Saturday, December 22, 2007

Heading North

We're off to the land of smoked salmon. I wish you all a very happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

2007: a photo for every month.

Renault, no, no

I have so far resisted regaling you with the tales of car-related woe that have occupied the last ten days. It started, as these things always do, with a funny sound and the car chugging to a stop in the middle of a rainstorm.

Two breakdown lorries, several hefty cheques, and reiterated protestations of disbelief from a Renault mechanic later, it all came to a head yesterday with the announcement that the car needs a new engine. This is a bit of a blow, to say the least, as it only has 110000 km on the clock.

Since ten days ago I've been biking it back and forward to work, so it turns out that the old adage is true: achetez Renault, vous roulerez à vélo.

And to top it all, this evening, P. pointed out that in telephone conversations with mechanics, I'd been inadvertently talking about the engine being deculotté (having its pants pulled down) instead of déculassé. I'm past caring.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Two rather alarming things happened to me last week.

I sometimes take a shortcut through the anatomy department to get to my classroom. On Wednesday, as I strode briskly down the main corrider I glanced in an open door. An old man with white hair stared back at me - a cadaver lying on a stainless-steel dissection table. He looked rather startled himself actually.

On Thursday morning, the children and I stepped out of the front door to find that it was still quite dark. A rainstorm was brewing. Just at that moment, a black cloud loomed in towards our street at great speed, getting lower and lower and more and more menacing. It was an enormous flock of starlings.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Books what I read this Year*

The Guardian Book blog recently ran a piece about the ubiquitous end-of-the-year book lists being the result of a universal need to create inventories. Well, I too have been seized by the need and to meet it I am going to inflict on you this list of books what I read (for pleasure not work) in 2007. Or the ones I can remember at least.

It wasn't an exceptionally good reading year to be honest. The best ones are at the top of the list, the bad ones are at the bottom, the middling ones are where you'd expect them to be.

Pay heed and you — unlike Ms Mac who didn't believe me — may save precious hours that would otherwise have been squandered wading through the codswallop that is Mercy.

The Stornoway Way, Kevin McNeil (I adored this book about Hebridean angst)
L'Elegance du hérisson, Muriel Barbery (about a dumpy, thinking concierge)
In the Country of Men, Hisham Matar (haunting)
Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America, Jenny Diski (puff, puff)
On the Atlantic Edge, Kenneth White (I like anything he writes)
One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson (Stories that fit inside each other and Edinburgh)
Hunting Down Home, Jean McNeil (Brilliant novel about an unhappy childhood in Canada)
Digging to America, Anne Tyler (adoption and "expat expat" communities)
Driving Over Lemons, Chris Stewart (Ah, Andalucia)
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson (he still makes me laugh out loud)
Bruce Chatwin, Nicholas Shakespeare (the only biography I read this year, and the third I've read of Chatwin)
Restless, William Boyd (will no doubt make a good film)
White Ghost Girls, Alice Greenway (growing up in Hong Kong)
Bella Tuscany, Frances Mayes (I want to be Frances Mayes or at least live in her house)
The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (I liked it despite the plot)
The Girls, Lori Lansens (tour de force novel about conjoined twins)
The Abortionist's Daughter, Elisabeth Hyde (why can't I remember anything about this?)
Miss Webster and Cherif, Patricia Duncker (old English woman meets enignmatic young Arab)
Ensemble, c'est tout, Anna Gavalda (liked the book more than the feelgood film)
Cleaver, Tim Parks (going mad in the snow in Austria)
Runaway, Alice Munro (Didn't realise this was a book of short stories until I got to "Chapter 2")
A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, Chris Stewart (more Andalucia)
The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society, Chris Stewart (even more Andalucia)
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris (Funny, especially the father's food hoarding)
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Paul Torday (strangely old-fashioned characters and not especially funny)
The Dead Heart, Douglas Kennedy (read this in French, put me off kangaroo meat forever)
Europa, Tim Parks (English teachers go on a romp to Brussels - not his best novel)
The Box Garden, Carol Shields (the only Carol Shields I hadn't read - hasn't aged that well)
State of the Union, Douglas Kennedy (just finished this, still digesting))
The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney (elements of Brokeback Mountain in the snow)
Weekend, William McIlvanney (not his best)
Blood in the Water, Gillian Galbraith (detective novel set in Edinburgh)
Mimi's Ghost, Tim Parks (Emotionless Englishman in Italy)
My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult (more thought-provoking than I expected)
Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth, Andrew Smith (non-fiction for astronautaholics)
Touché :A Frenchwoman's take on the English, Agnès Catherine Poirier (quite clever, but more of a collection of newpaper columns than a real book)
The Night Watch, Sarah Walters (probably quite good but not my cup of tea)
Double Fault Lionel Shriver (really boring)
A Piano In the Pyrenees, Tony Hawkes (the I-bought-a-house-in-France genre is tired)
Long Way Round, Ewan McGregor (screams TV-spin-off)
The Queen of the Big Time, Adriana Trigiani (Little House on the Prairiesque)
The Five People You meet In Heaven, Mitch Albom (really sickly sentimental)
Bordeaux Housewives, Daisy Waugh (3rd rate expat chick-lit)
Merde Actually Stephen Clarke (3rd rate expat lad-lit, will never read the prequel)
Mercy, Jodi Picoult (should come with a health warning for Scots)

*that's an obscure Ernie Wise allusion.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Show me the mess in your bag and I will tell you who you are

Princesse Ecossaise asked me to do this ages ago. I have to post a photo of my handbag and what's inside it. So, here's my bag. It's just a cheap one from H&M but I like it because it's soft and expandable with lots of little pockets.

And here are the contents.

Bag Contents, originally uploaded by Lezzles.

Thinking about this meme, I remembered one of those '80s-style getting-to-know-you activities for EFL teachers (Rinvolucri?) and felt compelled to try it again in class. The other day, a new class concluded from my bag contents that:

a) I'm probably not very tech-savvy (due to the non-state-of-the art phone, cheeky buggers).
b) I have children (children's clothes shop loyalty card gave that one away).
c) I have sensitive skin (high factor sun cream).
d) I wear contact lenses (the case).
e) I was in Spain recently (tickets for the Alhambra).
f) I'm a cinephile (the cinema tickets. I didn't tell them that in fact we only drag ourselves to the cinema on average four or five times a year).

If you really want to know what the rest of that mess is, click on the photo and you will be beamed to a Flickr page with notes.

So what's in your bags Teuchter, Fraise, Vivi, Mausi and Sarah?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

...or perish

Having a research article published is a laborious process. First of all you sweat blood writing the thing and sometimes sweat real sweat presenting it at a conference. Then you submit it to a reputable publication. And then you wait and wait and wait, usually a couple of months. Then the editor sends you the reviewers' comments. The more reviewers there are, the more impossible it becomes to meet their contradictory requests. One may want you to flesh out the theoretical section, another to reduce it, and another wants you to add a whole new section on a different version of the theory that has taken his fancy.

You don't believe me do you? Here are three little snippets to give you a tiny flavour of some conflicting feedback I received this week. Spot the odd one out.

Reviewer #1: This is a well-written and interesting paper that tantalizes and leaves one wanting more.

Reviewer #2 I did find the manuscript to be extremely well written and engaging and the premise logically crafted.

Reviewer #3 The piece is not particularly well written


Thursday, November 22, 2007


Five things about me, alcohol and bars.

When I was still at school, I used to go a lot of birthday parties at the Mexican Bar in Roslin (of Da Vinci Code fame). There was absolutely nothing Mexican about it. At that time my drink of choice was Martini and lemonade, or sometimes lager and blackcurrant. I can still taste the cloying sweetness that would build up in my mouth over the evening.

I was sick into a wastepaper basket in a friend's bedroom after one of those parties.

The only alcoholic drink I would ever refuse is a French apéritif called Suze. It is bitter and revolting.

A couple of weeks ago in Spain, we discovered the joys of vino de verano (summer wine). We did that "we'll have a jug of what those authentic looking Spanish people at the next table are having" thing in a restaurant and discovered that "summer wine" is much more refreshing than sangria.

The only alcoholic drink I have ever been unable to finish was one of those massive margaritas they serve you in the USA. We were in Durango, Colorado and it came in a glass the size of a punch bowl with two straws - more like an oversize sorbet than liquid alcohol. The best margarita I have ever had was served in New Mexico in a village that sold "holy chili" because the dirt in the church had magical properties. (America is a country of great contrasts, I tell you).

P and I once spent a long weekend in Istanbul. It was freezing cold and we repaired to the bar of the Pera Palace Hotel earlier and earlier every evening. We wallowed in the opulent, threadbare furnishings and warmed our insides with technicolour cocktails.

I borrowed this meme from Yogamum and I'm tagging you all. Yes, all of you.

Consider Yourselves Genii

cash advance

Monday, November 19, 2007

The disappearing car

It's been pouring with rain here for two days. Yesterday, I took the children to school in the car for the first time in months. On the way out of the nursery school, I got involved in a chat with two other mothers who work at the university about the current student sit-in; which buildings are blockaded; how long the strike might last, bla bla bla. Then I came home for my customary second cup of coffee.

I got ready my class which (unfortunately) was taking place in an unaffected building, and left the house at 10H30 leaving plenty of time to get to the campus. Which is just as well because when I got out onto the street I discovered that the car had disappeared.

It took me a couple of minutes to realise that through sheer force of habit I had walked home, leaving the car parked on the pavement outside the school for two hours.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Unalike in that respect

My Mum came over for a short stay this week. While she was here, I read her out a bit of an article by Katharine Whitehorn on being a "domestic slut." It had originally been published in the Observer in 1963.
Have you ever taken anything back out of the dirty-clothes basket because it had become,relatively, the cleaner thing? How many things are there, at this moment, in the wrong room – cups in the study, boots in the kitchen – and how many on the floor of the wrong room?

She also asks if you could confidently strip down to presentable underwear in a changing room at short notice, and argues that a slut isn't something you become, it's something you are born to.

I thought it was hilarious. My Mum looked at me in bewildered incomprehension.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Postcard from Salobreña #3

1. Tapas #2, 2. Tapas #1
We're going to miss the tapas they bring you with every drink here in Salobreña. Our favourites are the ones above from a chiringuito (beach bar) called Las Flores - something different every evening, but always perfect and savoured as we watch the sun set over the Mediterranean. Tomorrow, it's back to auld claes and porridge.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Postcard from Salobreña #2

Old door
The road east from Almuneçar crosses the Rio Verde and slowly makes its way upwards past slopes dotted with almond and chirimoya (or custard apple) trees until, 13 km later, a spectacular vista opens up to reveal Salobreña, a white town tumbling down a hill topped by the shell of its Moorish castle and surrounded by fields of sugar-cane. (The Rough Guide to Andalucia)

What's not to like? (Although we haven't quite figured out how to eat the chirimoyas yet.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007


So I should really be packing I suppose because I have a class tomorrow evening until 6.30 pm. and we have to get up at 4H00 the next morning if we're going to catch our plane in San Sebastian at 8H40. This is the cheapest way I could find of getting from here to Andalucia without spending 14 hours in a car. So if it all goes smoothly we should be in Granada before midday on Saturday. It looks as if the weather down there is pretty good; a lot warmer than here anyway, but just in case and since I don't like my skin to touch anything cooler than bathwater, we've taken a villa with a HEATED SWIMMING POOL!

Photos I might have taken this week if I hadn't forgotten my camera: the wonderful stained glass windows in the old chapel I was working in for a conference at in the university on Tuesday. This building is a ten-minute walk from my house and I had never been inside. The conference was in honour of Linnaeus - it's his 300th birthday. The following day I went to the inauguration of "L'Esplanade Linné" in the Botanic Gardens on the other side of the river. Had I had my camera, I would have been able to show you photos of the wonderful bust Lucie Geffré sculpted of the bewigged Swede.

In other news, swivel your eyes round to the right and you'll see that I've added a couple of things to the sidebar. A twitter box, so that you can share in my every thought as it happens and a box of interesting stuff which is really just anything that I come across in Google Reader and think others might like too.

And here's Z's latest rugby picture (we have rooms full of these). It depicts the haka before the match he enjoyed best during the Rugby World Cup. Click on the image to make it bigger, he put a lot of work into the All-Black detail.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Desktop Freeview Meme

Ms Mac has tagged me for a meme that involves me showing you my desktop as it is right this very minute. Lucky then, that I had just cleaned mine up a bit in preparation for projection onto a big screen in front of lots of sharp-eyed students. The wallpaper is a random picture from the Macintosh "plants" set, the image changes every five minutes. At one time, I had my own photographs as wallpaper, but I found that distracting. The files on the desktop are mostly work-related. One of them should be entitled "online discourse" but I see that I have mangled that so that it has become "online disocurse" which sort of says it all. Some of them are things that P. must have downloaded perhaps inadvertently: a "fiche de lecture" for detective novels, two catalogues of sundry items for doors windows and garages (looking for a wide strip of rubber to place over the entrance to our garage under the door — a thing that seems to be impossible to buy). The "Scott" dossier contains files for my last conference presentation, the "Stevenson" dossier is a collection of files for a possible conference presentation in June in Italy. Image 1 is an aborted picture of my screen which I took without having first closed a couple of windows, duh. The dossier enigmatically and unimaginatively called "stuff" contains dozens of torrent files for Grey's Anatomy (crappier and crappier), House (still brilliant), Prison Break (whose head was that in the box?), Ugly Betty (still funny) and Weeds (jury's out). The file in the bottom right hand corner called monster-initial-namer contains this:
So now you know all about my dirty desktop secrets. If you want to see some other desktops head over to
Now, who could I tag? What about Spentrails, Sam, Princesse Ecossaise, and SusieJ. I'm thinking one highly efficient desktop, one desktop with a tartan background, one with pictures of hunky rugby players and one with secret files on industrial espionnage.
Oh, and I haven't been very good at copying out the exact instructions so you'll have to go back to Ms Mac for those.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Cruel Booker Breastfeeder

I see that Anne Enright has won the Booker prize. I have not read any of her novels but I have noticed her writing in the London Review of Books. I think the first of her articles to draw my attention must have been "My Milk" published in October 2000 just before I had my first baby, so I probably didn't get round to reading it until about Christmas that year. By which time the subject of the article, breastfeeding, had become an all-consuming way of life. There are lines in the article that I quite liked :
...what fun to be granted a new bodily function so late in life. As if you woke up one morning and could play the piano.

but I didn't really get the whole thing, the intellectualising of something that, for me at least, was like falling off a log. I loved breastfeeding: it wasn't painful, it wasn't a source of offense, and it certainly wasn't sexual.

More recently I read a diary column by Anne Enright on "Hating the McCanns". It is provocative and it is cruel — somebody wrote a letter to the LRB the following week saying that it made him hate Anne Enright — but it is also honest. I can't help thinking that I too have been irritated by the "wounded narcissism" and the "corporate-executive" speak that the McCanns sometimes project.

Has anyone read The Gathering?

Monday, October 15, 2007


I have been gently chastised for not blogging, so here I am jumping back into the blogging movement — that never-ending, burbling stream of drivel.

I have been reading Muriel Barbery's L'Elégance du Hérisson (see side bar) and wallowing in her beautiful prose. The novel is about movement and more specifically precise, fleeting beautiful movements.

My own movement recently has been from Bordeaux to Nantes and back again by train: movement from one city to another, from home to hotel, from family to colleagues, from frantic preparation of a conference paper to the restitution of the paper as a presentation. When I got back from Nantes late on Saturday evening, the house was full of friends glued to the frustratingly staccato movements of 30 men on a rugby pitch - no French flair fluidity there, I'm afraid.

Sunday was spent in Rions, a medieval village - watching the alarmingly rapid movement downstream of muddy water as we picnicked on the banks of the Garonne.

Then there's the planned movement south for our upcoming half-term holiday: flights to Granada are booked, now we just need a car and somewhere to sleep (suggestions?).

I'll resist the temptation to take up the discussion on bowel movements initiated by Sarah in the comments to that last post!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Digital Scan

I'm doing some research at the moment using a Google scan of a book. Luckily, this isn't a page I'm going to be quoting from! (I wonder where one gets those little-fingerless latex gloves.)
A Visit to Paris in 1814: Being a Review of the Moral, Political ... By John Scott: "
with his remarks good deal of the outwar and who may e to look a little be be wi to giv accompany this Visit will be asked to reflect a little on what is to be seen the previous loss of the sharp edge of their curiosity seems absolutely necessary to dispose them to attend to him with patience and well calculated enable them to follow him with advantage to be sure not to prove obscure or anyone but lie eliiefly calc J es on their ve seen o this re ed te will Compare Js there c of tb is wit foj "

Thursday, October 04, 2007


I've never been to Burma, but I would like to be able to go one day. Click on the image and learn more about the campaign.

Free Burma!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Smoke gets .... everywhere

It seems incredible now but when I first started teaching, students would regularly ask if it was all right to smoke in the classroom. It's even harder to believe that I would invariably acquiesce, just so long as they agreed to sit by an open window.

Why, when I wasn't even a smoker, did I agree to having the room filled up with acrid fumes and students concentrating more on blowing perfect smoke rings than attending to the finer points of English grammar? I can't honestly remember. Perhaps I was more scared of students then than I am now. Perhaps I secretly wanted to be a smoker but never quite managed to get past the nausea. More probably, I had some warped idea about being accommodating and respecting their freedom even when it impinged on mine and I was definitely not keen on the idea of being labelled a puritan spoilsport.

I remembered all of this as I read this passage from Jenny Diski's Stranger on a Train
I didn't want to do as I was told, I didn't want to be more comfortable by conforming, giving in, as I saw it to the pressures of an anti-smoking policy that was reinforced by moral imperatives. Very childish. Yes, exactly. I also didn't want to become an ex-smoker, not if it meant that I became someone who tsked and sighed whenever I caught a whiff of smoke in the air. ... It was almost organic, my desire not to be a virtuous , self-righteous non-smoker.
I can relate to this in a non-smoking sort of way. I really organically don't want to be that sanctimonious disapprover either.

But now, as the smokers in France wail about the looming ban on smoking in bars and restaurants without ever really believing that it will come to pass (smoking is already banned in all public places but, this being France, places selling food and drinks got a reprieve until January 2008), I can't help thinking about how much more pleasant it is to go out in Scotland where the smoking ban has been a great success and there's no need to worry about having to become the intolerant tsker that I never thought I would be, as vile smoke wafts up my nose.

So much then for being a right-on understanding non-smoker then. But if only someone would invent a smokeless cigarette, I promise I would be tolerance personified.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Anger Management or Bureaucracy #2

So with all of this bookmooching, I've been getting lots of book-sized parcels arriving from around the world. Unfortunately, I've also got that pesky day job so I'm often not at home when the postman rings (no, just once).

When this happens, I get a little note telling me to go to the post office to pick my parcel up. Not the same day of course — that would be too convenient — the next day. But not if the next day is a Saturday because my agence postale is closed on Saturdays.

Last week, I found the little note on Friday so had to waituntil the Monday afternoon to pick my parcel up. But I got to the post office only to find the door closed with an unapologetic hand-written notice on it. The agency was closed for two weeks for a holiday (!), but parcels could still be picked up at the main Post Office. My blood pressure did a little war dance.

The next day, I got another of those chits and so took them both to the main post office. I queued for the usual eternity and smiled my best bonjour when it was my turn to approach the hallowed counter. I presented my two slips of paper along with a public transport card
with my photograph and name on it which I'd dug out of my bag.

"What's that?" said the guy behind the counter as if I'd placed a steaming turd on his desk.
"I.D.", I said.
"No, it's not", he said.
"Yes, it is. Look it's got my name and photograph on it. Is that me or is that not me?"
"It's not a passport or a driving licence. For all I know, you found this card in the street."
"It would be a strange coincidence if I'd found a card in the street that just happened to have my photo on it!"

By this time, I was protesting in rather a loud voice, and peppering the argument with ill-advised asides such as "Vivement la privatisation!". That was stupid, I know from experience that one should never argue — it's best to feign contriteness. People started staring, but the nasty little man wouldn't budge and I left huffing and puffing without my parcels.

I went away for a couple of days after that and forgot all about the parcels. When I got back there was another chit for a third parcel on the doormat, and I thought, great, I'll be able to kill three birds with one piece of ID. Only this time the parcel had to be picked up from, wait for it, yet another post office at the other end of town.

On Saturday morning, I finally got round to going back to pick up the first two parcels. I'd looked out my passport and I was ready to be polite to the self-appointed guardian of my reading materials. He wasn't there, and the parcels were handed over without me being asked for any proof of identity whatsoever.

I haven't been to get the third parcel yet. It's just too emotionally draining.

Bureaucracy schmoorokratie

Yesterday I signed E. up for a new recreation centre. I had to take with me:
  • our most recent tax returns
  • proof that we live at the address we live at
  • an identity photograph
  • a document from social security
  • an insurance document
  • a family allowance document
  • a certificate from our doctor
  • E's medical records for vaccination dates
  • certificates from our employers
One of these I had to forge.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I want to ride my bicycle

When I was nineteen, I spent the summer working on a campsite in Carnac in Brittany. I worked for a cheapskate camping company that wouldn't buy its couriers mobylettes which was a shame because riding a mobylette was really the best thing about being a courier. One day I went to a hypermarket in Vannes and bought a bicycle. It was a lovely brick red model with a basket on the front and "Jacques Anquetil" emblazoned in ochre letters on the frame.

At the end of the summer I took the bike back with me to Edinburgh and spent my student years using it on and off to cycle up and down hills in the city. Then I came to live in France and I can't quite remember how, but the bicycle came back over too at some point. I think I neglected it a bit for a while, not because I had learned how to drive (although I had) but because Bordeaux is a compact city and I tended to walk everywhere.

Then I rediscovered the joys of sailing past cars in traffic jams and started cycling to work. But at some time in the nineties my trusty bicycle was stolen from the university garage.

I have a beautiful new bike now, but whenever I see an old one that's just the right shape and the right colour and with the same replacement lamp at the front as my old one, I still do a quick check to see if it says "Jacques Anquetil" on the frame. I'm not quite sure what I would do if it did, run after it and challenge the owner to prove that it was really theirs, as opposed to mine from 10+ years ago?

Monday, September 03, 2007


While we were in Scotland over the summer, we took the children on the train up to Edinburgh and spent the day sightseeing. The Francoscotlets were underwhelmed but P. and I had a great time, although it did feel a bit strange being a mere tourist in a city I once knew intimately.

The city also kept popping up in things I was reading* and watching.
First in a biography of Bruce Chatwin by Nicholas Shakespeare. Chatwin spent a couple of years in a flat on the Canongate in a "nasty building with a good address". It seems that he hated "the gaunt northern capital" for its strait-laced society, its weather and it's sexual climate. No doubt the antipathy was mutual.

Then I saw a BBC4 documentary called "Ian Rankin's Hidden Edinburgh" during which I discovered that although you can't actually see the South Bridge because building were built backing onto both sides, it is still actually there and you can even visit the vaults underneath. Whole families used to live in this warren of underground rooms (which more or less brings us back to my last post). In fact, Edinburgh is such a many layered, many faceted city that it almost seems to have been built with novels about hidden depths in mind.

Kate Atkinson's "One Good Turn" also turned out to be set in Edinburgh. One of the less sympathetic characters — a festival performer — declares that it's a great city "fantastic to look at and all that, but it has no libido". A discussion ensues about which cities do have a libido - Rio de Janiero, Marseille... But the main character Martin concludes that "it was true that Edinburgh didn't have a libido, but would you want to live in a city that did?"

Well, would you?

* I've changed the LibraryThing widget in the sidebar and now it shows the books I've added recently, so you can see what I'm reading now rather than what I might — or might not — have been reading last year or when I was 18.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Spare rooms

Last week SusieJ wrote about a dream in which she showed her mother around her lake house and discovered that it had nine floors. I left a comment saying that I often used to have dreams about opening a door in our last (small) house and discovering that there were several more rooms that we had simply forgotten about. The dream would always end with a wonderful feeling of relief and a resolution to make more use of the masses of space I had rediscovered.
Now, we live in house with rooms in the attic that we really don't ever use and so I have moved on to dreams about extra apartments in town that we'd forgotten we had - "you know, we really should rent out that penthouse flat we have lying empty in the city centre, the extra income might come in handy."
Then yesterday, I read this post about a man in Turkey who broke through a wall at the back of a house and discovered "a room that he'd never seen,
which led to still another, and another. Eventually, spelunking archeologists found a maze of connecting chambers that descended at least 18 stories and 280 feet beneath the surface, ample enough to hold 30,000 people
Bldgblog points out, with a link to a previous post, that this might be the ultimate undiscovered room fantasy. I knew that some of my friends have had my undiscovered room dream too, (do you?) but when I followed the link and read all of the comments, I discovered (with some dismay, because nobody likes to discover that their fantasy world is, well, common) that it is a well-known phenomenon. One of the comments even had a link to this cartoon:

Slow Wave Live, originally uploaded by ranjit.

But as one of the other commenters sort of says, maybe the internet version of the fantasy is to discover a new site with links that lead to untold reserves of new pages and blogs and and surfing delight. Only to come back and discover that it has all gone 404.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

How to go from two cameras to no cameras

Customer service is not something that France is famous for, so when my camera went wonky at the beginning of the summer, although it was still under guarantee, my heart did that sinking feeling thing.

[This is really boring so feel free to skip over this whole sorry story of expensive telephone calls to the incompetent, evasive CDiscount after-sales staff based in Morocco, multiple e-mails, a registered letter, and a registered parcel. This painful process was only relieved by their refusal to give straight answers regularly descending into kafkaesque farce:
"I'll open a file in your name and pass it on to the appropriate department"
"Which department is that?".
"The appropriate one."
All of this effort gave rise to four identical responses advising me to get in touch with Panasonic (when getting in touch with Panasonic was of course the first thing I'd done) all signed by different people. My camera is still at the repairers in Lyon who are waiting for the go-ahead from CDiscount to start repairing it (cost 390€, so more than the camera is worth) because it turns out that the first year of the guarantee is covered by the manufacturer of the camera but the second is covered by the company that sells it to you. Of course that company does everything it possibly can to put you off trying to make that happen. After eight weeks, I finally made a mini breakthrough yesterday - they actually divulged the telephone number of their "Guarantees Department". Wow. I really feel that I am getting somewhere now.]

Luckily, we had an older compact camera and we've been using that since June. This weekend we went to the beach. (On the way there, we passed an gigantic warehouse being built by the side of the motorway. On the side, in massive letters we read CDiscount.) As we trekked through the forest to get to the beach, P. carried a basket and in that basket was a bag and in that bag was the replacement camera. At one point he said, "Oh look, the bag is open, I hope nothing has fallen out."

So now we have, wait a minute let me count, oh yes, that's right, zero cameras.

Any suggestion for a cheap compact (around 100€) that we might buy to tide us over until CDiscount coughs up ....... so probably for another couple of years.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Looking on the bright side

  • We spent no sleepless nights tossing and turning in the heat.
  • We didn't have to get the fans down from the attic.
  • Little time was wasted carrying food and dishes to and from the garden.
  • The parasol will see another year.
  • No saliva was wasted on having to repeat "Put your hat back on" ad nauseum.
  • I have an unopened bottle of Factor 50.
  • We didn't have to close the shutters at 8.30 a.m. every day.
  • I experienced mercifully few "Do my arms look flabby in this?" dilemmas.
  • Only half of the grass in the garden turned yellow.
  • This lack of tan will never fade.
It's actually very hot and sunny today, as it was yesterday, but it can't last, mark my words.....

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Black Gold

In a shady corner of a truffière just outside a little-known village in the Dordogne, a black truffle is slowly maturing under the earth. The truffière itself is well-concealed behind a walnut grove and the truffle's position is marked by a mysterious arrangement of pebbles and sticks, its top just visible under a light dusting of earth. It won't be ready until some time in the autumn.
This is a vey big secret and I must not tell anybody. Shhhhh.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Drippy Dordogne

Is there anything more dispiriting when you're on holiday than relentless rain pounding on the window for days on end ? Dampness invests the whole house with the smell of wet dogs and half-dried clothes. Through another downpour, we gaze longingly at the garden furniture, massive raindrops stotting off the white plastic. The lime tree which is usually a great provider of just the right amount of dappled shade becomes a bedraggled umbrella and its innumerous hues of green turn to uniform kahki. The merguez that were meant to be cooked and eaten outdoors just aren't the same when consumed straight from the frying pan in the fugg of a cold kitchen. Meanwhile, the children start to show signs of cabin fever. Luxurious long-lies turn into simple reluctance to get out of bed to face another day of half-hearted card games.
After one more dismal weather forecast, we decide to come home early.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Scotland this Summer

Scotland this Summer

Just dropping in to water the garden and do some washing on our way back from Scotland and on to the Dordogne. The highlights of the holiday so far:

Best Gardens: Threave near Castle Douglas.

Best Building: Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh.

Best Exhibition: "Consider the Lilies" in Kirkcudbright. (We didn't make it to the Picasso or Andy Warhol in Edinburgh.)

Best find: Kilos and kilos of chanterelle mushrooms.

Best Walk: Rockcliffe to Kippford.

Best Book: Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn

Best sporting event: Putting on the green in Moffat

Most unusual architecture: Samyi Ling Buddhist Temple at Eskdalemuir

Most misleading sign: "Families Welcome" outside a pub. This actually meant that the seedy bar was full of teenage mothers surrounded pushchairs.

Worst meal: Maxie's Bistro in Edinburgh. Dire.

Worst experience on coming home: having lost the ticket for the car park, closely followed by "popping" on the scales.

Best thing in the pile of post: My mini moo stickers. What should I do with them?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Locked out

Recently P. reminded me that it was about time we changed the batteries in our car keys because they might run out and leave us locked out of the car. The recommendation was immediately consigned to the "filter out" mailbox in my brain.

A couple of days later, I came back to the car in the supermarket car-park and pressed the button on the key. Nothing happened! Zada, nilch, que dalle. No reaction. No reassuring click. No friendly blink of the orange indicators. I tried again, pressing a little harder. And again, even harder pointing the key right in the window.


I got my phone out, readying myself to eat humble pie and ask P. to come and rescue me. As I was calling up his number, I noticed a neatly folded jacket on the back seat. I never fold anything neatly. And where were the booster seats?

My car (identical, I hasten to add), was parked a few spaces further along.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Eating (Far) Out

Despite a long history of international trade, notably in wine and slaves, Bordeaux used to be one of the least cosmopolitan cities imaginable. When I first arrived, apart from a few Vietnamese restaurants, and the ubiquitous pizza places, the choice when eating out was more or less traditional French or nouvelle-cuisine French. Similarly, the bars were mostly bistros and cafés.

Then, at some point in the late eighties we heard a wild and exciting rumour that an Indian restaurant was going to be open in Saint-Pierre. It was called the Koh-I-Noor — although it wasn’t the best Indian cuisine we’d ever had, it was good enough for curry-starved poppadomophiles like us, and we and our friends were regulars for a long time.

Slowly but surely, more Indians opened and Brazilian, Lebanese, African, Australian and Mexican restaurants started popping up all over the place too, along with English pubs and tapas bars and more recently a plethora of Japanese restaurants. At the same time, MacDonalds started their inexorable takeover of every strategic junction.

The other evening, just before a spectacular late-night fireworks display on the Pont de Pierre, we ended up back at the Koh-I-Noor after a very long absence. The food was awful and the serving staff were mostly ....... Japanese.

And if that wasn't enough, on the long walk home up the rue Sainte Catherine (the trams were all full, even at midnight), I noticed the latest new addition to Bordeaux's gastronomic scene — a Subway. How long until they open a Starbucks I wonder ?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Beach Bums

One of the great things about Bordeaux is that you can get out of the city and be on one of the most pristine beaches in Europe within three-quarters of an hour. The children are spending a few days with their grandparents and so we decided go to one of our pre-children haunts today.

Late this morning, as the thermometer rose well past 30°C, we got into the car and headed for Le Porge. As you can see in the photo, it's not the sort of beach you would go to if you want cocktail bars, or shade, or loungers, or if you had children with delicate white skin and no fear of water. All there is is miles and miles of sand and great big waves with dangerous undercurrents called bahines.

If you go to the central part of the beach, you can walk across the dunes on wooden walkways, and you will find lifeguards and closely packed families on the sand. Move just 500m on either side, and you will have to trudge through the pine forest and the hot sand to get to the beach but there will be much more space and fewer dogs and ice boxes.

The further you go, the more naked the people become. And if you keep going, you'll soon start to notice that you're the only woman for miles around and that none of the bronzed young men are paying you any attention whatsoever.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gremlins and Gripes

My I-Pod froze today and it took me ages to find the online instructions I needed to unfreeze it. This left me musicless for a whole morning since I depend on the I-Pod for music in the car (via a nice little cassette adaptor), and in the house (via a dock).

I cancelled our cable subscription and we haven't paid anything since last April. But France Numericable are so pathetic and therefore so inundated with cancellations that they don't have time to come out and unhook everyone so we're still watching cable only for free. This means that we haven't been forced into finding an alternative which in turn means that when they do uncable us we will only have Broadband TV which is a tad unreliable (ie. it breaks up or freezes after anything between an hour and two days). The Rugby World Cup starts in 58 days. I sense much lamenting ahead.

During E's birthday party my Leica lens stuck in the out position and the camera froze. It's being repaired by a man who knows a man at the moment but I hope we get it back soon because I've been reduced to filling my Flickr account with scans of old photos. I've also worked out that the camera is actually still under guarantee but can't find the receipt anywhere.

It's raining. It's been raining for about ten years.

The insurance company has agreed to replaster our living room walls and replace our (now corrugated) flooring. But first we have to get the pipe under the wall fixed or replaced. But I can't find anyone to do it. Plumbers say it's not their line of work, having the rain water re-routed into the well in the garden would be possible but horrendously expensive, it seems that the garden isn't big enough for trenches under the lawn to soak up all the water........ God, I'm even boring myself now.

And while I'm a it, you know another thing that really annoys me? Banks buying up every available corner lot in every town in France and making every crossroads as boring as the next.

And while I'm on the subject of banks. I recently wrote a cheque drawn from my Bank of Scotland current account: an account which I have had for TWENTY-SEVEN years. I haven't been overdrawn for at least two decades but I slipped up and the cheque for £80 was going to mean that I would be overdrawn by about a tenner. They refused the cheque and guess how much they charged me? Go on guess.
THIRTY-NINE Pounds! Goodbye Bank of Scotland, it was nice knowing you.

And breathe.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why blog?

Teuchter tagged me for a "five reasons why you blog" meme.

I blog because I frequently get bored with the work-related files on my computer.

I blog because I like putting words together and then throwing them out into the wilderness.

I blog because I get a kick out of comments and the connections they create.

I blog because if that freak bus accident were ever to happen, my children might one day read this and glean some idea of who I was.

I blog because I want to recreate the comforting regularity of the diary I had to write up every morning in Mrs Thompson's class in primary school.

Rather than tag anyone, I'm going to ask the people who read this but don't have a blog why they DON'T blog.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Happy Campers

Camping hasn't really changed at all since the seventies when my pre-adolescent self discovered the campsites of France on holiday with my parents. Having driven the length of Europe the first sign you saw on arrival, Accueil, was just as much of a misnomer then as it was this weekend after a drive of about an hour for two days' camping on Lacanau lake with the children and a little friend. The people behind the reception desk are still some of the most miserable examples of French inhospitality imaginable.

Some of the rituals I had forgotten about: queuing at the campsite shop to pick up the morning baguette and croissants, the trek to the sanitaires toilet-roll in hand, the garlic-laden plats à emporter. Other things immediately felt familiar: the sensation of sand between one's toes and the acrylic sleeping bag, the dilemma of finding a way of getting out of a shower and into flip flops without stepping on muddy floor tiles, the problem of finding something soft enough to form an ersatz pillow.

When night falls, a piece of canvas between you and a massive storm still feels hopelessly flimsy and amplifies the sound of pelting rain to unbelievable levels. Those tents may be the new sort that set themselves up in two seconds but folding them up still involves a certain amount of wrestling. And while the caravans may sport satellite dishes now, their owners still wear socks with sandals. As ever, the clientèle is still predominantly Dutch although they seem to favour Crocs over wooden clogs nowadays.

Enthusiastic parents still beam approvingly at their children as they make friends with little Hans and Gretchen. They think that this is the way it should be: all of us playing together with no language or cultural barriers — this is the future of Europe.

By coincidence the paperback that I threw into the boot as an afterthought after multiple spades and buckets and my little ponies was Europa by Tim Parks. So as I lay like a freakishly fat sardine in the tin with fidgeting children packed in sleeping bags on either side, to the murmur of various nationalities no doubt sharing a bottle of vin on plastic furniture swapping tips on the best place to buy Primagaz refills, I tried to read a few pages of Tim Parks's rather alarmingly cynical novel and learned among other things that the divorce rate for marriages involving two European nationalities is fifty percent higher than for mono-nationality marriages. Pierre steer clear of that little Ingrid!

Then I spent the rest of the night reflecting at regular intervals as I attempted to turn over, that my creaking body was definitely not overjoyed at this renewed encounter with the hard, unforgiving ground.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dead Donkey en sauce

Laughing at machine translations is the translator's equivalent of, well I'm not quite sure, but certainly something so facile and inequitable that it verges on downright cruelty. Anyway, call me vicious, but I'm not above mocking dumb pieces of software, and here for your callous derision are a few items from a menu I was given to chose from recently:

Jarret de porc confit au miel et aux épices
Bulge of crystallized pig to honey and spices

Poêlée de Saint Jacques au Pinot Gris
Holy Jacque's panful in Gray Pinot

Carré de veau à la crème et aux morilles
Square of calf to the cream and morels

Paillasson de choucroute ou nouilles larges à l'alsacienne
Door mat of sauerkraut or noodles broad to the alsatian one

Munster traditionnel avec croûtons de pain grillé au beurre
Traditional Munster with toasted heels and butter

Crème brûlée au Gewurztraminer
Cream burned in Gewurztraminer

Difficult to choose really, isn't it?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Put Put Putter Putter

Thanks for the collective shove. Here in no particular order are my somewhat cryptic responses to your prodding.

I read a post in a parenting blog recently about the best ways to get your children to tidy up their rooms and realised that I must learn to be more directive in my instructions. Apparently, it's not enough to say, or even shout, "tidy up your room or else." Who'd have thought? You have to say, put all the playmobils in this box, that's wonderful darling. Now put all of the dead animals here." Actually, I should probably start with teaching by example. Soon the children will have to advise me on the best method for shoving a year's worth of academic bumph into three tiny drawers.

Z, has had a haircut. He looks a bit like Oor Wullie.

He also received his first Oor Wulliesque report from primary school. Apparently the French school system has yet to hear of positive reinforcement for 6-year-olds; learning through play; and even the value of liaising with parents before the last day of school. Although the grades are all perfectly all right, the comments are terse : "Z. n'a pas encore compris qu'il n'est pas à l'école pour s'amuser". They'll be sending him down the mines next.

Since I last wrote, Bordeaux has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That's good, I think. I must go and visit some of the sights before the expected hordes of new tourists descend on us.

E. has turned five. She was 4.3 kg when she was born. That's a big baby. But she shot out like a torpedo. (My beloved brother tells me I really should not boast about how easily she shot out. I can't think why.)

Last night we went to her dancing school gala which lasted for almost THREE HOURS. It turned out that we had signed up not just to see little girls dancing bits of the Nutcracker Suite (I think that's what it was) but also adults who should have known better sharing the results of a year's worth of singing classes, and obese teenagers doing sullen hiphop routines trying to look cool and uninterested while at the same time pulling their t-shirts down over their wobbly tummies. Needless to say E's brief but perfect skip across the stage and graceful jump out of a box made it all worth it.

We've lived in this house since 1998, and we still don't have any toilet-roll holders. Is that bad?

Right, I think that's me back on the road again.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Voicethread and Langoustines

I've just discovered Voicethread via Nancy and I think I like it.
Here's an audio version of a meme Wendz tagged me for a while ago.
Consider yourselves tagged.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

With flowers in her hair possibly

It's nearly midnight and I'm lying in bed with the window open. It's a hot night and we have four children sleeping in various berths up here. Now that we've sorted out the mad scarpering from one room to the other and the disputes between those who want the light on and those who want it off, they all seem to be sleeping soundly. I can hear faint but familiar snuffling noises and some unfamiliar little snores. I've just finished a novel about an old lady and a Moroccan called Chérif and I'm starting The Time Traveler's Wife. It's hard going though because an unbelievably loud thumping bass is pouring in the windows. Sandi Thom is doing a free gig a couple of kilometres from our house on the Place de la Victoire. I can imagine the heaving crowds, the sweaty bodies and the music vibrating through them. I'm in bed reading — this must be middle age.

Monday, June 04, 2007

News from Choctaw Ridge

...or des nouvelles de Bourg-les-Essonnes

Another thing my brother and I tried to remember last weekend were the words to the song with the brain-wormy line "Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge".

By coincidence, the song came up in a Metafilter post this week along with a link to Billie Gentry's original version. I love the Billie Gentry version with it's unsettling whiney quality and strange narrative (much more than the Sheryl Crowe ersatz version) but I think I actually prefer Joe Dassin's French version. (I've googled everywhere but I'm afraid I just can't find a link to give you an idea of what it sounds like). In a clever transposition, the young man Billie-Joe becomes a young French woman, Marie-Jeanne
Guillaume, who throws herself off the "Pont de la Garonne" but like the original it never actually quite descends into the maudlin. One of the things I like is the way all of the cultural references are translated to a French context too:

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay
C'était le quatre juin, le soleil tapait depuis le matin
Je m'occupais de la vigne et mon frère chargeait le foin

And Papa said to Mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas
"Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please"
Et mon père dit à ma mère en nous passant le plat de gratin :
"La Marie-Jeanne, elle n'était pas très maligne, passe-moi donc le pain".

"I'll have another piece of apple pie, you know it don't seem right"
Donne-moi encore un peu de vin, c'est bien injuste la vie

However, in both versions the enigma remains — just what was it exactly that Billie-Joe (or Marie-Jeanne) and the singer were throwing off the bridge last Sunday? Answers in the comments please.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Thanks to my brother's fishy brush with royalty, I'm a tenuous connection nominee chez Moobs.
I'm such a sucker for hand-me-down glory.

Birthday weekend

Forgive me blog for I have neglected you but I’ve been busy celebrating my Mum’s birthday-with-a-zero-in-it. She arrived last week with my brother et al when the temperatures were just hitting 30°C. They left on Sunday in torrential rain and chilly winds. Weekend highlights included: a couple of nights in La Grange aux Amis; a memorable meal in Domme at a restaurant called Cabanoix et Chataîgnes (if you go you must try the foie gras and cocoa); multiple glasses of champagne; lavender kir; and a visit to Sarlat market on Saturday morning where we loaded up with cherries and chanterelle mushrooms, roast chicken and dried magret stuffed with foie gras. Now it's my own foie that is gras.

One of the things my brother and I reminisced about was a series we used to watch on TV after school. It was called Yao and told the black-and-white story of a little boy in Africa. It had strange haunting music, but google as I might, I can't find the music or a video excerpt although I have discovered that it was actually a French series and took place in the Côte d'Ivoire. Has anyone else ever seen Yao ?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

My son the comedian

Him: I've got a sore head [obvious ploy to get out of having his hair washed].

Me: Never mind. I'll just chop your head off.

Him: T'es folle. I'd have a sore neck then.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The pictures on our walls

The pictures on our walls

These are the pictures that we have on our downstairs walls.

a) One of them is the original Alison Auldjo painting that I mentioned in a previous post. I bought it with money my Mum gave me for a big birthday.

b) One of them was given to me by a friend from Glasgow. He bought it in a shop in the posh Prince's Square shopping centre.

c) One of them is a very cheap print from a shop called Alinéa, France's answer to Ikea

d) One of them is an engraving bought in an antiques shop in the Dordogne a couple of summers ago.

e) One is a Picasso print given to me by a friend who stayed with us for a few days a couple of weeks after Z was born.

f) And one of them was a present from my parents when they came over to France to see me defend my thesis and get my PhD.

So which is which? Answers in the comments. Let's call them:
1 2 3
4 5 6

Wild Knowledge

A couple of months ago, as if by magic, a switch was tripped in Z's brain circuitry and he could read. Suddenly, the laborious sessions of sounding out every letter then every syllable; of thinking about what sound every vowel combination might represent were over and whole sentences flowed effortlessly from his eyes to his mouth.

Two months on, it is still a source of wonder that a little brain should be able to do so much in such a short time. All text has become fodder for the reading machine he has in his head: cereal packets at breakfast, books in bed, shop signs in the street, his papa's outsize copy of l'Equipe.

My vicarious sense of accomplishment is nevertheless tinged with a little regret. It is one more milestone passed, one more thing he can do for himself, one more step away from me and the dependent days of cuddly babyhood. Clearly, I can no longer protect him from what Francis Spufford calls "the intensity of a solitary encounter with wild knowledge".

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Shock of Recognition

I've been busily bookmooching over the past couple of weeks — sending paperbacks off and receiving them too. One of those I mooched is by Carol Shields and called The Box Garden. The novel came out in 1977 and in many ways contemporary references seems almost as exotic as those found in Jane Austen with mentions of permapress dresses, vistadomes, consumerism, communes, back-combing and the Women's Movement (with capital letters).
I'm only half-way through the book, but here's a snippet that provided a jolt of recognition:
G. tends to forget exact references. Information seeps beneath her pores, for she is an intelligent woman, but it is always disjointed, disassociated; she's never never been the same since she underwent shock therapy.
In a couple of days I'll be referring to that book with the green cover, you know, the one by the Canadian author called Caroline thingy that takes place in the eighties or was it the seventies? And I don't even have the excuse of shock therapy....yet.

Give away your books at

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Still Missing

Madeleine McCann

Madeleine McCann missing in Portugal. Have you seen her?
Please contact: +351 289 884 500, + 351 282 405 400, +351 218 641 000

Madeleine McCann desapareceu em Portugal. Tem informações sobre o seu paradeiro?
Por favor contacte: 289 884 500, 282 405 400, 218 641 000, 112

Click on the photo above if you'd like to stick this missing poster on your own blog. It's important not to forget.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Night Meme

Deborah suggested I do this meme which she first saw at Marrickvillia. It's a bit different and after a day of trudging around Bordeaux International Fair it is about as much as I can cope with.

I have several small scars on my tummy from a laparoscopic cholecystectomy I had in 1999. After several nights of pain and sleeplessness, I came to the conclusion that I had gall stones. There were some clues: my Mum had had her gall bladder out, my Dad had had his out and my grandfather had had his out. The first radiologist still managed to miss the 2.5cm gall stone on the x-ray, and concluded that I was suffering from dyspepsia. House he was not. My operation was scheduled for 10th November and I went into hospital the night before. They woke me up at about six, put me in a gown and splattered orange antiseptic liquid all over my tummy. I lay rigid in bed until the doctors came round about 6 hours later and told me that they'd had a long procedure in the O.R. and just couldn't fit me in. Could I come back, not the next day which was a public holiday, but in two days time?

An abstract painting by a Scottish artist called Alison Auldjo. And some prints.


My taste in music is eclectic. (Eclectic is the new skinny, don't you know?) At the moment I'm still listening to that damned Mika over and over again. But the musical highlight of my week is whatever Julien does on La Nouvelle Star. He's a genius.

A dandelion.

I would quite like an article I have to finish next week to write itself.


In the middle of the night, I think.

My dad died in 1994. Otherwise, I'm sure they would be.

The noisy fan on my Powerbook.

I don't particularly like being outside at night in the country in the dark.

I have tears in my eyes every time I read the news about Madeleine McCann. And now I want to score out my silly answer to question 6 and replace it with the wish that she is returned to her parents very, very soon.

At the moment Kenzo's Flower. I also like Guerlain's Champs Elysées.

I really couldn't care less.

Yes. I also frequently think how fortunate I am to have had my children in the age of epidurals. Overdosing on House MD is making me want to try Vicodin in large quantities. Call me impressionable.

Come back and ask me that question in my next life, because it's just not topical any more!

I like all pizzas except those that include smoked salmon and/or pineapples which I like fine, just not on pizzas..

I'm not really too hungry at the moment because I went out for lunch today and had a delicious foie frais pané with orange powder and asparagus, a fish trio in broccoli sauce and some strawberry melba.

A person at work. An extremely satisfying experience.

I certainly hope so. (P. is nodding his head)

Now it's your turn. Go on, you know you want to.

Monday, May 07, 2007


The polls had been predicting this for months but that didn't make the inevitable morning-after feeling any easier to shake off. Parents at the school gate were subdued.
Bonjour. Ca va?
Colleagues at work were depressed. Two of my friends are married to Algerians: they are frankly uneasy. I seem to be destined to forever live among people who vote against the mainstream. I lived for years in a Scotland that voted Labour but was subjected to Thatcher. Now I live in a Ségolene-voting South-West France that faces five years of "le petit excité". There were plenty of people in the streets of Bordeaux last night, but they definitely weren't celebrating — they were lamenting. If you don't know anything about Nicholas Sarkozy, think Bush and Berlusconi rolled into one massive ego. Think megalomania. Think increased social inequality. Think friends in big business. Think tax breaks for the rich and diminishing public health care. Think repression. Think America's new lapdog.

I'm off to do what it takes to have my say in five-years' time.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I've been thinking

... or maybe just letting thoughts lap over my consciousness like intermittent waves. I've been thinking about all the things I have to get done this week - reports to write, exam papers to mark, an interpreting job to prepare. I've been thinking about how quickly E. is slipping out of infanthood - when did 4 year-olds start going to slumber parties? And about how taking just one child out in the evening changes the dynamics of the event and makes it much more leisurely and yes, pleasurable. I've been thinking about the city I live in and how much it has changed since I arrived here all those years ago when people paddling in a miroir d'eau on the quais would have been unthinkable. I'm thinking about the summer - Scotland or the Dordogne first? I've been wondering about BookMooch etiquette — isn't it a bit cheeky of someone who'll only send books to "their own country" to ask me to send one to theirs? I've been thinking (and talking) non-stop about the presidential elections here in France: not Sarko, please please please not Sarko. And about the delectable Hugh Laurie and his stubble - is it reasonable to stay up late into the night to watch all those episodes of House MD in a row? Finally, today, I've been thinking about the very yellowness of gorse bushes under a dark sky in that scrubland that leads into the dunes. And through all of this, that pop song insinuating its gnawing way into my mental background - irritatingly familiar and omnipresent but what was it, where had I heard it? I could be brown, I could be blue, I could be violet sky. It turned out to be Mika's Grace Kelly, first planted in my brain by this man, and I've been listening to it outside my head ever since. Now I need some more thoughts to muffle it.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Thinking blogs

Zoo Mosaic, originally uploaded by Lezzles.

Ha. So Heather thinks that I deserve a thinking blogger award. [Insert self-deprecating but nevertheless sincere remark here. Perhaps something unfavourably comparing own level of cogitation to that of the big gorilla guy photographed above, which would at least justify presence of a mosaic of yesterday's zoo photos in an otherwise completely unrelated post.]

I believe that I now get to make my own nominations.

I have to say that all of the blogs in my sidebar are blogs that I like so much that I pounce on them as soon as they are updated. These, then, are just some of the blogs that I consider to be thinking blogs rather than laughing blogs, or gazing blogs, or keeping-up-to-date blogs, or cooking blogs, or learning-handy-things blogs.

Connaissances (will make you think about poetry and science)
Gin and Teutonic (will make you think about this life abroad)
Meanwhile Here In France (will make you think about beauty in things and in words)
Naked Translations (will make you think about French and English)
Sarah's Books - Used and Rare (will make you think about books and bookselling)
Technologies du Langage (will make you think about language and politics)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

April 23rd, Foreigners and Aliens

I spent far too much of yesterday obsessively searching for a half-remembered quote from a book (but which book?) on the subject of April 23rd.

My garbled memory of the passage tells me that April 23rd is not only Saint George's day but also Shakespeare's birthday and Dantes' birthday (or perhaps deathday). For this reason, in some countries (which countries?) the date is associated with literature and it is traditional to give the gift of a book on this day (but to whom?).

I didn't give any bookish presents yesterday but I did join BookMooch which I'd been meaning to do ever since Heather told me about it.

While I was fruitlessly skimming though books looking for the elusive passage (I could clearly visualise it three-quarters of the way down a right-hand page), I came across this much more interesting paragraph about the difference between expatriates and foreigners. I've never liked the term ex-pat and in fact I hadn't ever heard it bandied about much until I started reading so-called ex-pat blogs. Alasdair Reid explains what the word means to him in Whereabouts: Notes on being a Foreigner, a book I mentioned in my last post.
[Expatriates] have left their own countries on a long lead, never quite severing the link with home, never quite adapting themselves to their exile, clinging to one another for company, haunting post-offices, magazine stands, and banks, waiting expectantly for money from home, anything at all from home. Expatriates are generally getting their own countries into perspective, to the point where they feel strong enough, or desperate enough, to return to them. Foreigners, conversely, live where they are, leaving their pasts and countries behind them for the place they take root in. In one sense, they are lucky: they are free to enter a new context unencumbered, with clear eyes, and are often able to savor a place in a way that escapes the inhabitants, for whom it has become habit. But however well a foreigner adapts himself to a place and its inhabitants, however agile he becomes in the lore and the language, there is a line he can never cross, a line of belonging. he will always lack a past and a childhood, which is really what is meant by roots.

The picture above which is me à la Modigliani (and yes, I have to agree, I look more alien than foreign) was created here. You too could see what you would look like if you were black/white/asian/a man/woman etc.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Preserve us not from the list-makers

"Oh Lord, preserve us from the list-makers. And then preserve us from those who comment on the lists" says Judith Flanders. This didn't deter me from having a look at the results of a Waterstones survey in which the bookseller asked its staff to name their favourite five books written since 1982 — the date Waterstones opened its first branch. I liked a lot of the books on the list: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime, The Shipping News, The Poisonwood Bible, The God of Small Things, The Crow Road, Snow Falling on Cedars, Love in the Time of Cholera. Some I thought were tripe: Chocolat, Birdsong, Notes on a Scandal, The Da Vinci Code.

I'm not sure how I would have answered. Perhaps I would have included five of these:

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
Footsteps by Richard Holmes
Whereabouts by Alastair Reid
Findings by Kathleen JamieNight Falls on Ardnamurchan by Alasdair Maclean
Morvern Callar by Alan Warner
La Route Bleue by Kenneth White
No Great Mischief Alistair Macleod
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

It would seem that I have a penchant for travel books with one-word titles by Scots, preferably called Ala/isd/tair. What about you?


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 ...