Archive for June, 2008

The Village Fete

June 30, 2008

Most villages have a patronal festival and ours was held this weekend. It seems to be aimed at entertaining the younger inhabitants so we didn’t venture round the amusements until the morning after, when everything was closed and it was quiet.

The dodgems were still, the stalls were shut up and the music was silenced. The only sign that there had been refreshments was the rubbish left behind – paper and empty bottles strewn carelessly on the grass waiting for the team of workers to clear it up.

It’s a shame that people can’t dispose of their waste tidily but, fortunately the clean-up is swift and all is back to normal already.

We get the impression that our fete is quite a low-key affair with the main event being a (nearly) all-night disco ,but in other villages they have parades with everyone dressed up, floats and the local band playing ‘live’ music.

In one village we know they have a four day celebration with a roundabout, funfair type stalls and  competitions. The last time we were there they had employed a well-known  professional entertainer to amuse the crowds and there were performances by local singers and musicians on the stage put up in the square.

The French certanly know how to enjoy themselves. I suppose the nearest equivalent in England would be a ‘street party’ but how often do they happen?


I bought tickets for the Tombola run by the Club de Jeunesse and won a bottle of champagne!

Bear is Sociable

June 28, 2008

To quote Victor Meldrew, “I don’t believe it!”

Yesterday, Bear was jovial, polite and sociable. All day.

It started on Friday when we had just finished lunch at La Fontaine and heard English voices. A couple of holidaymakers were  having a bit of difficulty with their order so I intervened and helped translate their request.

They were really lovely people, the sort you feel at ease with straight away and before I knew it Bear was in conversation with them and had offered to buy them a drink. We sat down at their table and chatted like old friends.

When their meal arrived we were aware of the typical ‘English reaction’ of all concerned. In France, if someone calls at mealtime no-one turns a hair. They pull up an extra chair, find a glass, pour out some wine and everyone continues to eat happily while the newcomers join in  the conversation. We find we are not alone in feeling slightly uncomfortable in this situation and  our new friends appeared reluctant to tuck in.

It was time to drink up and take our leave but not before we had made plans to meet up the next day. We would go and collect them from the camp site where their motorhome was installed and bring them to have lunch at our local eatery.

We set off at quarter past eleven but Bear, who is usually a stickler for punctuality, took the ‘long way round’ (otherwise known as getting lost) and we were nearly ten minutes late. Never mind, they were still waiting at the gates and off we went.

Once again, Bear took ‘the scenic route’ and drove back via Nouzonville – a good half an hour’s detour! We parked at ‘Les Compagnons de la Route’ and enjoyed an excellent lunch with plenty of interesting conversation before bringing our new friends home for an extremely pleasant afternoon. In fact, we invited them to stay and eat with us in the evening – just a simple salad – and they readily agreed.

Bear was on his ‘best behaviour’ and even offered to help. This took me by surprise but I managed to suppress the desire to laugh in amazement. I wasn’t sure what to say. If I asked him to do something it would be more trouble than it was worth. He doesn’t know where anything is and if he did manage to locate something he wouldn’t know how it worked.

Anyway, I didn’t want to discourage him so I suggested he offered our guests a drink. He disappeared for ages and when I went to find him he was in the bedroom phoning his daughter!

This was the only small ‘glitch’ in an otherwise lovely day. We delivered our friends at the gates of the campsite  just after 9 and only minutes before the grille was closed for the night.

Needless to say, we have exchanged addresses and will keep in touch. Apart from being such a lovely couple they have a remarkably beneficial effect on Bear!


Meeting people at the Repas des Anciens

June 25, 2008

It was a boiling hot day but Bear and I walked to the Salle de Fete to find that we were in the ‘little room’ this time.

It overlooks the stream but, although the door was wide open, it was already very warm inside. As it was midday there were lots of people to go round and greet before we found a place to sit down.

The noise level is very noticeable in this room and it soon rose to a deafening roar. Eventually the aperitif was served and people near us started to mutter that it wasn’t champagne but a ‘cremant’.  Oh dear, that must be sacrilege in this region,  Champagne-Ardennes!

Opposite us was a young girl in a wheelchair with her parents, new members of the club. I thought she was probably a victim of multiple sclerosis but her father later explained that it was the result of an accident when she was six months old. Her cot was in the back of their car and another driver crashed into them. She was thrown out of the car and found in a ditch with severe head injuries.

It was a Sunday and so, although she was taken to Reims, nothing was done immediately. Eventually they operated but she remains a ‘baby,’ incapable of doing anything for herself. She could go into a home on a permanent basis but her mother would not permit it. She just goes for two afternoons a week to give her a break. She went to special school until she was 18 but for the last 21 years (she is now 39) her mother has coped alone.

However, all these years of selfless devotion mean that the mother is not entitled to a pension!  “Maybe when she is 65 she will get something but it makes me very angry.” said her father.

The only times when the noise of conversation abated was when food was served. The menu consisted of Salade Landaise (magret de canard, gesiers, egg and lettuce),  Trou Normande (apple sorbet laced generously with calvados), Joues de Porc et ses legumes (pigs’ cheeks on a bed of vegetables), Cheese and salad, a variety of ice-creams with fruit coulis and, finally coffee and brioche.

The caterer was Alain (who had been responsible for the wedding we went to recently) and I certainly didn’t envy him working in the kitchen on a hot day.

Three members of the club acted as waiters and waitress and everyone mucked in with clearing the plates.  

The lady in the pink top sitting next to me is the ‘matriarch’ of our local ice-cream maker. She was widowed two years ago and passed the running of the business over to her son and her husband’s brother. She has moved to a smaller house but is having trouble selling the enormous ‘maison de maitre’ on the edge of the village. She was proudly telling us that her grandaughter is now involved in the business and there was a photo of her on the front of a  magazine she was passing round.

Opposite us was a couple we know quite well. The husband  is always full of fun and enjoys teasing Bear but the wife has been very ill with cancer and didn’t come to the last meal. it was great to see her looking much better and tucking into her food with pleasure.




Six Random Things

June 22, 2008

Not everyone looks favourably on ‘memes’ and ‘tags’ but sometimes I find they are very good for giving you ideas when nothing particularly interesting is happening in everyday life.

This one comes from z near Norwich.

Here are the Rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you – (see above).

2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.
6. Let your tagger know when your entry is up.

So, here we go:

1. When I was a child I couldn’t swallow meat. Mum would cut it up in tiny pieces and mix it up with mashed potato but I’d chew and chew and not be able to bring myself to swallow. She thought I was being difficult but I honestly could not do it. The worst ‘punishments’ I remember from this time was being told I couldn’t have any pudding until I’d eaten ‘firsts’ and being served up with my uneaten lunch at teatime – and again for breakfast. I have no idea when or how I grew out of it but by the time I went to primary school I was tucking into school dinners with the rest of them and going back for seconds.

2. Despite many attempts I have never learned to swim. Needless to say there was no such thng as swimming lessons when I went to school and I was always rather afraid of the sea because it wouldn’t keep still and it was usually freezing cold. My mum couldn’t swim either and many years later we went to adult classes. It was OK until my foot slid on the bottom and I went under without expecting it. That put me off for good.

3. Between leaving Music college and retirement I taught in 9 different schools including Infants, Primary, Middle,  Secondary Modern and Grammar and also taught adults at evening classes but I never actually went to teacher training college. Back in my day a degree ot graduate diploma was enough to let one loose in the classroom.

4. I’m allergic to cats but still adore my six feline friends. At least three sleep in the bedroom each night.

5. Following a recipe ‘to the letter’ is virtually impossible for me.

6. When it was discovered I was very shortsighted (as a 5 year-old) I spent most of the day playing with sand while everyone else learned to read. I learned to read at home – but  don’t remember how.  However I do recall being heartily disappointed when I started on Jane Eyre and my mum took it away from me just as I was getting into it because ‘I wasn’t old enough’ .

Like Z, I’m going to ignore the rule about tagging anyone else as I think it should be a choice not a chore but if you do decide to post some hitherto unknown facts about yourself I’d be very interested to read them.

Whale’s Ways

June 19, 2008

“Oh b****r Vero!” I heard this morning as I was getting the newspaper out of the letter box.

The nurse had just been and it sounded as though she’d done something terrible.

“What is it?” I asked Whale.

“Vero’s left my water out of reach.” he complained.

Anywhere he goes he cannot bear to be separated from his bottle of water and plastic cup. Not even for the fifteen minutes or so it takes to clean his bedroom. It’s the same old ritual. He moves into the next room but wants you to bring his book, his glasses, his water and his cup. Anyone would think he was going to die of thirst!

Usually I can make light of the peculiarities of life in our household but, of late, a rather more serious note is creeping in:

Whale seems to be much more irritating and I’m becoming more and more irritable with him.

This makes me feel guilty because he doesn’t do it deliberately and, after all, he doesn’t lead a very interesting life. He’s handicapped, rarely goes out and the rest of the family don’t  have alot to say to him.

He can no longer stand up without help so, as he gets uncomfortable in the same place for more than a couple of hours, he is constantly calling out. Even if he can see that I’m in the middle of preparing a meal or washing up he still wants to ‘borrow a foot’ to get into his wheelchair or go back to bed.

So he’s a lonely prisoner.     But a very annoying one!

Of course, he can’t be expected to realise that I’ve only just sat down with a cup of coffee when he calls out for something that isn’t urgent.

As far as he’s concerned, if I’m busy on the computer, i’m not doing anything important or interesting and therefore I’m fair game to be approached  to provide a translation for whatever he’s silently rehearsing to say to the nurse/doctor/physio – or to drop everything and see if he has an email.

Needless to say, he does have problems but he tends to make a great deal of fuss over minor things. Take his ‘brown spots’ for example. He plagued the doctor until she gave him a letter to see the dermatologist. A visit to Dr. R is a major problem because his surgery has three steps at the entrance. We tried to take him in his wheelchair but couldn’t manoeuvre him inside (he weighs a good 100kilos). That appointment had to be cancelled and we tried again via ambulance. We don’t actually have to pay for this transport but it costs well over 100 euros and it is a bit of a waste just to remove  a few warts for purely cosmetic reasons. The dermatologit assured him there was nothing malignant but he’s still clamouring to go back and see him again because he has found some more warts.

He has succeeded in annoying the nurses, the physios and  the ambulance men and even our GP is losing patience with him. 

Last night, as I was doing the ‘bedtime chores’ he said wistfully,

“I haven’t seen much of Jay and CC. They don’t come and talk to me any more.”

I made a mental note to try to be more patient – but it ain’t easy. . . . .

Claude gets thrown out.

June 15, 2008

Let me make this clear. I am NOT talking about Claude (female) of Blogging in Paris but of Claude (male) our one time gardener and (usually inebriated) purveyor of eggs, vegetables, farm meat, champagne etc.

Some time ago I left him and his mate drinking beer while I went to the garage to look for some glue that he had asked to borrow.

The next time I went to my purse i found it empty. Now I know at times I can be a bit forgetful but I was certain sure than there were 40 euros in that purse. Yet I couldn’t believe that Claude would steal from me.

Neighbours had warned me that he wasn’t totally honest but I prefer to trust people unless they give me reason not to.

Well, today, I had that reason.

Since the 40 euros went missing I had taken the precaution of keeping an eye on Claude. He turned up yesterday evening (smelling of pastis) with a couple of dozen eggs and I put in an order for some strawberries and six bottles of champagne for when my sister comes next month.

But today he turned up with another dozen eggs.

“No, I don’t want any more thank you. You brought me 24 yesterday.”

He sat down expectantly and I found him a beer. While we were talking the phone rang. It was one of Bear’s daughters but he was outside. I was about to take the phone into the garden when I remembered my policy of not leaving Claude and handbag unguarded. I turned back just in time to catch a fleeting glimpse of him returning to his chair from the direction of my bag, CLUTCHING MY PURSE!

Of course I told M her dad would call her back and then I went over to Claude.

“Is that my purse?”

He looked sheepish and handed it over.

“Leave my house at once,” I said, “and don’t come back.”

You won’t believe his response:

“Can’t I finish my beer first?”  !!!!!!

“No you can’t” I shouted.

He tried to babble what may have been an apology but I was really mad by now.

“It was you who stole that 40 euros wasn’t it?”

His eyes widened and he burbled something incomprehensible.


He still seemed reluctant to move so I yelled and pushed and threatened to call the police if he didn’t leave.

At the front door he went down on his knees but I was still shouting angrily.

When I eventually got him outside there were several neighbours looking on. They must have heard me screaming at him. I rarely lose my temper and become that angry (and it’s usually with Bear) but when I do let fly I can make quite a din.

Claude left with his tail between his legs and me shouting a final “Voleur” in his direction as neighbours watched open mouthed.

I rang his mate, whose wife is the champagne producer (she’s part owner of a vineyard run by her brother) and explained that  I would still like the champagne  I had ordered but because of what had happened I did not want Claude to deliver it.

Both Bear and Whale thought I should ring the police but he didn’t actually get away with anything this time and I have no concrete evidence of past thefts. However, I’m pretty certain he has been helping himself for some time and I’ve just been wondering why money seemed to go so quickly.

Suffice to say, Claude is absolutely persona non grata from now on.

UPDATE  Monday evening:

The “champagne couple” came to see me this morning to find out exactly what happened. Later I heard that the wife had telephoned Claude’s cousin and together they had confronted him. He confessed to taking the 40 euros and they are going to make sure he pays it back. It’s too much to expect him to own up to any previous pilfering but, even so, I’ll be very pleased to have some money returned. All the same, he will still not be allowed in my house ever again.


Conflicting Interests?

June 14, 2008

I came across  Elderexercise on Claude’s blog and last week I took up her invitation to join in. My efforts are pretty puny compared to the other members but they are all very kind and encouraging.

Jay bought me a pedometer and it’s been interesting to see how the steps ‘clock up’. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the instructions, so resetting it was rather hit and miss: a case of pressing buttons haphazardly until it went back to zero and then not remembering how I’d done it.

Eventually, the little leaflet came to light at the bottom of my handbag when I turned it out to look for the new chequebook I’d mislaid. (That was eventually found lurking in a drawer).

In the first flush of enthusiasm I did two (separate) kilometres on the bike and then suffered cramp, so stayed off the damn thing for nearly a week. However, if I don’t go out for a walk I need to do some exercise.

Then there’s remembering to put the pedometer back on as you’re supposed to take it off when sitting down. A whole doggie walk was missed off the calculations on Wednesday because I went out without it. Still, that’s better than forgetting to take the dog.

So, you see, there’s also a need for some ‘brain stimulation’ and I thought I’d try learning Dutch. This morning the package arrived containing the Dutch course and another Susie Vereker  book.

That means I’ve been glued to the armchair for most of the day.  “An Old Fashioned Arrangement” is just as gripping as her first novel, “Pond Lane and Paris” and I was quite irritated when I had to put it down to answer the needs of the menfolk etc. The story is set in Geneva and the plot is a tantalising mixture of romance and intrigue. Needless to say, I have now finished it or I wouldn’t be on the computer.

So not many steps have been notched up today and the Dutch course will have me spending even more time sitting down as well.

Wonder if I could borrow my neighbour’s dog more often. Provided it’s not raining, of course.


June 11, 2008

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t drive nearly enough but yesterday evening CC persuaded me to take her to see the osteopath. The appointment was at 6.30 so the rush hour traffic would be going in the opposite direction and that gave me courage.

However, I insisted on leaving at a quarter to six for the (usually) ten minute journey. Butterflies didn’t start fluttering until we approached the metropolis as I began wondering where I’d be able to park. Fortunately there was a space opposite the doctor’s: one of those wonderful, individual spots with a tree each end instead of a car  and in a 30kph limit so it shouldn’t annoy the driver behind if you’re looking for somewhere to stop.

I pulled in but when CC got out she told me gently that perhaps I should try to manoeuvre a bit closer to the pavement as the back of the car was sticking out in the road. It was good practice and not too nervewracking with the trees as markers.

Now, it so happens there is a bar almost next door to the surgery and so we had plenty of time for a cooling fruit juice before climbing the steps and going into the waiting room. (I’ve often thought how difficult it must be for back sufferers to get up to the door for treatment).

He was running late as usual so it was after 7.30 by the time we got back.

“Where have you been?” asked Bear.

“To the osteopath”

“What, all this time. I don’t believe you.”


Today, it was Bear’s turn for a hospital appointment.

He drove, of course, and was still quizzing me about my escapade the day before. Suddenly, he was swerving into the bus lane (for buses going in the opposite direction!).

I shouted: he swerved back and nearly went through a red light but I called out again to stop him. Then  the car kangarooed onto the pedestrian crossing.

It took him a few seconds to regain control of himself and the car.

“It shouldn’t have done that. I had my foot on the clutch. Anyway, it was all your fault. You were talking to me.”

It really is time I put my foot down and insisted on driving more. But which is worse, being a passenger or having Bear as my passenger?

Pulling apart

June 7, 2008

Bear and I have just been out for lunch in town. He used it as an opportunity to let fly about all the things that annoy him:

The fact that I seem to have more to say to Whale, CC and Jay than I do to him. “There’s too much talking. Talking should only be for communication” (??!!)

He doesn’t think I show him enough affection: I spend too much time on the computer (while he watches programmes on TV that I hate): and I never want to go out with him.

Whale is getting a bit more difficut in that he needs more help and therefore calls on me more frequently. True – but that’s not a crime.

CC and Jay still don’t have jobs. Again, true, but they are pretty depressed about it. Bear’s solution -“You’re not being a very good mother. You should kick them out and make them stand on their own two feet”  – isn’t the answer.

He went on to say that if I had married someone else he would have killed Whale by now. “None of your friends can understand how I put up with it”.

I had managed to keep silent up until then, just trying to convey by my expression that this was not a good time nor place to be having a domestic but I couldn’t stop myself from retorting,

“If I’d married someone else, he might have been more supportive, and, anyway, if he had been kinder to CC amd Jay when they were younger they might not be in such difficulties today.”

This made Bear very angry. His expression became ugly, his eyes glinted with what I can only describe as hatred. He leaned forward and spat out his threat.

“If you’re going to keep bringing up the past I’ll kick you in the crotch when you stand up.”

It wasn’t pleasant and I half thought of walking out and getting a taxi home but, quite honestly, I’m kind of used to it. I knew he’d calm down fairly promptly. Besides, it was raining and it’s a fair walk to the station and the taxi rank.

As we walked back to the car he reverted to ‘normal’.

On the way I home I couldn’t help thnking that marriages can only really work if a couple pull together and support one another.

Otherwise they are just pulled further and further apart.




The Vet

June 4, 2008

We have managed to reduce our routine visits to the vet to just three times a year – two cats each time.

Last week it was the turn of Toby and Chloe and we knew that if anyone caught a glimpse of a catbasket they would all disappear under the bed or behind the computer. So I prepared the willow basket and a new cat carrier that the vet had given us last time in the garage and then went to find the victims.

Toby was curled up  on an armchair so it was easy to pick him up but when he saw the basket he became amazingly active and it was a bit of a fight to get him in. Chloe, bless her, was more trusting and quite curious about this new bag so she didn’t protest too much when I zipped her in.

Toby made  loud cries all the way there but Chloe didn’t make a sound. Maybe she was too scared. Toby was sick within a few minutes and also did a poo. We had to open the sunroof and the windows – just a bit.

In the waiting room I managed to clean Toby’s basket (he’s usually carsick so we were prepared) and the receptionist took the ‘Carnets de Santé’. The vet invited us in and proceeded to examine her patients before administering the jabs. I remember her when she started, five years ago, and was a bit inexperienced but now she handles the cats with calm assurance and sticks the needle in without making them flinch.

She gave them both a clean bill of health, made sure they didn’t have any ‘habitants’ (such as fleas) and then we went to the desk for her to add up the bill. She didn’t have a large bag of cat biscuits in stock but promised to bring them to us this week. it was then we discovered she has lived in our village for the last three years.

The only time I’ve seen her is at the surgery when we were both waiting for the physio. It was the season for ‘bronchiolite’ in young children and her seven month old daughter was booked in for her first session of torture.

Yes – torture! From what I gather they squeeze the child’s chest to make her cough and it must feel like choking or being asphyxiated. The poor little things cry with terror and as the treatment is on a daily basis most of them start screaming as soon as mum parks the car outside the surgery. I’m sure they don’t do that to children in England.

Anyway, to return to the visit to the vet, we bought six phials of ‘Advocate’ which treats fleas, worms, ticks and earmites (I like to use this twice a year but it’s more expensive than Frontline which only repels fleas and ticks) paid in advance for the biscuits and came out with our precious bundles of fur 221 euros worse off.  Veterinery charges are increasing but I think they still compare favourably with costs in Britain. All the same, it’s definitely worth it to protect them from most diseases, including rabies.