Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Best of 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Year of Reading

Here is the annual list of books wot I have read. I've been good at adding books to LibraryThing as I read them, so if you've been an attentive reader you'll have noticed all of these appearing in the sidebar. As usual, the ones I loved are the top, those I didn't are at the bottom and the middling ones are in the ... middle. I'm not providing links this year since due to the recession and because I know you're just as capable of googling as I am.

The Road, Cormac McCarthy (pure desolate brilliance)
Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger, Nigel Slater (funny, sad and satisfying)
Out of Sheer Rage: In the Shadow of D.H.Lawrence, Geoff Dyer (alternative auto/biography)
A Lie about My Father, John Burnside (a (mostly) bad man)
Fall on Your Knees, Anne Marie MacDonald (vast story set in provinical Canda and another bad father)
Fascination, William Boyd (16 brilllant short stories. Boyd is a master of all things fiction)
Skating To Antarctica, Jenny Diski (memoir and travelogue)
The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald (childhood Canadian detective fiction)
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O'Farrell (Scottish story of old age and deception)
Crow Lake, Mary Lawson (I seemed to read a lot of Canadian fiction this year and this was another good one)
The Other Side of the Bridge, Mary Lawson (provincial Canada ....again)
Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens, Sofka Zinovieff (one of the best "living abroad" books I've read, recommended by Mike of Fevered Mutterings)
The Accidental, Ali Smith (I loved some of the wordy riffs in this book)
Paris Trance, Geoff Dyer (I'm glad I discovered Geoff Dyer this year)
Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered, Geoff Dyer
Stuart: A Life Backwards, Alexander Masters (homeless but not completely hopeless)
The Smoking Diaries, Simon Gray (He died just after I read this)
I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away, Bill Bryson (he still makes me laugh)
The Patience of the Spider, Andrea Camilleri (I read about one of these Inspector Montalbano a year - for the Italian food rather than the intrigue)
Quartier lointain : L'intégrale, Jirô Taniguchi (this graphic novel was a present and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it)
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Steven D. Levitt (poponomics)
Saint Maybe, Anne Tyler (one from the back catalogue, as reliable and comforting as ever)
Clear Waters Rising: A Mountain Walk Across Europe, Nicholas Crane (he walks from Cape Finisterre to Istanbul, with just his two legs!)
The View from Castle Rock, Alice Munro (Another Candaina one. Short, sometimes autobiographical, pieces about the past)
The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Kim Edwards (twisty)
Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace (I'd like to rad more DFW)
Rosengarten, Janice Galloway (a quirky exhibition tie-in about midwifery)
On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan (not his best IMHO)
The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton (bits and pieces of non-fiction)
Michael Tolliver Lives, Armistead Maupin (old friends)
Memoirs of a Highland Lady, Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus (I’m still dipping into this 19th C diary)
The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett (mildly amusing)
The Sea, John Banville (I think I liked this, but I can't remember very much about it)
The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl, Shauna Reid (gaun yersel Shona)
Mister Pip, Lloyd Jones (good if you love Dickens. I don't think I love him enough)
Echo Park, Michael Connelly (beach reading)
Arlington Park: A Novel, Rachel Cusk (mildly depressing novel about women in London suburbia)
The Missing, Thomas Eidson (the film is good too)
The Cone-Gatherers, Robin Jenkins (I thought I was going to like Robin Jenkins, but I didn't)
The Pearl-fishers, Robin Jenkins
Something to Declare, Julian Barnes (only for Flaubertophiles)
The Pilot's Wife, Anita Shreve (I think that this might have been the second time I had read this novel, but it didn't make much of a mark the first time)
Chasing Mammon: Travels in the Pursuit of Money, Douglas Kennedy ( a little dated now)
Sorbonne Confidential, Laurel Zuckerman (cf. last post)
Blood, Sweat and Tea: Real Life Adventures in an Inner-city Ambulance, Tom Reynolds (read the blog, shouldn't have bought the book)
Petite Anglaise, Catherine Sanderson (ditto)
Bananas in Bordeaux: Self-sufficiency for Dreamers, Louise Franklin (a blog that wasn't)
Burning Bright, Tracy Chevalier (I've enjoyed some of Chevalier's other novels but I never got to the end of this one)
Longitude, Dava Sobel (I like popular science but I just couldn't get into this)
Treasure Islands: Sailing the South Seas in the Wake of Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson, Pamela Stephenson Connolly (some people have too much money)

The vast majority of these books were provided by Bookmooch and most of the rest by my Mum - thank you both!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Suck it up at the Sorbonne

A few weeks ago I received an advance review copy of Sorbonne Confidential by Laurel Zuckerman from LibraryThing. Sorbonne Confidential is the story of an American woman in her mid-forties who finds herself laid off from a job in business in Paris, hits on the idea of teaching English as the perfect solution to her unemployment woes and duly signs up for the prestigious agrégation exam to secure entry into the state education system. She then discovers just what a difficult exam the agrégation is and just how French it is.

I did not like this book. I found the carping complaints about the whole system irritating, especially after the discovery that the candidate had failed the exam. I sympathise with a native English speaker who finds the competitive exam route to teaching in France élitist, fastidious and archaic, I really do. I am willing to accept, however, that it is a profoundly French institution respected by the vast majority of those who have taken and passed it and that if you want to be part of the system you have to accept that. Neither do I agree that as native English speakers we are all automatically qualified to do the job of teaching our language.

It's a little unsettling that Zuckerman give no reason for wanting to be a teacher other than the financial stability it would offer her. She seems to believe that her American origins and her voracious reading habits are qualification enough for the job. What she fails to recognize is that education is culture; that language teaching is deeply ideological; that loving to read is not the same as teaching literature. She also makes the wrong choice - the agrégation is a prestigious qualification requiring a robust literary or linguistic background — her background suited her for the more modest Capes. Had she been properly advised, she could have prepared for both, would probably have passed the Capes and ended up with the job security she craved.

I'm not sure about the trajectory this book followed to publication. It appeared in French last year (to mainly positive autocritical reviews) but won't be published in English until next year. Did the author write the original in French? I'm not sure, but some clumsier passages certainly ring like English badly translated from French and there are a few grammar mistakes that would make an agrég jury shudder (eg. "there are no less than six pharmacies") and a piece of jewellery is twice somewhat bizarrely referred to as a "broach".
And let's not get into the red-rag question of why "pigs trotters" is not some obscure term unknown to the entire English-speaking world.

I was curious about what Laurel Zuckerman had become since failing the agrégation and writing this book, so I googled her name. I have no idea what she is doing now, other than giving interviews, but I did discover that she is on
Facebook and listed as a fan of Valérie Pécresse the minister for higher education who is currently engaged in trying to scrap the concours system - to massive outcry from university teachers throughout France.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens

I nicked this one from Ms Mac. A hundred things I love in no particular order. I tried to make this into a scrolling text but my first version got eaten up so these are really my second hundred.

1. good wine 2. mediocre wine 3. sausage rolls 4. chubby cheeks and dimples 5. Guerlain perfume 6. BBC Radio 4 7. Bookmooch 8. giggling in the staff room 9. the Dordogne in autumn 10. twinkly lights 11. Dr Gregory House 12. fresh sheets 13. thoughtful blogs 14. verbena 15. "I love you Mummy" 16. new words 17. long lies 18. purple velvet 19. bagpipes 20. Taratata 21. a wood fire in our hearth 22. the shape of my iPhone 23. slideshows 24. Bordeax trams 25. interpreting 26 tapas 27. fishing boats 28. silver 29. antiquarian book shops 30. mysterious parcels 31. Frankie Boyle 32. the smell of bracken 33. long walks 34. mulled wine 35. Lebanese restaurants 36.coriander 37. Sunday markets 38. Carl Larsson prints 39. Homes & Gardens 40. sleepy children 41. Talisker 42. cookery books 43. Mastermind 44. speculos 45. travelogues 46. steaming pots 47. attics 48. Devendra Branhart 49. white walls 50. railway stations 51. Hayao Miyazaki 52. Pompom's polar bear 53. long dinners al fresco 54. tablet 55. The Broons 56. chintz 57. peony roses 58. botanic gardens 59. wool shops 60. very old pubs 61. Daniel Mermet 62. Kenneth White 63. black labradors 64. watercolours 65. Spanish villages 66. islands 67. Nespresso 68. very bright scarves 69. squeaky hair 70. reminiscing 71. smoked salmon 72. wooden floors and kilims 73. Indian head massages 74. Highland cows 75. maps 76. hot showers 77. hearing Italian 78. vast open spaces 79. department stores at Christmas 80. collages 81. interested students 82. going off the beaten track 83. libraries 84. black patent shoes 85. Crocs 86. old postcards 87. new places 88. office supplies 89. pizza in front of the telly 90. home movies (but not other people's) 91. babies 92. Richard Scarry picture books 93. hummus 94. RLS 95. biographies 96. Le Zapping 97. windy beaches 98. San Sebastian 99. attics 100. old-fashioned campsites

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sub-total immersion

Until last weekend, we had an eighteen year-old staying in our spare bedroom. Charlotte is the daughter of my best friend in Scotland and her plans for a gap year in Nepal fell through at the last minute due to that pesky Marxist coup. I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about a teenage girl we hardly know staying with us for a whole month. However, I needn't have worried because she turned out to be the ideal house guest — she was in class studying French all day and out most evenings doing whatever it is that eighteen-year-olds do nowadays. When she was here she was a pleasure to have around.

I was constantly reminded of how much things have moved on since I was eighteen and came to work in France for the first time. In those days (can you hear my voice going reedy and see my body leaning lower over my walking stick?) I used to save up five-franc pieces for my weekly call home from a draughty phone box. Our broadband provider gives us free calls to just about anywhere in the world so Charlotte could call home any time she liked. Apart from the occasional letter, I was out of touch with my friends back home for almost all of the time that I was in France; Charlotte kept in touch with her friends through Facebook and text messages. I used to save up and buy the occasional English-language newspaper, Charlotte could have read any newspaper she liked on the internet. I went home after three months to discover that there were lots of new adverts and series on TV, Charlotte could have watched English-language television to her heart's delight via satellite (had we a satellite dish, hint, hint), cable (had she wanted to suffer through reruns of Dad's Army and The Good Life) and of course copious downloading.

I'll stop there before I get to the "well we lived in a shoebox in a cess pit" line from Monty Python. I suppose that what I'm saying is that it's actually much more difficult nowadays to achieve the total immersion effect in a foreign language.

Charlotte is off to New Zealand next month — I suppose the Maoris have broadband too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Spot on?

Typalayzer tells you what you're really like......maybe.

The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:

The Artists

The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and have to look out not to be taken advantage of.

They often prefer working quietly, behind the scene as a part of a team. They tend to value their friends and family above what they do for a living.

Well, I suppose the "not friends of many words" part is correct.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008


This is a good meme that was passed on to me by the Teuchter (what a lovely word Teuchter is). I have to provide a list of the last ten commenters on this blog and then answer some questions about them. They should then do the same thing.

1. Rosie: A Bitch About Brittany
2. Ms Mac
3. Engelsk
4. Lucy : Box Elder
5. Neil: Neil Writes the Blog
6. Deborah (independent commenter!)
7. Le Laquet
8. Anne : Belgian Waffle
9. Frankofile
10. Dick of Dick Jones' Patteran Pages

1. What is your favourite post from number 3’s blog?

I quite like this one - there was a similar one last year I think.

2. Has number 10 taken any pictures that have moved you?

Dick's blog is about words more than pictures. His poems have certainly moved me.

3. Does number 6 reply to comments on their blog?

Deborah still doesn't have a blog but her daughter Lucie who is an extremely talented artist started a trilingual one recently. I give you Lucie Geffré.

4. Which part of blogland is number 2 from?

Ms Mac lives in the Village of the Damned in deepest Switzerland but as I know only too well you can take the girl out of Scotland but you can't .........

5. If you could give one piece of advice to number 7 what would it be?

I'd praise her rather than give her advice - well done lightweight!

6. Have you ever tried something from number 9’s blog?

I'm sure I've nicked something at some time from almost all of the blogs I read - and I'd quite like to borrow Sky, Frankofile's black lab.

7. Has number 1 blogged something that inspired you?

Rosie's posts about teaching music to autistic children are more than inspiring, they are life-enhancing.

8. How often do you comment on number 4’s blog?

I comment on Lucy's blog quite often - usually to say nothing more interesting than that I love a photograph or agree with a beautifully expressed observation.

9. Do you wait for number 8 to post excitedly?

I have to be honest and say that I don't exactly wait excitedly for anyone to post, but when I see a new post from Belgian Waffle in Google Reader my cursor does tend to go straight to it.

10. How did number 5’s blog change your life?

Ha! I could write a book about how Neil's blog changed my life. ......... it would be a very short book.

11. Do you know any of the 10 bloggers in person?

I've known Deborah for a very long time. I have never met any of the others, I would definitely recognise a few of them if they passed me in the street (Ms Mac, bespectacled Neil, Rosie...) and would respond enthusiastically to a dinner invitation from any of the ten!

12. Do any of your 10 bloggers know each other in person?

Rosie and Lucy are friends. Ms Mac comments on Rosie's blog. Lucy and Dick link to each other. Le Laquet and Ms Mac link to each other. Does Ms Mac know Anne? Maybe because her friend Heather definitely does. (Does anyone else miss Heather's blog? Come back Heather.) I'm not sure about Frankofile. Engelsk and Neil are the wild cards in this group.

13. Out of the 10, which updates more frequently?

Ms Mac, I think. (although I miss the daily dose of her 365 photos on Flickr).

14. Which of the 10 keep you laughing?

Neil mostly (who wouldn't laugh at these photos?)

15. Which of the 10 has made you cry (good or bad tears)?

I can't say that any of them have made me cry. Smile. Worry. Frown. But not cry.

Monday, November 10, 2008


When you book the cheapest all-inclusive holiday ever at the very, very last minute you don't really expect luxurious accommodation, fluffy white bath towels and the best upper sets as fellow holiday-makers. And sure enough, we didn't get any of that in Gran Canaria. But we did get sun. And we did get a perfectly acceptable apartment, a nice pool, edible food, lashings of alcohol on tap and the dunes of Maspalomas. So as I lay on a sunbed reading David Foster Wallace's Consider The Lobster, thinking that many of the characters around me sounded a lot like people I had seen in Eastenders (there were even two Frank Butchers) — and feeling not a little superior (mostly because of my reading matter rather than any innate class) — I came upon this passage on vulgarity:
But of course we should keep in mind that vulgar has many dictionary definitions and that only a couple of these have to do with lewdness and bad taste [DFW is writing about the porn industry]. At root, vulgar just means popular on a mass scale. It is the semantic opposite of pretentious or snobby. It is humility with a comb-over.
So , there you have it — I am proud to have been a vulgar tourist and here is my vulgar slideshow.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

MsMac has awarded me the I *heart* your blog award. I know I don't deserve it because I've been a very irregular blogger for a long time now, but I'm chuffed. Oh, and all I have to do is this eeny weeny meemey thing.

Where is your mobile phone? recharging
Where is your significant other? on a ladder
Your hair colour? a bit like Jilly Cooper's (yeuch)
Your mother? homemaker extraordinaire
Your father? was wonderful
Your favourite thing? a glass of wine at the end of the day
Your dream last night? blank screen
Your dream goal? not to have any goals
The room you're in? study/guest room (madly tidying up for guest)
Your hobby? surfing
Your fear? failure
Where do you want to be in 6 years? France
Where were you last night? here, watching Taratata on TV
What you're not? mean
One of your wish-list items? new Macbook
Where you grew up? Penicuik
The last thing you did? tidy up (sigh)
What are you wearing? old clothes (better ones packed for hols)
Your TV? I think I can hear rugby noises
Your pets? I used to have a cat called Piseag but he's been dead for over 20 years
Your computer? yes, my computer
Your mood? mildly excited
Missing someone? not at the moment
Your car? clapped out
Something you're not wearing? my usual contacts (trying out bifocal contact lenses)
Favourite shop? antiquarian bookshops
Your summer? cool
Love someone? yes
Your favourite colour? blue
When is the last time you laughed? a few moments ago
Last time you cried? honestly can't remember

And I, in turn, nominate Box Elder, Belgianwaffle, and Neil because I love their blogs.

I'm off on my hols tomorrow but I'm going to try to put my iPhone to good use and send you a few photies while I'm away.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is that you out there?

A few ideas have fleetingly tickled my blogging muscle over the past few days, and then evaporated. Today I saw the ophthalmologist and he told me that no, I was not a good candidate for surgery because visually it's downhill all the way from now on.
He prescribed variable lenses - granny glasses. He also said that I should wear my specs as much as possible and reserve my lenses for when I want to look smart (I think "pour quand vous sortez danser" was his exact phrase).
Also, did you know that there have been no scientific studies into the long term effects of wearing soft contact lenses 16 hours a day for twenty years? I am a guinea pig.
Anyway, I briefly thought about turning those little gems into a far-reaching meditation on the niggling inevitability of the march of time. But I'm feeling a bit too decrepit tonight.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"If you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough"

I've been reading Freakonomics and am fascinated by the chapter on cheating among Chicago schoolteachers who, it seems, have had a tendency in the past to correct their pupils wrong answers before sending their tests in to the exam board. The idea of teacher fraud was new to me, but I'm familiar with that of rampant student cheating.

In fact, anyone who has spent any time in a French university knows that students here generally* have a completely different attitude to cheating in exams to anything one might have come across at one's alma mater. Over the years, I've had many discussions about this with my students and it seems impossible to communicate satisfactorily to them the stigma associated with cheating in universities in the English-speaking world. They laugh and argue that cheating is simply a game played out knowingly between examinee and examiner; that passing notes during an exam is a sign of "student solidarity"; that cribs (antisèches) are legitimate reference tools; and that only losers don't at least try to cheat. It makes exam invigilation a tiresome game of cat and mouse.

So we all agree that cheating is bad and certainly not at all comparable to telling tiny fibs through omission to the telephone people in order to secure a new phone. Good, I'm glad we got that straight.

*I'm not suggesting, of course, that every single student in France cheats all of the time. Many students are scrupulously honest.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Pride comes before having to plunge your hand down the toilet

We hadn't been together for very long but he had already become an important part of my life. In fact I depended on him for a lot of things, perhaps too many things. He knew so much, was open to the world and kept me informed of all the latest news, encouraged me to keep in touch with my friends and family, played me beautiful music, kept me constant entertaining company. It got to be that I just couldn't get through the day without consulting him at regular intervals. At night, he was a comforting sleek black presence as he slept beside me. I had shown him off to all of my friends and colleagues and bored my on-line friends silly with talk of his beauty and performance. And then suddenly I felt him slipping away............. slipping away down the toilet as he dropped out of my pocket and into the yellow water.
Bye bye darling iPhone. It was lovely knowing you — and if you want to miraculously come back to life, I'll be here waiting for you.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

To Market

Recently, whilst engaged in some pleasant pursuit my enjoyment has sometimes been curtailed by the sudden thought that this activity is almost certainly the subject of a post on Stuff White People Like. As you probably know the title of that blog is misleading - it's not so much about what white people per se like, but about what reasonably well-educated, middle class, middle-aged people who like to think of themselves as socially aware (ie. me) think they should like. In some ways the title of the French equivalent is better - it's called Trucs de Bobo (a bobo being a bourgeois bohemian).

Viz my trip with the children yesterday morning to the market at Saint Michel. There are several markets in and around Bordeaux during the week, notably a rather contrived one on the quayside on a Sunday morning which attracts well-heeled city-dwellers out with their baskets and their poodles for a little local colour. (Rumour has it that the mayor Alain Juppé often has his driver drop him off just round the corner where he unloads his bike from the boot then cycles around the market stopping to shake the occasional hand and make some token purchase.) The market at Saint Michel is nothing like that - it's big and authentic and full of pungent smells and shouting and people pushing and shoving.

Yesterday we made our way through crowds of cash-strapped people doing their weekly fruit and veg shop; women buying vast quantities of pastries in preparation for feasts at sundown (it's Ramadam remember), past tables piled high with mint and coriander and barbary figs, others with many bolts of either very sparkly or very dowdy material; stalls that specialise in Spanish cheeses, hams and chorizo; young men in robes collecting money to build a new mosque; Halal butchers and African spice merchants.

It's all hugely enjoyable and dépaysant, a bit like a trip across the Mediterranean but only a stone's throw from home, and the produce is cheap to boot. Just the sort of thing we bobos go mad for.

But if there's one thing we bobos know how to do well, it's decorticate our own smug little predilections and laugh at them, n'est-ce pas?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Is this thing on?

Shopping for a dictionary at our local bookshop and wondering if this e-mail malarkey actually works. White people like to shop locally of course - more on that later.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I think I can feel a pulse!

Maybe it's time to resuscitate this blog - two posts in three months is a little shabby.

Where on earth did all that time go? I've been looking back at my twitters for those three months to refresh my memory and it seems that:
I took the children on a camping trip to Lacanau and discovered that I the ground is a hard place when you sleep on it.
I did a few interpreting jobs - one of them in a beautiful château in Sauternes, another in a recycling plant, one with Palestinians and Israelis, one with psychomocologists.
I went to Scotland twice - first to take Z for his first solo stay at Grandma's then for a two-week holiday with the rest of the family.
I spent two rainy weeks in the Dordogne.
I volunteered to create two web sites (before realising that I didn't know how to do that so resorted to making two blogs but cunningly disguised them as web sites).
I lusted and obsessed over an iPhone and finally got one in August.
And I took a few photos.

Summer 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

17H10 is multitask time

Here's what I was doing at 17H10 today - I was twittering:

I'd just got back from Ikea and I'd unloaded 120€-worth of things we don't really need from the back of the car:
  • a glass jug
  • 3 summer-weight quilts (I think they might be made of paper)
  • a white lamp shade
  • a red quilt cover chosen by E
  • a mirror with pretty engraving
  • a garland of fairy lights
  • filters for the oven hood
  • wax for the kitchen surfaces
  • a half-price wine rack
  • 6 fluorescent plastic plates
I'm an overwrought working mama so as I twittered I was simultaneously juggling some other tasks:
  • writing an e-mail to thank the colleague in Italy who went to the lost property office at Bergamo airport to pick up my stranded mobile phone and posted it to me.
  • consulting the Orange website to confirm that they still (sigh) have no black 16G iPhones in stock.
  • getting a load of laundry ready (a sleeping bag and two pairs of Crocs - one pair smells strange because it was worn to a goat milking session).
  • wondering about how I might get rid of the chemical smell in our sofas. I sprayed them with cleaning foam yesterday - big mistake.
  • mentally scanning the contents of the fridge door and thinking that in just a short time I would be sitting in the garden with an apéritif in one hand and a paint brush in the other (summer furniture renovation project).
  • looking for the customer service number at National car rental to see if they'll give me back some of the money they charged me last Friday to top up the tank up at Birmingham airport. I completely forgot to do it myself mostly due to the fact that I was recovering from a panic attack that came on when the sat nav took me into a business park somewhere in England and told me (in a somewhat peremptory fashion) that I had arrived at my destination, Birmingham airport.
(This post is an entry in the FuelMyBlog /Tsheets 5:10p.m. competition. Guess what the prize is.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Shutters of Bergamo
Well, I made it to Bergamo and back .... but only just. Things actually went very smoothly on the way there: car, plane, bus, train, and then a long walk up a hill in viscous heat past a bicycle race. The journey back was a different matter.
The receptionist at the hotel gave me the wrong bus times and numbers and I didn't check her information, so I ended up on the wrong bus. I didn't realise this until we had wasted over an hour chugging through and around Bergamo; had sailed past the airport and were well out into the middle of absolutely nowhere, and this with only forty minutes left until my plane took off. The bus driver looked sympathetic, said no he was not going back towards the airport, no there was nowhere to get a taxi around here, shrugged his shoulders and smiled. I felt sweat trickle down my back and contemplated collapsing on the floor of the bus and crying. In the end, I shouted at the driver to stop the bus and let me off. He screeched to a stop and I stumbled off with my enormous bag.
The only person around was a man carrying vegetables into a grocer's shop so I rushed up to him and explained my predicament using my ten words of Italian, stabbing gestures at my watch and copious repetitions of urgentissimo, urgentissimo! As he confirmed that there were no taxis in the immediate vicinity, he gestured to me to follow him into the shop. Inside, he had a conversation with an older man about, well at the time it seemed to me to be about mozarella, but I now think they were deciding which of them should run me to the airport in the van.
I got there just in the nick of time and just a few hours later was picking the children up from the school gate where I fought the urge to tell all the bored looking parents what an adventure I'd just had in Italy while they were all going about their normal business.
Anyway, thank you kind Italians. I will never see you again since I would never be able to find your grocery store again but you really did rescue me from a horrible situation, and you didn't hesitate for one second. I owe a hapless stranger a big favour.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Myair Myarse

Deborah has just sent me this snippet from today's Telegraph.
Air travel used to be a privileged adventure, but has now become a humiliating ordeal … no matter what end of the plane you are sitting in. Apart from going to prison, no other activity in contemporary life exposes you to such intimidation, ugliness, regimentation, over-crowding and cruel dehumanising as the decision to go to an airport.

By contrast, consider my last trip to Milan: a mere six hours from Paris and you pass Lamartine's haunting Lac du Bourget and go through the terrible mountains besides the Col du Fréjus by just the same magnificent route the Grand Tourists used 250 years ago.

Why did she think I would be interested in this gem of telegraphesque old-fogey wisdom? Because we're going to meet up not far from Milan, in Bergamo, at the end of June. She is going by train, as is her wont, and I'm not. She booked her train ticket a few weeks ago and will no doubt enjoy an interesting trip to Milano Centrale then on to Bergamo.

I, on the other hand, cleverly booked a very cheap flight with Myair, a low-cost company with direct flights from Bordeaux to Bergamo, Venice and Bologna. Unfortunately there was no flight on the Sunday I wanted to travel, but I took a flight on the Saturday instead and roped Deborah into coming to keep me company for a couple of days.

A few weeks ago, Myair contacted me to tell me that all flights from Bordeaux to Bergamo had been cancelled until the end of June. Just like that. My heart fell but after a few hundred hours on the internet I discovered that Myair had actually introduced a new flight from Paris Orly to Bergamo. It wasn't scheduled for Saturdays but I could get it on the Sunday. I quickly booked that flight and a connecting Air France flight to Paris Orly from Bordeaux. Great.

Great, that is until midnight last night when Myair sent me another e-mail telling that they had changed my itinerary yet again. The bad news was that Sunday's flight had been cancelled and the good news, well there was no good news, because all they can offer is a replacement flight on Monday and by that time Deborah will be on her relaxing train trip back home and the conference I'm going to will be well underway.

The only alternative I can find is to maintain my non-reimbursable Air France flight to Orly, forget the Bergamo flight and replace it with a flight from Orly to Milano Linate and then take a bus and then a train to Bergamo. That sounds easy, doesn't it?

The moral of this saga is threefold: sometimes the tortoise really does beat the hare, low-cost always means high-hassle and Myair is a crap airline.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


According to an article in Scientific American entitled Blogging is Good for You:
[...] lesions in Wernicke’s area, located in the left temporal lobe, result in excessive speech and loss of language comprehension. People with Wernicke’s aphasia speak in gibberish and often write constantly. In light of these traits, Flaherty speculates that some activity in this area could foster the urge to blog.

I think I can safely say that do not suffer from this mysterious activity in Wernicke's area. Well, that's one less thing to worry about, I suppose.

Monday, May 26, 2008


I've just finished Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself. I like Bill Bryson, I know that some people find his humour a bit facile, his knowledge incomplete and his observations run-of-the-mill, but he really makes me laugh out loud and that doesn't happen nearly as often as you'd think perusing this LOL-riddled internet. Although, to be honest, it's usually more a question of muffled mattress-shaking giggles late at night than real guffaws.

It's an old book made up of articles written for a British paper on the subject of returning to the USA after 20 years away. I suspect that it's the sort of book a lot of us would have in us were we ever to go back to wherever it is we came from (except, of course, that the place we came from doesn't exist any longer, or at least not in the way it was when we left it). We could all wax lyrical about rediscovering the quirky customs of our homelands, endearing habits that we'd forgotten all about; the embarrassment of doing things wrong because things have changed and we weren't consulted. On my last trip to Scotland, I was persuaded to ask for "cash back" in a supermarket thinking it was some sort of loyalty scheme and experienced a moment of blind flummox at the front of the queue when asked how much I wanted. Bill Bryson does all of this very well turning the episodes of rediscovery and panic into high comedy.

Other passages are more contemplative. Here he is, for example, on handing over our phonetic heritage to others. He notices that an old New Englander pronounces the place name Norwich just as it is pronounced in England, Norritch, which is surprising since everyone else in the area says it with the "w".
He explained to me that the village was pronounced "Norritch" until the 1950s, when outsiders from places like New York and Boston began to move in and, for whatever reason, started to modify the pronunciation. [...] That seemed to me quite sad, the idea that a traditional local pronunciation could be lost simply because outsiders were too inattentive to preserve it.

This happens in Scotland too. So for the benefit of posterity and preservation I would like it to be known throughout the internet that the correct pronunciation of Crinan, the village in Argyll pictured above, is Creenan.

That is all.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Last week the sun shone for the first time in eons and I (bring out the bunting) wore a dress to work. All winter I've worn the the same black boots with trousers, but unfortunately with a dress they look like jack boots and I look like a lesbian prison warden. In a desperate, last-minute search for suitable footwear, I got down on my hands and knees and scrabbled under the chest-of-drawers until I found a smart pair of shoes I bought a couple of months ago.

These were more than an impulse buy, they were a microsecond whim buy. It happened as I was driving away from my friend Deborah's house with the children in the back of the car. The shoe shop at the end of her street was open and they were having a sale, and lo and behold there was a free parking space right outside the door. I told the children I would be gone for no more than three minutes and threatened them with death if they killed each other while I was gone. Three minutes later, I came back bearing quite a nice pair of black shoes with a little strap and two-inch heels.

You probably think that two-inch heels are nothing, sensible even. But I am no Carrie Bradshaw, to me two-inch heels are like stilts - I wobble around on them uncontrollably, my whole body bending forward to counter the giddiness that the extra height induces. And the pain after about an hour is unbearable - the pain of having five toes squashed into a space only big enough for two, the pain of a dainty little strap digging into the tops of my feet which seem to have got puffier and pinker all of a sudden making my feet look like Miss Piggy's trotters stuffed into Betty Boop's stilettos.

By the end of the day I could hardly walk. I tottered home, wincing with every step, walked in the door, pulled off the shoes-of-torture and slipped into my trusty Crocs. AAhhhh. Ohhhhhh. Bliss. The comfort of that rubber material, the roominess for all of my poor bruised toes to take up as much space as they feel they need, the springiness in the sole, the refreshing air that wafts in through those attractive little holes.

Now, I know that lots of you think that Crocs are the shoes of the devil, and a very fashion-unconscious devil at that, but I love my three pairs and I sometimes even throw street cred to the wind and venture outdoors with them on.

But guess what, my closet Croc days are over because now they're making them with three-inch heels. I'm going to be wobbling in comfort baby!

(I will stick my fingers in my ears and sing loudly if I get a hint of any Croc-hate in the comments)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Name that girl

I have a few friends who are currently choosing baby names, so the topic has been on my mind lately.

Not long after I met P, he told me that his favourite name for a girl was Gladys. As soon as he announced this, the trace on my internal incompatibility sensor was jolted into action and jumped right off the screen: in a split second I realised just how deep some cultural differences might run. For him, Gladys (or rather Gladees, for that is how it is pronounced in French) called up images of trendy little girls but for me — and the entire English-speaking world — it meant old ladies who smelled of mothballs and pan drops.

When I was sifting through the detritus in the attic for that vide grenier a couple of weeks ago, I came across a page that I'd pulled out of my old filofax in 2002. It was a list of alternative names that I had come up with for the baby girl gestating in my tummy that year.

I offer it up to any of you who may be having babies this year - unless of course you're more of a Gladys sort of person, in which case I suggest you just skip the pram and go straight for the zimmer frame.


(Oh, and it isn't on the list but we called her Éloïse, in the end. Certainly not Eulalia — what was I thinking?)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

This 'n that

I'd better post something now before this whole blog shrivels up and dies.

So what have I been up to for the last few weeks that has kept me away from here? I wish I could tell you that I have been busy writing a masterpiece, or carrying out some ground-breaking research, or taking up an extreme sport, or repainting the house, or training for a marathon, or undergoing tasteful yet very effective plastic surgery. But I haven't.
  • I've been greedily devouring the first two series of The Wire and am now well and truly hooked.
  • I've also been reading books. Notably, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell — an excellent novel about the scandal of psychiatric internment of perfectly sane people into old age; and Toast by Nigel Slater — a wonderfully evocative book in which the author's memories of childhood food are wound into the story of his early life. (It made me remember the exact feeling of sticking my tongue into a walnut whip and searching out every last bit of the white creamy insides. Yes, he makes it sound suggestive too.)
  • I made some excellent banana and cinnamon muffins ...... and some cheese and spincah muffins that had to go straight into the bin.
  • I spent a dreich afternoon watching children run around in a frenzied state of over-excitement at the annual school carnival after weeks of anticipation.
  • Spent the whole of last Sunday standing outside flogging a lot of old rubbish at a "vide grenier". Made €130 so it wasn't all bad.
  • Had an excellent meal at a Sardinian restaurant and a truly dreadful experience at a new Japanese restaurant.
  • Opened a new language centre at work (opened as in set-up, not actually cut a red ribbon while wearing white gloves) .
  • Developed a fleeting addiction to Scrabulous Blitz and then lost it when I realised how bad I was at it despite a massive investment of time and mental effort.
  • Booked a place in Moliets for the upcoming spring holiday.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Six Word Memoir

Ms.Mac has tagged me for the following meme.

1. Write a six word memoir and post it on your blog.
2. Add a picture if you wish.
3. Link to the person who tagged you.
4. Tag 4 or 5 others, with links, to keep it going.
5. Leave a comment for the ones you tag with an invitation to play.
6. And link to the original post about the Six Word Memoir meme.

Here is my six word memoir.

From places North, vers le Sud.

I tag Rosie, Lucy, David, and Mausi. I also invite YOU to leave your own Six Word Memoir in the comments box.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What lovely plump legs you have.


I've never really thought about this possibility before, but I suppose that I would eat a friend if I had to. Strangely enough, the quiz doesn't specify whether or not the friends are already dead or if I have to kill them before consuming them.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

7 Deadly Boring Things

Rosie has tagged me to tell you 7 random facts about myself. By strange coincidence I did this very thing exactly one year ago today (at least it was today when I started writing this, and it's true that there were only 6 things not 7, but that's inflation for you). A year ago, I had to resort to making things up in order to appear less than boring. This year, I've spent sleepless nights trying to think of seven more riveting factoids about myself and I'm afraid that this is all I can come up with. I think I've mentioned several of these fascinating tidbits already:

1. I have developed several strange patches of eczema over the past few week : one on my tummy, one under my left ear and, since yesterday, one on my right eyelid. I wonder what this means.

2. When I was a teenager I was besotted with Phil Lynnot of Thin Lizzy. If he wasn't dead, I think I might still be.

3. I voted in the municipal elections this morning - one of only two European voters at my polling station.
4. I think that offal is awful but I'm quite partial to a bit of foie gras.

5. I'm scared of most dogs (is it just me, or does anyone else think of Winston Smith's fear of rats when they reveal that sort of information in the internet?)

6. I'd quite like to look like Annie Lennox (in yer dreams, hen).

7. I've seen a ton of films over the past couple of weeks (mainly due to two transatlantic flights). They were: La Môme, Borat, Michael Clayton, Ira and Abby, Elizabeth: the Golden Age, and Le Scaphandre et le Papillon among others. The only one I would really recommend is the last, which is almost unbearably sad, perhaps even sadder than the original, autobiographical, book.

I'm tagging no-one because I think most of you have probably already done this, or something similar recently.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

On the Theme of the Theme Park

I should always blog a holiday immediately after getting back, otherwise I get caught up in unpacking and doing mounds of washing and the memories fade. And that preamble is an excuse for the following disjointed assemblage of wordy holiday snapshots.

One of the things I like most about going to America is the opportunity to test out my mastery of a foreign language learned largely through the diligent study of TV-series. When I come out with these exotic yet familiar Americanisms, I pause in trepidation expecting people to burst out laughing and say "you didn't really think we said that, did you?" I tried the following out to no discernible mirth:

-Can I get .... ?
-Two cinnamon danish to go.
-I'm good (repeated at least 20 times a day in response to the constant request to know "How are you today?")
-Can we get a cab? (unfortunately I couldn't remember the expression for taxi rank, so had to back-pedal)
-Easy over, please.
-Where can I get this prescription filled?

Ah, yes, the prescription. Z was ill (got ill?) on the very first day and I had to take him to a doctor. The consultation cost $260, the generic amoxicillin was $46. Sicko indeed!

When he was feeling a bit better, we hit the parks and much fun with Disney characters and on many rides ensued. The whole Disney experience is incredibly well organised - transport runs smoothly, help and information are readily available, there is no litter, everything is well maintained and there is generally a lot less tackiness than you might expect. And I'd definitely recommend going at this time of year - we queued hardly at all.

The only shock came when we discovered that there is no alcohol in the Magic Kingdom, not even beer. (In a bar at Orlando airport we were asked for ID before we got out drinks. But it's true that my Mum does look pretty young for her age).

One of the remarkable things in the parks is the number of wheelchairs. There are hundreds of people whizzing around on electric chairs that are available for hire. At first you think how great it is that the parks are accessible to so many disabled people but you soon realise — as they jump out of the seat and practically run onto one of the rides — that most of the occupants are simply lazy gits who can't be bothered to walk around the park.

One of the highlights of the week was Cirque du Soleil in Downtown Disney: a great experience with lots of vibrant colour and movement, fabulous acrobatics and rococo costumes.

By far the most unpleasant person we came across last week was the officous security woman at Gatwick airport who gleefully chucked the children's cough medicine in the bin along with my minuscule amount of contact lens fluid which had already been on three flights. "You're in Britain now", she smirked.


Disney Mosaic, originally uploaded by Lezzles.

It's half past midday and except for a brief interlude at 3am the children have been sleeping for the past eighteen hours. They had a great time and so did we!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Read all about it

Alisa of The Juicy Life interviewed me for The Great Interview Experiment which came from the Citizen of the Month blog.

Alisa, who is a ceramic artist, lives in Southern California. She and her husband plan to move to France , so it was quite a nice coincidence that she got interview little old me here in beautiful old France.

If you'd like to read the front page exclusive interview, it's over here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Story of my Life

Or the past couple of weeks at least. It seems that every time I sit down to finish that paper, something lures me back to the internet.
"It is clear that national identity amongst nineteenth century bla, bla, bla"
.... must just check the temperature in Orlando, before I forget.......
20 minutes later, having also checked the prevalence of mosquitos in Florida:
" bla bla bla what Freud called the narcissism of small differences"
... must check that quote on Google Scholar.....
another 20 minutes later having discovered another, much more interesting article:
"a certain slipperiness in their affiliations..."
Oh great, I've got mail. Oh, look a link to a YouTube video...
And so on and so on. Until it's time to pack up and cease all semblance of having been toiling at the keyboard

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Z's reading book this week is Epaminondas - the story of an extremely stupid little black boy (or an over-obedient little black boy, it depends which way you look at it.)

I think I must have read this book at school when I was about the same age as Z. I remembered the passage where Epaminondas arrives home with butter streaming out of his hat.
"Law's sake! Epaminondas, what you got in your hat?"
"Butter, Mammy," said Epaminondas; "Auntie gave it to me."
"Butter!" said his Mammy.
"Epaminondas, you ain't got the sense you was born with! Don't you know that's no way to carry butter?

Amazon suggests buying Epaminondas along with "The Story of Little Black Sambo" which I also remember reading at school, before it was banned.

But then I lived on an island where there were no black people and the Pakistanis who came twice a year to sell clothes from the back of a van were known as "the darkies".

Sunday, February 17, 2008


We spent the day in the Dordogne today and since spring has come a couple of months too early, we spent some time in the woods picking daffodils. Not the tall majestic ones that tend to adorn roundabouts but the stumpy little ones with pale tissue paper flowers. I would like to show you a photograph of them, but somehow I have managed to corrupt my photothèque by using a more recent version of iPhoto than the one I have installed. I can't quite work out how this happened.
Preparations for Florida continue apace and my main reading matter for the past week has been "Walt Disney World With Kids 2008" which is perhaps one of the most frightening books I've ever read. It informs me that "character meals" should be booked at exactly 7 am. exactly 180 days before the required date. We leave in exactly 6 days. It is also full of advice about booking meals, terror ratings (?) for all of the rides, exhortations to be at the parks at the crack of dawn, tips about vantage points for fireworks shows and parades and something confusing called Fastpass which short circuits queues for the most popular rides but still involves queuing. I feel that we may be somewhat under-prepared.
On one of those sites where people tell you the real, honest, down to earth truth about the hotel you've booked (only what you usually find is that 50% of users say they had a wonderful holiday in this luxurious establishment while the other 50% tell you it was a rat-infested hole run by a MR. B. Fawlty, so really you're no further forward), I discovered that our hotel's pool is closed for refurbishment for the next three months. I'm beginning to suspect that Disney may not be the house of fun we have been led to believe, it is rather the sort of sneaky multinational that let's you come all the way from Europe to sunny Florida and neglects to mention that the hotel has no water in its frigging pool. It's a good job I spend most of my waking life on the internets, otherwise we wouldn't have known until we wandered down in our swimmies. We're arranging a transfer to the hotel next door, only now our 'magical something or other" luggage labels which ensure that we won't have to bother our pretty little heads with our luggage between dropping it off at the airport in Bordeaux and finding it magicked into our hotel rooms on the other side of the Atlantic, have bar codes for the Wrong Hotel.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


I signed up for Citizen of the Month's great interview experiment in which everybody is a somebody. Here's me interviewing Val who just happened to sign up after me. It turns out that we're quite similar - we both have a boy and a girl, we both like to insert three point punctuation whenever possible ... she has just been to see Mickey Mouse, and I'm going soon. Read on.

You have a very busy life, when do you find time to blog?
Who knows! I really just wing it! Whenever I have a brief moment, I try to throw something up there...although it may not be written as well as I would like it to be....I blame this on someone always calling me for something...whether it is at home or work! Another good thing....I have implemented early son is in bed by 7pm and daughter has quiet time either reading, doing a puzzle, or watching a movie for an hour until her bedtime, at 8pm. This is how I keep my sanity!

You have one of the longest blogrolls I've ever seen. How did you come to build up such a massive collection, do you read all of them regularly or do you drop in occasionally?
I don't really have a large blogroll. What you are seeing is mainly Wordless Wednesday participants....I really need to clean up my page, but again, who has time! And I actually have to add to my actual blogroll since I read a lot more on a regular basis. I subscribe to most in Google Reader which makes it really easy to read daily posts of others.

Would you say that suburban Philadelphia is a good place to bring up children - what would you like to change, what would you definitely not change?
This is definitely not a question for me if you love Philadelphia....I am NOT a city person. I refuse to drive into the city, and when I am there, I am terrified! I like living in the suburbs of Philly, but would definitely make changes such as lower taxes, better school systems, less crime, and more open space. On a better note, the City does offer wonderful sites to visit, like the Children's and Art Museum. I have lived here, within a few miles, my whole life. But I will let you in on a little secret......I HATE THE WINTER....moving to Florida (taking everyone I know with me) is my ultimate dream!

You recently pointed out all of the dangers we expose our children to through television, toxic toys and foods. You've changed to a healthier diet (well done for the brussels sprouts!), are you
planning on changing anything else?
I would love to get rid of the television....except I enjoy it too much!
No real changes on the horizon for us....we are just looking forward to a healthier year. Drink more water, eat more fruits and veggies, no junk food. (Although I hid a can of Pringles, and ate them in my bed last night!)

You went to Disney World in Florida a few weeks ago and I'm going in a few weeks' time. What was the very best thing you did while you were there and what would you definitely recommend not doing?
I LOVE Disney....but my advise...go alone! No, really, it was A LOT of fun! The kids totally loved it, and it was great just to see their faces taking everything in.
My recommendation: take full advantage of the fast pass and get to the park early! The night before, pick what ride or two you REALLY need to go on...then first thing, go to that ride and fast pass it....this will save you a good amount of time! Also, there is a salon in Cinderella's castle called Bibbidi Bobbidi Salon where little girls get all dressed up as their favorite princesses and get their hair and makeup done! It was SO cute! You need to make reservations though, and from what I heard, they book VERY quickly.
There really isn't anything I don't recommend is all fabulous...I am even planning a trip in November with just my, here I come!
You will have a GREAT time...give Goofy a big kiss for me!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Le Slim

The students have all adopted "le slim" - those skinny, skinny, skinny jeans that we used to call drainpipes (didn't we, or was that just in Penicuik?). This video made me laugh because I have, I admit, sometimes wondered how the young 'uns actually manage to bend their legs in them. I also quite like it because it was shot in Bordeaux (or Bx, pour les intimes) and I recognise most of the places - the tram station I often wait at, the jardin public, a street a bit like mine.... Oh, and if you stick around until almost the end , you get a little tecktonik dancing. It's all the rage, dontcha know.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Week's Worth of Twittering

I didn't really see the point of Twitter until recently - now I see that it's all about spontaneous haivering. When I feel the urge to blurt something out or ask a silly question, I hit Twitter. Better out than in, as they say.

I'm also thinking that this Kwout button I've just added to Firefox could be really useful for instant content creation: prepare for multiple screenshots.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Road revenge

When another driver does something really dangerous and ill-mannered on the road, like cutting in millimetres in front of you or overtaking on a pedestrain crossing, do you spend the next half hour dreaming up methods of delivering comeuppance? I do.

My own preferred method would involve no road rage but simply getting out at the next red traffic light, calmly tapping on the window of the car and telling the culprit that I am the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter gifted will infallible predictive powers and that I am very sorry to have to inform him that I have just seen him die a horrible death. It's petty, I know, and needless to say I would never do it but just imagining the scene is catharsis enough.

Fictional characters are more foolhardy and I suspect that novelists sublimate their own revenge fantasies through their characters. Remember the Ann Tyler character who got her own back on a hapless old man who had committed some highway misdemeanour by later speeding past him and pointing wildly at his tyre just to cause him the inconvenience of stopping and investigating? The ploy backfired though, I can't remember exactly how, and the character ended up having to run the man home to his family.

A character in a short story by William Boyd that I read yesterday delivered the following line to a man who had stolen his newspaper, "Next time you have a piece of bad luck, think of me. Because I will be thinking of you." I quite liked that.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Return again, fair Lesley, Return to Caledonie!

As a punishment at school I was once ordered by my English teacher, Mr Broadfoot, to learn a Burns poem of my choice by heart. Being a bit of a smarty pants, I learned this one:
O saw ye bonnie Lesley,
As she gaed o'er the border?
She's gane like Alexander,
To spread her conquests farther.

To see her is to love her,
And love but her for ever;
For Nature made her what she is,
And never made anither!

Thou art a queen, fair Lesley,
Thy subjects, we before thee;
Thou art divine, fair Lesley,
The hearts o' men adore thee.

The deil he could na scaith thee,
Or aught that wad belang thee;
He'd look into thy bonnie face,
And say - "I canna wrang thee!"

The powers aboon will tent thee,
Misfortune sha'na steer thee;
Thou'rt like themsel sae lovely,
That ill they'll ne'er let near thee.

Return again, fair Lesley,
Return to Caledonie!
That we may brag we hae a lass
There's nane again sae bonnie.

I can still recite it, and indeed I frequently do — at the drop of a hat even. Just ask me.

However, the Burns poem that has been most on my mind recently is the one about the crowlin ferlie. I think of that ugly, creepin, blastit wonner every time I have to massage more of that infernal lotion into E's head .

Happy Burns Night.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Every night at bedtime E asks for a story and four songs. Tonight the story is Charlie and Lola's Whoops! But it Wasn't Me for the five millionth time. Half-way into the book, I discover that I have developed a very useful new ability — I can read aloud convincingly without the words actually passing the barrier of registration in my brain - this frees up lots of cognitive capacity for important thinking. While the words coming out of my mouth might be, "I have this little sister Lola, she is drone, bla, bla, drone", the words inside my head fly to much higher planes: "Are there any chocolates left in the box? Maybe I could have just one when I go back downstairs. Did I wash Z's rugby strip for tomorrow or is it lying in a mouldering, muddy heap somewhere? Must go and check. There might even be more than one chocolate left."

The songs are a bit tricker because my reading skills are much more developed than my singing skills. E has eclectic taste in bedtime music. Tonight the requests are for :
1) The Lights of Lochindaal (because it mentions her middle name, Iona)
2) Brochan Lom (Gaelic mouth music)
3) Away in a Manger (a favourite, even in mid-summer)
4) Two Little Boys (I worry that perhaps this old Rolf Harris song glorifies war, especially after googling for that link and discovering that it is (was?) Margaret Thatcher's favourite song. If E ever joins the "ranks so blue" it will be my fault)

There were no chocolates left. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Time Machine

I'm averaging about one short post here per week (usually with a glaring spelling mistake in the middle - innumerbale?!) which is pretty pathetic by any standards. So, I'm thinking that maybe stream of consciousness is the solution - free-fall mental drivel, if you like.

Today I got a spanking new iMac at work and all of a sudden the 15'' screen on my PowerBook seemed woefully cramped, but at the same time a bit chunky since I 've been consuming me some MacBook Air porn on that nice big iMac screen. Leaving the power cable for the Powerbook on my desk was undoubtedly an acte manqué - perhaps the first stage in a long goodbye. Tonight, then, finds me sans PowerBook on the same old blue bubble iMac I loved so much when I started this blog. He's almost seven-years-old now, and has been used quasi-exclusively to interact with friendly (but nevertheless weird-looking) little Adiboud'chou and his big brother Adibou of the pointy ears, by two wide-eyed children with sticky little fingers. Having caressed more pliant keyboards for two years, pressing these tacky old black keys is just such an enormous effort for my feeble fingers.
He's slow, and he doesn't know me any more - he doesn't remember my passwords or my bookmarks, he has the 2005 version of all my indispensible applications ...... but he'll do for emergency access to Scrabulous this evening, and maybe the odd twitter.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Intimidating Art

I can't think where the twelve days since we got back from Scotland have gone. But gone they have.

Apart from going back to work, playing Scrabulous, and forking out vast wads of cash to have the car repaired in a dodgy garage in a back street of one of Bordeaux's less desirable suburbs, I've been catching up with blogs mostly. I can't remember which tortuous path took me there, but I found myself of Jeannette Winterson's blog and was seized? shaken? gripped? by a tiny image of Courbet's L'Origine du Monde. It is one of those paintings that I thought I knew but had never actually set eyes on. I was a complete Origine-du-Monde virgin, and seeing it for the first time unexpectedly and with no preparation was really quite unsettling. By strange coincidence (for they are always strange, never banal n'est-ce-pas?) that very evening I was reading Julian Barnes' Something to Declare and happened upon a whole section on Courbet. I can only echo his appreciation of lush delicacy of the painting and the intimidating nature of the result, as well as its potency even after years of twentieth-century porn and erotica.

The Barnes book is also good, at least the first third is. The rest of the book turned out to be about the author of Madame Bovary and by the time I got to the end I found myself agreeing with the dyspeptic Kingsley Amis and his anti-endorsement reproduced on the back cover:
"I wish he'd shut up about Flaubert".

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year and all that

I come from a country where the passing from one year to another is acknowledged with no more than a cheery, throwaway "Happy New Year" on seeing friends and family. It came as something of a shock to discover that in France people feel their new year's wishes are only sincere if they grip me by the shoulders or clench my hand in theirs, stare deep into my panicky eyes and launch into a long and detailed list of the innumerbale positive things — financial, medical, personal, professional, psychological, mechanical etc. etc. — that they wish for me in the coming year. It's all deeply embarrassing, especially my feeble two-word reciprocation: bonne année.
Anyway, consider yourselves gripped by the shoulders. Have a very happy 2008.


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 ...