Friday, March 31, 2006

Qu'est ce qu'il y a à la télé?

Everyone agrees that French TV is crap, maybe not as bad as Spanish TV or Italian TV but still abysmal. Among the mind-numbing dross, however, there are some pretty watchable programmes and they make a break from the ubiquitous antiques, cooking, househunting and sick animal offerings on BBC Prime. Here then, in no particular order, are some of the better things on French télé.

Titeuf is a brilliant cartoon for children with a very cheeky hero who frequently refers to his “zizi sexuel” and that’s recommendation enough for me.

Le Zapping is a very short interlude on Canal + that consists of a sequence of vision-bites from all the French terrestrial (and some cable) channels, consisting only of the highlights from what was broadcast the day before: anything memorably bad, memorably funny, memorably disgusting or anything that went memorably wrong. It’s a sort of distillation of TV without the bother of actually having to watch TV.

Tout le Monde en Parle is a sort of chat show presented by the twitchy man in black Thierry Ardisson very, very late on a Saturday night. The guests sit uncomfortably on high stools around a sort of horseshoe-shaped table and frequently give the impression that they’ve been treated to lashings of white powder in hospitality and sometimes make fools of themselves or get into heated arguments. It’s a good watch if you’ve just come in from a night out and don’t want to go to bed yet.

I used to watch Les Maternelles in the morning while I was on maternity leave, when it was still being presented by lovely Maïtena. I liked the décor and the non-preachy way it talked about the things I was interested in then, mainly baby crying (abundance thereof) and sleeping (lack thereof).

Envoyé Spécial is a French Thursday night institution. It’s basically a documentary programme featuring three back-to-back reports. The angle isn’t usually very original and the message is also somewhat conventional, but it’s usually interesting and the voiceovers don’t have that isn’t-science/nature/dumpling-making-fascinating? breathiness that characterizes, for example, BBC’s Horizons.

Friday night brings another institution, Thalassa, a magazine programme about anything to do with the sea. The reports are usually from some exotic part of the world and sometimes the commentary is incredibly naïve and superficial, but there’s still something reassuring about footage of boats.

Apostrophes & Double Je used to be my favourite programmes on French TV. Apostrophes was nothing more than a bunch of authors sitting around talking about their books, but the discussion was led with great skill by the avuncular Bernard Pivot. He then went on to host another show called Bouillon de Culture which wasn’t nearly as good but he also made a series of programmes about mostly famous, non-native French-speakers in France called Double Je which is consistently fascinating.

Strip Tease is a Belgian programme. Quirky mini documentatry films with no sound over. I don’t think it’s on at the moment.

Taratata is a rock & pop music show which is filmed in some clever way that makes it look almost 3D. It brings together some unexpected duos (Khaled and Charles Aznavour for example) and would really be perfect if it wasn’t for the unbearable Naguy who presents it. His interviews with singers you really want to hear speak always consist of him talking much more than the interviewee, often in less-than-perfect English. There is no translation, he does that himself, and when he doesn’t understand, he just makes it up.

I’m ashamed to say that I also occasionally watch La Nouvelle Star, the French equivalent of Pop Stars, on a Wednesday night until P. gets in and says “You’re not watching that rubbish again, are you?” And although I’m not about to admit this to him, he’s right. It’s really, really bad. I can see that, I can hear that, but I’m hooked because it’s so bad that it’s almost art. I want to know just how bad it can get. Last week one girl managed to sing an entire song out of tune on prime-time and that’s what I call unmissable TV.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Listening to…..

I’ve rediscovered the joys of BBC Radio 4. I’m not sure why, but having been a constant listener since I arrived in France, I just stopped listening to English language radio a couple of years ago. Perhaps it had something to do with me discovering some good programmes on France Inter, or maybe it was those unbearably smug people with the home-county accents who squat the phone-in programmes on Radio 4, or perhaps it was because I don’t feel engaged by British current affairs anymore.
Anyway, over the past week or so, I’ve been doing a lot of mindless marking while listening to some really great programmes on the Radio 4 site. The advantage of the internet over the tranny is that you can just zap the boring programmes and listen to the ones you’re really interested in.
I’ve heard about what it feels like to be the "persecuted" English minority in Scotland, ....... I've followed the stages in the development of a potential treatment for HIV by one of the big bad pharmaceutical companies in "Quest for a Cure"; learned about inguinal hernia operations (P has already had 3 which doesn't appear to be a record); been left gaping-mouthed at what actually happens to the clothes we give to charity in "Clothes Line" — did you know that the charities sell them to go-betweens who sell them on to stallholders in markets in Africa? I thought that a needy little orphan was hand-picked to wear the baby clothes I had donated. I've also been learning about serendipidous discoveries in science (rubber for example). I’ve heard Lionel Schriver talking about her book We have to talk about Kevin, decided that I don’t really want to read it but been interested in the fact that she made a deliberate decision not to have children herself because she is too single-minded about her work and was afraid she might neglect a child if she wanted to get a book finished. I’ve also listened to Ian McEwan talking about Saturday and that made me want to read bits of it all over again (I completely missed the James Joyce allusion in the last line). I was surprised to hear just how much Oliver Sacks’ voice and style fitted how I had imagined him (batty professor, nothing like Robin Williams in the film Awakenings)as I listened to him discuss The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. I also listened to a documentary about nuns who have donated their brains to science in a large scale trial about Alzheimers. (In fact, Alzheimer’s has been a bit of a leitmotif this week, it came up an the episode of the Sopranos that I watched, and it's also mentioned in McEwan’s Saturday, in a character he based on his own mother. The statistics are frightening.)
This morning I’ve listened to a woman talk about lupus and am, as I type, finding out all about the advantages of opensource scholarly publication in “Publish or be Damned" a programme about scientific publishing and the scandalous cost of learned journals (would you believe it costs £9000 for 12 issues of Physicosomethingobscure published by Elsevier).

Update: it's not a good idea to listen to something interesting as you type, it leads to lots of typos.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Vacation Vacillation

It used to be so easy. We would decide where we wanted to go, we’d go to the travel agent’s and ask for the cheapest possible ticket, we’d pack our stuff and head off.
Since those days of carefree travel, two complicating factors have arisen:
1) two little children
2) the internet

The children complicate things because we’re no longer brave enough to set out into the unknown with some money in our pockets but no itinerary and no hotel. We’re not flexible enough to pack our (now voluminous) gear up every day and hit the road in whatever direction takes our fancy. We’re not yet cruel enough to inflict multiple museum, garden and ancient ruin visits on them so there has to be a pool and a reasonable amount of sun. But we are just a little bit cruel, so a children’s club to abandon them in occasionally would also be nice. Of course, we need to be able to see them during the night so two double rooms aren’t an option unless the hotel explicitly encourages child room rampage. No, we need a family room. Suddenly, we find ourselves in the boring, middle class, middle aged, mid-budget, bulging midriff category.

The internet complicates matters because it offers FAR, FAR too much choice for people as indecisive as we are. But I am nothing if not compulsively thorough in my quest for the perfect holiday at the perfect price.

First of all, I use several of the aggregators that bring all of those cheap holidays together, then I laboriously trawl through the individual sites and pick out the packages that are within our budget, seem to suit our requirements and look attractive. Then I work out a very complicated mental logarithmic calculation allocating points for climate, novelty, charter/regular flight, departure point (Bordeaux or Toulouse), amount of blue sky in the photos, proximity of beach (and fifty seven other items). Then we dither for a week or so and inevitably some of the possibilities fill up and disappear.

This time we narrowed it down to Morocco, Croatia, Tunisia or Tenerife.

We eliminated Morocco because both Marrakech and Agadir are fully booked from Bordeaux and none of the packages from Toulouse include family rooms.

Croatia was tempting because it looks so beautiful, but the temperatures are a tad lukewarm in April and again, there are no family rooms.

Tunisia looks like a good alternative to Morocco although it’s not as warm at Easter. So what about hotels? Well, one is 3km from Monastir airport mmmm I hear charter planes droning overhead in the middle of the night. Another is separated from the beach by a “road” no doubt a roaring motorway. But look there’s also one in Hammamet and it’s right on the beach and even has an indoor swimming pool, which would be excellent if the weather was mediocre. Let’s go for that one then. Okay, but wait a minute, if we fly out of Toulouse, we save 500€ in all, that’s quite a lot of money. Yes, but what if the flights are in the middle of the night? How would we manage to get there for 4 am? Oh no, oh no, we just can’t decide. Let's sleep on it.

What about Tenerife then? This looks perfect — regular flight, we can even add on a couple of days at the end; not in a big resort but a nice quiet one; family apartments, fantastic climate with sun practically guaranteed, a lovely big pool and a little one for the children. This sounds perfect.

There’s just one thing — we went there last year.
Are we ready to be THAT boring?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Multitask Breakdown

The post that went with that picture of the blossom got gobbled up somewhere. All I wanted to say was that everyone else was posting pics of spring blossom and I had to chip in with mine. Actually, it's not my blossom, the tree belongs to Sarah and Guy, and although this is the first day of spring, it's raining in Bordeaux.

Losing posts is what comes of trying to multitask in the early evening with two children crying out for printouts of Babar and Narnia colouring pages. I'm also trying to:

Find an cheap holiday in Morocco or maybe Tunisia (has anyone been to Hammamet or Jerba?)

Arrange alternative accommodation for a couple of classes because our usual classrooms are under student siege. I don't like dodging picket lines, but the medicine students aren't on strike.

Make pumpkin soup (the last of the year?)

Fit in a phone call to a friend in Edinburgh. Since I've had free hot running phone calls to almost the entire world, I don't seem to have phoned anyone.

Order flowers for Mother's Day on Sunday.

Get myself psychologically prepared for another mind-numbing session of exam marking.

And all of that while doing the eternal juggling with whites and coloureds, and the waltz of clean dishes out, dirty dishes in. And there isn't a single bottle of white wine in the house and P won't be home from work until tomorrow evening. Wail.....

Prunus blossom

Prunus blossom
Originally uploaded by Lezzles.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Reasons to be Cheerful: Part 44

Big sun in the sky, a side of smoked salmon in the fridge, listening to Jack Johnson, 12 creme eggs (make that 11, no 10), a sparkly turquoise necklace, happy smiley students, cheque in the post, Kenzo perfume, a pile of new books, children being children, me being a muse, birthday cards on the shelf, Easter holidays on the horizon, an early night.

With apologies to Ian Dury and there was just no way I could make it rhyme.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Playing Doctors and Nurses

I think I first read the following riddle, which still seems to be doing the rounds, in the 1970s in the Reader's Digest :
A father and a son were in a car accident. The father went home to rest. The son was taken to the hospital for minor surgery. The surgeon came in and said: "I can't operate on this boy because he's my son." How is this possible?

Answer: The surgeon was his mother.
As children of the '60s we went through all sorts of lateral thinking solutions before we got to that one: he was adopted and the doctor was his real father; the man in the car wasn't really his father but his grandfather; his father had a twin brother; he'd been abducted by aliens. A woman surgeon was the very last thing we thought of.
I'm frankly dismayed by the number of women students of medicine who still automatically and consistently employ the personal pronoun "he" when referring to a doctor and the strange thing is that there are more young women studying medicine than men.
But perhaps it's not all that surprising really when one of the major publishers of medical textbooks is using the image on the front cover of its current catalogue:

The message is clear if stylized: doctors are intelligent men with square jaws who look down on admiring little nurses.
While we're on the subject, has anyone else been reading Dr Crippen's ongoing diatribe against specialist nurses? I don't live in the UK and I have no experience of specialist nurses and I'm more than willing to believe that the National Health Service is slowly being flushed down the toilet, and that the usurpation by specialist nurses of some of the power traditionally held by doctors is somehow part of that process. I refuse, however, to swallow his elitist guff about a group of specialist nurses:
This gaggle of well-meaning women have neither the training nor the intellectual capacity to understand what is going on, and are incapable of making judgements.
Despite Dr Crippen's protestations to the contrary, that to me is sexist language. What do you think?

Today, 8th March, has been declared blog against sexism day. That was my contribution.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lost Forever

The Sopranos Season Six starts in the USA on March 12th. Goody, goody (or even baddy, baddy).

You may remember that episode of The Sopranos in which Tony bellows at his mother Livia telling her just what a f*****ing useless grandmother she is to his kids. The reason ? He’s just come across an album that she was supposed to fill up with photos and memories for the children and the pages are all still blank. Carmela’s parents have filled theirs up, why couldn’t she ?

I sympathise with poor old Livia.

My children both have hopelessly empty baby albums on their bookshelves. Date first tooth appeared: empty. Photos of first birthday party: blank. Family tree to fill in : zilch. First words spoken : gaping void.

I do have their first ultrasound pictures and their hospital bracelets somewhere (where?) and I did keep a lock of their baby hair — although I can’t for the life of me work out which is which.

I do feel a little guilty about this failure on my part. I mean, I actually bought the albums myself, imagining the fun I would have filling them in, cutting out photos, sticking in little scraps of ribbon and wool that would trigger tender memories years later. Writing down each new bon mot. Somehow, in the whirlwind of the baby years, I just never got round to it.

I don’t have a baby album of my own but my Mum did keep every single birthday card I received until I was twelvish. Some babyhoods, of course, are hyper-documented and I feel even more inadequate when I read Dooce’s latest monthly letter to her daughter. She writes :
Sometimes I go back and read the things I wrote to you in the early months and I realize that I’ve already forgotten half of what happened, and if it weren’t for what I’ve written here I could have lost certain memories forever.
I just hope the children don’t decide on the mafia as a career path when they grow up. Otherwise I may end up as fish food . Maybe I should just burn the empty baby-album evidence now, or maybe I could just make it all up. Do you think they’d mind?


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 ...