Monday, December 18, 2006

Blogging Year

Profgrrrl says everyone else is looking back over the year's posts and taking the first sentence from each month. Here are mine and they look pretty representative of the year: a selection of mundane observations, a couple of mediocre jokes, a few unusual vocabulary choices, and a liberal sprinking of fake self-deprecation.

January: A very, very happy new year to you all. (Who did I think I was, the Queen?)

February: I’ve asked my class of student bloggers to post about a typical day in their lives and in a spirit of egalitarianism, I had intended to make my own contribution but it turned out to be excruciatingly boring. (Maybe the self-deprecation wasn't always entirely fake)

March: The Sopranos Season Six starts in the USA on March 12th. Goody, goody (or even baddy, baddy). (I'm sooooo funny)

April: When my Mum moved house a couple of years ago, she arranged to have about a dozen boxes full of miscellania that she'd been storing for me in her loft sent over to France. (I'll show you them some day)

May:
The sun rises bright in France
and so sets he
But he has tint the blink he had
In my ain countree
(I'm speechless)


June: Reading the Muriel Spark obituaries I came across a passage from her autobiography Curriculum Vitae which struck me at the time I read it but which I had since forgotten. (And surprise, surprise I think I've reforgotten it)

July: France is in the grip of football fever. (Talk about stating the bloody obvious)

August: A dozen dozy days in the Dordogne have temporarily (?) rendered me incapable of stringing together anything more than that pathetic attempt at alliteration. (Perhaps I have a future in the flourishing Dordogne expat newspaper industry)

September: A friend tells me that he reads much less during the summer than at other times of the year because he does so many other interesting things when the weather is good. (You could all tell a mile away that that was just an excuse to introduce a list of all the books I had read over the summer)

October: I absolutely love coincidences. (OMG. So do I!)

November: If you get in the car and drive due south of Bordeaux for four hours, you arrive in an area of Spain that is so utterly otherworldly that, well only expressions like utterly otherworldly will do. (I spent a lot of time mulling that one over. Precisely four hours actually)

December : Dear Editor, For several months free issues of your "newspaper for English-speakers in France" have been plopping onto my doormat. (Plopping? And we don't have a doormat)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Random Bullets

Post-weekend musings

If you take small children skating, it's probably best to have progressed past the gripping-the-barrier-
and-shuffling-around-the-edge stage yourself.

Deborah has done a recording for the audio meme. You can listen to it here but be warned she sounds much, much posher than any of the rest of us and it goes completely wonky at the end. Perhaps she'd re-record it if there was enough popular demand.

Why do Ikea sell mattresses and beds that are 80cm wide but never ever have the fitted sheets to go with them?

Saw Arthur and the Minimoys this afternoon. (Why is it called Arthur and the Invisibles in the UK?). It's entertaining if you're six.

Christmas cards almost posted.

I've had this Powerbook for 16 months now and I have never backed anything up. Shock, horror, I know. But now I've got a lovely little external drive which I suspect has quite a few more gigabytes of memory than I have wired into my grey matter. All I need now is a nifty little application to backup automatically (the computer not my brain, I hasten to add. Well, for the moment anyway). Any suggestions?

Oh yes, and if you're ordering smoked salmon from my brother this year, send him an e-mail because the on-line payment facility is playing up. (See what I did there?)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tomorrow the world

Initiating a piddly little audio meme has given me an immense feeling of power. I recommend it for anyone who feels that the world is not reactive enough to their every whim.
The kind people who have contributed their voices to the expansion of my sphere of influence (so far) are:

Ms Mac
Vivi
TEFL Smiler
And from there to :
Nyasha
Mausi
Alithinks
Frog with a Blog
Robyn
Andy

And before I go, here are a few choice words for you: moist, agenda, vomit, diet, panties, nipple.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The one after which you all unsubscribe

Yesterday evening I went to a Tupperware Party (une soirée tooperwer).

I bought only one item (but it did cost 60€).

I must have been drugged, because I signed up to have my own soirée tooperwer.

You are all invited.

Shoot me now.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

News from the Colonies

Dear Editor,

For several months free issues of your "newspaper for English-speakers in France" have been plopping onto my doormat. You can stop now - I will not be taking out a subscription to your newspaper.

a) I don’t seem to be part of your target readership. I’m not a retired major from the Home Counties wallowing in “fantastic weather, delightful food and lovely wine”

b) I’m not interested in "safeguarding my finances" by handing them over to companies with trusty English names like Sibballs or Stanley Gobbons

c) I do not hanker after the services of one of the numerous British plumbers or joiners, or even sausages advertised in your small ads.

d) And I don’t suffer from "Septic tank odour" either which is sadly not the case of many of your readers, if those same ads are anything to go by.

e) I don’t believe that Anglo- at the beginning of a company name guarantees quality (viz Anglopack, Anglocomputers)

f) I’m not looking to import a Raeburn or an Aga

g) The soaring French membership of "Conservatives Abroad" is a source of dismay to me

h) I’m not looking for an Anglican church service either

i) And finally, fascinating as they sound, life is simply too short to read articles with headlines such as:
Mince Pies flying off shop shelves as local shops get a taste for Anglo Specialities

Planning a traditional bumper-scale Christmas lunch ? Check your French bird isn’t too skinny !


That is all.
Lezzles

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Heer ma voyce

This temporary excursion into audio blogging was inspired by several things. Partly by a little video by one of Teacher Dude's students, an idea that I'm going to be using with my own students; partly by Ben over at Notes in Spain asking for audio comments on his podcasts, which made me dig out my old Odeo login. And partly, I suppose, by Gordon's comments on the inferiority of video/audio in comparison with writing which I agree with, so this definitely isn't going to be a regular thing.
And now it's over to me suggesting an audio meme.

powered by ODEO
(By the way, making this was easy-peasy with OdeoStudio. So it's over to you and your voices..... )

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Piers

On Friday P. and I saw Piers Faccini in concert. This was a major deal since we hardly ever go to see live music anymore. We used to be permanent fixtures at the now-defunct Cricketers — a Blues club on the Quai de Paludate in Bordeaux — but that was in those faraway days before the poison dwarves.

So Friday evening we got our glad rags on, wondering what young people wear nowadays. We needn't have worried, when we got to the venue we soon realised that the audience was about our age - old. They were mostly dressed like us too: bobos obviously.

The tickets said "formule club" but we weren't sure what this meant. It turned out that it meant standing in the foyer of the Rock School Barbey beside the bar but with no tables and — more alarmingly for the over-40s —
no chairs.

Anyway, it was a great concert. You can't not warm to someone who walks out into a room full of strangers and sings the first number a cappella. I'm not a great music critic. (The student newspaper at university rejected my only contribution, a dithyrambic account of a Thin Lizzy concert that probably dwelt a little too much on the qualities of Phil Lynnot's leather-clad legs.) Piers Faccini probably has good legs too but it's his voice and gentle aura that hold your attention.

Judge for yourself.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Interpreting drawbacks

Céline wrote an amusing post recently (also picked up by Language Hat). She described what one half of her brain does when she runs into a word that she can’t remember while she’s translating. Basically, it screams things like:
BARLEYBARLEYBARLEYBARLEY OH NO WHAT’S BARLEY IN FRENCH AAAAAAAAARGH
I think I’ve mentioned before that I do some freelance conference interpreting and so this is a familiar feeling. However the truth is that the multi-tasking cognitive confusion doesn’t stop at the screaming. It's really more like having multiple brains than two brains.

If I’m in an interpreting booth and an elusive word comes up, one brain immediately starts desperately flicking through its files to find a direct translation. This can take a while because the files often seem to be in a terrible mess (It's not there, I'm telling you.) Meanwhile another brain may then remember that I actually included this word in a specially prepared glossary in which case it will have to resort to flicking through real paper and dealing with alphabetical order. I might even remember having seen it in one of the documents I used to prepare for the conference (I can see it, half way down the page on the right hand side) which is not particularly helpful. Or maybe I’ll remember that I’ve already come across the word and its translation but in a completely different context and my already overheating brains will have to retrieve and replay a video-memory of what that context was (It was a Thursday. I was wearing that black skirt).

Meanwhile the nanoseconds tick by and new words to be translated keep streaming in ready for processing. (It’s a bit like the ironing, you can’t allow yourself to fall behind — the pile just gets higher and higher).

At the same time I have to be preparing an escape route: thinking about what to do if I just can’t find the slippery translation (Quick paraphrase ! Hollyhocks are really just tall flowering plants, that’ll do). I may have to attract the attention of my partner in the booth to see if s/he heard the pesky word and has a suitable suggestion (pull on partner's sleeve; form quizzical expression with face), maybe even scribble the word down on a pad for him/her to puzzle over while I’m still translating the build up to it. My brains will probably also be admonishing me for not seeing this word coming (you idiot, I told you you should have spent longer preparing last night) or telling me that this is undoubtedly not going to be the last time the speaker uses the word (we're doomed I tell ye). My poor brains may even realise that the entire presentation hinges on this one lexical item in which case, I’ll already be typing the word into a specialist dictionary for use later (How do you spell that again?).

And those are just the straight one-word-for-one-word translations. There are also the words that require careful handling, the ones that slip into my brain(s) through the headphones and set off alarm bells because they appear easy but they’re not: false friends for example or terms that have one translation in one context but something completely different in another.

When people ask me about simultaneous interpreting (and for some reason a lot of people do seem to find it a fascinating party trick) I modestly explain that it’s nothing more than a sort of mental gymnastics. But imagine, if you will, the somersaults (nay the triple saltos) that my brain performed when, having mugged up on an extensive list of appropriate building terminology, I was translating the architect William Alsop and he unexpectedly announced that he found a detail on one of his buildings reminiscent of a foreskin.

PANIC. Lexical networks are instantly fleshed out. At least I know what it looks like, now if I could just find the word. Brain helpfully sends images ... just in time I tell it to put the videos on hold. Paraphrases flood in, unfortunately mixed in with dredged-up jokes (What’s the biggest drawback in the jungle? An elephant’s foreskin. Boom, boom.). ….. I never did quite put my finger on the word prépuce. But, believe me, I’ll be ready for it next time.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Six

Z is truly thrilled to be six today. He sang a little song to himself as we took Grandma to the airport this morning. It went like this
J'ai six ans, j'ai six ans, j'ai six ans, j'ai six ans....

So now it's time to say goodbye to the babyish farmyard pictures I decorated his bedroom cupboards with before he was even born, and it's hello garish football posters, Pokemon cards in every possible pocket and a growing collection of Star Wars tat littering the floor.

If the coming years go past as quickly as the first six, we'll soon be buying him a cap and a pipe.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Back from the Bardenas

Gif animations at Gickr.com
If you get in the car and drive due south of Bordeaux for four hours, you arrive in an area of Spain that is so utterly otherworldly that, well only expressions like utterly otherworldly will do. In no time at all you can be walking along drovers' trails through putty-coloured landscapes that are irresistibly reminiscent of the Far West. You can picnic under a blazing sun, sense that someone is watching you, look skywards and spy two creepy vultures on a crag openly sizing up your children. You can kick up dust from the crazy-paving patterns of cracked earth and rub pungent rosemary from the scrub between your hands. You can wonder at the unsettling quietness of the pueblos with their empty streets and houses all squares and rectangles with blank facades.
Later, you can wander up and down the steep streets of Ujué, drinking in the crystalline air and the views across miles and miles of scrubby hills dotted with elegant white wind farms. You might marvel at how so many people manage to survive in such a barren landscape, not to mention a distinct lack of grocery stores. And when you do push open the jangling door of a well-hidden alimentaciòn, all you will find in the gloomy interior are a couple of tomatoes, a few faded packets of dry goods, and massive jars of the local honey. It's a relief then that in the evening you can roll back to the Txapi-Txuri for a wholesome Navarrais dinner and a bottle of the local vino tinto.

(And after all that, you might spend the four-hour drive home mentally composing a blog post with far too many adjectives and adverbs)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Badlands

Off to the Spanish Badlands for a few days. Back soon.
(Cue eerie music from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly")

Monday, October 23, 2006

Reading about Kevin

The book had been sitting by my bedside for a while but I was loath to start it — the subject matter was frankly repugnant. Convinced that novel about a high-school murderer could only be trite, I let it gather dust.

On Friday evening I read the first few pages and realised that I had it all wrong — I had confused the theme with the novel itself. The writing was tight, the style beguiling, and the first chapters were more about the “We” in the title than Kevin. It was also about motherhood, childhood, couples, being American, elsewheres, the weight of the Armenian genocide, agoraphobia, and funnily enough it was even about the triteness that I had anticipated. I read on and on.

By Sunday afternoon, I was three quarters of the way through. Enjoyment gave way to creeping foreboding. It ended the only way it could.

The subject matter viciously killed the words.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Honest !

If this post comes out sounding a little unhinged, please bear in mind that I got up at 4.15 a.m. this morning to go to Paris and that I’m drafting this on the train home. And please also know that the malodorous young man sitting next to me has just crunched his way through half a raw cabbage.

A while ago, Jilltxt mentioned the work of Philippe Laplace who has written books on the theory of autobiography. She was interested in a specific aspect of his work — namely how online diaries end — but her post reminded me of another aspect of his theory, the idea of the "autobiographical pact". This implicit contract between reader and writer is sealed primarily in the proper name: the author's name is identical to that of the narrator and we consequently read the text written by the author to whom it refers as reflexive or autobiographical. This is followed by the preamble of which Lejeune writes:
Très vite, je me suis mis à faire une anthologie de ces préambules propitiatoires, de ces serments, de ces appels au peuple, avec l’impression qu’ils disaient déjà tout ce que je pourrais dire ! Ce discours contenait fatalement sa propre vérité : il n’était pas une simple assertion, mais un acte de langage, un performatif (je ne connaissais pas encore l’expression), qui faisait ce qu’il disait. C’était une promesse.
Obviously, I’m wondering about the validity of this so-called autobiographical pact in the world of blogs where proper names are rarely disclosed. Is there a similar implicit pact between blog writer and reader? Is the reader naïve in expecting everything that appears on the blog to be true? To derive any enjoyment from following the blog, do we always have to believe the “profile” to be accurate?
I know that some bloggers ham anecdotes up a little, wringing out as much slapstick/pathos/sympathy as possible. (In a BBC Radio 4 interview, Petite Anglaise owned up to having done this occasionally).
Is it possible that some of the people whose lives I follow on a quasi-daily basis aren’t really who they say they are? Perhaps those interesting women who claim to have husbands and children and over-filled domestic existences actually sit cross-dressed with manly legs in lonely bedsits. Perhaps all of those hilariously funny people are really high-security prisoners with over-active imaginations and amputated ambitions. The exotic ex-pats may be blogging from High Wycombe. How many James Freys are there out there?

And why does it matter whether or not it's all real?

(But he really did eat half a raw cabbage.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Coincidences

I absolutely love coincidences. I never tire of telling people about the time my friend S. was waiting at JFK and got talking to a bloke called Jeremy. He looked down at the address tag on her bag and said "Oh, Littletowninscotland ! I know someone from there." And it was me! He and I had met the summer before in France.

That summer I was working on a campsite with a girl called Carolyn. When Carolyn and Jeremy met they took one look at each other and cried out "But I know you!". They had shared a long conversation in a train carriage a few months before that on their way to interviews at Southampton University.

See, one guy, two coincidences. I love it.

That same summer, I met JB. We went out together for a while once I was back in Edinburgh and he was in Oxford.

Today, a bloke turned up at my workplace and asked to see me. "I don’t know if you remember me, but I used to share a house with JB". Wow.

But where’s the coincidence? I hear you cry. Well, wait. This guy had actually worked in my university department, the very place we were standing at that moment, just a year before I arrived there. He knew some of the people that I still work with. Please people be amazed. I’m finding it difficult to hold back on the exclamation marks here.

And it doesn’t stop there.

So what brings you back here? I asked.
Oh, I’ve been living in Eeenyweeenyteeenytinyvillage for a while now.
What Eeenyweeenyteeenytinyvillage! shrieked I. I know it well.
Turns out our very, very good friends are his neighbours in this village in the middle of nowhere.

Now tell me about your coincidences. I promise to shriek.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

In which I get repeatedly distracted

It's amazing the number of exceptionally urgent tasks you can find to do if you really want to. Yesterday at 9 am. sharp you would have found me sitting in front of the computer, I had a paper to rewrite and submit. Ten minutes later I was in the kitchen making a second cup of expresso, just to get those sluggish brain cells going. You may have spotted me somewhere in your logs shortly after that because a quick crawl through the blog roll seemed like a good idea.
At some point, an irresistible red leather jacket popped up on the screen and had to be bought. Now it really was time to get back down to work, but not before I had poured half a bottle of déboucheur down a blocked drain, stood around waiting for the deadly chemicals to take effect and rinsed, rinsed, rinsed. Oh, was that the mail I heard dropping through the letterbox ? Look, a special offer : 26 issues of Elle for 20€, I just had to get my cheque book.
My goodness was it that late — time then for a bite to eat. So at midday I was to be found with a plate on my knee and — please don’t ever tell anyone this — daytime BBC Prime on the TV.
I did get back to the grindstone and spent what seemed like a long time finding out whether one should write oriented or orientated (doesn’t matter), how to format the bibliography for this journal, then while checking one of the references I came across the directory of open access journals and spent a while browsing those. Until that is, an e-mail popped into my inbox with an offer for a case of Spanish wine that seemed just too good to miss. By then I had realised that I was having a bad writing day so didn’t feel too guilty about taking this BBC quiz and discovering that I have a male brain (why do I feel quite pleased about this ?) Then there was the video my brother sent me. And oh, surprise, surprise it was time to go and pick the children up from school.
Tomorrow, I’m having that tattoo changed from Peregrinations to Procrastination.

(Photo courtesy of Deborah and Lucy productions. Could it be a sloth?)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Gluttony

I am a glutton. I am incapable of keeping anything I really love in the house without needing to consume it in large quantities, usually in a series of closely-spaced sittings until it’s all gone and can torment my willpower no longer. The concept of enjoying just one small piece is not something I am familiar with; I have to have the whole thing, or at least as much as I can digest in one go. After the guzzling, the inevitable bloated feeling sets in…. and the guilt, oh the guilt.

This terrible weakness is the reason why I have devoured all twenty-seven episodes of the first series of Desperate Housewives in a week. In the early evening I could hear the box of DVDs calling out to me: “Watch us, watch us, you know you want to.” And so I would watch. Sometimes four episodes back-to-back, until my eyes were red and bleary and I quite simply could ingurgitate no more of the goings-on in Wisteria Lane.

The intensive viewing even led to hallucinations — a spotty guy on a bike whizzed past me and for a eeny-teeny moment I was sure it was Zack. I almost raised my hand to wave. Sometimes two binge-viewed series got a little muddled and I ended up wondering if Meredith and her friends couldn’t do something for poor Rex as he lay dying on his hospital bed.

A fellow sufferer recently asked which of the Desperadas I identify with most. Now, I would really love to be able provide a little frisson to this blog and claim that, "actually, I feel very close to Gabriella...." but we all know that I am Lynette. I can only be the harassed mother of very active children, I will never be the nubile Latina in silk pyjamas. Neither will I ever be Bree of the perfect house and silverware, nor the dizzy Susan.

Only I bet that even Lynette wouldn’t be seen dead in a script indulging in junk-TV benders and from now on, that’s it, neither will I. That boxed set of the first series of Lost can call out its siren song all it likes. I’m on a strict diet and will not give in to the lure of a couple of hours of pure, sickly-sweet escapism. I have much more worthy things to do.

Until the cravings set in, that is ...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Un ange passe*

I hate long silences. I’m always the one who blurts out some inane comment just to fill the three microseconds of awkwardness in a conversation.

So, did you know that if you keep a sweet potato for a long time:
a) you shouldn’t try to pick it up, because it will have gone mushy-rotten
b) despite its vile texture the mushiness will exude the heady aroma of something between lychees and parma-violets ?

Right, back to the silence then.

*The French can fill up any awkward gaps in conversation by suggesting that "an angel is passing through", which invariably makes the silence even more uncomfortable.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Schrödinger's no brainer


Is there anything more dismal than a post that starts with "I had a really funny dream last night"? I know I'd zap, so feel free.

In fact, I woke up to P. shaking me and urging me from what seemed like a great distance to "calm down, calm down". It seems I had been shouting out in my sleep. I'd been shouting for a very good reason — a cat-out-of-hell had just ambushed me from a great height and I couldn't get it off my back.

My question is this: a bit of my brain concocted that dream so why didn't it tell the rest of my brain what it was setting up? How did a cat that I created manage to take me by surprise and frighten the sleeping nightlights out of me? I can see only one explanation: one of my brains has decided to go it alone.

(Photo borrowed from a Flickr user but I forgot to note whom, sorry)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A crappy numbers post

94.09€ : The price of a new cable for my Powerbook. I recently jumped up to answer the phone, tripped over the cable, Powerbook went crashing to the floor and the cable was yanked out of the socket. When I plugged it back in, sparks and smoke appeared. At the time I thought I was looking at 15€ or so for a new one. How wrong was that?

23°C: The temperature forecast for tomorrow. So relieved that autumn seems to be rolling in. I'm all for an Indian summer but 34°C in September was just ridiculous.

62€: Amount I spent on a week's shopping this morning. I used to turn my nose up at the hard discount supermarkets, but no more. There's hardly any choice, the packaging is sometimes a bit dodgy, some of the cold meats are a bit, you know, German. But I can whizz round in no time, have no decisions to make, and there's no "coup de bambou" at the checkout. Next week read about our move to a trailer park.

27: The number of epidsodes in the second series of Grey's Anatomy. I thought there were only 12 so stopped there months back (but did think it was a somewhat abrupt ending). Over the past three evenings I've been catching up on the increasingly preposterous medical training of Meredith and friends. To be honest, even the romance is leaning towards the preposterous -
Finn: My mother's dead. She got cancer when I was ten and she suffered for a really long time and then she died. And my father never recovered. Its kind of like he died with her, except that his body's above ground and permanently placed in front of a TV with a bottle of scotch in his lap. And the last woman I slept with was my wife, but she died too. It was a car crash so it was quick. She didn't suffer, which I appreciated. Don't worry, I'm thinking that my luck is beginning to change, because I met you. And you like dogs, and you enjoy pony births, and have the ability to save lives. I never said I wasn't scary and damaged too. [She kisses him]
2: Number of times I've watched this video tonight. I'm loving Piers Faccini. (Think Jack Johnson and Ben Harper rolled together with a hint of an Italian accent)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Song and Dance

Tiger Woods started playing golf when he was 6 months old ....... or some other ridiculously young age. And that is why this week it is enormously important that I sign my children up for as many potentially lucrative out-of-school activities as possible. They've got a lot of catching up to do if they are ever to introduce their Papa and me to the life of wealth cascading UP the generations after which we hanker.

So for Z it is to be multisport on a Wednesday afternoon. We're spreading the net wide. I might even get some exercise out of this because it's going to involve me haring across town to ferry him from one place to another between 12H30 and 13H. Which is just as well because I'm certainly not going to have time for any other sporting activities.

However, our budding musical genius has opted out of the musical awareness class he did last year. To be honest I didn't put up too much resistance since the times this year meant that bathtime and dinner would have had to be crammed into a no-doubt fraught half hour. Besides, they like a rough diamond on Star Academy don't they?

For E. it is to be dance on a Tuesday evening. Since it turns out that the troublesome tooth has to be extracted soon, I've put the modelling career on hold. So dance, baby, dance.

Monday, September 04, 2006

First Days

Z started primary school last week. What we called Primary 1 is called CP here meaning Cours Préparatoire although what it’s preparatory for I’m not quite sure. It’s clear that his school experience is going to be very different from mine which I can just about remember despite the oceans and oceans of water that have flowed under the bridge since then.

Take his satchel for example, it’s a swanky, colourful, contraption with plastic clips, multiple pockets, skateboarding logos and even a key-ring. Mine was a brown leather satchel, full stop.

Despite living in the sunniest place in Britain, I also don’t remember ever going to school in shorts and a t-shirt which is all Z has worn so far.

Then there are all the friends: a swarm of best and bestish friends he has messed around with since they arrived in nursery together. When I went to school I knew not a single soul on the entire island I had just arrived on, never mind in the mixed class of 5 to 8 year-olds I was about to join. I had certainly never been to nursery — did they even exist in the sixties ? No, I came fresh from five cosy years at home with my Mummy in a pinny, watching Camberwick Green.

However, what actually goes on inside the classroom here seems closer to pre-war pedagogy than anything I ever experienced. The children sit in rows looking towards the maître or the maîtresse at the front. Today I had to buy a little slate on which Z, like all his classmates, will chalk the answers to the teacher’s questions before they all hold them up for inspection. Even in the Inner Hebrides, where incidentally all the other kids seemed to be related to each other in some way, we did some of that new-fangled group work.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Readingfest


A friend tells me that he reads much less during the summer than at other times of the year because he does so many other interesting things when the weather is good. I don't, and the past few weeks has been a veritable readingfest for me.

I've been bored by Anita Shreve's lacklustre A Wedding in December , and unconvinced by Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players although the twist at the end is moderately clever.
I enjoyed Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian but in retrospect I think its humour would probably lend itself better to a film than a novel.

My interest in Robert Louis Stevenson has been rekindled by Claire Harman's biography, despite her lack of sympathy for the women in his life. I'm currently reading The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst and surprised by just how fascinating the history of the Scottish lighthouses is and just how enterprising RLS's forebearers were.

Like everyone else I know, I've been absolutely bowled over by The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Although I read this book way back at the beginning of July, and although I did think a couple of the plot devices were a little clunky, I'm still having flashbacks to scenes steeped in the atmosphere in Kabul in the '50s. I also read and enjoyed, but in a different way, The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad who lived in the city while it was ruled by the Taliban with the eponymous bookshop owner's family. If you're a woman it certainly makes you glad that you were anywhere but there then.

I finally managed to finish The Child that Books Built having laid it down a few months back and decided it was well worth picking up again as the second half seemed to me to be more engaging than the first. I especially enjoyed the chapter on learning to read, perhaps because Z is just begining to decipher certain words and it's good to be reminded of those eureka! moments from one's own childhood.

A childhood much more alien to my own is described in great technichemical detail in Oliver Sacks' Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood which I have to admit I found so inpenetrable at one point that I guiltlessly skipped over whole paragraphs. (Primo Levi's The Periodic Table was better at making this non-scientist feel she'd understood at least some of the excitement felt by chemists for elements.)

What else? I liked the light and airy style of The Abortionist's Daughter by Elisabeth Hyde but it was a pretty flismy whoddunit. Victoria Hislop's The Island is a wonderful account of the last years of life on the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony off the coast of Crete. It's just a pity that the writing is so desperately plodding and the interesting bit at the heart of the novel is framed in such a silly subchicklit plot. Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down was funny, really funny, but I'm sure I'll have forgotten all about it by this time next week.

All in all, a good summer for books. So, no I didn't get round to Bordeaux Housewives. Pfff a book about expat Brits in South-West France. Please someone confirm that it is as bad as I think it is because otherwise, I'm going to regret reading not writing over the summer and spend the next few weeks wailing "I should have written that!"

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Tale of Two Teeth

Just as I was getting ready to tell you about Z losing his first ever tooth and how a little mouse came and left a 2€ piece under his pillow; how easily he suspends disbelief; and how he seemed to have no problem whatsoever making the cultural shift from it being a mouse doling out the money here but a fairy in Scotland, something else happened.
E tripped and fell against the coffee table late in the evening while we were having dinner with a long-lost friend. Cue much screaming and blood. She had a horrible cut just below her lower lip and one of her beautiful little front teeth had been knocked so hard that instead of pointing down it was pointing inside her mouth. Luckily, we live close to the children's hospital, so I bundled her up in her blood-spattered pyjamas and took her to their Emergency Department. For once, the place was empty and appeared to be staffed almost exclusively by ex-students of mine. I resisted the temptation to test their medical English skills in situ and they patched her gash up with some nifty glue. Unfortunately however, they don't deal with dental emergencies, so I had to take her to another hospital and another emergency department to have her tooth seen to. To cut a long story short, they managed to put her tooth back in the right position (after a few shots of local anaesthetic and a bit of pushing and pulling with some nasty-looking metal pliers) and they glued a wire across all of her top teeth to hold it in place. After I'd taken her home to Papa, it was time for a midnight run to the all-night pharmacy to pick up her antibiotics.
There is no guarantee that she won't actually lose the tooth, in which case she's going to have a toothy grin for a VERY long time.
Through the whole patching-up ordeal she didn't cry or complain once. And when it was all over, she announced that it wouldn't really matter anyway if her tooth fell out because of course that pesky mouse would come and leave her some euros.

Friday, August 25, 2006

"The carnival is over"

Coucou, we're home, with another one of those mosaics of holiday pictures. Soon the children will be skipping gaily back to school and we'll be trudging our weary way to work. No more gallivanting through Dumfries and Galloway. Moffat no more, Clatteringshaws no more, Caerlaverock no more, Drumlanrig no more, Port Patrick no more, Applegarth no more, Lochmaben no more, Kippford no more, Moniaive no more, Kirkubright no more. Sigh.



(Photo details here. I made the mosaic with fd's Flickr Toys)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Dozy

A dozen dozy days in the Dordogne have temporarily (?) rendered me incapable of stringing together anything more than that pathetic attempt at alliteration. So instead of my usual penetrating prose, here is a mosaic of photos to conjure up those walnut trees, a bit of architectural detail, the assisted departure of our temperamental car, and an absolutely idyllic pizzeria that we stumbled upon in a miniscule village called Gabillou, a mysterious cat and a couple of potagers (vegetable gardens).

Monday, July 17, 2006

Holiday Diary


8th July: Overheard at the airport; seconds before we reach the meet-and-greet area.
  • Mummy, do you love Daddy ?
  • [hesitation] Well, no, not in a romantic way, mumble, mumble, I’m pleased that we meet up from time to time and that we can be friends bla, bla, bla.
  • Pre-adolescent boy then runs into the arms of his father while the mother turns her back on them and rearranges the bags on the trolley.
9th July: Reading Scotland on Sunday I wonder when we started using the word "project", as in "Zidane was brought up on a tough housing project in Marseille". What's wrong with scheme? Later, reading Allan Bennett’s Letters Home, I wonder when we stopped using the word precinct, as in "shopping precinct".

10th July: It may only be 15°C here in Scotland, but it’s still broad daylight at 10.30 p.m.

11th July: A quick visit to Sandra’s Bazar to buy some batteries. It’s a tiny glory hole — a jumble of hand-knitted baby garments, compost, birthday cards, bird seed, paraffin, plastic toys, garden implements, coloured pencils, bottles of gas, balloons, jelly moulds, balls of string ….

12th July: On hearing a reporter on Channel 4 news announce that "of course, there are less people on the roads today", I resolve that I will no longer mark this as a grammar mistake in student writing. Il ne faut point être plus royaliste que le roi.

16th July: Back in France to temperatures of 39°C, which is about the temperature Z was running for most of the journey home.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Dialectizer

This is fun (read, this keeps you occupied when you're stuck at home trying not to unpack anything more than a toothbrush). Feed some text into the Dialectizer, choose your dialect and admire the result. I chose cockney.

A couple of monffs ago, EADS announced out of the blue that it were quite simply layin' off 1050 workers in Sogerma, its aircraft maintenance company in Bordeaux. Despite much posturin' by the PM and universal outcry in France, no buyer 'as yet been found and no announcement 'as been made. I 'ave evry sympaffy wiv the workers, I right do, right, but today I'm bloody well sympathisin' frough gritted teeff. This mornin', about 300 workers from Sogerma occupied the runway at Mérignac airport, right, just as the kids and I were about ter go frough ter the bloody departure lounge and cop on a Bmibaby flight. The demonstration only lasted about an 'our and we were quite quickly told the bleedin' airport were operational again. Wen we got the bloomin' the chuffin' security check, however, it turned out that us flight ter Manchester 'ad, in fact, been cancelled. The incomin' flight 'ad been diverted ter Toulouse, and for some reason Bmibaby weren't bringing the bleedin' aircraft hammer and tack up ter Bordeaux. Oh, happy day. After a rush ter the bleedin' information desk, jostlin' ter get the Bmibaby dog and bone number, and a quick call on me mobile, I turned dahn a flight ter Birmingham this afternoon (too far ter drive) but managed ter get us on tomorrow's flight ter Manchester, right? Tears streamed dahn the bloomin' children's faces as they realised they wouldn't be seein' Grandma this afternoon after all. These situations right brin' out the worst in some stewpid blokes, init?Instead of concentratin' on wot the possibilities were and just copping on wiv it, right, one tart couldn't resist shriekin' in English at the poor girl 'oo were doin' 'er Mae West to organise blokes and give out the bloomin' information, that this were "just typical of France." "No, right, Madame" said the girl, "it's not France, it's Bmibaby". "Yes, but it's yor strike! Struth! It's France's fault!" I resisted the urge ter slap 'er. Eventually, right, we unchecked us luggage and got a taxi 'ome ter the house we 'ad left a couple of 'ours earlier.

Nailed to the ground

A couple of months ago, EADS announced out of the blue that it was quite simply laying off 1050 workers in Sogerma, its aircraft maintenance company in Bordeaux. Despite much posturing by the PM and universal outcry in France, no buyer has yet been found and no announcement has been made. I have every sympathy with the workers, I really do, but today I am sympathizing through gritted teeth.
This morning, about 300 workers from Sogerma occupied the runway at Mérignac airport, just as the kids and I were about to go through to the departure lounge and get on a Bmibaby flight. The demonstration only lasted about an hour and we were quite quickly told the airport was operational again.
When we got the security check, however, it turned out that our flight to Manchester had, in fact, been cancelled. The incoming flight had been diverted to Toulouse, and for some reason Bmibaby wasn't bringing the aircraft back up to Bordeaux. Oh, happy day.
After a rush to the information desk, jostling to get the Bmibaby phone number, and a quick call on my mobile, I turned down a flight to Birmingham this afternoon (too far to drive) but managed to get us on tomorrow's flight to Manchester. Tears streamed down the children's faces as they realised they wouldn't be seeing Grandma this afternoon after all.
These situations really bring out the worst in some stupid people. Instead of concentrating on what the possibilities were and just getting on with it, one woman couldn't resist shrieking in English at the poor girl who was doing her best to organise people and give out the information, that this was "just typical of France." "No, Madame" said the girl, "it's not France, it's Bmibaby". "Yes, but it's your strike! It's France's fault!" I resisted the urge to slap her.
Eventually, we unchecked our luggage and got a taxi home to the house we had left a couple of hours earlier.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Quote Unquote

First of all I had to sit a wee test to make sure I could translate football parlance from French into English. I seem to remember that there were some really tricky terms such as "le football", "dribbler", "le goal", "les supporters", and "une pénaltie" but I came with the goods and they gave me the job. It then turned out that my post didn’t involve any actual translating, I was, in fact, to be paid quite handsomely for simply checking the translations of volunteer workers before they were published on the internet. (Did you know that the World Cup functions with people who aren't actually paid anything while the big wigs rake it in?)

I got off to a bit of a bad start during the training day. We learned that the volunteer translators were going to be translating short articles written by volunteer reporters. These novice reporters would get their material by going out to the training grounds in the morning, observing the training sessions and trying to elicit some pithy remarks from the players.

It suddenly dawned on me that we were expected to translate quotes that had already been translated from English into French back into English. So I raised the question of about how we would get access to the original quotes, otherwise, I argued, it was going to be more like Chinese whispers than journalism.

Head of Press Office (or Pompous Incompetent Git, hereafter PIG) : You won’t have access to the original quotes, the volunter reporters will have taken notes in French.
Me : But do they speak any language other than French ?
The volunteer reporters all suddenly find the floor fascinating.
PIG : They get by.
Me : So if a player gives them a soundbite, they’ll quickly write whatever they think they understood down in French, and then include it in their report.
PIG : Yes
Me [jaw dropping] : but then when we translate anything in the quotation words back into English we won’t be using the original words.
PIG : You don’t really believe [drip of sarcasm falls to floor] that everything you read between inverted commas in the newspapers [sneer] is an actual word-for-word quote do you [lip curls]?
Me : Er, y…es.
Press room full of volunteer reporters sniggers.

Although I worked with PIG for the next month, that was the last time I ever spoke to him and I simply made sure that any direct speech in the translations I checked was systematically changed to reported speech.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Football crazy, football mad

France is in the grip of football fever. The tournament started out quite sedately with nobody here really believing in the team’s chances this time round: Zizou seemed to be getting old, Domenech looked like a tired actor in a commercial for pseudo-trendy eyewear and then there was the Djibril Cisse bendy tibia incident in the final friendly (I wonder if that boy's drinking enough milk). After a lacklustre qualifying round, however, things really started to hot up when France beat Spain in the "huitièmes de finale". By this time my friend Sue who was celebrating her 40th the following Saturday, was praying for them to lose (it’s my party and I’ll ban football if I want to, football if I want to). In the end, a TV screen set up just inside the French windows meant that we were all able to mingle and drink and cheer and nibble (did I mention cheer ?) on the terrasse all at the same time, and then we moved inside for the drunken chanting.
So now they are in the semis (see the reaction in the centre of Bordeaux here) and for me it’s all very reminiscent of 1998 really. With three minor differences:

1. Scotland isn’t involved
2. There are no matches in Bordeaux
3. I’m not working in the FIFA press centre

Eight years ago, Bordeaux was invaded by the genial tartan army. The Bordelais discovered how wonderful the Scots are (absolutely everyone seemed to have a story about a Scot they’d met and taken home or about evenings they’d spent partying with men in skirts) and the English residents discovered that, shock horror, Scots don’t actually support the England football team, as many of the "traditional folk songs" being yelled throughout the city testified. The bars all ran out of beer but there was no loutishness. Further south in Toulouse where Engerland were playing, it was a different story.
We partied at night along with the best of them (ah, those footloose pre-baby days, sigh) and during the day I worked as a translator at the press centre.
To be continued ........

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Plants Finally Repotted

Just call me Claire (the one from Six Feet Under). You can hockneyize your own photos here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Let's talk about you for a change

  1. On average, 25 of you come here every day.
  2. You usually stay for just over a minute.
  3. 26% of you are from the UK, 26% from France and 25% from the USA (and 4% are from Switzerland: you know who you are!)
  4. Only 1.03% of you use Polish as a default language surprise surprise (65% of you speak English, 26% speak French)
  5. The majority of you are using Windows XP, 24% use Mac OSX
  6. Your browser of choice is Internet Explorer 6 (44%)
  7. 11 of you subscribe to this blog via Bloglines
  8. A selection of the search terms that have brought you here over the past couple of days:
  • I was born too late to a world that doesn't care" (Dozens of you are looking for that. How on earth did I come to be number one for that particular google search?)
  • Cummy (needless to say you didn't stay long)
  • panaris infection
  • how to use the word nevertheless
  • écrire sa biographie
  • richard armour money poem (who is Richard Armour?)
  • sopranos quotes empire state building history postage stamp (eat your hearts out because I'm first for that too)
  • prunus blossom
(Stats are from sitemeter, idea nicked from teacher dude.)

For the man who has everything...

....... except any pride. It's called a daddle and no, P won't be receiving one for his birthday next month. Unless, of course, they bring out a line in black latex.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Another Weekend

Ordered 200 Nespresso capsules on the internet, hope they arrive soon, tremble, shake, quiver. Went to Decathlon/Kiabi/C&A looking for the compulsory black ensemble for Z to wear to his end-of-year concert on Tuesday — concluded that no such thing exists. Ate for the first time ever in one of those restaurants with the lop-sided roofs, La Courte Paille. Not a pleasant experience unless you like salad dressing from a plastic bottle and fake straw as a decorative item. Made a decent tiramisu with whisky instead of marsala. Also made six pots of raspberry jam. Discovered that a Chinese shop around the corner that used to do a great line in plastic tat now has food; made mental note to go back and buy mushroom soy sauce, oyster sauce, fresh ginger, fortune cookies, 50kg of rice, and a rice steamer. Went to a double fortieth birthday party: we all clubbed together to buy the quadragenarians a day of gastronomy and pampering here. Drank Château Bechevelle. Devoured the last half of a French novel (a relatively rare occurence): Ensemble, c’est tout by Anna Gavalda. Spent fruitless minutes racking my brains for amusing things to write here. Hunted in vain for the camera battery recharger. Bought a lot of mostly purple plants (lavender, basil, fuschia, geraniums, petunias, tallpinkwillowyflowerythings). Didn’t plant them. Read the whole of Little Miss Birthday for the xth time and then got E. to sleep with a heart-rending rendition of Flower of Scotland. Slept through England-Ecuador and awoke to find that I had been denied that hoped-for schadenfreude. Was told that the skin on my neck looks "really, really old Mummy."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

New sunglasses


New sunglasses
Originally uploaded by Lezzles.

Too cool to blog. Also thinking about this sentence in waiterrant.net's post today:

A look of consternation struggles to emerge on her taut Botoxed face

Monday, June 19, 2006

Weekend Mosaic

The weekend involved
  • an exhibition of the children's "work" at nursery school
  • ten wains running up and down the stairs squealing, blowing bubbles in the garden and scattering toys and crisps throughout the house, all in celebration of E's fourth birthday
  • a village fête in the Dordogne.
Exhausting.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Too much chaff

I learned a new word in French this week: panaris. In fact, when I looked it up in the dictionary I learned a new word in English too : whitlow. This vicious circle is my punishment for insisting that my students always use a unilingual dictionary first. From their point of view, a unilingual dictionary is often just a big book that provides an incomprehensible definition of a word they didn’t understand in the first place; a bit like getting a great Swahili translation of an obscure Serbo-Croat saying.
Apparently, for those of you who didn't know this already, a panaris/whitlow is a finger or toe infection which is exactly what Z. has at the moment, for the second time in two months. Last time, I followed my Mum’s instructions for making a poultice. The recipe involved milk and bread and soap and baking powder and peeing on toads in the garden at midnight and it worked (okay I made the last bit up)( the bit about it involving urine and amphibians, not the bit about it working). But that was in the winter. The daytime temperature here hasn’t dropped below 32°C for ten days. I can’t send the poor boy to nursery in open sandals with a dog’s breakfast inexpertly wound around his big toe and rapidly turning rancid.
So I googled « toe infection » and was immediately reminded that the internet is next to useless if you just need a bit of practical advice. One of the first hits took me to a site that tells me that infected toes are a spiritual sign of a lack of groundedness:
it may very well be an indication that you are ignoring your lower body and not rooting yourself well enough into the nurturing earth source that is available to us.
Google urgently needs to add a "complete-and-utter-bollocks" filter.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Is this the real life?

This self-indulgent riff was inspired by a passage in "The Accidental" by Ali Smith which I highly recommend if you like the sort of novel where nothing much happens but the writing is interesting and experimental.

Me a name I call myself. I was born in the age of walnut whips and curly wurlies, on Friday it was Crackerjack. I lived in the jungle with my mummy until she was shot by vilanous hunters and dragged off in a net. The hills were alive with the sound of music. In the beginning my grandfather took me in and I slept on a straw mattress in a sweet-smelling hayloft living off nothing but wooden bowls brimful of goats’ milk. I went to a bald king’s palace and danced with complex hand movements and whistled a happy tune. I was the king of the swingers, the jungle VIP and when I wiggled my nose, spells were cast. Penelope Pitstop was my heroine although Christopher Columbus was a very brave man, he sailed across the ocean in an old tin can and the waves got higher and higher and over.
We had midnight feasts with tumblers of ginger beer and tinned pears in the dormitory at boarding school but sometimes the French mistress caught us. I promised I would do my duty to the Queen and help other people at all times. We all lived together in the streets of London where a dirty old man taught us to pick pockets but Nancy saved me. Never before had a boy wanted more, but it was lipsmackin' thirstquenchin' acetastin' motivatin' goodbuzzin' cooltalkin' highwalkin' fastlivin' evergivin' coolfizzin'. We had a dog called Shep. And they called it puppy love, oh I guess they’ll never know…
I lived in New York, I watched the ducks in the park with my sister Phoebe and visited an old school teacher in his apartment. Then, I lived in a house with a crotcheted blanket on the sofa, with my older sister younger brother and two funny but grossly overweight parents — we ate a lot of pizza. My name was Darlene. I was really from Australia and I wore tight black satin trousers with high heels and a pony tail. I went on holiday to Butlins (twice) with a redcoat called David Essex before he became a rock star. Much, much later I moved to a suburb with softer lighting and my parents turned into healthy professionals and I kept a voiceover diary of my so-called life. I spent a lot of time kissing a boy called Jordan Catalano. Is this the real life. Is this just fantasy. Caught in a landslide. No escape from reality. Open your eyes. Look up to the skies and see.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Language Barriers

I mostly speak English to my children. Acquaintances who comment on this sometimes seem to think I am aiming at some future linguistic advantage for them when they enter the corporate world or some top-secret research organisation. I suspect that they don't make the same sort of assumptions about parents who speak Arabic or Portuguese to their children. Obviously however, I speak English to them not to give them a head-start on other children when they learn languages at school but quite simply so that they can communicate meaningfully with me and the rest of their family. [People with teenage children are probably rolling on the ground laughing now at the very idea of meaningful communication with the monosyllabic troglodytes that have replaced their chatty children. Mine will, of course, be different.]

I speak English to them because it comes naturally about 60% of the time. The rest of the time, French comes more spontanaeously either because we’re talking about something they don’t have the vocabulary for in English, or we’re with French speakers and it feels rude to exclude them. And some of the time I hash up both languages in a single sentence which I know you’re absolutely not supposed to do, but I’ve given up worrying about that because that’s the way my brain works now — intermittently.

Perhaps that background partly explains my horror and disbelief at the French government’s latest pronouncements on legalising illegal immigrants and their children some of whom have been going to French schools for years. To avoid deportation the children have to meet three conditions: they must have been born in France, they must have had all of their schooling in France and they MUST NOT be able to speak the language of their native country. It would be hard to think of a more effective way of promoting inter-generational incomprehension, of hastening the disappearance of certain minority languages, and of maintaining the idea that linguistic and cultural diversity is divisive rather than enriching. What hope for language teaching in France with that sort of ethos? What hope for the respect of other ppeople and cultures?

Bah, words fail me.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"I was born too late to a world that doesn't care"

Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in a little stone house with a deep purple clematis growing around the front door? (This is where we stayed over the weekend — the last of the three-day weekends, sigh)

I can't stop humming Sandi Thom's "I wish I was a punk rocker (with flowers in my hair)"

What exactly does schadenfreude mean? I came across the word in an article in Vogue this weekend. How could I drop it into conversation?

Had my first ever Skype conversation this evening with my old friend Roddy in Ireland. I know, I know it’s so 2005, but it’s new to me and I like it. (It's lezzlesg by the way)

Must remember never to try to cram music, play park, physiotherapist and doctor’s appointments in between nursery and dinner ever, ever again. It can only end in screaming.

Deborah sent me a newspaper cutting today. Sentence I most closely identified with:
Apparently, by the time most babies are weaned they are sucking at least as much Chardonnay out of the local mammary glands as they are milk, as Mummy desperately attempts to re-irrigate the desiccated husk of her post-natal life.

Update on the wifi débâcle: Orange have reimbursed half of the 120€ which is better than a kick in the teeth, I suppose.

Things I ate over the weekend: ragoût d'asperges, framboisier, delicious soupe de fèves, macarons from the market in Sarlat, purée de carottes made from the sweetest carrots ever, leftover foie gras.....

Gifts I was given over the weekend: a Nespresso coffee machine. It's great.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Nevertheless

Reading the Muriel Spark obituaries I came across a passage from her autobiography Curriculum Vitae which struck me at the time I read it but which I had since forgotten. Writing about her formative years in Edinburgh she remembers:
My whole education, in and out of school, seemed to pivot around the word "nevertheless". My teachers used it a great deal. All grades of society constructed sentences bridged by "nevertheless"...I can see the lips of tough elderly women in musquash coats taking tea at McVitie's, enunciating the word of final justification...I find that much of my literary composition is based on the nevertheless idea.

And this in turn reminded me of a passage I thought I'd read years ago in a book by Alastair Reid, Whereabouts: Notes on being a Foreigner. In my memory it was long reflection on the word "nevertheless", but looking at the book again, all I can find is this:
Nevertheless (a favourite Scottish qualification), places embody a consensus of attitudes;...

It's the Caledonian antisyzygy, the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome, the fur coat and nae knickers image summed up in one word.
So, go on, what's the best one-word qualification of your national character?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Time Wasting

PEREGRINATIONS




I've been saving these totally useless signs for a while; so long in fact that I've forgotten where I made them. Except for the first one which came from here.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

La Fête des Mères


Back from a four-day weekend in the Landes. All in all it was a pretty mediocre break. The weather was disappointingly cool, the "villa" would have been better described as a hut, and two out of four family members were all drugged-up with antibiotics.

This morning though, as I sat outside on the terrace with a bowl of steaming coffee, I was joined by a pair of hoopoes working across the sandy patch in front of me. They looked oddly overdressed, a little Egyptian perhaps. The mother did all of the hard work, digging up grubs with her long spiky beak and then passing them on to an incompetent youngster, throwing up fountains of sand in the process.

Now it's back to our own town garden and the same young blackbird we left flailing around at grass-level on Thursday. Still not very good at getting off the ground, still a constant source of worry for his musical mother and still a sitting target for the neighbourhood cats.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Always read the eeny weeny tiny print


  • Arrive at conference centre to do an interpreting job
  • Plug Powerbook in
  • Oh joy, there's wifi!
  • Drat, it's an Orange network and you have to pay for it
  • 10€ for two hours, that's a bit steep
  • Work for an hour or so
  • Think it would be nice to check my e-mail
  • Work a bit more
  • Hands start shaking
  • Decide to cough up and buy the pass on line
  • Wait a minute! They send the password to your e-mail account
  • I can't get into my email until I'm connected
  • But look! There's another option for people with Orange mobiles
  • I've got an Orange mobile
  • It must be free for Orange customers
  • Try to log on. It doesn't work because I have a pay-as-you-go card
  • Brilliant idea. Ask colleague which network he uses
  • Orange! Would you mind, bla bla bla... Of course not...
  • He dials #125# and gets a password
  • I log in to the network with his password
  • Easy peasy
  • (I may have clicked something about accepting their "condition générales de vente")
  • (nobody actually reads those, do they?)
  • I stay connected for the entire afternoon
  • The following day I do exactly the same thing
  • The next day my colleague contacts me to tell me that Orange has charged him 121€
  • It turns out they were charging by the minute
  • Oooops
  • Today I gave him the cheque

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Come in and sit down

I should have done this name change ages ago. It was a bit silly to choose my real name as an address all those months ago. So, now you must all erase my real name from your memories. From now on I will go by the catchy name of : "The-blogger-who-was-formerly-and -naively-called-a-real-life-name".
Perhaps it would have been a good idea if it had been a proper professional blog but self-deprecation doesn't usually buy you workplace kudos.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Authorstruck

Sarah had a great post a while ago about going bright red and stammering when she got to meet an author she admires. I had to leave a comment saying that I have experienced exactly the same awe and mention having a book signed by Richard Holmes and saying not a single word. The silly thing is that, for once, I actually had a good number of reasonably intelligent questions I could have asked him. I was in Edinburgh to do some research on travellers after Robert Louis Stevenson in the Cevennes amongst whom Richard Holmes stands out as most perceptive. But the front of a long queue in a tent at a book festival just didn't feel like the right place to start a conversation.

Actually I've just looked at the book he signed for me, Dr Johnson & Mr Savage, and it says "to Lesley", so I must have managed to stammer out my name at least.

And now that I think of it, my experiences of meeting authors have all been rather underwhelming. At the Salon du Livre in Bordeaux a few years ago, during a deserted lunchtime, I strolled past Alain Robbe-Grillet, gazing vacantly over a pile of books and obviously available for conversation. But I walked on by pushing Z. in his pushchair, because despite several years of study I couldn't think of a single intelligent phrase on the subject of the nouveau roman.

There have been others: Michelle Roberts, Janice Galloway, Kenneth White, Bernard MacLaverty. ... I cannot report on a single witty remark, or even a coherent comment, issued from my lips in their presence.

My mum, on the other hand, was recently in a restuarant and found herself at a table next to a double Pulitzer prize-winner. She tells me they had a very enjoyable conversation.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Random gobbets

  • I'm vaguely thinking about getting a breadmaker (mostly because I keep seeing recipes that require one on a fellow Bordelaise's blog). Does anyone have any recommendations?
  • Memory from a couple of months ago that still makes me giggle. I step out of the shower and E. exclaims "Mummy, je vois tes narines!"( "Mummy, I can see your nostrils!)
  • Favourite snippet from Moondust by Andrew Smith: "[He] radiates a weird, goofy anger and always sounds like he's trying to juice a lemon with his sphincter muscles. " (p.201)
  • Quote from The Sopranos a couple of weeks ago: "If the Empire State Building represented the history of the Earth, then man's presence would only be a postage stamps at the very top." Quote from Z's dinosaur book at bedtime tonight: "If the history of the Earth was reduced to 100 years, humans would only be present for three minutes."
  • I have to go from Bordeaux to Nantes for a conference on Friday. I have to be there before 1pm but the earliest I can get there by train is 3H15 pm. Why is that? Look at the map, Nantes is just up the road.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Wee sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie

P. hurries the children out the front door for the five-minute walk to school. They’re running late. The door closes and I breathe a sigh of relief, half-heartedly clear up a few breakfast crumbs and put the Dora DVD back into its box. [I lied to my children yesterday evening — I told them that the new Dora DVD from Grandma only has an English soundtrack. In fact, they could watch it in Greek or Portuguese or, more importantly for them, two different versions of French if they (i.e. I) liked). The lie is for their own linguistic good.]

I saunter upstairs and into the bathroom. While I’m brushing my teeth, I hear an insistent rustling noise coming from ... I’m not quite sure where. It gets louder and louder. I open the windows and listen, is it coming from the garden ? No, it’s definitely inside the house. The rustling continues and there seems to be some discreet bumping too. I tiptoe towards our bedroom and the noise gets louder: it’s definitely coming from in there and it’s definitely rodents. I peek in the door from a safe distance but see no signs of movement, no long tails poking out from under the bed.

I’m now terrified. Oh what a panic's in my breastie. I dash downstairs. How am I going to get my things out of a bedroom obviously under siege by several large families of mice or maybe even r……, no, no, no, no, no.

P. is taking ages. He strolls in with a baguette and the Sud Ouest newspaper under his arm. « I think you should take a look upstairs, there seems to be a strange noise coming from our bedroom » I say casually, inwardly shrieking « Help, help, help, we need the pest control people, immediately »

P. goes upstairs, sees nothing in the bedroom, opens the door that leads up to the attic and finds a helpless little house martin* lying exhausted at the bottom of the stairs.

He takes off like a jet fighter when P. opens the window and holds him out in the fresh May air.

* or maybe it was a swallow, or a swift.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The sun rises bright in France

The sun rises bright in France
and so sets he
But he has tint the blink he had
In my ain countree

So drink with me a glass of wine
And sing with me some Scottish rhyme
That I may think of Auld Lang Syne
And my ain countree

The bud comes back to summer
And the blossom tae the bee
But I'll win back never
To my ain countree

The land of sweet Bordeaux
Is pleasant for tae see
But ne'er sae sweet as the land I left
And my ain countree

That's a song by Alan Cunningham (1784-1842) that I, the exiled Scot in Bordeaux, might be tempted to sing, were I the homesick type ...and could I sing. It was written to commemorate the flight to France of hundreds of Jacobites in the seventeenth century, and expresses a poignant and, some might say, characteristically Scottish attitude to exile. There's an enjoyable wistfulness about exile that we Scots are often tempted to overplay, a trait Billy Connolly exploits in an old sketch about Glasgow pubs full of maudlin folk singers wailing on about how far they are fae hame. Excuse me while I have a wail.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friend's Photo Friday


These statues are on the sentier sculpturel de Mayronnes, south of Carcassone. They are the work of Deborah's daughter, Lucie Geffré, and will be there until the middle of August.
What do you think? I like them.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Tunisia

Not sure if this slideshow is going to work. Is there anything more boring than being subjected to someone else's holiday photos? ("Was that the Wednesday morning darling, or the Thursday afternoon?")



I'm still paranoid about one day stumbling on photos of my children's heads amateurishly stuck on top of naked bodies. But if I know you or your blog, and if you're not a paedophile but still enough of a masochist to want to see the "people" ones too, drop me an e-mail and I'll send you a Flickr invitation to be my friend, please.

We've been, we're back


We're back, we're back and we're very tired. A wonderful time was had by all, of course, despite a few minor hiccups. Here are a few handy hints on how to spice up your holiday:

1. Apply for your passport well after the deadline. Arrange to have it delivered twenty minutes before you have to be at the airport by which time you will be standing in the street hailing all passing vans.

2. Once in the airport, nerves still clattering, encourage your little boy to announce just as you arrive at the security check that he has a toy pistol in his backpack. Aghast, watch said pistol being confiscated by disapproving security people for immediate destruction. Reassure little boy that he will not be going to prison.

3. When you arrive at the hotel try to secure that wonderful big family room that has a fabulous view of the pool, the palm trees and the beach. At 2 a.m. wonder why you didn't realise you would be sleeping (ha ha) directly above the trillion-decibel sound system in the disco below. Only manage to change to another non-vibrating room two nights later.

4. Arrange to have several family members infected with conjuctivitis: preferably the variety in which rivers of yellow slime flow from their reddened eyes day and night.

5. And finally, why not have the bus for the return flight leave the hotel at 1 a.m.? That should ensure that you get back so tired that the benefit of a week of farniente will have been entirely cancelled out.

Photos later.

Friday, April 14, 2006

To pack or not to pack


8H50. We leave for Tunisia at 13H00 and the passport still isn't here. The Embassy told me they were sending it yesterday and we should get it this morning. But then they said the same thing the day before yesterday. I don't know whether to pack or unpack.

10H42 Still nothing. The TNT website says it is "en cours de livraison". I hope that means it's in the back of a white van somewhere near here. I feel sick and stupid.

11H46 It still isn't here but I have to close the computer down. Bye (but maybe not for long).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Weimaraner


If you'd like to have a dog like this, my friends the Bonniers have 11 (eleven!) puppies to find homes for.

Braque Weimar Weimaraner

Monday, April 10, 2006

It's a ho-ho-holiday

For some strange but wonderful reason, I’m on holiday, three days before P. and the children which is why you find me now, at 9H30 in the morning sipping a third cup of coffee in front of powerbookbaby, flitting from site to site in a euphoric state of indolence.

So it's going to be three days of idyllic freedom, if it wasn’t for having to take le boy to the school doctor for his pre-primary visit today slap in the middle of this afternoon. Oh, and having to nervously hang around the letter box just in case UPS delivers said boy’s passport. [Did I mention that major cockup in the Tunisia holiday plans? I only realised last week that his passport had run out and sent in an application to have it renewed last Tuesday, in other words very late (too late?) — so there is no guarantee that it will actually arrive before we fly on Friday. P. and I may end up drawing straws at the airport to see who gets to go.] There is also the small matter of finding a plumber to fix a radiator upstairs that inexplicably fell off the wall bending all the pipework while I just happened to be standing on it fixing a shutter. I also have to go to aquagym every single day in the desperate hope that a few hours of splashing around in the water will erase all signs of a winter of sloth. I also have to fit in a visit to the hairdresser, a run to the Secours Populaire, prepare a couple of classes for the first day back, buy a few t-shirts, do a bit of paintwork in the house, .

Right, time for another cup of coffee I think and perhaps a little daytime TV………