Tag Archives: France

I Went To France And It Was Closed

29 Aug

Some things I learned on holiday

Six Word Saturday

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French People Take Holidays, Too

A Jock-in-the-bush

A Jock-in-the-bush

I went to visit VivinFrance and her lovely Jock – as in Jock, her delightful Scots husband, not jock, her meathead athlete; though he could have been a meathead athlete in his day, I suppose: he did once play ice hockey in Canada.  

The trip was organised fairly last minute but Viv had some ideas to entertain me: a poetry workshop with two of her writer friends; a meal at the excellent restaurant in the village; shopping on Saturday.  

Unfortunately (for me, not them; I have nothing against the South of England, honest), her friends went to Cornwall as I arrived in Europe; the restaurant closed so the owners could take a holiday (at the height of the summer season: the French have their priorities right); and Saturday was a public holiday, therefore many shops were closed.

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My hosts are lovely people

I didn’t really learn this on holiday but I need to shoehorn in the fact that when I went to bed, I found a box of fudge under my pillow, called Mrs Tilly’s.  

I was too tired from the drama of flying alone to take a photo of my delight that night, but here’s a dramatic re-enactment from the next morning:

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I like to go with the flow

France being closed didn’t bother me – I was with my dear Viv and we read poetry (some), talked poetry (more), critiqued poetry (a lot), wrote poetry (a little).  We managed visits to a supermarket and a hardware store that I thought was a supermarket (schoolgirl French never covering le tool shop), as well as the fulfillment of a childhood dream when I entered a pretty boulangerie-patisserie straight out of a French text book drawing.  I bought elephant ears, a French biscuit.  First introduced to me by blogger Laurie, who sent her home made version from the States, I have long wanted another go at them.

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Nostalgia is weird

On our daily walk into the village – There was fighting on this street during the war, Viv casually threw out; as if the French also have lots of history.  I thought it was only us Brits – we popped into a corner shop and I spotted and had to purchase a box of Maizena!

If you don’t know, I lived in South Africa for fourteen years and learned to make gravy with cornflour – Maizena, a popular brand.  If there was any other brand of cornflour, I never saw it nor bought it.  Even now, nineteen years later and back in the UK, the grocery list often says ‘Maizena’ instead of ‘Corn Flour’.  Of course I had to buy a box.  Probably the oddest souvenir I’ve ever had.  But I don’t care – Maizena!

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French folk are funny

DSCN3782Viv, her lovely friend Annette and I rested during a trip to the seaside (I don’t think France wanted to meet me – even the tide was out).  A man on a bike shouted as he passed, A kebab of old people!  It was funny once translated, until I realised that I was part of the kebab.

I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t think he was really French: he was on a bike but he had no garlic, onions, beret, baguettes or striped shirt.

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Goats and lemurs get me going

DSCN3828We had a trip to the zoo: Zoo Champrepus.  Say it aloud; it’s fun, especially with the French rising inflection.  I haven’t stopped saying it since I got back. It’s up there with ‘giggle’ and ‘hitch’ as one of my favourite words.

Our first stop was to feed popcorn to the goats and I was chuffed when a goat stood up against me to make sure he got his fair share i.e. all of it.  It was the highlight of my day until we visited the lemur enclosure at feeding time.  The animals wander around amongst the visitors, who are not allowed to touch them. However, they are allowed to touch us.  One cutie pie, deciding he hadn’t been given enough, stood up against my leg, wrapping his adorable little paws around me and giving me his best Puss in Boots from Shrek impression (previous post refers).  I’m in love.  I haven’t felt that aglow since my wedding day.  In the zoo shop afterwards I bought a lemur cuddly toy, lemur keyring and whatever lemur else I could find to remind me of my new favourite animal.

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The little fellow who won my heart

The little fellow who won my heart

French food is the best

Viv and Jock fed me well, including Jock’s homemade Waldorf salad and Viv’s (drool) garlic lamb; but the culinary highlight had to be a trip to their favourite restaurant with some old friends and a bottle or three of good French wine.  

Viv translated the menu (which had no prices listed; need I say more?) but I had no clear idea of what I was ordering; I just trusted it would be good and it was, more than good, viz. photos below:

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DSCN3800DSCN3806Talking of wine, I couldn’t drink when I first arrived in France (surely a crime against nature?) because I was on antibiotics for an abscess, but I made up for it come Saturday-Wednesday and spent a lot of my time tipsier than the hour before a flight.  I don’t think my hosts noticed, apart from the night I sprawled across their couch, giggling uncontrollably at re-runs of M*A*S*H.

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Flying ain’t so bad if you know the pilot

I’m terrified of flying.  Mostly, I’m afraid of take-off; once I’m up there, I’m committed and, as a pragmatist, I relax enough to loosen my seat belt to Victorian corset strength.  Due to the aforementioned antibiotics, I was unable to have a fortifying beverage on either of my outward flights (to Exeter and then Deauville).   I compensated for my unusual sobriety by taking deep breaths, praying really hard, and singing hymns quietly (don’t want people to think I’m nuts; terrified is enough) in the spirit of Whistle a Happy Tune and I Have Confidence.  Musicals are good for more than Saturday nights in bed, you know.  I could have sung Nearer My God To Thee but I opted for Lord I Lift Your Name On High; it seemed appropriate.

It wasn’t so bad coming back because I still had my pickle on thanks to Jock’s single malt; and on the Exeter-Manchester flight I was delighted to find myself sitting next to a FlyBe pilot (one of six dotted about) who had been on a course, and who flew the route regularly.  I bombarded him with questions – How can this thing even take off?  What happens if one engine fails? Why don’t we crash?  When you’re a passenger, do you judge the actual pilot on his technique? – and he gently slapped me about the head with facts, figures and common sense.  He added to his goodness by pointing out landmarks I’d never have spotted, such as Blackpool Tower (you know, that great big pointy thing with delusions of Frenchness) and allowed me to enjoy the first flight I’ve ever almost enjoyed.  And I was sat by the window – not a matter of choice; I always ask for an aisle seat so I can be one of the first off the plane when we inevitably go down.

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Families suck

TB: Did you miss me?

Hub: No, not really.

TB: Why not?!?

Spud: We didn’t have one cross word while you were away; and everything got done.

Hub: Yeah.  We came to the conclusion that you’re a stress head.

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I was going to tell you about the romantic thing the Hub wrote to me while I was away, but I don’t think I’ll bother now.  Suffice it to say, I’ll pay my own way to the moon, thank you very much.  When it opens.

101/1001 (35)

25 Nov

Forgive me, dear readers; it has been five weeks since my last 101 session.  I ask your forgiveness because it is entirely possible, nay, dead certain, that this post will be a long one, covering as it will five whole weeks of tasking.

The challenge to type up and print out for folder and notebook over 100 poems I’ve written has gone up to over 150.  I have not left one poem in one location, never mind 101.

I read one new book (don’t judge me: I spend all my time talking to you lot; when do I get the time to read?), sent to me by the lovely Earlybird: True Grit.  Truly unputdownable.  I loved it.  I even got a rhyme out of it, which I can’t share because it has a spoiler in it and I want you to read it.    Read it.  But come back to me.

Expose myself to twenty new experiences (5/20)

I managed two of these on my recent trip to France (three, if you count my recent trip to France as a new experience, which it was, but I won’t): I met a blogging friend, my dearest Viv.  Have I told you about my recent trip to France?  I can bore for Africa on it.

The other new experience was to ask for a dessert in a foreign language.  I told you about it, the ice cream.  It is possible I have done this once before, in Afrikaans, but I don’t think so: South Africa had two official languages at that point, one of which was English, so there would have been no need.  South Africa now has eleven official languages; imagine the size of the menus.

Another new experience which I’m not including as a new experience because, although it was a new experience, I don’t think it counts as a new experience, was to say ‘yes’ to all the new foods that were offered to me instead of toddlerising myself by saying ‘no’ while thinking, I don’t fancy that.  I made up my mind to try everything that was offered to me while I was away, and a lot was, and I did.

I must just stress that it was easy to do because all of Viv’s food looks wonderful, and if I ignored dislike-trigger words such as ‘coffee’ and ‘walnuts’ and focused on like-trigger words such as ‘cake’, I didn’t even have to close my eyes to try anything new.

I managed to complete a task while I was away:

Try three new foods (7/3)

Foods I tried which I had never previously eaten (and before you throw up your hands in horror, remember I’m a plain northern girl brought up on plain northern food who had never even seen a watermelon until the age of fifteen):

  • Jam on bread.  Okay, this somewhat belies the plain northern girl theory, given that plain northerners, girls and otherwise, have always eaten jam on bread.  I never have.  I don’t know why.  My Mum liked jam but I don’t remember seeing it in the house when I was growing up.  We must have had it in; perhaps I had a dreadful jam experience and blocked it out.  I could have got a stain on a favourite dress as a child, or bunged it in my brother’s ear and been unjustly punished for my (entirely natural) behaviour.  We will never know now because my mother took the secret to her grave.  I don’t regret it, because discovering a new and delicious food at my age was such fun!  Viv’s jam was home made apple and plum and yum yum yum is all I can say.  Yum!
  • Coffee and Walnut Cake.  I don’t didn’t do like coffee and walnuts now, in a big fat cake, at least.  Yummy yum yum.
  • Stuffing.  I have never eaten it.  Never fancied it.  Mum and Dad ate it.  I didn’t.  Bought a packet every Christmas for them as did; never did myself.  What a waste of Christmases.  Did I mention?  Yum!
  • Raspberry Cake.  I have never eaten raspberries.  Never fancied them.  The Hub eats them.  I didn’t.  Bought packets for him in season; never ate them myself.  What a waste of seasons.  Did I mention?  Yum!
  • Jock’s Walnut Coleslaw.  I think it was walnuts; I was too busy stuffing in second, third and fourth helpings to listen to the conversation.  Yummy!
  • Real champagne.  It has to be made in Champagne to be called ‘champagne’.  I have drunk the ersatz stuff, of course, but I have to say I’m now in favour of that rule.  Yum!
  • Amuse Bouche.  You know all about them: an excuse to eat tasty morsels before the main meal.  I’m in favour of that, too.  Yum.

Five weeks – seven foods – one happy housewife.

A Bit Of Meli-Melo

22 Nov

I had some trouble with that title; Viv tells me that meli-melo has a similar meaning to English bits ‘n’ bobs, and that would be great, if only I could type it.  So far it has been mile-mole, lime-loem, lemi-mloe and m%&*-m$£”. 

To get it right, I had to read it from my notebook with my eyes while my mouth spelled it out slowly for my typing hand.  I’m going off France.

Not really, of course.  I loved my visit so much, I feel the need to keep talking about it, so I bring you this meli-noma of bots ‘n’ bibs that I couldn’t squeeze into my previous France posts.

Amuse-Bouche

At the restaurant we visited, the waitress brought funny food things before the meal started (the three-course meal; French people do know how to eat).  Jov or Vick told us they were called amuse-bouche, pronounced amoose boosh.  I found them very amoosing.

That got a laugh when I said it to Vock & Jiv.  What’s wrong with you people?

Aran Jumper

Jick & Vov were stuffed full of interesting anecdotes and information.  This one fascinated me: admiring my cardigan, they said that every Aran jumper has a different pattern so that fishermen’s wives can identify their husband’s bodies when they drown and wash ashore weeks later.

It fascinated me so much I didn’t wear it on the way home, in case my plane crashed into the English Channel.  I don’t want my husband to think I was married to Marks & Spencer.

Body Scan

Talking of plane travel, on the way out to France I had one of those full body scans.  The Hub wasn’t selected which surprised me, because he was wearing a sweatshirt and couldn’t be identified by it.

I had to stand with my hands touching my head while the security staff giggled behind a huge screen.  I didn’t worry about the intrusion because I was too busy worrying about the life-size sign which looks like one of those police outlines drawn round the body.  Was it an omen that we would crash into the Channel?  I was wearing my Aran jumper.

Mistletoe And Whine

France seemed to have an awful lot of nests in its bare trees:

Then Vij & Ockv told me that the ‘nests’ were mistletoe, which is not a friendly saliva-exchanging encourager at all, but a parasite that kills trees.  I’m against killing trees in particular and parasites in general and I don’t need mistletoe because I’m married and haven’t kissed since the wedding (no, I must have done it twice; the boys will attest to that), so I found this a little disturbing, especially when I learned that it’s French law to remove mistletoe…we all know the Gallic approach to law, don’t we?  Accept it then ignore it.

Every time I saw a mistletoe-strangled tree after I learned this, I couldn’t help my resentment towards the French shrugging-off of a serious law from erupting into a stern tut.  I might even have tutted out loud once.

The Hub

Some of you might not know that the Hub has severe CFS/ME.  Some of you might not have realised that I took him to France with me (it was the only way I could board a plane and still retain clean underwear).  We were worried that he would find it too much, but he didn’t have to drive, he sat down a lot, slept every afternoon, and went to bed early each night.   He’s tired but doing okay.  I guess a little of what you francey does you good.

 

Ryanair

Never having flown with them, I believed the media hype and expected a terrible flight (that’s a given, given my fear), to be treated like cattle, to be charged for extras I hadn’t banked on, like seat belts, and to have them fixing the plane under us while we taxied out.

Well.  What can I say?  My £9 flight was excellent value for money; I would definitely fly them again; but I still don’t like Micheal O’Leary, especially if he wants to charge me to use the toilet.

 

Cows

Finally, I saw French cows.  I mention this because I made the Hub take a photo especially for my French friend, now residing in the States, Perfecting Motherhood; also known as Every Day I See A Cow:

 

Through a window in Pirou Castle. Amazing to think the same view would have been there for centuries. Just how old ARE those cows?

 

I have at least one more post that is France related, and then I’ll stop banging on about it.  Maybe.

Au revoir!

 

 

CoWAring

21 Nov

Before I award this week’s CoWAbunger, I have to ask you not to inundate me with outraged comments and hate mail.  

I have gone against the habit of a lifetime and…accepted a compliment

I know, I know!  What was I thinking?  All of you good, self-restrained commenters who never say anything nice to or about me must be furious.  Those of you with less self-restraint who let slip the odd nice remark which I studiously ignore must be seething.

I’m sorry; I couldn’t help myself.  I’m weak, I know, but she hit me on my Achilles scalp:

  I don’t think it is possible to not love France. Viv is tinier than I had thought, and your hair is beautiful, Tilly!  cindy

Here is the photo which inspired her sincere but factually incorrect compliment on my post France, Day 4:

I have dreadful hair; not manky like my teeth, but thin and mousey and flyaway.  My plaits look like drab friendship bracelets; when my hair is short I look like a boy; when it’s long I have to tie it back because the static electric shocks to the lips really hurt.  My family take turns thanking me for the hair in their food, despite tie backs and a head covering when I prepare meals.  I have never, ever been complimented on my hair in my entire life.  Is it any wonder I caved?

Thank you, Cindy, for making my day.  Hair is your award:

And have another one for being nice about France:

 

Go and visit Cindy at her blog, The Only Cin; especially if you love good food.

Day 5: Farewell France

19 Nov

Don’t ever travel with this woman.

For anyone visiting from Six Word Saturday who feels like they wandered in at the end of the movie: you did – this is the last of my posts on my recent trip to France.

I wrote this in my notebook when I got up on Sunday: Going home day 😦

I woke at five a.m., which was really four a.m. because I was still on UK time.  I washed, dressed, cleaned the bathroom, wrote the following day’s two posts and hung around on Viv’s upstairs landing; it is big enough for a thousand books, three chairs, a couch, a table and one sad Tilly.

We had our usual jammy breakfast and left by nine (eight).  We followed the rising sun toward Beauvais Airport; the sun was in our eyes all the way.  Poor Jock and Viv had to drive home into the setting sun.  You can read about it on Viv’s blog.  The journey took four hours exactly, including a ten minute stop to stretch our legs.  We fed French sparrows and marvelled at their lack of fear.  The Hub oohed and aahhed and took pictures at the rest stop but resolutely ignored the sparrows at the airport who were just as cute, but likely to fly into airplane engines if encouraged to hang around. 

The journey would have been dull if we hadn’t been entertained by Jock’s jokes and amusing stories; all-round good conversation; and a jolly old singalong that started in World War I and went on to cover six national anthems, though we did mumble through the Welsh one.

 

Photo courtesy of Viv

 

We had a picnic in the airport and enjoyed some smashing sandwiches.  All the way there Jock told us how much he was looking forward to his chicken sandwich, couldn’t wait for his chicken sandwich, loved a good chicken sandwich.  Eventually, Viv broke it to him that we were having turkey sandwiches.  He should have known that, because he was the one who made them.

We had a cup of airport brew, which wasn’t half bad, and then said sad goodbyes to our sweet and generous hosts.  I entitled this post ‘Farewell France’ because I may never get back there (though I sincerely hope I do), but Viv will never be out of my life.  She is warm and kind and funny and surprisingly short – she looks much taller on the internet.  She and Jock are lovely, lovely people (underlined in my notebook).

We queued for forty minutes for passport control, chatting to a woman from Liverpool now living in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  I didn’t know that was a real place; I thought it was just a choochoo.  I learn something new every day.

Our Ryanair flight was late boarding, but not as late as the Ryanair plane next to us, which had to be refueled and was at least thirty minutes behind schedule.  The Hub wanted a particular seat, taking for the photographs of, so we went in the back way and moved forward.  As we sat, an altercation broke out in the next row in front.  A middle-aged woman yelled at the young man, no more than twenty, trying to put his bag in the overhead locker that he was NOT to do that, he was to put it ELSEWHERE because her CHRISTIAN DIOR COAT was in the locker and she was NOT HAVING IT DAMAGED by some oik who didn’t know the value of a £450 COAT was he LISTENING to her he was NOT to do it she was NOT having it what was WRONG with him, the IDIOT her COAT was too VALUABLE.

The oik had not spoken once.  He looked too frightened.  A flight attendant came and the woman went off on another rant.  The flight attendant explained politely that space was limited and couldn’t be utilised to please one passenger.  The woman complained that there was another coat in the locker.  I piped up, ‘That’s my jacket.  I don’t mind it being a little squashed.’  I am writing to you as a shrivelled-up stump of ash.  The woman grabbed her £450 CHRISTIAN DIOR COAT which looked rather like a thin black jacket and which could have been folded neatly over her knee or on the spare seat beside her, complaining loudly all the time.  Other passengers said later that the woman had poked the flight attendant, but I was too busy wondering what was so great about her coat that she had to make such a fuss, to notice.

The flight attendant called her boss but Christian Dior Woman had subsided by the time she had forced her way through the passengers in the aisle watching the scene – and it was a scene; I’ve never seen a scene before but I knew instinctively this was what a scene looked like.  The Chief Stewardess contacted the pilot; the Hub was convinced Christian Dior Woman would be escorted off the plane because the pilot wouldn’t want to risk trouble amongst the passengers once we were in the air.  However, the Hub reckoned without Ryanair’s boss, who enjoys his position as Number One On Time Carrier, and would not have taken kindly to a delay over and above the twenty minutes we were already behind; especially as the plane next door had not yet taken off, despite being scheduled to leave before us.  The Christian Dior Woman stayed on board; the polite oik’s suitcase was put into another locker; and the flight attendant mouthed apologies to the surrounding passengers.

I bet Christian Dior Woman wishes she hadn’t stayed on board.  The polite oik’s female friend was a typical northern lass: loud-mouthed and opinionated (I write this as a northern lass myself).  Throughout the flight she made loud remarks to and about Christian Dior Woman and her coat and her high but apparently misplaced self-esteem.  I was starting to feel a little sorry for Christian Dior Woman, who had engaged in argument for a while but then told Mouthy Girl she was no longer going to listen to her; but then she looked around at the other passengers – all of whom had remained silent in appreciation of the unexpected entertainment enlivening a routine flight – and told us we were all YOBS, UNEDUCATED AND IGNORANT, she was GLAD to be going back to AUSTRALIA where people KNOW HOW TO BEHAVE and couldn’t STAND  such THUGGISH BEHAVIOUR.  Then she put on her black sunglasses (by this time it was night outside) and went to the back of the plane to put her side of the story to the prodded stewardess.  What I found most interesting about her statement about Australia was that she had a British accent.

The seat belt light went on; Christian Dior Woman didn’t sit down until ordered to; the plane landed on time, despite being so late leaving.  Michael O’Leary must have been waiting to kiss our pilot on the tarmac.  Then we waited twenty minutes for the steps to get off.  Trouble flared again between Mouthy Girl and Christian Dior Woman: something about she should get on the phone to her genie to whisk her off the plane ahead of us louts.  Polite oik who, it transpired, was not so polite after all, or else had been encouraged by his mouthy friend, then told Christian Dior Woman she was a c**t.  There was an audible gasp all around, including my own, and then the plane door opened and people disembarked before it turned really nasty.

It was an unpleasant end to a wonderful five days.  Christian Dior Woman brought a lot of it on herself; she was unnecessarily obnoxious: perhaps she likes attention, even if it is negative; but Manchester Youth was not on its best behaviour either. 

I am blessed with great friends: friend A collected us at the airport so we didn’t have to pay for a taxi, and brought along a monster pot of stew and dumplings for our dinner, and…a baguette!

Boys and dogs were waiting with open arms for their presents.  We greeted the dogs outside because Molly has a tendency to widdle in excitement.  She didn’t let us down: she peed on the path, the carpet, the kitchen floor, my jeans and my jumper.  It might have been worse: it could have been one of the boys.

France, Day 4: Sunrise, Shopping, Sightseeing, Strange Pancakes

18 Nov

The day started with a giggle on Viv’s bed before I ran out onto the patio in my polka dot pyjamas and bare feet to enjoy the sunrise.  There was a nip in the air, different birds singing in competition, and what sounded like a motorbike hovering in the distance.  Jock had classical music on in the background.  There was a slight haze over the fields and some cloud; the château bell tower next door peeped through the shedding trees, a neighbour’s fledgling orchard below them.  The sun came slowly up and there was a brief period of stillness. 

Did you ever have a perfect moment?  I did. 

Breakfast was a real French croissant, fresh from the village (thank you, Jock) with Viv’s home made plum and apple jam.  Sumptuous.

Jock had done nothing but drive since we arrived, and before; we gave him the day off and Viv took us to the pretty town of Coutances.  I don’t need the adjective because all of Normandy is pretty – and no litter!  The Hub kept on about that because it was wonderful to not see litter.

I enjoyed looking in the expensive shops, each one smelling better than the one before.  Viv bought me a French notebook and I posted some French letters (postcards really, but you know I had to work that joke in).

We walked around the thousand-year old cathedral – no charge!  Are you reading this, St Paul’s? – and the Hub cursed the airline weight limit the whole time, because he needed the good flash he had to leave at home to truly capture its beauty.  He suggested I light a candle for my deceased Catholic Mum, and that was a lovely moment for me. 

We had lunch at Le Crêperie.  When Viv told us where we were going, I got the giggles because I heard ‘Le Crapperie’.  Le Crêperie sells pancakes, but like no pancakes I’ve ever known: I had a buckwheat pancake with fried egg, cheese, ham and lettuce – all on top.  Delicious and filling, and delicious. 

After lunch we had a walk in the Botanical Gardens.  You must be tired of hearing me say this but, beautiful!  The gardens were beautiful; Normandy is beautiful; France is beautiful.  I’m in love with France.

Finally, it was on to a French supermarket, Le Clerc. We had popped in the previous day, when I bought toys for the dogs. Then I remembered my children so we had to go back to buy something for them.

In the afternoon, Viv and I spent some time in her much coveted by me workroom; she made some Christmas decorations for us to take home and I critiqued a lovely novella she has written. 

Dinner was even more delicious than lunch: meatballs and pasta in a home-made pepper sauce…yum, yum, YUMMY!  With champagne to celebrate our departure the following morning.  We had eaten Jock and Viv out of house and well-stocked larder: of course they were celebrating.  [I’m going to get a telling off for this one; check the comments later].

You may be wondering what we did with Spud while we were away, given that he is only fifteen.  Tory Boy came to stay and look after him.  It ended up being the other way around, as Tory Boy was struck down with something nasty and Spud had to minister to his brother.  I emailed the boys each day with our doings; here’s a sample:

FRIDAY

Me: Miss you both but I bet you don’t miss us at all!  That’s okay; it’s as it should be.  [Lying on both counts: we didn’t miss them but I didn’t want them to feel bad.  It’s not okay for my children not to miss me]

Spud: Nice to hear you’re having a good time. Yes not missing you at all I’m afraid.

SATURDAY

Me: We went to a supermarket where we might have bought you a little present, but only if you missed us.

Spud: I DEFINITELY MISS YOU…not sure about TB, I think only I should get the present.

As it happened, that’s what happened: we bought shirts for the boys but Tory Boy’s was too small, so Spud got it.  The French must be skinnier than Brits, despite all that good food.  Never mind, TB had French chocolates and French biscuits to compensate.  I wonder why the shirt didn’t fit?

France, Day 3: Poppies Are For Remembrance

17 Nov

I started the day by giggling with Viv in bed again.  It was my favourite part of the holiday.

Viv suggested we write a collaborative poem, a renga.  The theme was obvious: it was Remembrance Day in Britain.  The French celebrate on 6 June as well as 11 November, I learned.  See more here.

Here is the view from Viv’s house:

In one of those fields, on 6 June, 1944, a plane came down, killing all the RAF airmen on board.  The people of Viv’s village erected a memorial to them, at the end of Viv’s road.  The memorial is kept clean and tidy.  Unlike so many British memorials, there is no graffiti, no urinating, no defacing of it.  Viv and Jock took us down just before eleven and we waited for the bell to ring out in the distance, from the village, then laid our poppy and kept the two minute silence.  The Hub and I feel that to be in France on Remembrance Day was both special and moving.  It was an honour.

Viv and Jock then took us out to lunch in Granville, to their favourite restaurant.  I do like to be beside the seaside!  The view was excellent and the food superb.  The French waiters were not the condescending snoots of tv legend, but were patient, helpful and efficient.  The restaurant was small but charming – and full.  The French eat well and linger over their meals: a civilised habit I am going to acquire.  They also take their Yorkshire Terriers along; I like that habit too, as do my own Yorkies, Molly and Toby, I’m sure.  The dog was as well behaved as the many children in the restaurant.  We wouldn’t have noticed them if they hadn’t been pointed out to us as models of how children should behave in a restaurant.  We Brits could learn a lot by taking regular holidays in France.

The food was delicious but you’ll have to go over to Viv’s blog for pictures – once again, I preferred eating to snapshotting.  I had a starter of bacon and lettuce, a main of cod and veg, and vanilla ice cream for afters.  It sounds much more exotic in French and, believe me, it tastes it, too.  I ordered my own dessert: Coupe deux boules; vanille.  Aren’t I clever?  It only took an hour to learn.

We walked lunch off with a stroll around the lovely town of Granville.  We saw a corsair, whose fascinating story you can read at Viv’s blog.  Then it was home again, with afternoon naps for Viv and the Hub (in separate rooms) and a guided tour of the garden for me from Jock.  We had a late, light dinner of quiche and salad but there was room for leftover cake & tart, of course.

I am not a great wine drinker, but that is because I don’t have access to great wine.  I enjoyed a glass with every meal in France (except breakfast; I’m not a lush) and it is possible I have acquired yet another French habit.  Time will tell.  Hic.

 

France, Day 2: Chateaux And Gateaux

16 Nov

I include this photo for the simple reason that I absolutely love it. It is beautiful. The chateau is beautiful. France is beautiful. The Hub takes a good picture.

Waking up in France on the first morning was weird.  Not because there was anything odd about Viv’s beautiful home, or even about France; it was because we had closed the shutters the first night and they are light-tight.  I thought it was the middle of the night and assumed I was jet-lagged from the one hour and twenty minutes flight.  I got up to go to the loo and discovered it was seven-thirty.  Or eight-thirty.  Six-thirty?  There’s an hour’s time difference between France and the UK and I never quite grasped it.  Free of all my normal responsibilities, I had no need to.  I just did as I was told, and loved it.

Getting up was complicated that first morning.  We had closed the shutters tight because I was dive-bombed by a rogue fly as I was falling asleep.  The Hub managed to swat it with a newspaper but we thought we’d keep the rest out – there is never just one fly, is there?  The foul things club together like flies around – well, you get my drift.  I don’t blame Viv: her house is spotless.  It’s quite possible I brought the fly from home: my house is not spotless.

When I woke, however, I suddenly thought of something Earlybird had told me, about the cockroaches in Provence.  Provence is in France and Normandy is in France and now I was in France: where there cockroaches in Normandy as well as in Provence?  It was so dark I was scared to put a foot on the floor, just in case.  What should I do?  Wake the Hub in the middle of the night (as I thought), or leave the light off?  I put the light on.  No cockroaches.  This was Normandy, not Provence, and Viv’s house is spotless.  Glad to have that cleared up, I went downstairs calling, ‘Bonjour!  Bonjour!’  When in Rome, as they say…  I would say ‘Caio, bambinos,’ if I was in Rome but I was in Normandy so I said, ‘Bonjour!’

Jock pointed me in the direction of Viv’s room, and followed it up with a nice cup of tea.  Our hosts had thoughtfully provided us with a kettle, coffee, sugar, milk and selection of teas in our room, but the Hub was still recovering from a blast of light to the eyes, so I thought it best to make a quick getaway.

Viv and I sat chatting (giggling) on her bed, talking about poetry (giggling) and blogging (giggling).  I include this photo courtesy of Jock and Viv, and it was taken tomorrow in this time line, because I am dressed:

Some serious poetry discussion going on here.

Once the Hub was up, we were called to a beautifully laid breakfast table.  Jock had gone out for I forget what for breakfast and had to drive to the next village, though they didn’t have it either.  He came back with a genuine French baguette instead, so I had to have that for breakfast; as well as French fresh orange juice and Viv’s home made bread and Viv’s home made jam.  There were lots of other breakfast choices, including cereal; but once you’ve had the real thing why would you want food from a box?

We spent so long laughing and chatting over breakfast that we only had an hour to visit the nearby thousand-year-old  Chateau of Pirou.  An hour was sufficient, because it is not huge; but it is fascinating.  The very nice madame at the entrance gave us an extra dix minutes, and it was just enough.

Jock manning the battlements, like any good Scot
A French Chateau toilet; not a nice way to greet unwanted visitors, but effective:

'Flush' would have a whole new meaning.

 
We visited a derelict bridge.  It was bombed during the War to stop the Nazi supply line, and left that way as a memorial:
 
 
 
As Brits, we are constantly told that the French hate Le Rosbif, but the many memorials around Normandy tell quite a different story.  More on that tomorrow.
 
We then had a drive around the coast, made more interesting by Jock and Viv’s fund of stories and facts; then home for a tasty lunch.  Jock recited Burns’ poetry.  Sublime.  In the afternoon we had coffee and walnut cake.  I was too busy scoffing it to take a photo, but you can find a picture of it here, on Earlybird’s blog.  Dinner was roast turkey and all the trimmings, followed by raspberry cake.  It’s a miracle my clothes still fit me.
 
I wrote in my notebook, We talked and talked and talked 🙂  The trip was worth it for that alone.
 
 
 

France, Day 1: Getting There Is Half The Battle

15 Nov

The journey of 744 miles begins with the first step on to a Ryanair flight.  Not as easy as it sounds, given my fear of flying.  And not so much a fear of flying, as crashing.  I don’t mind dying, it’s the Brace!  Brace!  Brace! while cuddling a cushion that I don’t much fancy.  If you think I’m unreasonable, then answer me this: how is a cheap cushion going to help me when I slam into pavement from twenty thousand feet in a tin can? 

Our plane, on the prowl for victims, also known as 'passengers'.

 The distance between my house and Viv’s house is actually 391 miles, but Ryanair don’t have landing rights at Viv’s house, so we had to divert a little.  The airport of Beauvais was the closest to Viv’s that we could find, so we were mortified when we discovered – having already bought the tickets – that there would be a four-and-a-half hour journey from Beauvais to Viv’s home, because that meant a nine-hour driving day for our hosts.  But not mortified enough to cancel.  I have known Viv online for a number of years and was dying to meet her – hence the Ryanair flight – and when the Hub suggested that our birthday presents to each other this year should be a visit to a (treading delicately here) retired couple we had never met, I almost fell in love with him.

The flights were paid for.  We chose Ryanair because two of us could travel cheaper than one on a scheduled airline, and I couldn’t go alone.  I was not afraid of Viv or France or Viv’s husband, Jock, but of that bit between Manchester Airport and Beauvais Airport: the sky.  Thus it was that the night we booked the flight and for several nights after, I had nightmares about Ryanair cushions hurling me to the ground as skinny stewardesses stomped on my head in their high heels and perfect hair.  The day before the flight I was so wound up that the Hub was threatening not only to leave me but, which was worse, letting me go on my own on that death bus they call an aeroplane.

How is this even possible? Don't give me all that 'it's science' garbage. It defies the laws of nausea.

I try not to let my fear of doing something stop me from doing a thing I want to do, so I calmed down, manned up, and got on the plane.  Taking off is the worst.  It feels unnatural to be able to look down on the earth without a building beneath your feet, but I was safe in the Hub’s arms…well, my nails were; so deep, they came out the other side.  Once up in the air I relaxed a little, being a fatalist, but not enough to unbuckle: I’d have to have a bladder the size of Gaul to get up from my seat mid-flight.  Landing is good, because we land on land, and I like that.

Welcomed to France by the stereotypical Brit-hating arrogant and surly customs officer, I saw Viv waiting with open arms on the other side of the barrier, and I ran to her like Cathy ran to Heathcliff, but without the heather, angst, or passion.  I am British, after all, and a good cuddle between sort-of-strangers was almost as dangerous as flying to me; though much more fun.

Once Viv and I had unpeeled a little, I was introduced to Jock and greeted him, quite naturally, in the Gallic fashion, with a kiss on each cheek and a hawhehawhehaw (internalised; I wanted to make a good impression).  You will be hearing more of Viv’s delightful husband in later posts, but suffice it to say that he had us laughing almost from the moment we met, and I smile whenever I think of him.  I am sure now that I could have hawhehawhehawed aloud when we first met and he would have joined in instead of being affronted.

France has a small car park, but it is in the town of Beauvais-Tillé, so I don’t mind.  It was a good omen.  A not-so-good omen was the public toilet at the rest stop where we picnicked on salmon sandwiches in the dark.  If I say, toilet bowl in the ground, I won’t do it justice, so here’s a photo:

La Bowl France

I did think about waiting until our flight home, four days later, but urine will out.  Viv reassured me that her house toilets not only rose up from the ground like civilised waste disposal units, they also had seats.

The car journey was enlivened by Jock’s jokes, Jock’s songs and Jock’s running commentary, and the time passed in no time at all.  We were welcomed to their beautiful home with real champagne – it can only bear the name if it has been grown and produced in Champagne – and proper plumbing.  I knew we were in for a good time.

If you want to read a condensed version of this story, pop over to see Viv.

Did You Guess?

14 Nov
Question mark made of puzzle pieces

Image by Horia Varlan via Flickr

If not, I’ll walk you through it:

I was looking forward to something nice, fun, exciting and new that was to happen for me this week.  It did.  It was.

So what was this nice, fun, exciting and new thing that happened? 

I went to France to visit Vivinthere!  I took the Hub in case Viv’s benevolent exterior hid a Malteser-stealing fiend, but it didn’t.  She and her husband were generous and genial, friendly and fun, warm and wonderful – there aren’t enough adjectives in English to describe how welcome they made us so I’ll resort to French: incroyable

There’ll be more gushing later on this week, but for now, here’s the answers to the puzzle I set you:

  1. I have never done it before.  Though I sort of haveMet Viv.  We met through an online critiquing site set up by a group of Open University Creative Writing students unwilling to admit the course was over.  Viv and I have exchanged emails, criticism (constructive, naturally) and gifts (she sends the gifts and I accept them; a fair exchange, I think).  We Skype.  We laugh.  We chat.  All we had to do was meet.  And now we have.  Incroyable!  Did I say that already?
  2. Scotland is sort of involved, though not reallyViv is married to Jock, a Scot.  See where you went wrong?  You looked at the picture of Mary of Guise and thought, Ah, a flat-faced woman married to a ScotTilly must be going to Scotland to learn about artViv is not flat-faced; though she is married to a Scot (Jock, not James V).
  3. It relates to a country which I have never visited, though I sort of have.  France.  When I was eleven I went on a school trip to Belgium and Germany (I suppose they wanted us to see European extremes).  The ferry crossing was so foggy we had to dock in France and drive to Belgium.  It was dark when we arrived so I never saw anything of France except its night sky.

I gave you more clues after that though, frankly, I’m at a loss as to why you couldn’t work it out with those three.

My first is in vivacious, though never in vain.              

VIVacious.

My second’s a hotel, though somewhat plain.
               

In(n)

My third is a land of stripes and strong smells.
             

France.  Stripes on the flag; and t-shirt of the beret wearing, onion carrying, garlic chewing cyclist.  Smells.  Well you would with all that garlic and onion, wouldn’t you?

The whole will be fun, though I cannot yet tell.              

And it was!

It’s obvious now, isn’t it?  Tinman got it.  Leaving aside that he’s a spoilsport, I bet you’re kicking yourself that you didn’t work it out.

Look out for my forthcoming blog posts: Why Ryanair Is The Fastest To Complete The Times Crossword and Normandy Jigsaws: Friend Or Foe? 

Nobody Does Understatement Like The British

14 Jul
Satellite view of the English Channel

Image via Wikipedia

We had an earthquake today – magnitude 3.9.  I doubt it will make the international news. 

It wasn’t even all ours: we shared it with France, out in the middle of the English Channel.  Of course it was out at sea: no troublesome nature is allowed to mess up our tiny gardens and neatly laid parks.

A man at work felt it:

The office wobbled slightly, the building shook, monitors on the table rattled and the roof creaked a bit.  It felt as if a big lorry had gone by in a hurry, except we don’t have lorries go through here.

It reminds me of the tornado that hit Birmingham a few years ago: residents were upset when some roof tiles fell off.

Even our geological events are understated.  Tutting at the natural world: it’s how we keep our lips stiff.

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Christmas Is All About Friensshship

17 Dec

I have a wonderful English friend living in France.  She is kind and beautiful and sophisticated.  She used to ski her children to school in winter; I took extra shoes for mine because of the wild dog poo.  Last Christmas she walked with her family on Christmas Day, taking hot merguez, hot wine, and hot tomato soup.  I had to Google merguez though, in my defence, I had heard of tomato soup.  I didn’t know anyone drank hot wine unless they came from the middle  ages.  This year her Christmas will include foie gras, and she’s not even buying a hamper.  After Christmas she will be spending a week on a boat, 13km from Russia, watching the northern lights.  My Franglais Friend is the kind of woman who drinks wine with lunch without being a lush.  She is the epitome of European elegance.  I am the epitome stomach. 

I mention her because she has just sent me two bottles of my favourite South African pink fizz, JC Le Roux’s La Chanson.  I am not really a drinker – it can take me months to finish a bottle of wine, by which time I’m adding orange juice to it to disguise its flatness and probable offness – but a bottle of La Chanson is usually gone in a couple of days.  One bottle is already in the fridge for Christmas Eve: I always have a tipple as soon as we get back from visiting Dad at the cemetery, as a symbolic gesture of putting sadness behind me and gaiety on the menu.  The other bottle is on standby for New Year – if it lasts that long: I might be very sad this year and be forced to drown my sorrows.

My Christmas is not at all sophisticated.  My house is a temple of Christmas kitsch, but I really don’t care.  I don’t have loads of decorations all over but I do have the children’s home-made decs strung from tinsel on my banister and on my tree.  I have Christmas covers on my cushions and Christmas decals on my windows.  The boys’ huge stockings are already hung up for Santa.  I am an ornament-hater at heart (all that dusting) but my inner housewife bursts out come December 11th and I go quite mad, sprinkling plastic Father Christmas boots (I have three; I think my Santa is related to Jake the Peg) and stuffed reindeer hats all over the show.  Thankfully for my sanity, everything MUST come down on January 2nd because Christmas is over and New Year is over and the clutter is already driving me nuts by December 28th; but I always enjoy my temporary madness, especially when I have my favourite wine to keep me company.

So, dear Franglais Friend: thank you from the bottom of my soon-to-be-tipsy heart.  Hic.

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