Monday, October 31, 2005

What I did during my Toussaint Holiday. (500 words, for Monday)

This was, I think, our third holiday in Hendaye, an old fashioned sort of seaside resort in the very, very southwest of France, so southwest that you can't get any more southwest. It's a great place for a break, and this time we took my Mum.

First of all there's the beach, long and flat and sandy and safe. We had such brilliant weather this time that we even managed a swim. Okay, that "we" didn't actually my thermosensitive body, but P. and the children had a frolick in the waves. Imagine swimming in the Atlantic ocean in the last week of October. Is that an Indian summer or climate deregulation?

Then there's Spain. For 1€50 you can get a little ferry across the bay to Hondarribia (or Fontarrabie depending on which language you're speaking) and get all tapas-ed out in the many bars and restaurants around the port, stroll up through the old town to the Parador, and then back down to hop on the ferry back to France. San Sebastian, which has to be one of the most fabulous cities in Europe, is only 20km away, Bilbao and its Guggenheim not all that much further.

The more sophisticated resorts of Saint-Jean-de -Luz and Biarritz lie a few miles to the north and inland there are loads of picturesque Basque villages daubed with ox-blood paintwork. Ainhoa is a favourite. All of this set across the backdrop of the Pyrenées. I'm starting to sound like a badly translated tourist-office brochure so I''l stop there.

All in all then, a busy week filled with gastronomic delights (I love chipirons, Basque squid) and non-delights: I'm thinking paëlla made from what looked and tasted like week-old leftovers from the kitchen, yeuch.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

No show

Well first of all, I taught all morning then dashed to the station, then sat on a train to Marseille for six hours in one of those old fashioned carriages where three strangers sit facing three other strangers trying to avoid direct eye contact. I was in the middle seat and spent most of the journey balancing my PowerBook on my knees writing the end of my paper and preparing a FANTASTIC KICK-ASS powerpoint presentation.

I arrived in Marseille some time after eight and was held up for ages because of what the SNCF euphemistically calls "un accident de personne" and which actually means that there was a body on the track. I took advantage of this hitch to ingurgitate a dry tuna sandwich and listen to others complain about the inefficiency of the train service which, for once, seemed a little unfair. After a couple of hours, my train to Toulon was cancelled so I hopped onto the fist TGV going in that direction and sank into one of the plush armchairs of a first class carriage complete with electrical socket to recharge my beloved Powerbookbuddy.

From the station in Toulon, I dragged my bag through deserted streets to my hotel. By this time I was exhausted and perhaps it wasn't a very good idea to go out for "a quick drink" after that, but I did, and had a very nice time. The next morning, however, I didn't feel quite so great. Was it a tummy bug, was it some sort of punishment (for mixing my drinks, for eating a tuna sandwich, for being vaguely irritated a careless body was holding me up)? I will never know, I will never tell, but the result was that I missed the whole of the first day of the conference, including my own slot, and nobody got to see my FANTASTIC KICK-ASS powerpoint presentation.

All too soon it was time to get back onto that train and trundle back to Bordeaux. And then it was off to Hendaye in the Basque Country which was the answer to yesterday's question. More on that tomorrow perhaps.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Terrible blogger

Sorry, sorry, sorry. I went away for ages (10 days) and forgot to tell you I was going ,never mind organise for someone to come in and turn the heating on, open the curtains etc. Well, now that I'm back, maybe you can guess where I've been? (Experience shows that his sort of challenge is usually the kiss of death to all interaction and systematically results in zilch comments.)


Monday, October 17, 2005

An afternoon in the country

It's reinvigorating to get out of the city and be bombarded by the signs of changing seasons that seem to slink past us in town. The road from Bordeaux to Castillon-la-Bataille is absolutely beautiful at this time of year. The vines have turned a rich ochre and the air is laced with the smells of autumn — overripe grapes, mushrooms and earth. The sun shines on oblivious to the fact that summer is over; the landscape soaking up the unexpected warmth. We drive through quiet villages on our way to Montcaret and Sarah's house. For the first time I meet someone whose blog I have read and whose daily photos I have looked at and yes, I feel I know her and her family already. The children who know nothing of blogs, like children everywhere also seem to be on familiar terms and quickly get down to the important business of playing and giggling.
I think I need two lives really, one for the town and one for the country. One for dashing across town during Monday lunchtime rush-hour, coming down from the euphoria of a successful first class in one place just in time to start another in a different building with an altogether less receptive group of students and an all but empty stomach. And another life for making quince jelly in a country kitchen with the back door open to the smells of autumn.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Linguistic pitfall

Conversation on the way to school this morning

Me: You can tell it's autumn because of all the leaves on the ground.

Z: A qui je dois le dire? A la maîtresse? [Who should I say it to? My teacher?]

Me : What do you mean? You don't have to say it to anyone.

Z: Mais tu as dit... [Yes, but you said...]

Penny drops.

Me: It's just an expression. "You can tell" means "you can see"....


Tuesday, October 11, 2005


At last we're getting round to putting up bookshelves and hundreds of books that I'd forgotten I owned have been dug out of cardboard boxes. It's so satisfying to put all the books by one author together on a shelf, all the travel guides side by side, all the journals in chronological order, all the dictionaries within easy reach, all the trashy novels in a psychedelic cluster. While I was at it, I thought I might as well create an online library too using LibraryThing | Catalog your books online, and while I was at that I thought I might as well add a little dooda on the side (swivel your eyes to the right and look below the Flickr badge, if you please) offering you a random selection from my extensive library. I'm not quite sure why I'm creating the online catalogue. Perhaps if my house burned down it would make the insurance claim easier? Or if I couldn't remember whether or not I owned a certain book and couldn't be bothered to go upstairs and look on the shelves, I could just do a quick search on my PowerBook without moving from my armchair. I've only catalogued a dozen or so books so far, there's still time to turn back. And by the way, this has nothing whatsoever to do with my latest paperback purchase: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (how am I ever going to find time to read that one?).

UPDATE: Actually, after Sarah's comment I have thought of another use for this catalogue. I'm going to chuck out or perhaps even sell a lot of these tatty old books and use the catalogue as a virtual library of the ones I let get away: all of the retentive pleasure with none of the smell and dust.


Monday, October 10, 2005


I'm going to give a talk about this rather stern-looking person soon. Her name was Alison Cunningham and she was Robert Louis Stevenson's nanny. If her name is familiar perhaps you own(ed) a copy of "A Child's Garden of Verses" and wondered about the dedicatee:

My second Mother, my first Wife,
The angel of my infant life—

RLS was a sick child and Alison Cunningham, or Cummy as he called her, fired up his feverish imagination with blood-curdling stories about ghosts and Covenanters. Somehow, I don't think it's going to be a very funny talk. Here's the abstract:

"In 1863, Alison Cunningham accompanied the Stevenson family on an extended tour of the Continent. This was her first contact with life outside of Scotland and she was, for the most part, decidedly unimpressed. The diary she kept during this period was published in book form much later as « Cummy’s Diary»(1926). It has been described by some as « homely » (Skinner) and dismissed as « extremely boring » by others (Davies). This paper aims to reappraise the diary in the light of more recent work on travel writing, highlighting its documentation of the everyday and examining Alison Cunningham’s marginal position as an unmarried woman, a servant, a Scot and a healthy person surrounded by invalids."


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Singin' hey lolly, lolly

The title of this post will only mean anything to you if you are ancient enough to remember that Meri Wilson Classic "Telephone Man" and these fabulous lyrics:

I got it in the bedroom, and I got it in the hall
And I got it in the bathroom, and he hung it on the wall
I got it with a buzz, and I got it with a ring
And when he told me what my number was I got a ding-a-ling

All this to say that I got my wifi card yesterday and within five minutes I had internet in the kitchen, in the hall, in the bathroom, in the toilet, in the garden ........ You get the idea. I may be old enough to remember "Telephone Man" but hey, I'm so funky, I'm wireless. Woo mega Hoo.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Schoolteachers were on strike today along with most other French public sector workers. I didn't have any classes so I didn't have to decide whether or not to down tools. This meant, however, that when the postman rang the doorbell this morning and thrust an intriguing cardboard box into my hands, three pairs of curious eyes sized it up. Yes, the kids were spending the day at home. It turned out to be the Freebox I had ordered last week. Four eyes wandered away to get up to other mischief. Mine perused the instructions.

You try configuring a Freebox (I'm sorry, I have no idea what the equivalent is in English, someone please help me) while two unsupervised under-fives run wild finding new and exciting things to do in/to the house, whilst beating each other up at five-minute intervals.

Anyway, it works. My PowerBook now has an internet connection. My phonecalls within France are completely free and I have a load of free TV channels many in languages I do not recognise. The number of English-speaking channels has been multiplied by five or six depending on whether you count God TV or Bloomberg, but hey I also get BBC World (hoorah) and SKY News (shudder). Unfortunately we also seem to get a whole swathe of sports channels. I wonder if I could hide them somehow.

That was the good news. The bad news is that using the Freebox means that I can no longer use the modem connection on my other computer. The telephone doesn't actually work yet, apparently that takes up to 72 hours. And when it does we'll have two different lines which seems a bit confusing. Also, the images on the TV are what can only be described as staccato. Or jerky if you prefer. Oh yes, and I'm getting incoming mail but I can't send any. I have no idea why.

So, all in all, I think we can say that this constitutes another resounding success in our series of home improvement projects. Oh, and just wait until next week when I get the Wifi card.


Monday, October 03, 2005

Annular Solar Eclipse

Originally uploaded by Lezzles.
Sorry folks but this was the best I could do. I did try taking the photo through an old x-ray but the spark from the flash melted the cellulose in a rather frightening way.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation: I discovered this site ages ago and have just found it again in my Furl archive. (Why did I choose Furl and not Del-icio-us, by the way?)

"What happens when an English phrase is translated (by computer) back and forth between 5 different languages? "

Today I fed it what I take to be the take-home message from "Broken Flowers", the latest Jim Jarmusch film and it came up with this:

"The experience more, must come the future propping therefore very those that we are the gift that we have."

Can you guess what the original sentence was before it was mashed up through five sequential translations? (I can feel a classroom application coming on here...)


Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...