Thursday, 31 December 2009

A good cheese is worth its weight in gold.

Well not exactly but we did find out how valuable and appreciated little gifts can be. We bought some Stilton cheese in little china jars to give as Christmas presents here. We also got a few baseball caps printed with the name of the farm on. These were not big presents and quite fun to organise. Yesterday evening we went round to see the farmer and his wife with the gifts and they were genuinely pleased to see us and delighted with the presents but concerned that they hadn’t got us anything. We weren’t expecting anything as the farmer has been really helpful and lets Ian leave his old tractor there. Never-the-less they invited us to stay to dinner. It was very impromptu but suddenly their duck casserole became a four course meal with pate, cheese and desert. All this was washed down with copious amounts of local wine. (Apparently last year was a bumper harvest and 2009 will be a good year for wine from the south of France; especially for the sweet whites famous around Monbazillac. ) As the wine flowed my French at first improved and then deteriorated! We came back and collapsed into bed, passing out into sleep and then waking again a 4.00a.m. We vowed not to drink tonight but then remembered that it is New Years Eve!

This meal was simple, unplanned but plentiful and better than many we have eaten in restaurants here. They didn’t need the likes of Gordon Ramsay to tell them how to cook!

Although this may be posted after the event, may your 2010 be all the things you want it to be.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Camping in the house

We arrived at the house to find it was still there along with the damp cellar, the dead woodlice and in addition a liberal sprinkling of mouse droppings, which I didn’t notice in the dark and thought were bits of old rice! Yesterday was spent cleaning out the cellar and the kitchen. Ian also installed a sink in the bathroom so now we have hot and cold water out of a tap and don’t have to go down to the cellar to get water! We bought a butane gas heater on the way down and have been really quite cosy and warm, although the temperature is very mild (according to Ian’s thermometer it is 22.4 degrees outside although I don’t believe that!)

Gordon Ramsay does French

Continuing from where I left off on the last post, it was amusing to see that the French seemed to be as obsessed with cooking programmes, and Gordon Ramsay in particular, as we are in the UK. Channel 9 was showing an evening of the Gordon Ramsay programmes where he visits failing restaurants to tell them where they are going wrong. The programme follows a set format. Gordon visits, tastes the food and spits it out making sick noises, looks in the kitchen and finds rotten food and filth and then within two weeks turns them round to become modern and hopefully profitable. All this is interspersed liberally with Gordon swearing at the chef and the owners and anyone else that comes his way. It makes for what some people might see as an entertaining programme but you can’t help thinking that what he actually does isn’t exactly rocket science. I was amused to see how they handled Gordon’s prolific use of swear words in French. Mostly where he uses them as an adjective (‘the f*cking sauce, the f*cking plates’) they just ignored them. Where he uttered ‘f*ck me’ under his breath, this was sometimes translated as ‘merde’ ( or sh*t) and when he called someone a d*ck head this was translated correctly as ‘connard’. On one occasion he told someone to ‘go f*ck yourself’ and this was correctly translated as ‘ va te faire foutre’.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

No delays for us

We arrived at the Eurotunnel terminal bright and early, a little in advance for our crossing, only to see a sign that there were delays due to an earlier cancellation. We were resigning ourselves to a long wait when the woman in the check-in asked us if we had any animals or children with us. "No", We said." Well, in that case we are asking anyone with a van if they mind being transferred to the freight service today as we have some delays". We didn’t mind one bit! We got an earlier crossing, breezed through customs and security (they were not up yet!) and ended up in the little carriage that all the lorry drivers sit in, complete with a hot drink machine and working toilets!

The drive to Tours was trouble free and we had a brief stop near Rouen to eat our turkey sandwiches. We had booked a hotel that sounded quite nice, with a particularly impressive sounding restaurant. However, the restaurant was closed as there are only three other people staying here so we ended up walking to the local shopping mall where we had a steak and chips! On the way we passed MacDonalds, which was packed. Don’t believe it when they tell you that all French people are gourmets!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

12 days of Christmas (rolled into 3)

Christmas is over for another year. It wasn't white but it did involve approximately six and a half hours on the M25 ,adding to our carbon footprint! My mother is now back in her apartment, my sister and brother-in-law are by now asleep in front of the TV at their place, my brother and family are hopefully in Italy skiing by now, Ian's mum has cleared up her house after having us all round yesterday and is now relaxing in front of the TV and Ian's sister finally made it out to Milan a day late after the snow disrupted everyone's travel plans. Ian's man-flu is getting better and we are all packed up ready to go to France tomorrow morning. All is well.. and if I don't get a chance to blog before then, happy new year.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A white Christmas?

Well it is looking more likely every day!

A whole week has gone by since I last wrote. Christmas is always a busy time of year and this year it seems worse than ever, although that is probably my imagination. To add to the chaos the weather has suddenly turned from wet and very mild to bone dry, snowy and ice cold, making the everyday tasks of shopping, getting to work and organising the Christmas round of relative visiting much more difficult!

We had the first snow of the year on Friday. There wasn't a great deal down here and by mid-day the roads were clear. However, the snow over the North Downs and Ashdown forest was much thicker and they lay between Ian's house and mine. Friday night for the first time in years I didn't go to Ian's and it felt very strange to be sitting in our separate houses at the start of the weekend. I packed up and left the following morning, not sure of what to expect. Ten miles out of Eastbourne the snow at the sides of the roads was thicker and although the main roads were clear the side roads were thick with ice. As I got further and further into the Ashdown Forest the snow and ice encroached onto the road more and more and by Crowborough my tyres were gliding over the icy tracks left from the previous nights attempt and clearing the road. This continued to Tunbridge Wells and that, and the number of people going Christmas shopping made it a slow and tortuous journey. I also had to stop twice to pee, which meant leaving the beaten track and driving over the ice covered service station forecourts! Driving required a lot of concentration, which was a shame as the snow and the Christmas lights made everywhere look like a fairy tale Christmas except that I couldn't really stop to look. Driving was also made more hazardous by the abandoned cars at the side of the road and drivers generally not used to driving in snow!

Coming back today the snow and ice was still bad across the North Downs but by the time I got back here a fine rain had washed away most of the snow and ice (although it is looking like it might return tonight).

Looks like the iced theme of this years Christmas cake is very appropriate!

Monday, 14 December 2009

History under the floorboards

This weekend we tackled the wiring in my house. Of course, the regulations mean that we are not allowed to actually do anything since Ian doesn't have the required Part P electrical qualifications. However, he does have a degree in electronic engineering and worked on the Channel Tunnel so he was able to look and explore the wiring and give his opinion of what needed to be done (which of course we didn't do). The problem came to light after I had my new central heating boiler installed. We discovered that the gas meter was not earthed and at the same time the RCD kept tripping out. Both problems required investigating. This required lifting all the floorboards to see what was underneath (and a nice little array of old pipes, rubbish and wires we found!). What we did find was a corner of a page from The Daily Sketch dated 1930 (when the house was built), an old tea card (from the 1960s) and an empty packet of Lambert and Butlers (from about 15 years ago). The timber structures in the house are in really good quality pine or deal and even now, 80 years later, they still have a strong pine smell. The tripping RCD was caused by dampness in the sockets behind the sink and has now stopped.

What is worse, the illness or the cure?

Things down here on the coast are always a little behind the rest of the UK so we have only just got our first batch of swine flu vaccine. This pleased me a little as by the time my letter arrived inviting me for my jab enough people had been given it to satisfy me that there were not likely to be any serious reactions to it! I debated whether to have it and decided that although I don't believe swine flu would be that harmful to me I could do without being ill for two weeks. So, Saturday morning I got my jab and by Saturday night my arm ached and I felt as sick as a dog! Sunday was a bit better but by evening I had a fever again and today I just feel a bit worse for wear! The annoying thing is I have to go through it all again in January as according to those that know I need two jabs to get enough immunity!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Guidance for risk assessment : the singing of 'Festive Songs'

Someone sent me this at work and I thought it was worth sharing.
The Rocking Song
Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir;
We will lend a coat of fur,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you:

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons. Therefore a cellular blanket or perhaps micro-fleece material should be considered a suitable alternative.

Please note, only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock baby Jesus. Persons must carry their CRB disclosure with them at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before rocking commences. And be aware that over-zealous rocking could put you at risk of being prosecuted for harming a child .

Jingle Bells
Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way

A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to travel on. The risk assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions.
Please note, permission must be gained from landowners before entering their fields.
To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.

While Shepherds Watched
While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

The union of Shepherds has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available.
Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year that they should watch their flocks via cctv cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts.

Please note, the angel of the lord is reminded that before shining his / her glory all around she / he must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory.

Little Donkey
Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load

The RSPCA have issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load that a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry, also included in the guidelines is guidance regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period.
Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles.
The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labelled 'little' and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey. To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine rights.

We Three Kings
We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

Whilst the gift of gold is still considered acceptable - as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations as 'cash for gold' etc, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are not appropriate due to the potential risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions. A suggested gift alternative would be to make a donation to a worthy cause in the recipients name or perhaps give a gift voucher.

We would not advise that the traversing kings rely on navigation by stars in order to reach their destinations and suggest the use of AA routefinder or satellite navigation, which will provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption.
Please note as per the guidelines from the RSPCA for Mr Donkey, the camels carrying the three kings of Orient will require regular food and rest breaks. Facemasks for the three kings are also advisable due to the likelihood of dust from the camels hooves.

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him,
you would even say it glows.

You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities for All policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer.
Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence.
A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions - including suspension on full pay - will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Lovely's Christmas message 2009

As Christmas approaches its time to look back on the last year and summarise what has happened. I'm quite suprised that I have managed to keep with blogging all this time. When I started off nearly three years ago I thought I would soon get fed up with it, in the way that most people give up with writing a diary after a few months, but I find it quite enjoyable and therapeutic at times. It is true that when I am busy I find it hard to find the energy and sometimes the entries are not as frequent as I would like but never the less I have mostly found time to write things on a regular basis. For those of you finding this page for the first time, in the archive of previous posts you will find all sorts of details of the mundane day to day events of my life, so to avoid the need for you to trawl through them I have produced a brief summary here. They are divided into the following sub-headings: The house in France, Moving to France, Holidays and Family News, although the first three are very much linked!

The House in France

If you have read these letters before you will know that we have been building a house in the Dordogne, in between working and living in two different places in the UK. This year has seen significant progress with the house. At the beginning of the year the walls were finished and the roof was put in place, making it at last look like a proper building. The windows were fitted in March and the house was finally 'closed and covered'. Once this happened we could start thinking about the interiors and in March and April several journeys too and from France were made with van loads of plaster board and insulation (as the decrease in the value of the pound has meant that most things are now cheaper in the UK). Interior walls and ceilings were commenced and temporary plumbing and electric installed. Our hours spent planning the previous winter were not wasted as we knew where most things were going to go although to be certain we had not made a mistake we spent the first visit marking out the position of the baths, toilets and kitchen cabinets on the floor in chalk! We stayed in the house for the first tiime in May while more work was done to the inside. Over the summer we engaged a man with a digger who did some ground work and started work on the septic tank. This project has taken longer than we thought and is still half finsihed. We started some plumbing, varnished the windows and finished off some of the walls and in autumn we continued. Our next trip back is after Christmas, when I think our main aim is to galvanize the buidlers and the septic tank man into the next stage. The buidlers have been finishing off the outside in readiness for renderring and we have been waiting for the septic tank man to reappear. It has been a case of two steps forward and one step back but compared to this time last year it has progressed quite well.

Moving to France
We made a big step towards this goal this year in that in September we finally made up our mind and set a date. It won't be possible for us both to go out at the same time but the plan is that Ian (sic) will give up his job at the end of February and make a start on preparing for the move and I will go out when possible. It is hard to be more definate as there are still a lot of ends to tie up but we thought that if we left it much longer then it would just get move difficult to move and will end up taking until we both retire. So, now is the time to jump and I can't wait! Hopefully this time next year I will be writing this from France. I will give up my job as soon as we have a more concrete plan and I must admit I am looking forward to it. I may do some part time work with the Occupational Therapy School in Bordeaux  or I may just focus on running our bed and breakfast and llama farm!

As you may have gathered we didn't really have time for any holidays as such as we were busy spending them working on the house. The work was quite tiring physically but mentally was a great relief from our regular jobs and so felt like a break. It also enabled us to get to know the area down by the land better. The only break we did manage was last Christmas when we joined by brother and sister-in-law skiing in France. We also had a long weekend to Northern France to go to a wedding of one of Ian's friends. Next year we may get a weekend in Germany to buy our central heating boiler as they are half the price when bought direct.

Family News
The biggest family event was my sister's wedding in July. She got maarried in Windsor Guildhall, where Charles and Camilla and Elton John had their wedding. She was very happy and the whole day went well..

My sister and mother outside the guildhall
Bride and groom
Brother and mother of the bride

My brother and sister-in-law are still continuing with their 'grand design' project in an old recording studio in Holland park and are hoping to complete the work next year. My elderly cat Norma is still alive despite her increasing age!

All that remains is to wish you a very happy Christmas for 2009 and to hope that 2010 brings you all you wish fop.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The T Shirt that got away

Finally the grey clouds lifted today and the sun came out. This meant it was much colder but a sacrifice worth paying to get away from the greyness. It also seemed to cheer everyone up and the atmosphere at work was much better. People have been saying that I look quite well at the moment and now I have recovered from the cold I have had I do feel quite good. This is probably due to the fact that my medication was increased three months ago! I saw an advert for a great T shirt on the Random Acts Blog. Unfortunately I missed the last chance to order one as I think it is great and sums up all I feel about my illness. I never suspected for a moment that my aches and pains and tiredness would ever become anything more serious but when it did I was bl**dy glad to be living in a country with a good health service!

Monday, 30 November 2009

Dark weekends in November

The weather has continued to be exceptionally wet and windy for the past three weeks with only the occasional short lived respite when the sun has poked through for a matter of minutes. The rain is heavy; bordering on the torrential and the winds here blow it against the side of the house. Now to make it worse it is getting cold! This time of year has got to be the most depressing, with the days getting shorter and shorter up until Christmas. At least once January arrives, although it is often cold, you get a sense of spring coming as the days get slowly longer. Ian cycles 11 miles to work every day and after a week of battling the wind and rain he was tired and I am still recovering from the inevitable winter cold so we had another quiet weekend.

I am now the proud owner of a very nice camcorder! Ian bought it for me for birthday/Christmas and so I spent a while playing with it. Watch this space for my first attempts at movie making! I am also now working on a new computer made from the left- overs of Ian’s computers and a few new parts! We are now planning our IT system for France and as we both may need computer access for any work we do we decided that we need one each! It is a bit of an extravagance but then these things will be more difficult to justify when we don’t have a regular salary!

News from France is that despite our array of drains the cellar has flooded again. We are not sure why but it seems that the pump had become disconnected. A spare pump and generator seem to be essential. There have been a few sunny days by the land and the builders finally returned to finish moving the downpipes. The next stage (hopefully) will be the rendering although that will require a few dry and mild days. Unfortunately Warren has not reappeared to finish the septic tank!

Talking of my birthday, I made myself a birthday cake as I really can’t expect Ian to make me one! This was a dark chocolate cake with a dark chocolate ganache topping. It took me two goes to get the topping right and even then I wasn’t that pleased with it. Note to self for next time; it needs very good quality chocolate and careful handling and tastes much better if paired with cherries of some sort!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Allowing myself to see the end

There are some days when the thought of giving up my secure job and going to live in France with no guaranteed income fills me with fear. To a risk adverse person such as me this is a big step. There are also some days when I think I will miss the intellectual stimulation that my working life has to offer. However, today was not one of those days and I am writing about it now so that I can look back and remind myself (on the good days) as to why I think it is time to go!

Arriving this morning another colleague was off sick. Not their fault but that left me and one other staff member out of the five tutors who had originally been assigned to teach this module. First thing was spent running around trying to see who was available to cover teaching and looking for misplaced teaching files. The rest of the morning was spent teaching between two groups; half an hour with one and then switching to the next one and then back and so on. After that it was straight into a meeting for an hour and a half (grabbing my sandwich on the way but no time to get a drink or go to the toilet). From there I left the meeting before the end to cover another teaching session for the sick colleague. The session was fun and the students were good to be with (I know that they are not the reason that I am keen to go) but it finished with just time to quickly check my emails and go home. The other urgent jobs that I had to do today were pushed on to some day in the future.

The other thing that brightened my day was the email from my manager announcing that she would be away at a conference/holiday from next week. Now I have no problems with this as we all need holidays and she has other important demands on her time. What I do have a problem with is not being informed about it until 48 hours before it happens at a time when her agreed deputy is off sick and as far as I can tell nothing has been organised in the way of deputising. As my job as module leader is to deal with all the sh*t that happens in relation to the day to day running of the module you can guess who will be left with the can! It would have at least been polite for me to have been given some warning, rather than an email sent from Europe!

Still..the end is in sight and when I allow myself to picture it, along with the sense of terror, I feel the beginning of a huge weight being lifted from my shoulders!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Depressingly un-sexy

Every morning I set my radio alarm to wake me up with the Radio 4 Today Programme. I know I have become like all those bitter and twisted 50 somethings I remember working with, who are counting off the days until retirement, but the news today was depressing. A survey by the Alzheimer's disease society found that people with dementia get a poor deal when they are admitted to medical wards. They often spend longer in hospital than people with similar conditions without dementia and when they are finally discharged their dementia is often worse. This "news" was met with instant condmenation from all political parties (rightly so, but then there is an election approaching) and plans for action.

 I say "news" because to me this is sadly not news. Fifteen years ago when I was last working as a clinician this was the situation and in fact it was the topic of my colleague's PhD thesis. The reasons cited at the time were the same as the reasons now; lack of training and skills from staff in knowing how to manage people with dementia, unsuitable environments, lack of resources. There were outcries, plans, policies (I can remember going to a few meetings and consultations in various organisations) and, as I'm sure there was an election then, there were statements that this would change and a lot of guidelines produced. Obviously they were effective!

As I see it, there are several problems:
Training is rationed in the NHS and expensive. Over the last years training budgets have been cut. Training for unqualified staff is carried out on the job (a good thing)  by senior staff who also have little basic knowledge about care (not a good thing).
There is a high staff turnover on these wards due to the unrelenting pressure of the job (and poor pay and conditions, especially for the lowest paid who have the most patient contact). Even if staff have training they usually leave before they can put anything into practice.
Medical wards are usually under-staffed.
Dementia is still not 'sexy'. The majority of people with dementia are frail and elderly and Terry Hatchet, Ronald Regan and Iris Murdoch are the exceptions (and can or could afford proper care).
Solving these problems is not difficult but does require money and as there are an awful lot of people with Alzheimers it requires an awful lot of money.

So instead, governments prefer to spend money on cheaper but higher profile things that seem more trendy. Also on my local news this morning was the story that our local NHS  Trust is opening an walk-in health centre at the railway station where people can "see a GP or nurse from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week".
 A statement from the chairman of the local trust said

" the centre will also be able to look after anyone else who needs to see a GP or nurse, whether they live locally or are simply visiting Eastbourne or working in the town. It is all about making it easier for people to get the care they need at a time and place convenient to them."

I can't help wondering why we need such a place. Do you get off the train in Eastbourne and say "Ahh. on my way to the seafront I'll just pop in and ask this nice doctor (who knows nothing about me and my medical history) about the stomach ache I've got this morning" 

Given the population profile of Eastbourne the money would have been better spent on the former problem but a GP and a nurse in an office at the train station is cheaper than the cost of ensuring that your basic services are up to scratch and a lot more trendy (just like on Street Doctor).

Monday, 16 November 2009

Moving forward

I have been having a new central heating boiler and a few new radiators installed today. My old one was still working in between services but becoming less reliable all the time. Now we have decided that we will definitely go to France next year it's amazing how your heart changes. Even last year I was still thinking of the house as something that I would live in and enjoy and then rent later, whereas now it is a short term abode and I am beginning to loose any sentimental attachments that I may have towards it. Decisions are becoming practical rather than ideal. So, I have gone for a reliable boiler with a 5 year guarantee. I will put in a new kitchen but it will be clean and functional and not 5 star; I will finish the decorating in a neutral tone and I will put down laminate floors upstairs (horror) to avoid having to buy new carpets with each new tenant!


The weekend lived up to expectations in that it poured with rain and blew a gale from Friday evening until this morning. I made my Christmas Cake as promised. Christmas cakes always take twice as long as you think to make, partly because there is just so much mixture. The batter is really there just to hold together the fruit, which filled my smallish plastic mixing bowl. Stirring the mixture was hard work and I just about managed to get it all mixed and in the oven!

Norma's escape from the weather involved sleep and she spent all weekend like this!

We lit a fire and some candles to distract from the dark and grey of the outside! In Demark they have a special word for it called Hygge (pronounced whoo-guh). It sort of means cosiness or snug but is a bit more than that. I can understand why they have it as when the cold and dark seems to take up most of the day you need to make yourself feel better somehow and what better than a hygge!

Hygge ['hoo-ga']: a deep sense of place & well-being; a feeling of friendship, warmth, contentment and peace with your immediate surroundings.

Friday, 13 November 2009

What to do on a wet and windy weekend in November

I'm making a Christmas cake this weekend. Last year I followed the Waitrose recipe for Christmas cake soaked in Drambuie and I have to say it was very good. I think mostly it is the fact that it is full of soft fruits like apricots and prunes and that the Waitrose vine fruit mix is good quality. I repeat the recipe below in case you want to try it.

Christmas Cake with Drambuie-Soaked Vine Fruits


750g Waitrose Wholesome Vine Fruit Mix

250g soft apricots, quartered

200g tub cut mixed peel

200g tub glacé cherries, halved

100g pitted soft prunes, quartered

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

100ml Drambuie

250g unsalted butter, softened

200g dark muscovado sugar

5 medium eggs, beaten

300g plain flour, sieved

200g walnut pieces


Place all the dried fruit in a large bowl then stir in the grated orange zest and juice, and the Drambuie. Cover and leave to soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150°C, gas mark 2. Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm-round or 20cm-square cake tin with baking parchment so it stands 5cm above the top. Use string to tie a double thickness of baking parchment around the outside of the tin. This will help prevent the cake drying out during cooking.

In a large bowl, use a hand-held electric whisk to beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the egg, a little at a time. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful of flour with the last few additions of egg.

Add the soaked fruit and walnuts, with any remaining liquid, then mix well. Fold in the rest of the flour. Spoon into the cake tin, then use a round-bladed knife to level the top of the mixture. Stand the tin on a tray and bake for 3-4 hours until cooked through, covering the top of the cake with foil if it starts to over-brown. To check that the cake is cooked, insert a skewer into its centre – if the skewer comes out clean the cake is cooked. Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Remove the cake from the tin and store in its lining paper, wrapped tightly in foil. Keep in a cool place. Feed the cake every few weeks by unwrapping it, making small holes in its top, then drizzling with a couple of tablespoons of Drambuie. This will help to keep the cake moist and add extra flavour. If the cake has domed in the centre during baking, neatly slice off the top before covering with marzipan. To ensure a completely flat surface for decorating, turn the cake upside down before covering with marzipan and icing.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

About time

I now live 100 metres away from the boundaries of the new South Downs National Park. When I moved down here 6 years ago it was the subject of a public enquiry and now it has finally happened. Hurrah!

Blot on the landscape?

Yesterday I was teaching at the Falmer site. Next to the campus they are building the new stadium for Brighton football club. The building was controversial since it is in the middle of the South Downs. However after ministerial intervention permission was granted and work started last year with roads being widened and ground being cleared and moved around. This year they have started erecting the stadium itself and the campus is overshadowed by an enormous crane. I overheard the lady who works in the coffee bar saying that the crane has its own Facebook site and sure enough, it does!

Facts about the crane are:
The crane is 200 tons (The same weight as a Blue Whale)
It can lift 600 tons.
There are only 4 cranes in the whole of England that weight.

It's amazing what you can find on the Internet!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Over exageration?

Overheard in the gym yesterday and nearly made me wet myself with laughter!

Mother, with two children, one about six and the other about two, puts the brakes on the pram and takes the six year old to one side. Loudly and sternly (and with a very well spoken accent) she says the following:

" Now Harry, I want you to stop what you keep doing to Marcus because it is very naughty. You know, when you keep grabbing him by the chest and bouncing up and down on him. .. Because he's just a baby and you're a big boy..and it's very dangerous..and you could break his ribs.. and rupture his windpipe or puncture his lungs, or damage his heart, or make him stop breathing.. you musn't do it ever again! Now, I know he says he likes it ..but just because he likes it darling it doesn't mean it is safe.. and you are a big boy and should know better..okay?"

I don't really know why I found it so amusing since it is a serious topic, but I just thought the graphic detail was probably too much information and I found myself thinking that if I was Harry with all those ambivalent feelings towards my baby brother I might just be tempted to try a bit harder!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Writers block

Where has the week gone! Work has been busy and by the time I have got home, done the chores, cooked and eaten supper and prepared for the following morning, I have been too tired to blog. All of my creative energy has been used up during the day! At various moments during the day I have had the odd idea and thought 'I must write about that on my blog tonight', but by  the time the evening arrives it has been absorbed into the mush and fuzz of my brain.

Thursday, 29 October 2009


The builders seem to have found a new lease of life and suddenly things have progressed at the house (probably because he wants to finish and be paid and get us out of his hair)! Ian has been receiving daily updates with pictures of the work and requests for money!

They have finishing off the outside and putting some cornerstones on the building prior to it being rendered. These are made of reconstituted stone as the real things would be far too expensive. They are a bit 'mockney-chav' but hopefully will look okay once the building is rendered.
We also have mock lintels across the tops of the windows (Ian changed his mind about the arched windows) and a keystone in the middle of front door lintel.

Sunday, 25 October 2009


Apart from the woodlice infestation we have also noticed that there are a vast array of other insects, bigger and bolder than any we have seen before. Here are two of them.

This one is a little stick insect that seemed to like our wall. It didn't seem to do much other than look like a stick with legs.

This one is rather large beetle that Ian found in the cellar. He seems to be waving!

Over the rainbow

The day the builders arrived it was showery.
"It always rains when we are here" said one of them rather grumpily! Fortunately it did not last long enough to stop them in their work. At the end of the day a sudden shower appeared followed almost immediately by the sun. I looked out to see if there was a rainbow and sure enough, there was the most amazing double rainbow that seemed to end in the corner of our field. Living most of my life in the city I don't think I have ever seen such a complete rainbow before. We have not yet found the pot of gold but we are hopeful!

That evening Ian went from our bedroom area into the lounge and found that we have a little bat living with us. I rather like the French word for a bat, la chauve-souris or 'bald mouse'! It is supposed to be lucky to have a bat living in the house.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Return of the builder

After several cold sunny days, the weather changed and the clouds appeared bringing the rain. Along with it came the illusive builder. We returned after eight weeks to find that nothing had been done on the house and Ian was fast beginning to lose faith. However, as if by magic we had a message last night to say that the builders would be over today to render the cellar. Ian and Warren’s array of drains and pipes seems to have worked and the cellar was bone dry; enough for the builders to apply a coat of waterproof render to the inside. The down side of this is that we have to be up and dressed by 8.00 a.m. and as it is damp there is claggy mud all through the house. A small price to pay however, for another step towards the finished product!

We have been less successful re-engaging the services of Warren, who is supposed to be finishing off the fosse septic. We have heard tales of broken diggers, borrowed diggers not turning up, lost drivers, wet weather and submitting the plans to the wrong SPANC and we have seen Warren for 5 minutes yesterday. Tomorrow is our last day so we will see if he returns!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009



Well the weather has been sunny and clear during the day but the promise of warmer temperatures has not materialised! Another cold night prompted Ian to insulate the space above our temporary living area and make a temporary door so that any heat we have does not immediately disappear into the unfinished lounge. He has also been fitting the soffits in an attempt to seal off potential woodlice routes. The cold seems to have slowed their progress but the odd one or two are still finding their way in and this does not bode well for next year. Before laying the insulation Ian vacuumed up a bucketful of woodlice corpses and behind every item there are piles more!

This morning we were woken up by a loud bang. Sunday is the day of le chasse here and at dawn two huntsmen were out looking for partridge or pheasant in our fields. They weren’t very successful and in their wanderings came across our temporary sewerage pipe, which must have been very pleasant for them! Not to be deterred they returned at dusk but were no more successful. My guess is that most of the wildlife keeps a low profile on a Sunday as I saw the partridge happily pecking in our field yesterday. Let’s hope he lived to see another week!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Joys of getting older

Now I am menopausal I note with joy that I now no longer need to carry round a bag with tampons and towels in various sizes and thickness, spare knickers and painkillers. However the contents of my wash bag now includes a range of alternative products that I never needed in the past. These include haemorrhoid cream, indigestion tablets, tweezers (for the stray facial hairs) and special dental tape to clean under my bridge!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Woodlice and winter

The day we arrived at the house the temperature dropped from a balmy 15 degrees at night to freezing or below! As we got out of the van the cold took our breath away but before we could make up the bed and huddle together to keep warm we had to clear up the aftermath of a woodlice infestation that seems to have targeted our house and those of our two closest neighbours. As we walked into the house their remains crunched under our feet making it sound like we walking on sea shells. The dead woodlice were an inch thick in places and pretty much everywhere. Their decaying carcasses gave off a smell rather like dried nasal mucous!

Eventually we cleared up a space for the bed and went to sleep, disturbed from time to time by the cold. Despite the thick duvet it really was cold for October! The following morning our macerator got stuck and when Ian went to investigate he found a solid lump of ice holding up proceedings. He also discovered that two metres of our pipe had been chewed up by rats, in an attempt to get at the juicy contents!

The following day we got ourselves organised. The fan heater worked well in keeping the temperature bearable and I cleaned up the kitchen and bathroom area so at least they were woodlice free. Our temporary electric supply means that if we run the water heater and the fan heater we can’t run anything else so we had to prioritise the equipment that we needed. The other problem is that by the time the electricity reaches the house down the 150 metre cable the voltage drops from 240 to about 190 which means that everything runs very slowly!

As I write this the temperature is rising. The builder’s father-in=law arrived yesterday and said that the moon changes this weekend and that means the weather will change. The forecast suggests it is getting warmer!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Wrong number

My mother gets quite a lot of nuisance marketing calls as she has never got round to registering her number for the telephone preferencing service. She is nearly 80 years old and getting out of the chair is an effort, so when the phone went this evening she reluctantly got up and picked it up. She heard a man's voice.


Hello..she answered, cautiously, expecting a sales pitch.

Well have you got your knickers on now?

 She was a little shocked

Who's calling? she asked.

John, the gardener

John, the gardener??

Oh my God.. I think I've got the wrong number. He said with acute embarrassment in his voice

Yes you have! Goodbye!! and with that she hung up!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Off again

I don't know where the last six weeks have gone but here we are in October already and Ian and  I are off to France again; this time with the intention of finishing off a few jobs before the winter. We are still aiming to be out there next year so I expect some of the time will be spent trying to plan for that. Will try to make one or two posts while there!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

National poetry day

Today was national poetry day and so I decided to send my colleagues a poem. I hunted around and I found this one which I thought was rather appropriate.

TOADS by Philip Larkin

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison -
Just for paying a few bills!
That's out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts -
They don't end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines -
They seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets - and yet
No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
My way to getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.

I don't say, one bodies the other
One's spiritual truth
But I do say it's hard to lose either,
When you love both.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Cultural sensitivity

I wrote in a previous post about the French custom of kissing on the cheek when you meet a friend or acquaintance and that there were various customs and cultural rules about who you should kiss and how. Of course you can also use the fact that you are English and not sure about these customs to your advantage. Ian had to engage in some tricky negotiations about his contract last month with his agency. They are based in Belgium and the negotiator is a rather formidable woman who looks a bit like this.

 After some heated discussions they finally came to agreement but there was definitely some tension between them. When the agent visited them all at work last week Ian approached her with firm bize on each cheek and made her very flustered as she obviously couldn't tell whether he was just being a bit culturally naive or trying to take the p*ss!

Monday, 5 October 2009

On my doorstep

Last week I went for a walk up on the downs from my house. I can't remember the last time I did it. When I first moved here I walked up there nearly every week but familiarity breeds contempt and now I take it for granted. The walk reminded me of what I have on my doorstep. I walked up the hill through the woods to Butts Brow and then up along the ridge to the South Downs way.

From there, I walked a little way along the South Downs way until I reached the trees and the path that leads down to my house. All in all the walk is about an hour and a half . One thing I love about being up there is that you can see the sea on three sides, making you feel that you really are at the edge of the country!

The parakeets of London

Ian’s mother lives in North Cray, just inside the M25, to the South East of London. Her bungalow backs on to a meadow that is usually full of horses and she has a lovely view from her garden. However, there are some rather unusual birds in the area that are not known to be native. The trees echo to the squawks of a troop of parakeets and the brightly coloured birds hurtle around her garden from tree to tree.

A couple of weeks ago Ian and I went for a walk in Foots Cray meadows and I saw some there, nestling in the chestnut trees. I tried to take a photograph and if you look very closely you may just see their outline hidden in the trees!

Apparently, despite their exotic appearance they have been breeding and living happily in London for years, unbothered by the less than tropical climate!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Hublet 2

This is a Hublet. We are not quite sure what it is and what it does!

Thursday, 1 October 2009


I managed to avoid going to a staff meeting yesterday which was just as well as in the mood I am in at the moment I think I would have found it hard to make any constructive comments. One of the things being presented was the new research strategy, which to me just looked like a cheap re-launch of the old strategy in that there are four groups and we have to decide which one we want to align ourselves with. Today those of us that weren't there received this email.

If you were at the School Full Staff meeting yesterday afternoon, thank you for all your post-its indicating which Research Groupings and/or Research Hublets you are interested in. I have transferred the data onto the attached spreadsheet which shows all groups and hublets and your preference. Feel free to add your name to other groups and hublets and let me know.

Now this confused me as I have never heard of a hublet and it seems neither has the dictionary. Could it be a made-up word? We are running a competition to see who can come up with the best definition of a hublet and one of my colleagues made one from a pom pom.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

It's a dog's life

One of the things I am really looking forward to when we eventually get to France is to have a couple of dogs. I have always loved the idea but never been in the position where I could give one a fair life. There are plenty of abandoned dogs and puppies in France so I am sure when we were there we will have no difficulties in finding one suitable. However, Ian has always had a soft spot for Jack Russells and he has had part ownership of one before and knows their little foibles quite well. Jack Russells are quite rare in France but in the UK they are common and often find their way into animal rescue centres as they can be more of a handful to manage than people expect. I think we would make quite good dog owners. We will have the space, we are fit and energetic and would enjoy a dog that needs a little more than a bowl of food and its tummy rubbed once a day.

So, with that in mind I started looking on various websites for Jack Russells in need of rescue. There were quite a few but in all cases Ian and I would not qualify as prospective doggy parents because we both work full time and all agencies have a policy about not allowing dogs to go to homes under these circumstances. Also, they will not allow us to take a dog out of the country. In addition we have never actually owned a dog before which means they will not let us take on any dog that may be more challenging. (The fact that we have chosen not to have a dog before because we did not feel that we could offer one a good home is not taken into account and we are placed in the same category as someone who has never owned a dog and is not interested in them).

I do understand the thinking behind this but it is just an interesting reflection that if you have two children then you are positively encouraged to go out to work full time and leave your children in day care!

Ian's neighbour Chaverley has two children and has just acquired a large dog as 'a favour to a mate'. The dog is very good natured which is just as well as although she doesn't work at all she still leaves him shut in the house all day while she goes out!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Ban 'La bise'

French lessons have resumed and last week in the class we had to bring in a photo of something to discuss. Someone brought in this photo (originally from the daily mail) of Carla Bruni with

Nicolas Sarkozy, indulging in what the French call 'la bise' or the little peck on the cheek that the French do when they meet. Apparently the French government have decided that in the event of a swine flu epidemic they will ban 'la bise'. We discussed this in our class and quickly concluded that this would be impossible to enforce; a view that seems to be shared by many French people!
I wrote an entry about the kissing custom last year, where unfortunately I spelt bise incorrectly and referred to the practice as a bissou. Bisou (with one 's' and not two) means a kiss and I guess that explains why the most common keyword used to access my blog through a search is Bissou. Those reaching the blog in this manner are usually from web addresses in places where neither English nor French are the native tongue and I would guess they are hoping to find a site about French kissing!

Thursday, 24 September 2009


We had a problem with an unexpected pest in France. The first few days were okay although there were the usual selection of flies, ants, beetles, wasps, millipedes and hornets. However, we began to notice an increasing number of woodlice as the week went on. These appeared mostly at night and would start by crawling across the floor, then the walls and then finally the ceiling. After their long creep they seemed to loose their balance and fall off the wall, often on to our heads or the bed. During the night we could hear them falling off the metal ceiling rails onto the plasterboard and by the end of the three weeks they were like a water torture! Ian would get up to go to the toilet in the early hours and put on the light. We would then see the army of woodlice marching relentlessly across the ceiling and Ian would attack them with the vacuum cleaner. It was quite a sight. Ian, naked apart from his slippers, chasing the woodlice around the room with a vacuum hose!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Belated progress pictures

One of the things I have been meaning to do since we've been back from France is to put up some more pictures of our progress over the summer but I have been distracted by work and other things and before I know it we are booking tickets for a return trip in October! However today we had an email from our neighbours telling us that they have had some heavy rain so had gone over to check our cellar and to see if the elaborate arrangement of pipes, drains and gravel had done the trick and cured the flooding problem.

Fingers crossed, it might have worked as the cellar and the sump were bone dry! Anyway, it prompted me to finish off this post.
Ian's first job was to run the pipes for one of the guest bathrooms. The pipes and wiring need to be in place before we can close the walls and the walls need to be closed before we can lay the heating pipes.

This proved a long and complex job. Ian is quite fussy about it all looking neat and as you can see from the charcoaled board, soldering the pipes in place was a challenge. Must remember to put a fire extinguisher in next trip! The trick now is to test the pipes to make sure they don't leak before we seal the wall. (We don't know yet how we will do this!)

The main achievement however was to do some of the groundwork. Up until now we have never had a proper entrance and the builder, perplexed by the flooding cellar, had merely left it un-rendered and with a great ditch in front of the front door. The way in was over a pile of old pallets which we referred to as our moat and drawbridge!

Well, with the help of Warren the moat has been filled and we have a proper path leading up to the front door!

Sales pitch

When marking or reading things for work I find I get much more done in the quiet of my own living room. So, this afternoon I settled in to experience the joys of MSc research dissertations. Twenty minutes in the doorbell rang. A young lad with a clipboard was standing on the step and as he could see me sitting there I thought I ought to answer. He appeared rather shifty and a little nervous and then started into his sales pitch."Hello, how are you today?"
I felt like answering "What the f*ck is it to do with you. I've never seen you before in my life and already you're talking to me as if you've known me for years" but instead I say "okay" and try to push the door towards closed. Sadly, the opening line was the most fluent the salesman ever got as he then got into his prepared script to try to get me to sign up for some gas company that would save me money ('yes sure, so why do they pay you to tell me about it'..but you know they have a prepared script to answer that one and I really must get back to my marking). "I'm already with Scottish Power" I say , "and I have spoken to someone recently about the bill". (After all, he is only some poor lad taken from the 'welfare to work' scheme and obviously not really wanting to make a living doing this so no need to be rude). "Well, can you show me your last bill" said the lad , a little aggressively. "No", I said, getting irritated. "Oh, why not?" he said more aggressively. "Because it's none of your business, go away!", I said, crossly and shut the door. This did not deter him and he continued to ring on the door bell and bang on the glass for a further 5 minutes. I think he probably did his training in a young offenders institution!

Back to marking and half an hour later the door bell rang again. This time there was a young man and woman on the doorstep. My heart sank when he started with the same introduction. "Hello, and how's things today?" he said with a pseudo cheerfulness! "Do you have a BT Phone?"This time I managed to dispatch them a little quicker by just smiling sweetly and saying no thank you and shutting the door. He tried to wheedle his way in with a few niceties but this time I just didn't listen.

Back to the marking....

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


I often get spam emails telling me that I have won money or inherited a fortune from a long lost relative. To claim my money all I have to do is send details of my bank account and password etc! Here are two good ones that arrived this week,

From Mr. Johnson Iweka.


My name is Mr. Johnson Iweka, a banker here in Abidjan, Cote D' Ivoire. I want to transfer $10,500,000 USD belonging to (late) Mr John Hughes who was among the victims here during the political crisis here in the year 2005. You can provide a bank account of your choice for this amount and also the percentage you wish to take for your assistance.

If we agree on the terms, you shall hold the balance of the funds on trust after deducting your percentage, until I will be able to join you with my entire family for investment.

Reply for more details.


Mr. Johnson Iweka.

And even better...

I am glad to inform you that I have successfully gotten those funds transfered to France through the help of a new partner,Nationality of Isreal but resident in France, I never forgot your help to me, be-kind informed that the total sum of US$2.700.000.00 was maped out for you as a compensation to you for your past effort and expencies which you made trying to assist me with my transfer that time.
Quickly contact my secretary Mr.Robert Jeffrey in Benin Republic at and instruct him were to send your money to you, remember that I had already left an instruction with him on your behalf to receive that sum.

Presently I am in New Zealand for a business project with my new partner who make my dreams to come true, i will keep in touch with you as soon as i return back to France, may the peace of Lord be with you and your family.

Dr.John Mohamed Myers.

Can't get the staff these days

Someone sent me this today and it made me laugh. I sent it to Ian and it made him laugh, so maybe it will make you laugh as well (and that is always a good thing)

Sentences typed by medical secretaries

1. The patient has no previous history of suicides.
2. Patient has left her white blood cells at another hospital
3. Patient's medical history has been unremarkably insignificant with only a 40 pound weight gain in the past 3 days.
4. She has no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was very hot in bed last night.
5. Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left hand side for over a year.
6. On the second day the knee was better and on the third day it disappeared.
7. The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.
8. The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.
9. Discharge status:- Alive, but without my permission.
10. Healthy appearing decrepit 69-year old male, mentally alert, but forgetful.
11. Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.
12. She is numb from her toes down.
13. While in ER, she was examined, x-rated and sent home.
14. The skin was moist and dry.
15. Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.
16. Patient was alert and unresponsive,
17. Rectal examination revealed a normal sized thyroid.
18. She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life until she got a divorce.
19. Both breasts are equal and reactive to light.
20. Examination of genitalia reveals that he is circus sized.
21. The lab test indicated abnormal lover function.
22. The pelvic exam will be done later on the floor.
23. Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.
24. When she fainted, her eyes rolled around the room.
25. The patient was in his usual state of good health until his airplane ran out of fuel and he crashed.
26. Between you and me, we ought to be able to get this lady pregnant.
27. She slipped on the ice and apparently her legs went in separate directions in early December. 28. By the time he was admitted, his rapid heart had stopped, and he was feeling better.

Last night of the proms

Saturday evening Ian and I did something other than building for a change! We went to the 'Proms in the Park' in Hyde Park, with my brother, sister-in-law and some of their friends. We took a picnic, found a place and spread out our food and drink. It was a lovely evening and the atmosphere was pleasant. Barry Manilow was remarkably good for 67; in tune and very professional. The 'Land of Hope and Glory' bit I always find a bit uncomfortable but it was really quite innocent and the majority of those waving union flags and singing were tourists. Ian tolerated it. It isn't really his thing although he did get to look at the latest stage of my brother's building project. They have now cleared out all of the studio and basement and are hoping to start the building by Christmas.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

I can do that...

My meeting with Virginie, the Head of the School of Occupational Therapy in Bordeaux, was an experience. Firstly it was one of the few times that I was on my own without Ian as my interpreter, so I had to depend on my own French. The train from Ste Foy Le Grande was on time and comfortable although not cheap. I arrived in Bordeaux however to find that the public transport system required the use of something like an Oyster card, and as is the case in London, I could not find a convenient place to purchase one. Time was running out so I decided to get a taxi.

Problem number 1- taxi driver was like taxi drivers all over the world and drove off without really knowing where he was going (and as it happened in the opposite direction to where he needed to go) and then proceeded to try and call a number I had to get directions while driving. I put my French into practice and managed to do a very convincing rendition of 'irritable old woman' in French, commanding him to stop the car immediately as it was dangerous to drive when he wasn't looking where he was going. The journey was expensive but I got there in the end!

I arrived and found Virginie. She was about my age, very pleasant and introduced me to her colleagues. "Ahh, she speaks" French, they said. From then on the whole afternoon was conducted in French! I was shown round, we discussed research and why people don't do Masters degrees, the difficulties of working and studying and then they gave me some work to look at! I must admit it is going to take a while to read!

I was exhausted afterwards but quite pleased that I managed as well as I did, although at times I did feel a bit like this!

Monday, 7 September 2009


Ian came back from France to find he had no contract. While he was away his fate was discussed and he returned to an email asking him to renegotiate. After much thinking he has agreed to sign on the dotted line for another six months but the event allowed us both to reflect on where we have come and where we are going and to start the countdown for our life in France. In February he will not renew his contract and will concentrate on finishing off the house and getting our properties here sorted and ready to do with them whatever we decide. I will commute over a bit and then when possible join him; hopefully by this time next year.

Tale of the tomatoes and mistaken identities

The problem with going to France for just brief periods is that they are very intense, both in relation to the amount of work that we have to get done and the amount of people we have to visit.

We caught up with Stephane and Stephanie, our neighbours from the village. In fact, we were able to return one of the many invitations that they have given us and invite them for an 'apero' on the terrace at the aperitif hour of 7.00 p.m. I spotted Stephane tending his garden one day while I was cycling home with lunch and decided to put my French to the test by inviting him up to the house 'one evening next week'..At least, I thought that was what I said! When I got back I told Ian. "I think that's what we agreed, but I'm not sure. Maybe you'd better phone them to check". A bit later Ian phoned and I was delighted that Stephane had in fact understood the invite. However, he had not recognised me in my cycle shorts and helmet and thought the invite had come from one of our other cycling neighbours! Turns out we are very confusing! There are three of us English women living virtually next door to each other, who ride our bikes wearing helmets (no self respecting French cyclist would wear a helmet) and other elements of disguise like cycle shorts and dark glasses. The Mayor's secretary calls us 'Les sportives'. We all speak pigeon French with a funny accent and strangely enough we all have blond hair so really the locals don't have much chance. Apparently when trying to distinguish one from the other they say 'you know, the blond one' and then laugh! Anyway, to this day Stephane still thinks he is owed an invite from one of the other blond ones!
Stephane's vegetable garden is very productive and we were given some tomatoes and peaches from their overspill! Ian happened to mention that I really liked French tomatoes and in fact did not eat the English ones. (This is true. To me the watery English variety are so insipid and acidic compared to the sweet, juicy tomatoes that you get further south). With that, Stephane promised to bring us some tomatoes to take back to England the day before we left and true to his word on the Friday evening he arrived with this enormous box of tomatoes!

As lovely as they were there was no way Ian and I could use up that many tomatoes before they went bad so last week I had my first attempt at making and bottling tomato sauce! I searched for recipes on the Internet and in the end decided to go with just putting the hot sauce into sterile jars with a tight lid that fortunately sealed as the jars cooled. Hopefully I have done enough to avoid botulism! Peeling the tomatoes took a while and I'm afraid I did not have the patience to remove the seeds but I have 16 jars of summer tomato sauce to remind us of France over the winter.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Of things septic

Living in rural France sounds wonderful until you realise that things like regular rubbish collections and mains drainage are luxuries that you only get in the city! Country folk have to dig their own hole! In the past these were self constructed, rough and ready things with drains going nowhere and barely capable of coping with a couple of flushes. Many will be familiar with the smell of a poorly constructed French septic tank, and for that reason France has now some of the strictest requirements and regulations in Europe with regards to the provision and construction of such apparatus, requiring soil surveys and inspections and very large sums of money.

The installation of the septic tank involved the digging of a very large hole, in which was placed a large concrete tank. To prevent it floating away this then had to be filled with water (at a cost of 80 euros).

From the tank, a drain is dug leading to a pit 20 metres square. This will become our filter bed, consisting of layers of sand, gravel and sand to filter and clean the water from the tank. The run off from this, which should be clean, then has to be directed to a drain or ditch of some sort. The tank itself needs to be vented away from any buildings to avoid that nasty dead cabbage smell permeating the air!

After Warren has fitted all of this and got it working we have to get it approved and certified by something called the 'SPANC' or something that sounded very like that! All in all it is a big project and something we hope will be finished when we return in October.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

In memory

I describe my blog as being about life, llamas and cycling. Well, today it is more about death and cycling, which sounds awful but as death is part of life and affects us all at some time it is only appropriate that I write about it here when it does.

I was searching for something on google and by accident came across this news story from June 2007 concerning a plane crash in Malawi which five Britons died. Reading through, I recognised the name of one of them, Daniel Turnberg as I had been on a mountain biking holiday with him in Greece about 10 years ago. In fact, I still have an old photo from that holiday up above my desk at work showing us all sitting in restaurant by the sea, enjoying a beer or two. I remember him as a really nice guy, easy going and good company. I knew he was a doctor but he never told us that his father was a Peer. He was the sort of person that could get on with anyone from any background or walk of life and really was popular. My particular memory is of the last night of the holiday, when everyone was rather drunk but we were both less drunk than the rest and were very worried about people diving in the sea. In the end we escorted the tour guide home and made sure she got to bed safely as she was too drunk to stand up!

I was a little shocked and surprised that I had not been aware of this news at the time and it felt very strange to be hearing this two years later, but now that I have looked back on by blog to check what I was doing I can see that it was at the time when my mother was ill and we were packing up her house, so I guess I was otherwise distracted.

I read down the article a little more and two of the other names seemed familiar as well. I then realised that Dawn and Colin, two of the other victims, had been on the mountain bike trip that I did to Japan in 2004. The trip had been hard and we had faced hurricanes, landslides, rain, Japanese food and the intrusion of a BBC film crew together for two weeks. You get to know people quite well in those circumstances and although I did not keep in touch for long after I felt very saddened by this additional news. Out of the five dead I knew three of them. It felt so strange to think that in my head for the past two years I have been imaging them as alive and yet they haven't been.

I have had enough happen to me to realise that death happens quite easily and I don't take my life or other people's life for granted but those thoughts don't stop the sadness and I sat at my desk and shed a few tears over the computer. I feel quite a bond with people I know or have known from my various cycling activities and I think it is because it seems to attract the type of people that definitely take 'the road less travelled' in life. Most have not gone down the married with 2.4 children route, or if they have, they often have a far from traditional view of the world and within this broad group I have found people that I can identify with. Dan, Colin and Dawn. Thank you for the memories and for making the holidays such great fun and for being such good companions for all those ups and downs, even though I did not know you for long. I imagine you all now tackling that heavenly singletrack, laughing over a cold beer afterwards and gliding smoothly down the celestial hills.. and if, while you're there, you happen to come across a nice titanium framed hardtail mountain bike that looks like it might fit me, please put it aside for me when I arrive.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Off into the sunrise

Well, we are now back home. My efforts at writing draft blog entries while away dwindled as the workload increased and my reserves depleted. However, sometimes it is better to wait a little while before committing stories to print and I have lots of things saved up in my head! However, tonight, with the third lot of washing about to start and the thought of work tomorrow I have no energy but will finish with a picture of the house taken yesterday morning as the sun rose and we were leaving to head north!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

A belated post 3. the first week

We have been here a week now and I no longer know what day of the week it is! After the rain on Sunday the temperature has steadily increased and today it was 38 degrees (and probably hotter in the direct sun). We have spent a week trying to get on with work in the house. Warren appeared on Monday with his small digger and dug up the drive to install the pipe work for the water and electricity. By the end of the week he had dug out the soggy earth around the house and laid two layers of drainage (with the aid of his assistant Alexandro, an unemployed painter and decorator who will do just about anything for 80 Euros a day in cash!) By Thursday the drive was back to normal and we are hoping for rain to test out the drains. Looking at the storm clouds on the horizon Ian thinks it will rain tonight but I am not convinced.
On Thursday we invited our neighbours round for dinner. This time last year we sat on a concrete slab and ate lunch in the dining room. This year we were able to prepare a meal for friends, sleep in our bedroom, shower in our temporary shower and flush our temporary toilet (into the field somewhere). It was just great to sit there and hear the cicadas and the owls. We also realised just how fantastic the sky is at night. We can see Venus from our room and the stars are amazing when uncontaminated by light pollution!
Talking of contamination our neighbours half a mile away kept us awake last night with a party! Here we are in the middle of nowhere and you realise that sound carries for miles without buildings to block its passage.
Today we got back to modern life by going to Bordeaux to visit various DIY shops for more urgent supplies and also to visit IKEA. We had meatballs for lunch and it was just like being in Croydon except the toilets were dirtier and the coffee was stronger!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

A belated post 2.... arriving

After a long drive we arrived at the house just after dark, unpacked, made the bed and fell asleep. It was humid and we were both a little over tired by the time we laid down and so it was a bit of a restless night. In the early hours the lightning flashes woke us up, followed quite shortly afterwards by thunder and heavy rain. I tried to go back to sleep but Ian was awake and leaped out of bed. I don’t know how long he was away for but he was stark naked, wandering around with only his wellington boots and a torch. When he finally came back to bed he was playing with his phone.
“What are you doing?” I moaned.
“just been down to the cellar... took a video of the water pouring in through the walls”
Despite the new guttering the damp problem has still not been solved!
Today it has rained all day but the forecast is more promising! (Even the sunflowers didn’t bother to wake up today!)

(actually the didn't wake up for the entire three weeks as they are ripe and now drooped over and turning black in anticipation of being harvested)

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A belated post.. the journey down

The journey down to the house was not entirely uneventful. The roads were busy (for France) and although there were no traffic jams the services were full and finding a parking spot was difficult. We stopped for lunch in the ‘baise de somme’ which is in the middle of a nature reserve. There were very few parking spots and the only place we could park was on the grass. We set up our picnic in a place that didn’t smell quite so strongly of p*ss as everywhere else.
When it came time to leave Ian cautiously reversed the van out and went to exit just as Mr Frenchman in a Mercedes pulled in. There then followed scenes reminiscent of the standoff at the OK Corralle, with Mr Mercedes refusing to reverse or go up on the grass, the cars behind refusing to reverse back and Ian getting more and more grumpy! After a few minutes Mr Mercedes very reluctantly pulled over and we were able to leave. As I attempted to get in the van Mrs Mercedes said something to me to the effect of ‘it is a one way’ and ‘you stupid English’. Well, it wasn’t a one-way and Ian was now at the end of his fuse and decided to get out and have a row with Mr Mercedes, convincing him that although English his knowledge of French swearwords was indeed fluent.
Eventually I managed to drag Ian away, avoiding an International incident, and we continued South.