Sunday, 31 August 2008

Sporting glory!

Today Ian did his first triathlon. As you can see from the picture it was wet! The swim was hard and he swallowed several mouthfuls of water but managed to get to the end and seemed okay on the bike and run. He struggled to walk back to the van and had to drive back to London early to avoid falling asleep on the chair! I expect by now he is fast asleep in bed!

Progress report

Well the house has not really progressed above the foundations which did not surprise me. Ian was a little disappointed; especially when the builder said that he could not continue with the build until the 20th September but I guess these are the realities of building a house and at least we have something done. The promise is that walls, roof and windows will be done by the end of October but I will not be holding my breath (Ian is more optimistic!). We still got a lot done with regard to arranging the electricity, arranging someone to mark out the land, cutting and clearing the entrance and planting a few trees out the front. (See our line of carefully staked trees below)

After work we clambered on to the foundations and had lunch in the 'dining room' and an afternoon drink on the terrace!

Campsite man

I feel I should say a little more about campsite man (Pierre-Henri). We first met him last year when we stayed on the campsite for two weeks. He got on well with Ian because they are around the same age and both had had financial problems related to ex-wives. Last year Ian and him spent a lot of time moaning about women and money! Campsite man 'rents' the campsite from the commune (local council) for a nominal amount and maintains and runs the campsite. He is pretty much on his own which means that he is on site 24 hours a day 7 days a week from April until October. Last year he lived in his tent but this year he has upgraded his accommodation to a wooden garden shed the size of a small garage. Outside the garage doors he has created a small garden where he grows a few tomato plants and flowers and sits on his garden chairs to enjoy his morning coffee!

We dropped by to say hello to him earlier in the year, something he seemed to appreciate, and he welcomed us back this summer, when we got to know him a little better. As well as an ex-wife he has two ex-restaurants and a two houses in addition to his garage. One is lived in by his ex and one by his current girlfriend (although I would imagine that over the summer he gets little opportunity to further that relationship as he is surrounded by campers). He has just been given the permanent custody of an ancient camper-van whose ageing owner has finally decided to part with it (as he is no longer capable of driving it back to Germany). Campsite man will live in it from now on and so is trying to sell is garden shed!

Campsite man is essentially very French but, like most French people in the area gets on well with the English immigrants, even though he likes to tease them about their dreadful food and the fact that they (and the migrant grape pickers) are the only ones brave enough to stay in the campsite after September! He likes his coffee, his wine, and is quite knowledgeable about planting and the seasons. We learnt two things from him. Firstly, if you hear the frogs croaking after 10.00pm then it will rain overnight (this was certainly true) and secondly that anything planted on a saints day in October (I can't remember what one it was but it was around the 25th!) will take root and grow. We are hoping that there is some flexibility here as we planted some tree saplings while we were there and we are hoping that they manage to survive!

Saturday, 30 August 2008


or.. in English, sunflower. When I have been to France before in August the sunflowers have been past their best and have just looked like fields of sad, black heads pointing over towards the ground. The poor summer did bring some advantages however and this time the sunflowers were in full flower. It has always been my favourite image of France in the summer. This picture was taken from near our neighbours gites (on one of the days when the sun shone!)

French Cuisine

We are now beginning to return to a more 'normal' and non-French diet! I know French food is meant to be amongst the finest in the world but whenever we are there we are always struck by the lack of fibre and the increase in protein leading to a seriously bunged up state! This must be a common condition in France evidenced by the size of their toilet rolls, which for me would only last a day but seem to cope with the average French bottom for a week! Breakfast of croissants, lunch of steak and chips and cheese or ham for supper (accompanied by large chunks of white bread and salads full of hard boiled eggs) does nothing for the alimentary system and as if to prove the point the French have amongst the highest incidence of colon cancer in Europe. Mind you, as if to compensate they have a admirable selection of yogurts with bifidus actif, guaranteed to improve alimentary transit in 15 days!

Campsite man Pierre-Henri told us that he ran two restaurants before deciding to run the campsite. His mash potatoes and vegetables were all bought from the frozen food man and boiled in the bag!

Friday, 29 August 2008

Back to blogging at last!

Got back today about two hours ago! Have missed blogging and feel humbled that I could not get it to work from the campsite even though campsite man (Pierre-Henri) let us log on to his wireless network from our PDAs. Problem.. no cookie (whatever one of those is if it isn't a hard baked thing covered in chocolate) to let me get to the sign in page and I shamefully did not write down the details on how to blog by email! So I am feeling very frustrated as every time something interesting happened I thought.. I must write about that on my blog..but I couldn't! I did make some notes and I hope to make up for it over the next few days.

Next purchase.. a small laptop that works with windows and has bluetooth! (I have just been told that I also need 'wireless').

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

French ladies who don't get their hair wet

As the rain decided to continue unabated we found the local municipal swimming pool. It is open from 10.00 a.m. until 8.00 p.m. and the best time to swim is between 12.00 and 2.00, when any self-respecting French person is at lunch. The pool was clean, relatively modern and the swimming pool was deep, probably 6 foot at the shallow end and 10 foot at the deep end, so hence it was only possible to swim in it! There were a few ladies in there over retirement age but they put our ladies that don't get their hair wet to shame! Two proceeded to do 25 metre lengths treading water (no easy task!) and one made Ian and I look like we were learning to swim, with her expert tumble turns. She was still in there when we got out! The lifeguards were also unlike any I have seen in England. The man was about 60 years old with a long grey beard and hair and the woman was probably around my age and did not have the build of a swimmer! They spent the time sitting between the children's pool and the main pool, passing the occasional glance in the direction of the water!

When we returned the rain had stopped a little so we decided to take the dogs for a walk. We got half way round the walk when the heavens opened, so I am sitting here in slightly damp clothing, waiting to dry out. (Ian is trying to get his 30 year old tractor started!)

Il pleut comme une vache qui pisse

....or roughly translated it is raining like a urinating cow, which aptly describes the weather here! It started the day we arrived and looks like it will be with us for at least a week. Driving further south tomorrow is unlikely to make much difference as the low pressure seems to be affecting the whole of France! The dogs are depressed as they don't get much of a walk in this weather. Every time I come to France it rains so I am beginning to wonder whether the planned move will result in a sudden change to the French climate, making it worse than in England.

Tomorrow we are off to the land and blogging will be restricted by my ability to find somewhere to charge my PDA and the availability of a wireless network.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Flying dogs

This morning we have been relaxing and hiding from the rain! We have brought the bad weather with us and rain has set in, but it is an excuse for a rest and we both need it! We have also been playing with Zoom and Appy; Roger's collies!

Chocks away!

Yesterday was the first day of our holiday! Three weeks of no work; at least not the sort of work that makes up the regular weekly routine! The plan is a few days with Ian's friend Roger who lives in the Yonne and then to head down to the land for a mixture of work and socialising (and hopefully some cycling). Blogging is not a problem here in the Yonne as Roger has laptops, computers and network connections in every room in the house. The problem is more navigating your way around the system that he has customised to protect his system from all know invaders!

The holiday started with a drive through Sussex and Kent and a visit to a little cafe in the White Cliffs of Dover literally on the cliffs with a great view over the Channel. We went there once before about three years ago and weren't sure whether we would be able to find it again, but our memories did not fail us this time and we found it at the first attempt! Unlike our last visit however, it was pretty windy up on the cliff top and we had to hold on to the toast that came with our all day breakfast to prevent it from blowing away. I also had the added problem of my hair blowing around my face, usually coinciding with my attempt to take a mouthful of food; thus I ended the meal with a layer of tomato ketchup and fried egg on my hair! Never the less, it was a nice start to the holiday as I think the view has got to be one of the best in the South and beats the Eurotunnel cafes hands down!

After lunch we set of for Eurotunnel. The was my first time and I must say it beats the ferry any day. The whole thing was quick, smooth and easy (and they let us on a crossing 40 minutes before the one that we had booked on). We arrived in France at about 6.00pm and started the 5 hour drive in the old white van. I drove the first few hours and then Ian took over south of Reims for the last bit. As it got dark the light made the cut fields look spectacular and numerous insects committed suicide on the windscreen. However, the most exiting thing that happened occurred when we got off the motorway and on to the windy roads through the woods and fields. By this time it was totally dark and by the side of the road we caught sight of a large animal. We initially thought it was a deer but then realised it was wild boar! We were quite exited as I had never seen one before and were gleefully discussing the dangers to white van of hitting a boar head on when Ian screeched the brakes. Slowly moving away from the side of the road was mummy boar and 4 baby boars! Later we saw a deer by the side of the road, seemingly unbothered by the cars!

We arrived at midnight and slept well!

Friday, 8 August 2008


Two days before we leave for France Herman (the hermit neighbour) telephoned to Ian to say that while he was cutting back some bushes on the land (why?) he cut through the cable that the builder had rigged up to the mains electric supply! we have no electricity so just as well we weren't planning to camp there.. Going on holiday is stressful!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Mutant buddleja

I know that buddleja grows easily in most places but here in the chalky soil of the downs it seems to excel. Every house has one and the bushes get to 6 foot tall within a year or two if not cut back. They also grow in the most unusual colours. As well as the standard lilac they come in black, dark mauve and white. No one can recall planting them.

Puss Puss

This is a picture of my neighbour's cat. He is called puss puss and is mostly very friendly although you wouldn't think so looking at him here. He is sitting on top of the empty rabbit hutch looking very contented!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

On using 'foreign words'

I have just been reading a most amusing section in the 1950s guide to modern manners about using and pronouncing 'foreign words'.

This refers to what I can only assume was 'de rigueur' at the time, substituting French phrases into everyday English. These are referred to in the text as 'foreign' words but in fact all those cited are French!

"Today no one thinks any less of a person who employs no foreign expressions at all, and if she uses a foreign one where an English one is just a explicit, she is liable to be thought a trifle affected...."


"Even more disconcerting are the French words you may meet in conversation, especially since a good many of these have acquired a slang meaning which often has little in common with the dictionary one"

What is then interesting is that the list of 'foreign' (i.e. French) phrases that they give as examples are so much part of everyday language now that I would imagine that few people would identify them as 'foreign' at all!

(Such as ambiance, banal, bouquet, buffet, clique, corsage, de luxe, elite, entourage, finesse, foyer, gaffe, penchant...)

Pre holiday blues

I am currently in that horrible period prior to going on holiday! I have three weeks off starting on Friday. On Saturday Ian has invited all his friends from work to a barbecue at my place for which I am apparently organising the catering (as well as cleaning the house and getting everything sorted so that we can leave on Saturday!) We are going via Euro tunnel this time as we have booked a 'season ticket'; meaning we get 10 crossings for £300. We are driving down to Ian's friend in the Morvan for two days and then going down to the land. I am also preparing lots of 'presents' to take to the neighbours to keep them sweet. Whiskey for the farmer, and for a couple of the English neighbours, home made cake, jam, and English biscuits for the couple who run the nearby gites and tell us they miss them. On top of that I am trying to finish off at work and it seems that everything needs to be done before I go away! After yet another dreadful meeting today I told my close colleagues that the length of official notice that I give will be dependent on how those in power behave! Now I have unofficially been telling them of my plans for a year now but it does not seem to have impacted on future planning in any way. I am required to give 3 months official notice although as far as I am aware this is not legally binding and as I will not need a reference then technically I could decide just not to come back...