in an attempt to make things easier for herself, has accused him of twelve murders but, since she was a party to ‘befriending’ and enticing some of the victims into their trap, she is also on trial.

Fourniret himself has already ‘helped’ the police by explaining where certain remains were hidden but, so far, he has been a difficult, slippery and crafty customer.

In some of his previous convictions he actually had suspended sentences (!!!) but, if French justice is to retain any credibility I should think they will have to keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.

The people of Charleville can’t be too happy about this high profile case unfolding on their doorstep but they’ll have to put up with it for the next few months.

It is mentioned on the BBC website here.

A New Maire

March 25, 2008

After the recent municipal elections it’s a case of out with the old and in with the new.

On March 9th three lists* were put to the village electorate. The results came out very close with the ‘maire sortant’ (outgoing mayor) just a little bit ahead.

People from the two opposing lists who gained the most votes then combined forces to produce an opposing team of fifteen names to go forward to the vote on March 16th – and they won by a small majority.

It’s amazing how many runours went flying round the village during these elections. I don’t consider myself to be in the thick of things, and there’s a language problem as well, but I heard whispers of  mistresses, ladies of easy virtue, fraud, family feuds and vengeance.

Some people received poison pen letters and some pretty nasty circulars went around saying negative things about the outgoing mayor.

So, you could say feelings were running high.

The winning list voted for the mayor and four deputies last Friday and we now have a lady maire with two men and two women as her adjoints.

Some people are pleased to see the back of the old regime while others are very worried about what the new council will get up to.

Only time will tell.

* Every town and village in France voted for a new Maire this month. The candidates put forward a list of names to serve as counsellors. In Charleville there were 45 people on each list but in our village there were only 15. In communes of less than 1500 inhabitants it is permitted to cross out names on the list you are voting for and substitute others. It then seems that everyone’s individual votes are counted. Those who get enough votes can go through to the second round as part of a list of 15 – but the second round is usually between just two lists.

Neverending Tiling

March 22, 2008

Why didn’t I learn the lesson after we were deprived of our bedroom for three months when Pascal redecorated it?

The tiling of the toilet looks like being another job that goes on and on because Pascal turns up to work in short bursts.

He walked in on Monday evening about 6, trailed muck all over the house as he went round greeting everyone, had a coffee laced with whisky, and did a few rows of tiling. This was when he discovered the problem of mismatched tiles so not much progress was made but there was an awful lot of cleaning up to do after he left.

The dust from his labours spread all around the house and made the floor slippery. This makes life very difficult for Whale when he tries to get up from his wheelchair so I had to go round with the vacuum cleaner and then wash most of the downstairs tiles.

Pascal came back on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday . So is the toilet finished?

No way. He has completed the wall on one side and put just one layer on the other side. Each hour and a half of work has caused me alot of extra cleaning and there’s still the prospect of more work in fits and starts to come.

Today he is working  a full day   –    elsewhere   –   leaving our garage cluttered with his tools. 

However, at least (after several phonecalls) they brought me a replacement washing machine yesterday and clothes and bedding are festooned everywhere to dry because outside it’s snowing.

Bear goes to the Bakery

March 21, 2008

Yesterday was pretty busy.

It was decided that our guests would have an early lunch and leave about midday so while I was busy making quiches I asked Bear if he would go and get some bread.

He wrote out his list in a mixture of English and  phonetically spelled French and then I added ‘levure de boulanger’ (yeast) as I wanted to make some hot cross buns.

He came back and left  the bag on the table.

“Were you able to make yourself understood?”

“Yes, she took the list out of my hand and just queried the sliced bread.”

It was some time before I investigated the fruits of Bear’s shopping foray and, what a surprise, the contents were not exactly the same as my list.

I’d asked for a ‘pain’ – a large, thick baguette, but there was a small ‘ficelle’ instead.

briocheThe baquette briochée was there, and the yeast – and even the sliced round loaf but there was also a bag of croissants and viennese pastries.

“Did you ask for these?” I inquired.

Bear insisted that he hadn’t so I thought I’d better ring the baker and find out if he’d brought something belonging to another customer.

The new telephone directory came last week and I needed that to find the number as the boulangerie only opened a few months ago.

Where was it? No-one knew. So I tried pages jaunes on the internet – and it still didn’t come up.

Eventually Bear unearthed the directory still tightly enveloped in its plastic covering. He turned the pages very slowly and carefully.

“Please – can I find it?”

“No, you let the last directory get torn. You’re not getting your hands on this one.”

“OK, but I would like to phone them sometime this morning.”

Eventually he found ‘boulangeries’ in the yellow pages but they weren’t mentioned. Then he took for ever to find our village (French Phone directories are arranged by town or village so if you don’t know where someone lives you’re in trouble) and then didn’t know whether it would be under their name – Demarez –  or  B for boulangerie.

“Can’t I have a look?”  I pleaded.

“No!” he clasped the book tightly to his chest.

At long last, he read out the number and I dialled it.

viennoiseriesIt transpired that he had bought a bag of viennoiseries although it’s hard to see how anyone could have read that on his shopping list and he still maintains that he didn’t ask for them.

Looks as though I’ll have to do my own shopping in future.

What a week so far

March 19, 2008

This week has seen its fair share of problems.

On Saturday the washing machine decided to spin at a snail’s pace, leaving me to wring out the last load and hang it to, literally, drip dry. clutterThe mechanic came on Monday morning but conldn’t repair it. He needs to order a part and it could take several weeks. There is now a mountain of washing waiting to be done and, despite the fact that ours is only two months old, the lady on ‘After Sales Service’ was adamant that she could not let us have a machine on loan till Friday.

washing_machineOn Sunday the boiler packed up again, and although I rang the plumber and spoke to his wife, I made it plain I wouldn’t expect him to turn out on a Sunday. He came on Monday, at the same time as the washing machine man, got the boiler going and asked us to keep an eye on it. He wouldn’t even take any payment this time!

On Monday, Pascal came to do some tiling in the new loo. He used the first packet of tiles and then called me.

tiling.jpg“There’s a problem.”  It seems the other three packets were not the same as the ones he had used. They were just a tiny bit longer and wider but it was enough to put the whole pattern out.

“I’ll have to take them all off again and use the odd packet for the shelves.” said Pascal.

“Oh, no!” I groaned inwardly. More mess, more time, more expense. Wasn’t there another way round it?

Pascal was not too keen on undoing his work either,  so he had an idea: cut the tiles square and make one row of diagonal halves before continuing with the new size. I just hope it’s going to work. . . . .

So, what about our visitors then?

Well, what with dust from the ‘building site ‘  in the toilet and the dirty washing piling up, I gave up on having a pristine house and my sister and family weren’t bothered in the slightest.

We contrived to sit the boyfriend next to Bear for the evening meal and the poor lad looked a bit startled. Bear was very friendly and chatty and, apparently, my brother-in-law confessed to the joke that night. (see end of previous post).

However, Bear did make a scene when we decided to go to Reims. Roger (brother-in-law) and Jay had arranged to take  everyone in their cars as Jay knows his way round well. So when Bear mentioned washing the dust off his car I explained that we wouldn’t be needing it.

“I’m not going in Jay’s car” protested Bear. “I didn’t think they were coming with us. I’m not going if they are.”

“Excuse me,” said Wendy, (my sister), “I do want to go with them. I came here to see my family and we don’t see each other very often. You’re welcome to come along as well, but if you don’t want to, then stay here.” This is not the first time Wendy has dealt one of Bear’s outbursts. I wish she lived nearer!

Bear subsided visibly, and sat hunched in his armchair. Later he gave me a 20 euro note.

“Would you mind buying me some postcards from Reims,” he asked cheerfully.

So we had a really pleasant afternoon exploring the shops and coffee bars and visiting the cathedral. Jay pushed Whale in his wheelchair and we didn’t hear one complaint about his sore behind.

When we got home Bear was in a state. The nurse had turned up (late) to see Whale and he (Bear) hadn’t realised that we’d taken him with us.

Also, he’d discovered that the battery in his car had given up the ghost. He wouldn’t ‘be beholden’ to Jay so poor Roger was persuaded to drive him to get a new one this morning and he kindly changed it for him as well.

Bear decided that as a ‘thank-you gesture’ he would take all four of them (Wendy, Roger, my niece and her boyfriend) on one of his scenic tours this afternoon. They were all feeling a bit nervous about his driving but they bravely accepted.

“We’ll get him out of your hair for a couple of hours”, said Wendy.

Life with Bear and Whale

March 15, 2008

On the whole, Bear has been quite reasonable lately. He hasn’t let fly with hateful remarks about Whale nearly as frequently as usual and he even says “Goodmorning” with a semblance of sincerity.

However, although the Whale doesn’t have a spiteful bone in his body he can be incredibly irritating.

Take, for example this little incident:

There I was typing an email to a friend when Whale wheeled himself through and appeared at my elbow.

“How long do you reckon these tiles are?”

“Well, we measured them some time ago. I can’t remember exactly, but they’re about a foot square.”

Silence for a while and then he started again.

pic01“Have you got a ruler?”

“No, not on me but I’ll find you one when I’ve finished this email.”

Two minutes later.

“I had a plastic ruler in this drawer: a transparent one. Have you seen it?”

Through gritted teeth: “No, I haven’t. I said I’d get one when I’ve finished my email.”

Now, why did he want a ruler with such urgency you may ask.

The reason is that he always practises his walking (with a walking frame) by going in clockwise circles and I’ve suggested time and time again that he might try changing direction or walking in straight lines once in a while. He wanted to know how far it was from the radiator to the cupboard to see if it was worth walking in a straight line. And when he wants something he wants it yesterday!

As indeed, when he wanted a bloodtest. The doctor gave Bear a prescription for his three monthly ‘prise de sang’ to check on his  diabetes.

“I want a bloodtest for my PSA” said Whale as soon as he heard about it. “Will you ring the doctor and ask if I can have a prescription?”

“No, it’s not urgent. We’ll wait till she comes to see you next week  to renew your prescriptions.”

So on Friday morning the nurse did Whale’s bloodtest and by lunchtime he was pestering me to go to the chemist and see if the results were back!

In case you find this puzzling. In France, GPs actually want to see you for renewing prescriptions because they are paid each time they see a patient.  For a bloodtest, the doctor writes a prescription to give to the nurse who then does the deed and takes the blood sample, with the necessary forms, to the local chemist. From there it is sent to a laboratory in town and the results are returned to the chemist for the patient to collect (and pay for –  but it’s reimbursed)  while another copy is sent directly to the doctor.

My sister and family are due to arrive tomorrow and she phoned me today to share this little titbit of information:

Her husband has been teasing my niece’s boyfriend (as they are both coming as well) by telling him that Bear is slightly mad and is likely to swear or even lash out without warning. My niece is joining in the joke so the poor boy had a little heart to heart with my sister while they were having a smoke in the garage.

“Are you looking forward to going to France on Sunday?” asked my sister.

“Yes, of course. Well – er – I’m just a bit worried about this Bear chap. What do I do if he hits me?”

Did my sister come clean?

No, she didn’t!   So I’ll let you know what happens.

The French Plumber

March 11, 2008

“Brrrr. It’s cold this morning” was my first thought when Toby woke me up by prodding my nose with his paw and then pulling my hair with his teeth.

boilerThe wind was roaring outside in a temper and I wouldn’t let any of the cats go out in that weather. I switched on the bedside light. No power. So I found a torch and went into the garage to switch the trip back on.

“Funny, why hasn’t the boiler  kicked in?” I wondered vaguely as I went back to bed to wait for daylight.

When it was time to get up I realised the radiators were stone cold and the bathroom was not very cosy. No hot water either. Getting the fire going was a priority but then I had to decide how early one could telephone the plumber.

catI waited till quarter past eight and dialled his number. Bother, it was the answerphone. Either he’d already gone to work or he was having a lie-in but I left a message. By lunchtime he still hadn’t got back to me so I thought I’d better try again.

Friends had warned me that French plumbers  were notorious for being hard to get hold of so this time I listened carefully when the message announced his mobile number. The line wasn’t very clear  and Bear was rattling  the newspaper and snorting so I couldn’t hear it clearly. It meant redialling and taking the phone somewhere quieter.

It was the plumber himself who answered.

“I’ll be round  ‘au debut de l’aprèsmidi’ .” he said when I explained the problem.

Wow, if only I could believe that! But, having fielded Bear away from the boiler on a couple of occasions already, I could only hope.

Bless his cotton socks, the plumber rang the bell at ten past two.

cat2“I like to come promptly when boilers break down”, he said cheerfully. He inspected both the boiler and the water heater, and decided that a strong draught must have blown out the pilot lights and so turned off the gas. He had it firing in a matter of minutes but he was a bit doubtful about the pump.

“I’ll just give it ten minutes or so to see if it’s working OK.”

He came through for a coffee while he was waiting. But when we went back it went out again. This may have been due to the draught but he fiddled about with the pump and it seemed to be ‘stuck’ until he poked about with his screwdriver and caused hot, dirty water to spurt everywhere.

“There’s no point in replacing it if I can get it to work,” he said, “but keep an eye on it and if it seizes up again, let me know.”

He had been here about an hour. What did he charge?

20 euros!!!!

The house is warming up nicely again and the cats have realised they can curl up on the radiators as usual.

I think I’ve found a treasure.


March 8, 2008

Have you ever felt completely incapable of getting started on the million and one things that need to be done within a time limit?

Well my sister and her family arrive next Sunday and I’m definitely nowhere near ready. What’s worse, I can’t get my arse in gear to move forward and start tackling anything. A headache doesn’t help and neither did the fact that Petite Anglaise’s book arrived yesterday and I couldn’t put it down till it was finished. (A great read – highly recommended). Vague hopes that Pascal might turn up today to tile the new loo came to nothing. If that means he won’t start on it till next Saturday he’s certainly cutting things fine but there’s a chance he won’t even show then.

guestroomThere are so many tasks going round in my head – they’re all jammed together so I can’t sort them out, put them in a practical order and actually get cracking. Things like cleaning the windows, arranging the summer kitchen (which has been in a state of ‘limbo’ since we painted it), washing all the settee and chair covers to (temporarily) remove the cat fur, thoroughly cleaning the guestroom (which tends to be used as a storeroom), planning menus, making shopping lists, tidying the garden, varnishing the front door and the shutters . . . . and so it goes on. guestroom

Surprisingly, Bear has chosen this very weekend to muck out the attic. He has emptied the contents of loads of boxes that haven’t seen daylight for five years and arranged them along his worktop – at least six metres worth – for me to ‘go through when you have time’. I ventured upstairs, took one look and despaired. I don’t need this – not right now.

Jay and CC are having a short holiday, visiting friends in Spain this week so I really thought I could get things done, in my own time, at my own pace. Well I seem to have come to a standstill. Maybe tomorrow or Monday my energy will reappear from wherever it is hiding and I’ll get going. Meanwhile, the countdown continues and I’m getting nowhere fast.

The Library Opens

March 5, 2008

library01Apparently there was an official opening last week with ceremonial cutting of ribbons and, no doubt, copious servings of champagne, but I didn’t go because I didn’t know in advance.

When I turned up to help last Friday, Isabelle said,

“I didn’t see you at the opening. Couldn’t you come?”

It seems she had announced it when I wasn’t there.

Never mind, the all important opening to the public was today and Bear and I decided to pop in after the hairdresser had been to perform a long overdue haircut on the pair of us.

So we arrived just after three and found Isabelle in lone estate, working at her desk.

“Oh, I expected to see some customers”.

“People are probably working” she smiled.

“How many customers have you had so far then?”

“Just one – and now you two.” she replied.

She decided that she didn’t need to see any proof of identity and we perused the shelves, which are now just about full, and chose the books we wanted to borrow.

library02The library looks bright and inviting and the children’s corner is equipped for ‘Storytime’ every Wednesday afternoon.  There’s a strong possibility I may be able to do some English with small groups if it’s not forbidden by some law or other.

My friend who is an administrative assistant at a local primary school is not (officially) allowed to interact with the children though she does help the little ones put their coats on and tie up their shoes. The fact that her English is far better than that of the teacher employed to teach it means nothing and she’s not permitted to help at all. So we’ll have to see if there are objections to my doing a spot of voluntary teaching at the Bibliotheque.

Changing the subject to the forthcoming municipal elections,(on March 9th)  it seems that canvassing is not taken very seriously in our village. The outgoing Mayor’s representatives rang the bell one evening last week and I invited them in.

It was raining quite hard so they came in gladly. But they refused to sit down and politely declined a coffee or anything stronger. It seemed the last thing they expected was a discussion. After handing us a colourful paper with the names and photos of everyone on the list (15 in all) and a resumé of their achievements they hastily took their leave.

The second ‘list’ was presented even more rapidly. Two ladies rang, I opened, they handed me an envelope, said 

“Here’s an alternative list for you, Good evening.” and disappeared into the night.

As for the third ‘list’ we haven’t seen it except in the local paper. And a strange bunch they are too, according to the photo, looking as though they’re just back from a trek across muddy fields instead of ready to take on the running of a village. I showed my neighbour (who hasn’t had a copy of their list either).

“What a bunch of ‘cons’ ” she said.