Archive for July, 2008

A Loaded Invitation

July 28, 2008

  This was the idyllic setting for a barbeque. The hedge has grown since our last visit to this house so you can no longer see the Meuse but the towering hills of the Ardennes are a wonderful sight to enjoy as you have an al fresco meal.

We were invited for Sunday lunch because they had a favour to ask; would we help their younger son with his English during August?

After a champagne aperitif and plenty of food and friendly conversation it was impossible to say no. But when I realised they meant Quentin to stay with us for several days at a time I began to see a few problems.

As far as I’m concerned it would be a pleasure. This young man, now 17, was the tiny baby we looked after when his uncle had a heart attack almost at the same time as we arrived in the village to stay in the holiday home belonging to another of his aunts.

The whole family went into shock. People rushed hither and thither and his mum pushed the baby into my arms  with breathless instructions for finding bottles and nappies etc. and disappeared in the car.

Sadly the uncle died and we went to stay in our friends’  ‘real’ house in Charleville, leaving the family to grieve and organise the funeral in the village.

So now, we are going to be left ‘holding the baby’ again, so to speak. Bear is a bit grumpy about it, especially as I don’t know how long he’s going to be with us. We kind of arranged that they would bring him next Sunday evening and we’d ‘see how it goes’. . . . . .

CC and Jay are sympathetic as they realise the poor lad probably doesn’t want to come and live with an English family whom he doesn’t know very well but they do feel it is a bit of an imposition.

As far as I’m concerned, I enjoy having visitors but am aware that some of the work will fall on CC and Jay’s shoulders if my knee doesn’t improve soon. We are all looking forward to meeting Sophie with Chris and Chaddy on Friday and some more friends are coming to stay at the end of August. Trouble is, I can’t be sure what will happen with Quentin in between.

It looks as though next month is going to be ‘interesting’.

Prime Suspect

July 25, 2008

Some time ago we noticed that the ‘second telly’ – the one I use to watch French TV – was behaving badly. The colour came and went and sometimes the picture narrowed. 

This week we decided to take it to be repaired. The man put it on his bench and connected it while we were there.

“Strange,” he mused, “ir’s not a fault I’ve seen before. Leave it with me and I’ll ring you within 48 hours.”

Yesterday he telephoned to say he could repair it for 75 euros. It was not as bad as he had feared but ‘did we have a cat because they had found evidence of liquid. . . .?’

“You mean a cat has done a pee in the television?” I asked.

“Erm, yes. It’s quite possible.”

“Well we do have six of them so it’s highly likely.”

We collected it today and the man explained how he had cleaned it all inside.

“Our repairs are guaranteed for three months,” he announced as we left.

“Even against cats?”

“No, sorry!”

So who’s the guilty party I wonder.

                            Parsley likes sitting on the computer monitor,



or in the laundry basket.






The twins prefer to share an armchair.






Chloe likes a radiator.





Toby patrols to keep all the girls in order,



but suspect number one is Holly, as she spends quite a lot of time on the boxes behind the television.

What a Week

July 23, 2008

It has been a week of minor mishaps but nothing too serious.

The first sign of problems was on Wednesday when I went to see Yvette and had to rush to the loo very frequently for the sake of just a few drops. I suspected something like cystitis but couldn’t see how to fit in a doctor’s appointment until after my sister’s visit. 

On Thursday, in between wetting my knickers several times and having to change my clothes, I did the last minute jobs with CC and Jay to prepare the guest room and have a tidy round.

My sister and her husband arrived in their ‘new’ car – a silver sports model – and relaxed with a cool beer.

That evening we had a drawn out meal with lots of wine and chat and went to bed about midnight.

At around 2 in the morning Jay woke me up.

“Come upstairs. Mum, I want you to see this.”

I staggered out of bed and followed him up to his room. It was a very strange sight indeed: two tall shelves of CDs had keeled over and knocked the television off its table so that it went through the venetian blind. One shelf unit had dislodged a socket from the wall on the way down.

“Did you hear anything?” asked Jay.

“No, but I was fast asleep.” was my reply (and I have been known to sleep through the noisiest of storms).

“Well, it must have made a helluva noise – and I didn’t hear anything either.” he said. “I just woke up naturally, got up to go to the loo and found this mess.”

He was obviously quite spooked to think that this could have happened without him being aware of it. However, we put everything back in place as best we could, propping the shelves up with another table in case they decided to fall sideways again, and went back to bed.

The next morning Jay fixed the shelves to the wall with a bracket and, to our amazement, the television still worked! The blind will need replacing and we’ll have to repair the hole in the wall by the socket but it could have been much worse.

When my brother-in-law came down for a late breakfast he announced that my sister had been very sick all night and could he have a bucket and mop please. Oh dear. We must have opened (and drunk!) too many bottles of wine.

Wendy remained ‘fragile’ for another 24 hours and as Roger was content to stay home and watch the golf I was quite relieved not to have to venture far from the toilet myself.

We did manage a short trip to the supermarket but we were all pleased to get back.

On Saturday Bear was out of sorts so Roger took our car to drive Wendy and CC into town. They went on the ferris wheel and had a look round the shops – a good sign that Wendy was feeling back to normal.

Sadly, they had to go home on Sunday. Wendy brought the bags down and left Roger to load the car. They only had room to bring two bags but there was a third for the return journey. Roger left one behind! Fortunately it didn’t contain anything urgently needed for the journey but the next day we posted off his shaver, Wendy’s glasses, an inhaler and a book and documents for the car.

She said her slippers, make-up and toiletries could stay behind for their next visit and we could eat the sweets and biscuits!

So, finally it was off to the doctor’s on Monday. She agreed it seemed like a urinary infection and gave me a prescription for an analysis but put me on antibiotics straight away.

It wasn’t easy to get the sample into the small bottle provided by the chemist. It’s bad enough under normal circumstances but when you’re either rushing to get there before you ‘have an accident’ or else struggling to produce more than a few drops, following the instructions for a ‘midstream sample’ proved impossible.

I had to fill the bottle in three goes; probably not what was intended but the best I could do. It also had to be returned to the chemist before the ‘collection’ at 11.30.

Today I went to get the results. Yes, they had found unwanted bugs but according to the list of antibiotics these particular little beasties were resistant to the ones the doctor had given me. Today is her day off so I had to see the locum for her partner (as he is on holiday).

He gave me a new prescription but warned me that there could be a bad reaction if I go out in the sun.

Great. After a week of grey clouds and drizzle the sun has finally come out and I’m confined to the house.

Time Off

July 17, 2008

My sister and brother-in-law are due to arrive this afternoon so I’m taking a few days off.

Back next week.

14th July

July 14, 2008

The cats woke me early to open the window for them and then, as it’s a jour de ferié , I dozed off again and woke up at nearly 8.30 and remembered that I was looking after Nino (the neighbour’s dog) and he’d be crossing his little legs.

After pulling on some clothes I went next door and found, to my relief that he hadn’t performed on the floor. We went outside and there was time to take in the silence. Not a car, not a voice – complete stillness until the church clock struck nine.

We went down the road and disturbed the big black dog a few doors down. His owner swore at him to shut up and we continued on our way.

The only sign of last night’s festivities were a few strands of ‘party poppers’ left straggling across the road.

Last night’s festivities? Well, it started with a rather low key procession through the village with ‘lampions’ for the children who walked behind a small van blaring out music and then  gathered momentum when the bar got going and the disco started.

At eleven o’clock there was a good ten minute firework display which we watched from the bedroom window. Every bang echoed noisily but the effect was most impressive as rocket followed rocket high into the night sky and then burst into a colourful cascade like falling jewels in different formations.

Unfortunately the disco carried on until well after 2 and CC and Jay couldn’t get to sleep for the din of the deep , booming bass beat.

This morning Bear and I wandered down to the square for the ceremony and wreath laying. The maire herself wasn’t present and so a rather nervous ‘adjoint’ read out the letter from the Minister for Defence which seemed mainly concerned with the  atrocities committed concerning the deportation of the Jews 60 years ago, but also mentioned those who had died in battle.

One of the children present helped to lay the wreath on the monument. There was a minute’s silence before they played the Marseillaise and then we all trooped into the Mairie for the Vin d’Honneur. The adjoint quickly removed his sash of office and mucked in with opening the bottles and serving the champagne.

During the conversation I learned another new expression. The chap next to me was saying how Nicholas Sarkozy never actually allowed his lips to touch a lady’s hand when he did a ‘baisse main’. Another man laughed and said he prefered a ‘baisse nature’.

I can’t remember the exact French that followed but I instinctively translated the conversation as:

“Dream on. You know we’re both past it!”

“You speak for yourself!”

I’d had enough champagne to confirm my guess at the meaning by asking my neighbour,

“I take it a ‘baisse nature’ means rather more than a kiss then”.

To which he replied with a wink and a laugh,

“Yes, you’ve got it!”

I love Sundays

July 13, 2008

When I was a child Sundays were very ‘special’. It’s not that we were a particularly religious family – certainly not regular church goers – but my grandmother held firm views.

You did not do any washing on a Sunday – and you’d hang your head in shame if the neighbours were to see anything on the linen line: I was not allowed to go and play with my friends, and then there was always the traditional Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding (whether or not it was beef).

Nowadays, since retirement, weekdays and weekends blend together in a kind of blur but Sundays stand out as being different.

For one thing, I feel I can have a bit of a lie-in, especially now that we’re not likely to be disturbed by Claude at some unearthly hour – we usually have a roast dinner, a bit later than usual, and everyone sits round the table where – once the wine has taken effect – we might even have a conversation.

It doesn’t matter if there’s washng on the line or neighbours mowing their lawns, although in our village the rules forbid noise before 10 o’clock on Sundays, but there is a general feeling of relaxation everywhere.

Even the cats seem to be influenced by that ‘Sunday feeling’ and after a morning’s play in the garden some have  draped themselves on the armchairs to doze.

Bear has settled down to watch the Tour de France and Whale has gone back to bed to read, accompanied by Parsley and Pepper.

Ahh – peace, perfect peace.

Raclette and Peach Melba

July 11, 2008

So much for my good resolutions.  We were invited to lunch with friends today and after the aperitif and first course of smoked salmon with coeurs de palmiers (not sure what they are in English) Marie brought in a raclette. For anyone unfamiliar with this method of eating, it consists of slices of raclette cheese which you melt in little trays under the ‘grill’ in the centre of the table. You then pour the melted cheese over potatoes (which are kept hot on top of the grill) and eat with a selection of cold meats.  Delicious but rather rich – and definitely not on the diet sheet!

After steadily melting cheese and eating for some time we still hadn’t finished the meat, cheese or potatoes but we just had to call a halt.

Then came a simple but delicious dessert of peach melba, accompanied by meringues which they had brought back from a recent trip to Switzerland.  We collapsed into armchairs for coffee and there was absolutely no room for the Cramique (a kind of currant bread) which Marie wanted to serve with it.

I’ll never understand why you’re expected to eat more cake after an enormous lunch but that’s France for you!

Once they learned that Bear enjoyed watching the Tour de France the television went on and we all dozed off from time to time until Michel produced his pièce de resistance – a homemade digestif. He described how he had fermented apples from the garden in barrels in his workshop and then had the resulting ‘wine’ distilled by the travelling Alambic. This liquid was then stored in oak casks for five years so it had taken on a rich golden brown colour.

“It’s very strong,” he warned us. “If you don’t like it you can rub it on your aching knees.”

It was deliciously warming although it took several sips before I could distinguish any apple flavour. He has some more apples brewing in the workshop and has promised us a bottle next time he has it distilled.

On the second Friday of each month there is a market just outside their house and so, on the way to the car we bought a chicken for Sunday lunch and a tray of organically produced eggs. I managed to resist the jam, honey and homemade cakes and tartes as well as the cheeses and smoked meats but I’m going to have to be extra ‘good’ about eating for a few days to recover from an overload of calories today.

Ups and Downs

July 9, 2008

It’s over a week since I posted and that seems a long time.

However, during that ten days I have discovered that I could be heading for a depression and decided to sort myself out.

It’s true, I have felt more tired and irritable lately and noticed a lack of energy. As it happened, I had to see the doctor about a painful ankle and found myself complaining about all this as well. She knows all about the domestic situation and said it was probably stress related and maybe even the start of a depression.

That was enough to wake me up and spur me into action. I hate taking tablets of any kind but do not want to go onto anti-depressants thank you very much.

She examined my ankle and said it was a problem with circulation related to varicose veins. Well, that cheered me up didn’t it! She prescribed some enormous pink tablets (which I have to crush with a rolling pin and mix with yoghurt becasue there’s no way I could swallow them whole), a cream to rub in and support socks (truly designed to make you feel young and elegant- eh?).

The final blow came when I tried to put the socks on. Had my legs grown longer so that my feet were too far away? No. The plain truth was that my stomach was too fat for me to reach without twisting my already painful knee into contortions not achieved for many years.

So, here was something to take my mind off stress related topics. A diet – a decision to eat sensibly NOW – not next week, or after my sister’s visit, or even tomorrow. Right now, this minute.

As a gourmande (rather than a goumet) I hate dieting but have to confess that I have been comfort eating lately and put on even more unwanted kilos, despite trying to stop nibbling in the evenings. 

So now there is a poster in the kitchen brightly proclaiming all the right foods. I’m going to have to take it one day at a time but I really must make the effort.

Wish me luck!

Bear reverts to ‘(Ab)normal’

July 1, 2008

The recent good day was an obvious blip.

For a short time I thought the charm was lasting when I went into town with CC and Jay and he didn’t moan.

BUT – I got it in the neck the next day when he accused me of neglecting him because I went out with my son and daughter and didn’t ask him!

He then decided it was my fault that the media player on his computer wasn’t working and when Pascal and Florence popped in with a bottle of wine to share he disappeared into the bedroom and turned up the television very loud.

When we went to his appointment with the rheumatologist yesterday all the old complaints came pouring out all over again:

“You’re not being a good wife. You ignore me. and you went out with your kids  TWICE!”

“But you’re usually dozing or reading or watching a train programme.”

“I only do that because you don’t talk to me.”

“OK, so if I came and sat down with you, what would we talk about?”

“Well, we couldn’t talk because everyone else would hear what we’re saying.”

That’s typical “Bear logic” and it may be due to badly managed diabetes,  some sort of bi-polar illness or just plain bloody mindedness.