Thursday, 29 December 2011

Social Life - part 2


I love the French custom of having aperitifs. You know exactly what is expected of you - you turn up about 6.30pm, have a couple of drinks and a few nibbles and then you're on your way home again for dinner by about 8.00pm. Occasionally you get invited for an after dinner drink and again you know exactly what is expected of you - you turn up about 8.30pm, have a couple of glasses of wine and some cake, then a piece of fruit, then coffee and Calvados. This is usually over by 10.30pm but can go on a lot longer!

After our first Soirée (see previous blog!), we invited the two French couples we met there for an aperitif at our house the following Friday. We served a selection of nibbles and offered them a choice of red, white or rosé wine. They looked a little confused at the choice of wine but drank it happily and one couple then invited all of us to their house the following week. That's when we found out where we'd gone wrong! The nibbles were fine - fairly standard - but we now know you don't offer wine as an aperitif. The usual choices are Kir, pastis, whisky or port, although there are many others to choose from. We now have a very comprehensive drinks cupboard!

Friends invited us, as we thought, for an aperitif one evening so we decided to have lunch out so that we didn't have to bother cooking when we got home in the evening. We went to the local bar and had a lovely four course lunch with red wine for Gerry and cider for me (all for 11€ each!). Having slept that off during the afternoon, we duly turned up at 6.30pm for our aperitif. It was immediately obvious that we'd got it wrong and we had actually been invited for dinner - gulp! While Alise carried on cooking, Paul took us along to have a look at his allotment, where we met a friend of his who immediately invited us to his nearby house for an aperitif. He poured us huge measures of pastis and added a teaspoonful of water. Before we were halfway through those, he insisted on topping us up "to finish the bottle". Our lips were rapidly going numb and the legs weren't working too well either.

Then the phone rang - it was Alise to say that dinner was ready and would Yannau please send us home. So we threw the remaining pastis down our necks and wobbled back to Paul's house. Alise of course had set out some nibbles and was now ready to sit down for an aperitif with us. Next came a superb four course meal with copious amounts of wine, followed by coffee and generous glasses of Calvados. By midnight, Gerry and I could barely speak English, let alone French! We left our car there and stumbled home, with many a detour into the ditch.

The moral of this tale? We now double check exactly what it is we're being invited to - our livers couldn't take many days like that!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Put on your dancing shoes

When I was young, I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up. I nagged and nagged until finally I was allowed to go to ballet class. Naturally, I had visions of myself prancing around on points (pink naturally) in a pale pink, sparkly tutu with pristine white tights. The reality, of course, was somewhat different - plain white tunic and BLACK ballet shoes with white socks. Being a bit of a tomboy (despite the desire to be a ballerina!), I invariably had grubby knees - not quite the look I was hoping to achieve.
Miss Johnson's School of Ballet was in the centre of Edinburgh, which meant getting a bus by myself. The bus dropped me off right outside but coming home I had to cross a very busy main road to catch the bus. I had strict instructions not to try to cross the road by myself but to ask an adult to see me safely across. I must have been about 10 at the time - can you imagine telling a 10 year old these days to approach a stranger to see them across the road??!! Anyway, I survived - which is more than my ballet career did. Despite being an extremely skinny child, I was very heavy-footed and not at all supple and when I discovered it would be years before I could twirl around in the desired manner, I soon lost interest.
As a teenager, I loved going dancing but was always surprised that everyone was out of step with me. This happened in our Scottish country dancing classes in school too. What was wrong with everyone? My ex-husband used to enjoy dancing but his sense of rhythm was on a par with mine. We always looked as though we were dancing to totally different tunes. Story of our life together really!
When Gerry and I met, he wasn't at all keen on dancing. After a holiday in Malta watching couples who had obviously been to classes twirling effortlessly around the floor each evening, we decided that we really had to learn to dance. The only class I could find in our area was line dancing. Gerry wasn't remotely interested in that so I went by myself. At last I had found something I could do! I think I find line dancing easy because the steps are so precise, the music has a strong beat and, most importantly, I don't have to follow someone else.
Although I was really enjoying the line dancing, it still wasn't something we could do together so when we saw Swing-Jive/Lindy Hop classes starting up nearby, we signed up immediately. We both loved it from the start, especially since we love the music of the 40's and 50's. I have to say that we're not particularly good but we thoroughly enjoy it and we used to go to one or two classes every week and two or three dances a month.
Since moving to France, we haven't been able to find any classes or dances in our area. We've been to various parties and soirées where the odd Rock'n'Roll tune is played and we have been able to strut our stuff. However, more traditional dancing is popular over here, especially to accordion music so we're going to have to learn a whole new reportoire!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Facebook and email

This is going to be a bit of a rant but I must start by saying that I love Facebook. It helps me keep up with what is going on in friends' lives and it is an easy way to keep in touch and share photos, videos etc. Because of FB, I am back in contact with many people I had lost touch with and I think that is one of the great strengths of FB.

BUT! Am I the only person to find some postings offensive? You know the ones I mean - "if you have an angel in heaven looking out for you, post this as your status, even if only for one hour" (pass the bucket please!) or "I know who will repost this and if you don't, maybe you're too busy talking to your friends to care about our soldiers (or whatever)". I find that sort of posting truly offensive, some emotions are too private to be plastered over FB. I'm aware that by writing a blog, I'm parading some private emotions but I know that many people don't bother to read it (dear God - now I sound like one of those postings!) and those who do are generally people who are genuinely interested in what I have to say.

I'm sorry if I'm giving offence to anyone reading this who likes to post this sort of thing on FB but those of you who know me well know how I feel about it anyway.

...and as for those emails which promise bad luck (or even good luck!) if you don't pass it on within 5 minutes to the world and his wife, I always delete those immediately. I also loathe the emails which try to make you feel guilty if you don't pass them on. They're usually along the lines of "if you don't care about blah blah, you won't pass this on". Again, I delete them immediately. I have to say I don't get many of those any more as most friends know how strongly I feel about them and know that I never, ever pass on anything along those lines.

Finally, on FB do people really have 400+ friends? I don't think I've had that many friends and acquaintances in my whole life put together! Is it me? Am I just a grumpy old woman?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Social life in France

Our first soirée

When we moved to France almost 4 years ago (good grief - where does the time go?!) we wanted to make sure that we integrated into the life of the village. Too many people move to France and spend all their time with other ex-pats and we were determined to be different. We started off by going into the local bar 2 or 3 times a week and talking to anyone who was prepared to listen to our halting French.

At the end of our first month here we bought tickets to a soirée in the Salle des Fetes (village hall). The bar owner had told us that although the tickets said 8.00pm start, there was no point in getting there before 9.00pm, so we duly turned up just after 9.00 to find a brightly lit hall, with what seemed like dozens of children running about. There were many long tables set out at right angles to the walls and we noticed on the end of each table a list of names. We searched, but couldn't find our names on any of the lists. Unsure what to do next, we thought of going home again but instead we bought a drink and looked again at the lists and eventually noticed "Anglais - 2". This had to be us!

There were only 2 seats remaining at the table, one either side at the far end next to the wall. We squeezed past everyone - no easy task as the tables were set very close together. The French people next to us were very friendly and were very interested in the fact that we were "English" (Gerry of course is technically Welsh and I am Scottish but to the French we are English!).

We had a four course meal, which lasted until about 1.00am and then the band started playing and the dancing commenced. Lots of accordion music which the French dance to very enthusiastically! The band were excellent and played a complete mixture, even some Rock 'n' Roll - which got us to our feet to show off our jiving skills.

By 2.30am we were exhausted (and all the kids were still running around!) and got ready to leave. Our new French friends were also leaving and one couple asked us if we would like to go back to their house for a nightcap. We really had to get back for the dogs so we explained that we couldn't. However, I knew we had to make a determined effort to make friends so I asked the two couples if they would like to come to our house the following Friday evening for an aperitif.

And that was the start of our new social life! To be continued............

Friday, 11 November 2011

My Dad

Being an old soldier to the end, my Dad died on 11 November at 11.00am three years ago. However, this blog is not about that sad time but about all the many happy memories I have of him.

As children, we accept our lives as they are and assume that our lives are "normal" and that everyone's lives are the same. It's only as an adult that I've come to realise that my Dad was probably fairly unusual in the 50's and 60's by being so involved in the lives of his children.

Sundays, his only day off from work, were family days and we always went somewhere, no matter what the weather was doing. What child wouldn't be entranced by the suggestion - let's go on a hike to the Fairy Falls (or the Wolf Crags or the Covenanter's Grave etc). He had a terrific imagination and a special name for everywhere. We used to fight through jungles, cross shark-infested rivers, dam streams to create pools of water in the desert (and what fun we had afterwards kicking away the dam!). We played badminton and rounders on the beach, learned to swim and to paddle a canoe in rivers and the sea and at some point in the day there was always a fire built and lit to cook sausages on.

My Dad told us stories every night, but never from a book. There were tales of his childhood, one of 8 children in an army family, his youth hiking over the Pentland Hills with his pals, early days at work and, of course, the War.

Then came my teenage years and of course "Daddy's girl" wanted to go to dances and meet young men - we'll draw a veil over that time of strife! As the years went on, he became an adoring and adored Grandpa to my two children and then my brother's two.

He had a wonderful sense of humour and rarely took life seriously. My parents weren't well off financially but I had a childhood rich in love, humour and imagination. When my Dad died, everyone said "he used to make me laugh!" - not a bad epitaph!

Dad, you made me laugh too! 

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The joy of reading

Although I have a lot of very early memories of my childhood (eg going to the zoo at 15 months old) I can't actually remember learning to read. It seems odd that learning something which is as necessary to me as food and drink could leave absolutely no imprint on my memory! I could no more stop reading than I could voluntarily stop breathing. I am always puzzled by people who say they have no time to read because it's not something I have to set aside time for - it's just a normal part of my day. There have been times in my life when I have read less than at others but I can honestly say that there hasn't been a day in my adult life that I haven't read something.

As a child, I read everything I could get my hands on, particular favourites were Heidi, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and the Narnia series but I also loved the Famous Five, Biggles and all the classics - Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island etc etc. I still regularly re-read the first 4 mentioned. I feel the mark of a great children's book is that it can still be enjoyed as an adult. I could write reams about books I have loved but don't want to bore the pants off anyone reading this!

My Mum introduced me to a lot of books and, in turn, I introduced those same books to my children and hope to do so to my granddaughters, although I expect my daughter will be making her own introductions. The thrill of getting book tokens for Christmas and birthdays was immense and I still have very many of my purchases to hand on to the girls when they are old enough.

I have to confess that the majority of my reading is fiction, with the odd biography/autobiography thrown in, and none of it very intellectual, but I read purely for entertainment - I don't want to be educated. I am happy to have my thoughts provoked by whatever I am reading but sometimes I just want to switch off and let it just wash over me.

One of my major concerns about moving to France was how I was going to support my reading habit. I used to go to the library every week and borrowed up to half a dozen books at a time, but I certainly couldn't afford to buy that many. I stocked up on books from charity shops before the move and once I'd read those I started to re-read many old favourites. I picked up odd books at car boot sales here and all visitors were obliged to bring a stack of books with them but I was constantly running out of things to read.

Two years ago, I solved the problem by starting a monthly English bookswap. I started with 20 books of my own and ended the first one with 65 books. This number gradually crept up until I had around 700 books stacked in boxes behind the sofa! It was getting out of hand so we bought a huge bookcase (see photo above), weeded out all the rubbish and now have a rule that everyone must take away at least as many books as they bring! I always have something to read now and I read many authors I had never previously tried. The bookswap is a great social occasion and I have made many friends through it.

Reading is one of the greatest pleasures of my life - it makes me laugh and cry, challenges my thinking, comforts me when I am down and, as a side benefit, has given me an excellent vocabulary - invaluable when learning another language!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Micky's musings

For those of you who don't know me, I'm the handsome blond chap in the photo. Mum thinks she's the leader of our pack, but we all know that it's really me. It should be Rummy because he's older than me but he's so laid back he doesn't care.

When Mum told us three years ago that we were moving to France, we didn't know what to expect. Would we have to learn French? Would we have to live outside like French dogs? How were we going to get there? Would French food be different? We knew we had to get passports - would we have to balance on a little stool in a booth to have our photos taken?

Passports were easy - no photos, just some nasty injections. Rummy's injections didn't take, so the poor fellow had to have them done again. You should have heard Mum and Dad complain about the cost!

Getting there involved a long, boring journey in the car, then a train through a tunnel under the sea - that was a bit scary but Dad sat in the back with us and we reassured him there was nothing to worry about. Then another long, boring drive through the night. That bit wasn't so bad actually, since Dad, Rummy and I slept whilst Mum drove.

We finally arrived at our new house in time for breakfast. It was slightly bizarre because there was no furniture and Mum and Dad had to eat standing up. We thought it was going to be a strange lifestyle but then some men in a big van arrived - turns out they had all our furniture. Naturally, I had to supervise to make sure everything was put in the right place but then Mum shut me up in the utility room - she said someone was going to break their neck with me constantly under their feet.

All Mum and Dad's French friends think it's very strange that we live in the house - their dogs all live outside. If we're naughty, Mum threatens to turn us into French dogs. She says we've got a perfectly good barn to live in and then she wouldn't have to spend all her time sweeping up dog hair. She usually threatens this after I've found some particularly aromatic fox pooh to roll in!

Everyone in the village knows the handsome English Labradors. We don't understand a word anyone says but they all make a fuss of us. The lady in the bakers thinks we are particularly well-behaved so I think it's a bit unfair of Mum to tell her about the mischief we get into.

We are friends with two donkeys who live nearby. Mum and Dad always take apples for them but they don't give any to us - don't they realise we need a regular supply of food to keep our good looks? And why do they complain when we help ourselves to fruit in the garden? Why do they grow these apples, pears, cherries, plums, gooseberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and strawberries if they don't want us to eat them? A Labrador never knows where his next meal is coming from and has to stock up when he gets the chance!

Well, it's been nice to chatting to you but must go now - it's dinner time!

Rummy's ruminationsThat Micky doesn't half like the sound of his own voice! Me, I don't care whether or not you know who I am, or who the leader of the pack is. All I want is to be fed and walked regularly and have a lap to sit on in the evenings. OK, so I'm 5 stone now but they let me sit on their laps when I was a puppy so I don't understand why they have a problem with it now!


Saturday, 22 October 2011

Jam making

Jam making has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  My Mum made all her own jam and marmalade.  When I was a child, fruit picking expeditions were a regular part of life.  My parents knew where all the wild raspberries and strawberries grew and, later in the year, plums and blackberries and crab apples for jelly.  We always made a day of it, with a picnic, although my brother and I rarely ate much of the picnic as we had been gorging on fruit.  I was never keen on the blackberry picking - they were vicious and fought back, and usually I came off worse!  Plus, your fingers and nails were purple for days afterwards.

When my children were young, we only had rhubarb in the garden but we used to go to a local fruit farm to pick raspberries and straberries for jam.  I remember one occasion when my son ate enough strawberries to make himself sick.  For a heart-stopping moment I thought he was vomiting blood!

When Gerry and I moved to the Forest of Dean, we had rhubarb, gooseberries and blackberries in the garden and a neighbour used to let us pick as many plums as we wanted, so the jam making continued.  Here in France, we have cherries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, blackcurrants, goosberries, apples, pears and plums, so we have a fantastic array of jams to spread on our baguette in the mornings.

I've always loved the ritual of jam making - preparing and weighing the fruit and sugar, the constant stirring to make sure the jam doesn't stick and burn (because once jam has burned to the bottom of the pan, you can't get rid of the taste), warming the jars in the oven, putting a little jam on a cold saucer to see if it wrinkles to show the jam has reached setting point.  This latter is absolutely crucial, because if you take the jam off the heat too soon you could drink it through a straw, leave it a minute too late and you could dance on it!  Nowadays, I use a jam thermometer - not so much fun but much more reliable.

I love pouring the jam into the warm jars and immediately putting a wax circle on top.  Then, when the jam is cool, writing out the labels and sticking one on each jar before screwing on the lids and putting them in my jam cupboard.  Yes, I really do have a jam cupboard and it gives me enormous satisfaction to see my shelves full of jam.  Perhaps I need to get out more?  Today I have made 5lbs of strawberry and 5lbs of apple and strawberry to add to my shelves.

I have a wonderful old brass pan for jam making.  It is so heavy I can barely lift it empty!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Moles & other garden delights

Moles are the bane of my life!  I spend an inordinate amount of time clearing the earth away, finding the tunnels and putting down smoke bombs to kill them (sorry all you animal lovers!).  I wasn't convinced that the smoke bombs actually work but after 12 days holiday recently, I came back to about 40 molehills and there wouldn't normally be that many in 12 days, so I'll just have to persevere.

We also have a lot of mulots, a sort of field mouse.  They're actually quite cute to look at, with reddish brown fur, white bib on the chest, big round ears and shiny black eyes.  However, as well as scurrying around in mouse-like fashion they can jump up to 2 feet vertically, which is most disconcerting.  I've even heard Gerry shriek like a girl when one has jumped up in front of him!  They burrow down into the ground and leave a perfect round hole about an inch in diameter.  There's hardly a square metre of our garden that doesn't have at least one mulot hole in it.

Then there are the toads, which I find quite repulsive.  They too burrow down into the ground and they quite often burrow into the molehills, so when I clear the earth I often find them - that's when I shriek!

With all this burrowing going on (and don't forget the rabbits!), I'm quite convinced I'll walk out there one day and just disappear into a big hole in the ground!  Looks quite peaceful in the photo, doesn't it?  You wouldn't think there was so much hidden activity going on.

On the plus side, we have a stunning array of beautiful butterflies all summer, the herbs and lavender are full of honey bees and ladybirds, there are amazing irridescent blue beetles flying around and of course we have a barn full of swallows from April to September.

Thursday, 20 October 2011


As a child, the only boots I had were wellies and I hated them!  They were cold and flapped against my skinny bare legs - no joke in an Edinburgh winter.  As a teenager in the 60's, I naturally had white PVC knee-length boots teamed with a mini skirt - again no joke in an Edinburgh winter. 

For many years after that, I never wore boots - I had such skinny legs that I could never find boots that fitted properly and when they flapped about it reminded me too much of my childhood wellies.  However, when I acquired a dog about 10 years ago, wellies became a necessity.  I discovered the wonderful Aigle boots - not cheap but supremely comfortable.  In fact, I was dithering one day about shoes to wear for a day out and Gerry said "what are your most comfortable shoes?" and I had to confess it was my wellies!

A couple of years ago, I bought a pair of very cheap ankle boots to wear with jeans and that started my current addiction to boots!  I can't resist trying on boots everywhere I go and I currently own 6 pairs.  My latest acquisition is a pair of dark red ankle boots with stiletto heels and impossibly pointed toes - gorgeous.  Gerry wasn't the slightest bit surprised when he asked what I wanted for Christmas and I said BOOTS!