Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Proper Poorly

It seems that the first things to go under whenever I'm busy, stressed or poorly are the ironing and this blog. Well, I've been all three and that's my excuse. I tackled the ironing yesterday, and today I'm having a go at the blog. Which I'm sure I've missed more than you have.

I was busy enough whilst the kids were at school, but now they're on half term and I'm even more busy. It seems that Dear Daughter (10) looks to me (or at least my computer) for at least half of her entertainment value. Also, Dear Son (15) has been in deep trouble, having decided that his life was so boring that he needed to escape reality by taking up a habit that involves smoking something that smells like bonfires. We tackled this (or so we thought) last summer, but he went back to it. Why? Why? The evidence was incontrovertible, so he was well and truly grounded and his mobile phone confiscated. This has meant that we have had to put up with a truly grumpy teenager. It felt more like we were being punished than him. We didn't ban his girlfriend (that would have been too much and she seems like she is a good influence), so she stayed here last night. It's surprising how much difference even one more makes to a household. As if that wasn't enough to adjust to, Dear Son (14) had a "hot date" at the cinema in Royan yesterday. I'm losing them one by one!

All this has inevitably taken a toll on my health and well being and I now have my sore chest and cough back again (that always happens when thing start to spiral out of control). It seems to be a weak spot - I blame my mother, who smoked all the time I was growing up! She's no help, having taken herself off to Mississippi on Sunday for two weeks holiday.

That's about all I can update you on for now, I've missed my blog, it's an outlet, so I'll try and come back soon.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Dutchman is circling ever closer!

What a title for a post! Those few of you that follow my blog may remember that just before Christmas, we had somebody interested in buying the gites. Much negotiation and to-ing and fro-ing later, we have now signed a piece of paper (actually more like 40 pieces of paper) called a "Compromis de Vente" agreeing to sell Chez Belliveau to him and nobody else. He also has agreed in principle to buy the gites, subject to his loan. If he changes his mind, it costs him serious money. This is a peculiarly French idea to save him from being gazumped. Come on, they're not exactly queueing up around the block to buy our gites! Having said that, we have three people lined up to view them in the next week or so. Typical! We'll still show them round, since it is quite possible that the Dutchman won't get his loan, things being what they are at the moment in the world.

Anyway, we are now one step further along in the nerve wracking process of selling the gites. We're not there yet, and we had at least two false starts with the solicitors before we got to this stage, but this now gives him what he needs to see if Barclays will actually lend him the money they promised in principle last December. As we know, a LOT of water has gone under the bridge since then as far as banks are concerned. It's still a long way off sold, but it's another step down the rocky road.

The experience has not been a positive one (for us or him). Let's put it like this, either he's a very clever con man, or he really, really, really wants to buy Chez Belliveau. Let's hope it's the second one for all our sakes.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Computer Woes!

The bane of my life - but where would we be without it?

In a rather half-hearted attempt to earn some money, I started transcribing audio files via a job agency on the internet. This led to me buying the domain name of ahem, ahem "English Secretary in France" 'cos that's what I am! Don't bother searching for the site, it doesn't exist yet!

Anyway, I spent all this morning downloading various (free - love that word) software for transcribing audio and even video and telephone calls (!) Is nothing sacred? Turned the computer off and on again as instructed - it crashed! I could not believe it. Anyway, after the usual gut wrenching panic, I did luckily manage to get it back, so now I'm backing up like mad! One big problem was emails, but I've now come across Mozbackup, which will back up all your emails for just such an emergency (I use Thunderbird, love it and highly recommend it).

Also, on the advice of a very good friend of mine (you know who you are!) I went out and got an External Hard Disk Drive so everything's on there too now. It's a pity it takes a crash and all the anxiety it causes to make me get organised. I've heard of a company that will automatically back up your computer either daily, weekly or monthly, for a price, I'm off to research it now and I'll let you know how I get on!

Friday, 13 February 2009


That got your attention! Dear son (15) has a girlfriend. EEK! This is completely uncharted territory for us. Obviously, she's French and very pretty in a dark haired, brown eyes, perfect skin type of way. (Do you hate her yet?) She weare glasses, which give her a nice "safe" studious look. She's 16 (cradle snatcher) and in his class at school. He stayed the night there last weekend, separate beds I hope, but you can never be sure, so it'll be our turn next (definitely separate beds!) What do you feed teenage French girls? Apparently her mother's a "brilliant cook" - she would be, wouldn't she? She does something exquisite with her tartiflette apparently. Bread and cheese anybody? Or shall we shock her with a red hot beef curry - now you're talking!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The French and Their Dogs

Woody's thinking of ways to get me to take him for a walk!

One of the things I love about my life here is that I am free to take the dog on very early morning walks in the woods. The dawn breaks around 7.24 am here at the moment (ask me how I know that!) As the only English in this "coin" (corner) I'm considered highly eccentric since the French don't bother to walk their dogs, except on hunting days of course, but there's enough material there for a separate post - so that'll have to wait.

I don't pass many houses on my walks, but one that I go by from time to time is fairly typical. There's a tiny house sitting on an enormous plot of land with three massive dogs: a great dane, a rottweiller and an alsatian which never go further than the front garden and the garage where they sleep. These dogs are enraged by our passage and I'm convinced they'll have the fence down one day. I hope they aren't as vicious as they seem; they wag their tales whilst foaming at the mouth and alternately whimper and bark. Part of me (the bit that isn't terrified) feels sorry for them! They aren't alone. Whenever we cut through this little hamlet between the woods and the house, we set up a chain reaction of barking dogs!

Strangely, the nicest people I've met in France were at the dog training class where I took Woody just after we adopted him from the dog rescue home. Follow this link:

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The promised photo, mimosa and OAP's

I just thought I'd share this photo I took in the woods a couple of days ago. It gives me hope that Spring is just around the corner. Having said that, we've woken up to a Winter wonderland this morning, a hard frost came down in the night. Today is the Mimosa Festival on the Ile d'Oléron, just up from La Rochelle, or about an hour north of here. The mimosa is the first to flower in Spring, so they have music and dancing in the streets. Here's a link:

Dear Husband reaches the ripe old age of 65 in May. The DHSS have sent him a pile of forms to fill in so he can claim his old age pension. It took him a whole day to sort it out. They wanted birth certificates for all of us, together with marriage certificates etc. Dear Son (15) enquired as to whether he would be entitled to an increase in his pocket money as a result of this increase in our income. DH remarked that believe it or not, not many pensioners had school aged children, and surely he didn't think that the old age pension was enough to live off! Says it all, really!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Late Mealtimes

Don't know whether it's my Northern roots, but after 14 years of wedded bliss to a Southerner, I still can't get used to eating "supper" at 7 pm (or later). It used to be "teatime" at 5-6 pm followed by supper just before bed. The problem is that around 5 pm I start to get the munchies and if I'm not careful I'll consume my daily calorie allowance (again) in the next hour, BEFORE I get to eat my evening meal. Then of course, when that arrives, I've gone off the idea! You get the picture? The French have a word for this - le creuse (the dip - as in energy, not garlicky!)

Anyway, I've found a little trick that works really well for me - when I get back from the school and bus stop run, around 5 pm, or peak hunger time, I have a small glass of skimmed milk (hot or cold, depending on the weather) and a half a slice of brown bread with marmite. Eat and drink both, then DO NOTHING for 15 minutes (I love that bit - though, in fact, I do read the paper). I even set a timer. In the meantime, my blood sugar levels sort themselves out. No more hunger pangs, irritability (love that word!) and I eat slightly less at mealtimes too. This tip also works well for if you're off out somewhere and don't know when you'll get fed.

The only trouble is that like many things you know to be true, it's difficult to be disciplined enough to do them consistently. Things like early nights, leaving clothes out ready for morning etc, etc. The trick with this is to catch it early enough (ie before I'm attacking the kids' choccie supply!)

Spring has arrived and to prove it I've got a photo of some gorse in flower which I'll post later - always leave them wanting more!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Pancake Day Blues

One thing that catches me out every year whilst we have been living in France is that they celebrate Shrove Tuesday early! According to me, it's the day before Ash Wednesday - it's even marked Mardi Gras on the calendar, but the school canteens have all served pancakes yesterday and the kids are clamouring for more. Here's the recipe I use. It's from my friend Maralyn, hence the name. I'm off to buy some eggs now, since we don't have no chickens - unlike some that read this blog. You know who you are!

Pancakes à la Marilyn


150 gr flour

50 gr cornflour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons oil

150 ml water

150 ml milk

4 very fresh eggs

4 tablespoons rum (or other flavouring – vanilla essence, etc)

Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and a pinch of salt. Make a hollow in the dry ingredients and add the eggs one by one, mixing well as you go. Add the oil and mix well, follow this with the flavouring. Add the milk and water (mixed together). Let the batter rest for at least an hour at room temperature.

Heat a small amount of butter in a frying pan. Put enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan and allow to cook until the top surface is becoming solid. Flip the pancake over and cook for a few minutes on the other side.

Serve with chopped up banana, chocolate spread, lemon and sugar and anything else that takes your fancy.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, 1 February 2009


What a week that was!

I'm glad this week is over! I'm glad the month of January is over too, come to that - it's too long, too dark and way too depressing. Roll on Spring! All that nursing of various family members has fair done me in. I'm way behind with absolutely everything - everywhere I look I see something that needs doing. I've come to my blog to escape! At least I've admitted it.

I just got DD (10) back to school on Thursday and the strike happened. The primary school where she goes goes on strike, but her two older brothers were affected. The trouble is, some teachers support it, whilst some work as usual. Said teachers are reluctant to confess in advance whether or not they'll be there, or staying at home in bed (or demonstrating in the streets indeed). In the past, I've sent them to school with varying degrees of success, but this time, we all had a lie in. The excuse was that this time, for the first time ever, the school buses were affected too, so it just seemed too much hassle. They learn very early on about militancy and the power of the unions (syndicats) here. On the day of the last strike, just before Christmas, DS (15) had to climb over the bike sheds to get in for a Maths test (sheer dedication - he gets it from his mother). Half the school were demonstrating outside the gates, but they were given the choice as to whether or not to take the test. If they'd missed the test, it would have shown up on the all important moyen (average marks). What a choice! Could only happen here!

This is France, after all!