Archive for the ‘Vive la difference’ Category

Problems for the Postlady

March 19, 2010

Last week our postlady came to our house looking rather shaken because the man who lives opposite had accosted her verbally for no good reason.

She asked if Jay had heard what he was saying as he had been outside at the time.  He said he had understood the word “menteuse” (liar) but apart from the fact that there were angry words he didn’t know what it was all about. However, he agreed to be a witness if necessary as, it seems, this behaviour has been going on for a while now and the postlady was going to inform her boss.

Today, there was another fracas in the street. Jay called me to come quickly and there was the poor postlady trying to remain calm before our aggressive neighbour who had come up to her van shouting and gesticulating.

Another neighbour remained at his door, watching and listening, and Jay stood by incase intervention was required but I thought poor Chantal had had enough.

“Personne ne vous aime” (nobody likes you) he was shouting so I went up to her, put my arm round her, did the customary kisses and invited her to come and sit down in our house.

She was trembling but used our phone to call her boss and then had a cup of tea. It seems her boss had told her not to deliver registered letters or parcels to that particular house but to leave a notice in his letter box so that he’d have to collect them himself. If he hadn’t been informed of this directive I suppose one can understand his anger at not being given his mail but there was certainly no excuse for his violent behaviour.

About fifteen minutes later another post office van turned up with a police car close behind.

Chantal went out to see them and soon there was a little group of neighbours chatting with the Gendarme and the Post Office official.

We decided to keep out of it as there were plenty of witnesses who understood what was said.

I can’t see an easy solution for the Postlady as the chap opposite is a surly sort of character who is not the type to back down or apologise.

We’ll have to wait and see.

The plumber eventually arrives

February 25, 2010

It was Sunday night when the boiler died and Monday morning when I rang the plumber but he didn’t turn up until this morning.

However,he admitted that he had forgotten (!) and apologised profusely.

Then , to  my embarrassment, the damn thing fired at his first attempt.

“But, I did exactly the same thing and it wouldn’t light” I assured him, so he turned it off and watched me try to light it.

It was almost a relief when the pilot light went out as soon as I allowed the knob to come up slowly, and I was really pleased when the same thing happened when Mr Courtial did it.

He dismantled some parts and I left him to it.

Ten minutes later I took him a coffee and he explained that his colleague must have made a mistake when he put it together last time as there was something out of alignment.

Of course, his mate only has one eye and so it must be difficult to judge distances.

He checked that the boiler would relight if turned off and left saying as it was their fault there would be no charge.

I wish there could be a TV programme highlighting honest tradesmen. He’d be a star!

We had another workman in the house yesterday as, at last, Whale has decided he would like to have English TV.

He doesn’t feel comfortable coming to watch with Bear and me (I wonder why??!!)  so now we have a double LNB on the satellite dish and a second Sky box for the TV in his bedroom.

Now we have to teach him to use the controls.

Christmas 2009

December 28, 2009

So Christmas is over, once again, and we’re all trying to recover from the effects of over-indulgence – except that today is Whale’s birthday and Jay is cooking yet another feast.

My favourite memories of the last few days include several phonecalls with my newfound sister, family meals with Bear behaving reasonably well (although he has had one or two tantrums) and  the cats enjoying themselves and making the most of unusual toys;

There’s just New Years Eve to get through with another special meal and then it’s thoughts of diet once again.

Hope everyone of you had a really good Christmas and that 2010 will bring you everything you wish for, especially Health and Happiness.

The Tale of the Boiler

December 18, 2009

Isn’t it just typical that at the first sign of  minus temperatures our boiler decides to go on the blink.

On Sunday afternoon I turned the radiators on upstairs ready for the return of CC and Jay who had been to see friends and do some shopping in England.

By the evening all the radiaters downstairs were cold and by Monday morning there was only one radiator working – the one directly above the boiler.

I phoned the plumber and he popped in to have a look that afternoon.

“It’s the pump” he declared and said he would fit a new one as soon as he could but that he was inundated with work which all had to be done before he left to visit family for Christmas next week.

So I was pleasantly surprised when he came back on Wednesday clutching the replacement pump.

“It’s a quick job” he claimed.

But well over an hour later he was scratching his head because the system was still stone cold.

“Can’t understand why it’s not working” he muttered but he couldn’t wait any longer chez-nous. He had other clients waiting.

I began to imagine the festive season grouped round the wood stove. All very well if there was a spirit of goodwill towards all men but, knowing our lot, that wouldn’t be very likely – at least, not for a whole week.

Then at nine o’clock this morning, there he was, bless him, with a mate in tow.

They both spent the morning bleeding the radiators (which we’d aleady done), turning them on and off,  scratching about in the attic and generally uttering a few (mild I think) expletives. There were also a few remarks about how the previous owner, who had ‘renovated’ the house himself, must have been a ‘cowboy’.

I kept them supplied with coffee and even invited them to have lunch with us: anything to keep them here until the job was done.

But they went off at midday, promising to return with some parts – and, hopefully, some more ideas.

This afternoon they beavered away in the garage and then called me to look at the muck they had found in the pipes. It wasn’t limescale, it was MUD!

It took them nearly a couple of hours to dismantle and unblock the boiler and then put it back together. They then tried  a more powerful pump than the one already refitted and changed three valves which are supposed to automatically purge the system and prevent airlocks.

Finally, to everyone’s relief, the boiler fired and the radiators started to heat up.

“I’ll have to come back after the holiday to put in a cleaning product to make sure we get rid of all that dirt” said Mr C.

They sat down to another yet coffee and a slice or two of gingerbread and then went off into the cold.

They still had another call to make.

French Officialdom

December 10, 2009

Whale received a stramge letter last week. It was from the Caisse Primaire which deals with health amd social security and said that he had declared the loss of his Carte Vitale but that it had been used by the nurse and therefore this was a FRAUDULENT ACT liable for a fine.

This was rather worrying because the card has never been lost and we certainly hadn’t declared a loss officially.

A friend of mine helped me to write a suitably official letter to explain this but I also telephoned  first thing on Monday morning.

It transpired that they had made a mistake – and admitted it! -but, because the card is officially lost we had to return it and apply for a new one. This could take a long time. Meanwhile we will have to use an Attestation – a piece of paper setting out Whale’s right to treatment – which is not nearly as convenient.

The second slight scare we had was when returning from a trip in town, with Bear driving, we were stopped by a stern looking gendarme just as we approached our road.

He indicated that we should pull into the church carpark and asked for the paperwork.

Bear handed him the folder where he keeps it all, but his driving licence wasn’t with it. He had to get out of the car – with difficulty –  and fish out his wallet. He had forgotten what a French licence looks like so I had to find it for him.

The policeman checked everything thoroughly and then walked all round the car examining it carefully.

At this point, the maire walked past, greeted us with two kisses, shook hands with the gendarme and started chatting about the Repas des anciens on Sunday.

Then, suddenly, he broke into a smile, handed back the papers and said we could go.

He stood in the road to wave us out of the carpark and we drove home with relief.

Bear is going to be on the road for a bit longer. . . . . .

Birthday Weekend

December 1, 2009

On Saturday I turned 65 and enjoyed a really lovely weekend thanks to family and friends.

With a bit of prodding from CC, Bear bought me the whole set of DVDs for Upstairs Downstairs, but what I  appreciated most of all was the fact that he remained incredibly sweet tempered the whole time!

Yvette invited us for cake and champagne in the afternoon and then Jay cooked a delicious meal of carrot and beetroot soup followed by  cod in provencale sauce and rounded off with the most beautiful chocolate gateau I’ve ever seen – or tasted – which came from a very good patisserie in town.

Coffee was accompanied by a 25 year old Armagnac – a present from CC and Jay – and then we ALL  played Trivial Pursuits until well after midnight.

Bear won and I came second but we realised that our sets of questions are terribly out of date. We’ll have to get some new ones.

As for presents, I’ve never been so spoilt.  My friend from Athens sent this wonderful display of flowers and Yvette gave me a trinket box, an ornament of a cat and Dewey, by Vicki Myron – the true story of an abandoned kitten who was adopted by the staff at a library – translated into French.

Our friends from the next village gave me some hyacinths nicely arranged in a hanging basket, my neighbour popped in to present me with a cat themed manicure set and matching notepad and pen, Bear’s elder daughter sent me some handcream, (she always remembers my birthday – bless her) and, as well as the wonderful armagnac, CC and Jay gave me a CD of Mozart’s Horn Concerto.

You’d think that was enough of a celebration wouldn’t you, but it continued on Sunday, in a way, because it was the Christmas Repas des Anciens.

When we left at quarter past twelve I was still feeling  very full from the previous evening and rather regretted that I’d accepted the invitation for the meal.

However, once we had arrived and kissed or shaken hands with everyone there was quite a long wait before the meal began.

First came the champagne and nibbles, supplemented by slices of pizza.  The starter was salmon in sorrel sauce, followed by the Trou Normande – sorbet with mirabelle brandy –  and the main course was venison accompanied by apple and cranberries, sprouts and dauphinoises potatoes. Then came cheese (brie) with lettuce and desert consisted of individual raspberry charlottes.

Coffee was served with tarte au sucre, a local confection of round brioches liberally coated with sugar.

This year’s entertainment was a couple who, between them, sang and  played accordeon, saxophone and keyboard with a ‘canned’ accompaniment. It wasn’t bad, but they weren’t as good as last year’s performers and they were far too loud

Bear and I were among the first to leave at about 6 o’clock but no doubt the dancing went on for another hour or so.

I have to say it was the best birthday weekend I’ve had for many a year but, even today, I’m still feeling incredibly full!

The Garden is tidied

September 17, 2009

A few months ago Whale received a letter from  the French  government stating that as he is handicapped he would receive 200 euros worth of  ‘cheques emploi  services’  to employ additional help.

This sounded like wonderful news  but when they arrived they bore no ressemblance to the normal  ‘cheques emploi service’ which are used to pay legally for any work done by someone not employed by a business.

After asking one or two French people if they could make sense of the directions on how to to use them I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t being totally thick and, maybe, the government wanted to put people off using their gift. Which, naturally, made me even more determined to find out how the system worked. 

So I asked at the Mairie  and a very friendly member of the council came round and studied the instructions. She scratched her head, read through the notes again and then decided to phone  for assistance.

After a long conversation she told me that my ’employee’ must sign up with cheques emploi service and  then the ‘borderaux’ (slips which enable you to cash the cheques) woud be sent directly to him or her.

After asking around I found Thierry, who was willing to do 20 hours of gardening in return for this strange method of payment -but he didn’t know what to do either.

He said his aunt had used them so he took all the papers with him last weekend to ask her. It seemed you had to do it online, she said and she wrote down a list of instructions which he brought with him on Tuesday.

Going online resulted in me signing up to fill in the monthly forms by internet – something I’ve resisted doing up till now  but will have to get to grips with it  at last.

When it came to Thierry’s part it clearly stated that he culdn’t sign in without a valid email address. Thierry doesn’t even have a computer so we were back t square one.

“I’ll send the form by post” he finally decided.

I hope we do get this sorted because he’s already done a good few hours and here are the results so far:                                                                          


The vegetable patch has been dug over and sown with mustard seed. Apparently if you dig in the mustard before the Spring it will fertilise the soil and help prevent the weeds from growing. The ‘bush’  in the far corner is horseradish and you may just be able to make out one lone sweetcorn just in front of it. I used two packets of seeds and  of the 3 (yes THREE)  that germinated this is the only one that has survived. I’m thinking of preservng it somehow!

The hedges that our friend planted last year had been sadly neglected but Thierry cleared away the grass and weeds and put cocoa  hedge3shells down to keep it tidy, and hopefully weedfree.

These cocoa shells smell strongly of chocolate and CC and I used them in the bed by the garden shed where the weeds come through from next door.


Yummy, they made our mouths water but there was no chocolate in the house to eat.



There’s a buddleia and two other shrubs planted in the earth and we’ve part buried some boxes to grow herbs . The plastic sheets are meant to stop some of the weeds from invading and the hosepipe takes well-water up to the vegetable garden.

In addition Thierry has weeded the borders by the path and planted some pansies to fill the gaps where the perennials have died.

There isn’t much colour left but here is the last rose of Summer, looking a bit of a sorry sight.

last rose

Next stage is to tackle the front of the house.

Le Bois de la Rosiere

September 13, 2009

Every September since we’ve lived here we’ve read the invitation to the ceremony at Le Bois de la Rosiere  but we’ve never been able to go to it until today. entrance

We thought it would be a similar occasion to the ceremonies marking the end of the war but we were  wrong.

It started off in the same way. We met up with some neighbours half way down to hill to the church  and they said they were waiting for the procession to the cemetary to pass to save walking down and then up again. More people came and parked their cars along the road. We thought it was strange because they didn’t live that far away.

Eventually the band struck up and led a large number of people up the hill. There were eight flag bearers, about twenty children skipping and laughing and then a more serious group of adults including soldiers and police. We joined in and followed to the cemetary where a drummer and trumpeter from the band played during a short ceremony at the tomb.

The  we all followed the same music back down the hill. people started getting into cars.

“Do you need a lift?” Mary-Paule asked .

“Why, where are we going? I thought the memorial was in Rue du Bois de la Rosiere.”

“Oh no, it’s too far to walk.” insisted Mary-Paule.

We got into her car and drove out of the village and along the bypass. The gendarmes were on hand to stop the traffic while everyone turned left. Parking was haphazard and very tight as a large number of cars squashed into a farm. Then there was a long wait for the Prefet (or his deputy) who always arrived late.

During this pause Mary-Paule told us the history. It seems that eleven prisoners who were being held in Charleville prison for being members of the Resistance  were taken out near the end of the war and, instead of being released as they had expected, they were taken to the woods and shot.

One young man was still alive when the villagers came to remove the bodies but he died soon afterwards. Among the victims were the parents of a teenage girl, who had also been in jail. She is now a little old lady in a wheel chair and she comes every year to pay homage. Another silver-haired lady was pointed out to us. One of the young men who was murdered was her fiancé. She eventually married someone else but she always comes back to remember him.

vipsThe Prefet’s representative finally turned up in her chauffeur driven car and more time passed as she chatted to our Mayor while the band shuffled in position ready for the off.


Finally we all set off (with the band playing the same old tune) along a  winding path towards the memorial at the place where they were Here there was a laying of wreaths, the band played the Marseillaise and then the children sang it (unaccompanied). The Mayor gave a speech that no-one could hear because the microphone didn’t work, the band played a slow dirge which was badly out of tune, and then we made our way back towards the parked cars, following the same march at a lively pace.



walk back

The morning ended with a Vin d’Honneur at the Salle de Fete  accompanied by pizza and quiche.

To mark the sixty-fifth anniversary of this event, the two ladies who survived the tragedy were presented with medals and flowers.

!t is surprising that it has taken us seven years to discover this sad story and to take part in the simple but moving ceremony of remembrance.

Se tutoyer ou pas?

July 27, 2009

Thanks to Whale’s disability we are entitled to a certain amount of help, including 8 hours of housework per month.

Originally my neighbour, Claudine,  was happy to oblige but she is not in good health and the paperwork involved when someone is off sick is complicated, to say the least.

Needless to say, I was relieved when, with a bit of help from the doctor,  her illness was ‘upgraded’  so that she could work part-time, thus reducing the need to send off various forms every time she wasn’t well.

However, snce the death of her husband , she has become much worse and, after a trip to the ‘medecin de travail’ she no longer has to work. She recommended a friend to take her place and so Francine has been coming this month.

She is a delightful little lady, bright and chatty, and very thorough. She even went after cobwebs I hadn’t seen!

The only problem, as with most French people, is whether to use ‘tu’ or ‘vous’.

It seems that the rule we learned at school – NEVER to use ‘tu’ unless you were really sure you knew someone well enough – doesn’t apply nowadays. But French people have different views on the subject all the same. Some find it easy to ‘tutoi’ while others are quite uncomfortable  with the idea so it’s not a good idea to assume that you are being friendly by addressing someone informally.

After four weeks of trying to remember to use ‘vous’ but occasionally slipping in a ‘tu’ without thinking, I finally got around to asking Francine what she preferred as she was leaving today.

“Oh, it’s fine for you to address me with ‘tu’,” she smiled, “but I’ll continue to call you ‘vous””.

There followed a discussion about different views among French people and she told me that when she worked for ADAPAH, a society which organises home help, she was strictly forbidden to use ‘tu’ or to ‘faire la bise’ (greet someone with kisses).

“But you’re not a servant.” I protested and this led to a conversation about class distinction.  It was a bit delicate, because I had the impression she wasn’t entirely comfortable using ‘tu’ but she realised that I found it unfair to use ‘tu’ to her if she didn’t reciprocate.

She suddenly broke into a huge smile and the deal was done.

On va se tutoyer. (We’re both going to use ‘tu’). But she’ll forgive me if I forget and lapse into the odd ‘vous’.

Why do the French have to make such a simple thing so complicated?

The electrician cometh

October 15, 2008

It is some time since the spotlights started to go out in Jay’s room and then in CC’s bedroom too.

When it got to the stage of one light left (yes we did try  changing the bulbs but that wasn’t the solution) it was time to call in an electrician. The yellow pages listed several nearby, in fact there is one at the end of our road but since he backed into Jay’s car a few months back I thought I’d avoid him.

I called a chap who lives a few miles away. He answered personally and said he’d come to do an estimate that afternoon. I was pleased but then I wondered why he had so much free time.

Anyway, he seemed to know what he was doing when he came to inspect the job. The problem was the spotlights which the previous owner dotted all over the house. It seems they get very hot but the ones in the bedrooms had been covered with fibreglass insulation AND also had wires over the top of them.  He claimed we had come very close to having a fire and he may well be right judging by the melted piece of aerial wire he showed me.

It was agreed that we would replace the spots in the bedrooms with ‘ordinary’ lights but the ones in the toilet and hall would remain and be protected by earthenware flowerpots!

“I’ll bring you the estimate tomorrow.” he promised.

Of course, he didn’t.

Four days later he turned up with an envelope and came in for a coffee to explain it.  He would put two lights in Jay’s and CC’s rooms (plus another in her bathroom) and just one in the guestroom. He suggested longlife low energy bulbs and I opted for bright ones – only 25w but they give the same light as 100w normal bulbs.

CC and Jay later found the low energy bulbs hurt their eyes because they gave out too much light and promptly replaced them with ordinary bulbs.

He agreed to come and do the job ‘on Thursday or Friday’ but I asked him to ring and let me know.

He rang on Friday evening to say he’d be round at nine o’clock on Saturday.

He actually turned up just after eleven with his son in tow. They worked hard and I get the impression it took longer than they had envisaged, climbing about on top of the bedroom ceilings among the itchy fibreglass.

When it came to turning off the power they asked where the control panel was. I showed them and asked if they had brought a torch.

“Oh, I didn’t think of that.” he said. (!!??)

Fortunately Bear told them there was another panel in the loft where they could turn off the electricity more selectively. (I didn’t know about that despite having lived here for 6 years.)

They were  hard at work after midday so I went to see what was happening. They were not finished as they still had to fill in all the holes in the ceiling where they had removed the spots.

Thye came downstairs for a beer and said they’d be back ‘tomorrow’ – i.e. Sunday!

This time CC and Jay didn’t believe they would be here at nine and stayed in bed. Of course, they came just after 9.30!

Lunch was cooked and stashed in the hostess trolley but it was getting on for half past one before they came down for an apero. They still hadn’t finished. One of the lampholders was faulty so they’d have to replace it and the plaster would need sanding when it was dry.

After a couple of pastis they left,  promising to be back on Monday “or if not, definitely on Thursday”  were his parting words.

They did not make an appearance on Monday so it’s fingers crossed they turn up tomorrow – but I’m not counting on it.