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.