Saturday, December 12, 2009

2009 in Books #3

In this third and final instalment, I was going to list the books that I had aquired for work purposes this year. However, I found that I had nothing to say about them that I hadn't already done to death elsewhere. I'll just mention this one because Chapter Five, c'est moi: European Stevenson Richard Ambrosini & Richard Dury (eds), 2009

2009 in Books #2

Non-fiction. The theme this year seems to have been expatriates.

Greene on Capri: A Memoir, by Shirley Hazzard
The past really was a different world for some people: this memoir chronicles the Hazzard's friendship with Graeme Greene during prolonged residences in pre-tourist Capri.

The Smell of the Continent: The British Discover Europe, Richard Mullen & James Munson
I haven't finished this one yet.

The Scottish World: A Journey Into the Scottish Diaspora, Billy Kay, 2009
Scots are everywhere.

And the Judges Said...: Essays, James Kelman, 2008
Mostly political. Kelman is definitely not an expat.

The Secret Life of France, Lucy Wadham, 2009
I really meant to blog about this book when I first read it. On one hand, it was a great relief to read a book by a Brit on France that went further than the usual "aren't the tradesmen slow, aren't the locals colourful?" tropes. On the other hand, there was a lot to disagree with, especially the remarks on French sexual politics. Stimulating and intelligent nonetheless.

The Year Of No Money In Tokyo Wayne Lionel Aponte 2009
I blogged about this book here.

Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives) Bill Bryson 2008
I like Bryson.

Lettre à D : Histoire d'un amour André Gorz 2009
This was an impulse buy in a bookshop. André Gorz was a French philosopher and his wife was originally from England. This is the story of their lifelong romance. They committed suicide together when she became ill.

A Castle in Spain, Matthew Parris, 2006
I can't remember how this book came into my possession. I don't think I would have chosen to spend money on a book by a Conservative MP. It's actually a wonderful account of his buying an ancient house in Spain (not far from where his parents and siblings had lived for many years) and painstakingly renovating it.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our Year of Seasonal Eating Barbara Kingsolver 2008
Blogged here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

2009 in Books

This year I'm splitting my reading list up into three parts to get maximum blog mileage out of it. Today, I give you fiction

The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter's Tale, Robert Louis Stevenson
I'm reading this at the moment in preparation for a conference on Jacobitism. I know absolutely nothing about Jacobitism.

The Secret Mandarin, Sara Sheridan, 2009
I skim read this book. I didn't feel it deserved more.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett, 2009
A great novel about the humiliations endured and victories won by black servants in the American south.

Temptation Douglas Kennedy, 2007
One of his less interesting novels. The characters all needed a good slap.

The Careful Use of Compliments (Sunday Philosophy Club), Alexander McCall Smith, 2008
I really don't like McCall Smith any more. He's more smug and less avuncular now, I feel.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Ann Shaffer, 2009
Excellent story of a book club in the Channel Islands during WWII

When Will There be Good News? Kate Atkinson, 2009
Ms Mac sent me this one and I enjoyed it just as much as the last two. About lives that fit into and around each other. Read Ms Mac's take on it here.

Electric Brae: A Modern Romance Andrew Greig, 1998
I'm not sure why it took me so long to get round to reading this. About the sometimes tortured relationships of a young man in Scotland.

Deaf Sentence, David Lodge, 2009
Funny, but also acutely observant (what is the auditory equivalent of observant?) and recognizable if you are — or if you interact with anyone who is —hard of hearing.

The Red Book, Delahunt, Meaghan, 2009
Excellent - somehow manages to knit together Bhopal and Cowdenbeath. Chapters begin with a description of a photograph - a flagging but effective device.

Dreams of Rivers and Seas Tim Parks, 2009
One of my favourite novelists Tim Parks. I'm always surprised by how completely different each of his books is.

The Neon Rain, James Lee Burke, 2000
Read this during the summer holiday, and that's all I can remember about it.

The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi, 2003
I've enjoyed all of Kureishi's writing until now, but I gave up on this one early on.

The Man Who Walks, Alan Warner, 2007
Best novel I read this year. Takes place in Highland Scotland. A modern version of Kidnapped in parts.

Bruno, Chief of Police, Martin Walker, 2009
Bruno is a policeman in the Dordogne and he likes rugby. Not bad. That's about it.

The Rain Before it Falls, Jonathan Coe, 2008
This one also uses the photograph device. Enjoyable.

A Million Little Pieces, James Frey, 2004
You may remember the controversy that surrounded this book when it was revealed that it wasn't actually a memoir but mostly fiction. I thought the writing was good anyway.

We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates, 1996
A family saga set in a time before sexual liberation for which the main character pays the price. Thoroughly enjoyable.

The Gathering, Anne Enright, 2007
I thought I might not like this because I don't always agree with Enright's non-fiction writing. But I found it exquisite, in all senses of the word.

A Most Wanted Man John le Carré, 2008
Le Carré, dependable as ever.

Rounding the Mark, Andrea Camilleri, 2008
My annual fix of Montalbano intrigue and descriptions of Sicilian cooking


According to a survey carried out by The Baby Website, today's mothers use the same old expressions their parents used over and over again. This is true. I have recently caught myself saying:
  • If you don't stop that immediately I'll knock your two heads together.
  • In the name of the wee man!
  • Were you born in a field?
  • Do you think those clothes wash and iron themselves?
  • I'll give you your head in your hands to play with.
  • Oh, oh. here comes trouble.
We are decidedly not the people our parents warned us against.

[I'm surprised by how aggressive some of these expressions sound when written down. I do say loving things to them too on occasion]

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Physionomiste..... not

Tonight I was at a film festival interpreting for a Swedish director. The festival is called Cinema Sciences and the film was about heroin addiciton - I liked it. The "heroine" reminded me of the woman in Man Ray's Solarisation.

After the screening (see, I revised some film buff vocabulary), a man approached the director and started up a conversation. I immediately recognized him as a professor from the university. Then, it became clear that he knew a lot about film-making so I rapidly revised my first impression. It dawned on me that he must be the director of Amélie Poulain whose name I couldn't remember (Jean Pierre Jeunet). It's a good job I didn't make some smart-arse comment about Amélie because it turned out that he was actually Jean-Jacques Beneix, the director of Diva and La Lune dans le Caniveau and my favourite film 37°2 le Matin / Betty Blue.

As I was leaving, I shook his hand and told him how much I liked Betty Blue. I don't think he believed me - but look it's true, I wrote it on my blog.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rainy Sunday afternoon

It seems to have rained every single Sunday for months now. Today, we decided to go to the Christmas market on the Allées de Tourny. Christmas markets are crap, especially when they make your shoes muddy. So we did a quick detour into a big toy store, then back down to the quayside via the Foire d'Automne and its antique stalls, before walking over the bridge that Tadashi Kawamata designed for Evento, an arts festival in Bordeaux. It's made from windfall maritime pine. The authorities don't seem to be able to bring themselves to have it dismantled.

(All photos taken with my iPhone)


It used to be that if I had a seed of a thought, I'd take some time and work it up into a couple of paragraphs to blog. Now I just pare it down to the bare minimum and burp it out in a tweet. The words I've tweeted most over the past two years are apparently: time, Bordeaux and kids. I'm not proud of that. Oh no.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Climbing Everest. In a day. With no coat on.

I, in turn, have interviewed Leadia from Breeder's Digest. Her answers really made me laugh.

1. You have five children (I bow down to you!), and I have a friend who is expecting her fifth child. What advice would you give her about organising a large family?

Um….good luck??? LOL! Honestly, I don’t know that I’m the best person to give advice since I muddle through life searching for the answer to this question myself. But here goes. You either have to be anal or indifferent. There is no in between – seriously. You have to fully commit to being one or the other. There are tons of domestic goddesses out there who run their families like a Fortune 50 company, but I’m not one of them. I’ve tried out myriad scheduling/organizing/planning methods but ultimately I still get caught with my pants down…. it’s 4:30 and you have no idea what’s for dinner and you have 2 kids to get to soccer practices on 2 different sides of town and ultimately that’s when you get that humiliating phone call where the secretary from your child’s elementary school is calling to tell you that the Girl Scout meeting ended 30 minutes ago and where the hell are you? Indifference allows for more success because if you’re always on time and put-together, the one time you are late and disorganized it’s devastating. When you routinely miss deadlines, forget appointments and are constantly driving forgotten lunches/sports equipment/homework to their rightful owners, the one time that you show up on time or with your shit together it’s like you climbed Everest. In less than a day. With no coat on. For real. It’s that amazing.

2. You live in the American Midwest. What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of living in that part of the USA?

Well, the Midwest is great if you like flat land, crooked politics, mediocrity, and fattening foods. Seriously, it’s quite possible that I live in the most generic area of the universe. Around these parts “Olive Garden” is considered an ethnic restaurant. Illinois, in particular, is famous for its cruel lack of seasons. We have only two: insanely hot and freaking cold. Winter lasts 17 months on average.

On the up side, the Midwest is home to some of the most genuine and incredibly friendly people you’ll ever meet. I live less than an hour outside Chicago and it truly is the best city in the world. Oh, and since we are less than 30 minutes from the Wisconsin border we are also less than 30 minutes from the largest concentration of indoor water parks in the world, which if you have five kids, is kind of a bonus. And OPRAH! How I could I forget Oprah? If you live in Illinois and don’t mention her you get kicked out of the state. Immediately.

2. In the midst of all of this child-rearing, you somehow manage to find time to study too. I wonder how you do that, and what you see yourself doing in, let's say, five years' time. Will you be a full-time mother or a full-time mother with a job?

((SIGH)) good question. To be honest, I don’t sleep very much. The baby is up by 6:00 a.m. and it’s 9:00 p.m. by the time the older ones go to bed so the hours between 9:30 and 1:00 a.m. are my personal “office hours” if you will. I am totally Type A and I have a need to do everything well all at once which leads to a lot of anxiety and multiple refills on a Zoloft prescription. I always feel like I’m doing 90 things 30% well when I’d rather do one or two things 90% well so I’m trying to streamline. I still can’t decide what I want to be when I grow up. In 5 years, who knows? I might be training to be a vet. The one thing I do try to do is carve out time for me. I adore my family, but it’s so important for them to see that I have an identity that is separate from them and that I have my own interests too. Thankfully my husband is a very patient man.

4. You are a very funny woman - who are your comedy heroes?

Thank you! I tend to love anyone who is witty rather than hilarious and who has a bit of intellect behind their comedy. I also appreciate people whose wit is a little offbeat. And sarcasm -- I adore sarcasm. I love Larry David and most of the cast of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. Same for Christopher Guest and his regular cast of improv players – especially Jane Lynch who is brilliant on “Glee”. My husband and I recently watched Wanda Sykes’ comedy special on HBO and I seriously wet my pants. We were both gasping for air. I worked in a comedy club in college as a cocktail waitress and I gave terrible service because I was way too invested in watching the talent! My mother is also accidentally hilarious which I also think is one of the best kinds of funny.

5. You husband manages to get some me-time when he goes off on hunting trips. If you could take a trip too, where would you go, what would you do and who would you go with?

Oh, those hunting trips! How I wish I’d married a stamp collector!

I fantasize about all kinds of vacation scenarios but honestly, it’s hard to get a group of girlfriends together because there’s the husband/children/babysitting matrix to complete and ultimately stars never align. I love to read and that’s a passion that’s had to take a heavy hit thanks to the kids. I’m pretty much reduced to skimming the pages of US Weekly when I’m on the toilet. So…my idea of heaven would be a quiet hotel room, no traveling companions, a stack of good books and absolutely no schedule at all.

6. Tell me one quirky fact about each of your five children.

Oooh, good question. Let me think.

Well of course they are all fabulously cultured, brilliant and attractive!

My oldest, Hayden was nearly 10 lbs. at birth but you’d never know by looking at him now. He subsists on a diet of cold cereal, Hot Cheetos, mac & cheese, and hot dogs. It’s a miracle he’s alive at all. We hope he’ll be back up to his birth-weight by puberty ;)

Weston is my 2nd son. He was such a sweet baby that I nicknamed him my “muffin top”. He’s a massively intense kid now, but the name stuck so now he goes by “Topper” . Weston’s real name resulted from a stalemate between my husband and I over 2 different names. I happened to have read in “People” the week before that Nicholas Cage had a son named Weston and it kind of stuck with me and we went with it as the tiebreaker. So even though I think Nic Cage is kind of a tool, he had a part in naming my son.

My eldest daughter, Eliza talks more than anyone I know. She even talks in her sleep. She also lives in a state of constant bliss. In her world, everyone rides a unicorn, has candy for dinner, and enjoys affordable universal healthcare. We envy her.

When I was pregnant with my youngest son Kellan, I got hit with a massive case of pre-partum depression. It landed me a stint in a 12-week outpatient mental health facility. That kid is the happiest, most content child in the universe. I’m convinced it was all the Zoloft.

My baby girl, Larissa is a miracle. Her odds of surviving to birth and being born “normal” were only 15%. 14 weeks into my pregnancy she was diagnosed with a massive (11mm) fetal cystic hygroma (Google it and get depressed). It’s almost always fatal and if not, it’s a harbinger of devastating chromosomal abnormalities. She’s perfect except for the fact that she still has my DNA…which might actually negate the whole “normal” thing.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Andy from Blaiser Blog interviewed me for Neil's Great Interview Experiment 2009. I enjoyed answering his questions. Go and have a look if you like that sort of thing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Le marketing

I recently did a two-day interpreting job on the subject of marketing and brands. For some reason —perhaps post-traumatic avoidance of cerebral overload — after I've done one of these jobs I have usually erased all memory of the content within a couple of days.

The only things I remember about this one are:

a) that marketeting people really admire Apple and will refer to the company's success at least once every half hour.
b) that marketing people like to talk about a "company's DNA" which becomes really, really annoying after two days.
c) that French marketing people like to use English words. I kept this list of some of the terms I translated from English back into English: le story-telling, le buzz, le hypermarketing, le supply-chain, le empowerment, leverager, mainstream, focusser sur, le sourcing, le user-generated content, le slow-wear, l'urban-wear, les malls, un peu hype, la peoplisation, les community brands, challenger, du display, le push, le pull, le crowd-sourcing, votre page rank, l'insight, le storyboard, le couponing, les early adopters, les user labs, and last but not least my favourite: il faut shifter les choses.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Bad plane, good plane

I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on this blog complaining about airline companies (eg. here and here and here) ... and here I go again.

My Mum has been over visiting us for the past week or so. As usual, I booked her ticket over the internet and she provided the credit card details. All quite simple really. Isn't the internet wonderful? Except that amateur travel agents like myself should at least read the whole travel itinerary instead of just skimming through it as I did.

48 hours before she left, my Mum looked over her e-ticket and gasped - "but I'm flying from Bordeaux to Orly and then on from Roissy!" Ooops.

I spent most of the following morning trying to get Air France to change the flight to Orly to a flight to Roissy which actually left 40 minutes later, would have avoided my old Mum collectiing her suitcase, lugging it out to the concourse and into a bus then enduring a long, unnecessary bus journey right across Paris while she worried about whether or not she would get off at the right terminal before checking her bags in again. I mean you don't exactly need a degree in logistics to work out which is the most efficient solution, do you?

But no, Air France didn't want her to fly to the airport she was leaving from:
"Le billet est non modifiable et non remboursable Madame."
"And what if I bought a new ticket from Bordeaux to Roissy?"
"Ah non, you can't do that. You would have to buy a new ticket all the way to Edinburgh"

It all turned out all right in the end. My Mum made it across Paris this afternoon, but it did make the end of her stay stressful. And I just can't help feeling that the Air France people actually got some pleasure out of punishing her for my not reading the itinerary properly: much more gratifying for them, I'm sure, than that silly old customer satisfaction thing.

But now for the good airline story. Ryanair announced yesterday that it is introducing a new route from Edinburgh to Bordeaux next March. Woohoo. For the first time in my twenty-something years here I will be be able to fly straight to Scotland without passing through Paris, London, Brussels (remember SABENA?) or Amsterdam. Okay, it may not be flying in comfort, it is Ryanair after all, but it will be cheap and I'm very excited about the prospect of popping over for a weekend and even better, having friends and family pop over to see us. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Weekend in San Sebastien

Weekend in San Sebastien, originally uploaded by Lezzles.

San Sebastien is only a couple of hours south of Bordeaux, but it's a whole different world down there. I love the vibrancy of the place.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Les P'tits Cageots

Although I enjoy cooking, I don't enjoy the weekly drudgery of supermarket shopping. I find something soul-destroying about walking up and down the same aisles week after week varying the brands I buy just to buck the routine of always putting the same old products in the same old trolley. In fact, I quite often vary supermarkets just to spice up the housewifely routine: one week Simply Market, the next Casino.... I don't even really enjoy going to the market any more: same old stall holders in the same old places.

Readers, I have been freed from this drudgery. A few weeks ago a friend launched a new service called Les Ptits Cageots that bobos of my ilk were crying out for - organic / farm-produced /fair-trade products ordered over the internet delivered to our door at the time we want for no extra charge!

We've used the service three times now and I'm still wallowing in the liberation of it! No more whizzing round boring supermarkets; no more flaccid meat in polystyrene trays; no more impossibly shiny fruit and veg. This stuff comes from small producers in towns and villages around Bordeaux, the Charente and the Dordogne. It's all good.

We feel virtuous because we know we're eating well, giving our kids healthy stuff and supporting a good cause to boot — Les P'tits Cageots is what is known as une association d'insertion which means that it is a non-profit-making organisation that creates jobs for people who really need them and helps them (re-)adapt to the work place. I realise just how self-satisfied that sounds, but sometimes it can be good to be self-satisfied, can't it?

A cageot is one of those wooden crates for fruit and vegetables and that's exactly what our order comes in. If we're short of time and inspiration, we can choose to have that week's pre-selected crate. Perhaps it comes from watching to much Ready, Steady Cook on BBC Prime during my two pregnancies but I actually quite like having set seasonal ingredients imposed on me for the week and making what I can from them. Recently, I've made potimarron soup, oriental lentil salad (recipe from fellow Bordelaise Papilles and Pupilles' site), rougail de saucisses de boeuf (a dish we discovered in La Réunion), pears in red wine and pears in white wine with aniseed. We've had two evenings with friends fuelled by excellent organic wines and the tenderest faux-filet possible on the barbecue — until this week, the evenings were still mild enough for us to dine outside, believe it or not.

If you live in or around Bordeaux, give it a try. I'm sure you won't regret it. And if you do, I'll eat my cageot.

Les Ptits Cageots

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Blue is the colour

My favourite colour is, and always has been, blue so I was pleased when Pascale from Paris-Glasgow tagged me to post seven blue things from around my house. Much more pleased than if it had been yellow, or green. Here they are:

I bought this print from Julien Merrow-Smith on his Postcard from Provence site. I love the powder blue sky.

This cornflower blue tunic has been one of the items I've worn most this summer.

The walls in our bathroom are blue (with a worrying grey mould detail in one corner). I bought this clock just the other day.

I have two of these soap dishes. They were a present from friends in the Dordogne. I keep a fine tooth comb in this one.

I bought this book in that second-hand shop in Saint Andrews but haven't started it yet. I'm a great admirer of Jenni Calder's biography of RLS.

This is my keyring, often to be found in odd places around the house. I bought it in Greece at Easter.

We have this patchwork on the wall in our bedroom.

So what's blue in your houses Materfamilias, Mausi, Andy, NMJ, and Princesse Ecossaise?

Friday, September 25, 2009

If we'd had Facebook ...

Thinking about possible status updates if we'd had Facebook circa 1980.

Lesley :
  • is listening to the new Thin Lizzy LP - it's beezer.
  • is eating a walnut whip.
  • is typing this on an electric typewriter - isn't new technology great?
  • has a perfect flick in her hair today à la Farrah Fawcett Majors.
  • just finished "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull". Deep.
  • is going to the Scout Disco tonight. Hope they play A Whiter Shade of Pale for the last slow dance.
  • feels sick - had a few too many Martini bianco and lemonades last night at the Mexican Bar in Roslin.

Saint Andrews

I almost forgot to tell you about my weekend in Saint Andrews a fortnight ago. For some reason the only photographs I took over the four days I spent there were all of whisky glasses - which perhaps explains why I almost forgot to tell you about it. Saint Andrews is a fabulous place - all town and no gown at the moment because the students are still on vacation, and we had warm, sunny summer weather on all four days.

I was there for a conference - a great success with plenty of familiar faces and interesting papers. My own paper wasn't booed off the stage so I'm counting it as a success too. Highlights of the conference social programme were a wine tasting with Billy Kay (the author of Knee Deep in Claret, a book I still find fascinating) and that whisky tasting - 5 malts. I also enjoyed a fruitful half-hour rummage through the shelves of a second-hand book store.

We were all accommodated in Halls of Residence which made me feel as if I was eighteen again - those halcyon days when all of my worldly possessions fitted comfortably into one small room; when I could eat what I liked without getting fat. In memory of those days, I partook heartily of the black pudding and eggs and hash browns and bacon, and lorne sausage on offer in halls every morning. Continental breakfasts could do with a bit of beefing up really, couldn't they?

It just so happens that a couple of my old flatmates live in Saint Andrews so I stayed on for an extra day to spend some time and drink some wine with them. Although we've kept up over the past years, and met up for lunch quite often, I hadn't seen their children for a very long time - turns out they're fully grown adults with responsible jobs and cars and deep voices, which was a little disorienting because I half-remembered them in pushchairs. Good job I didn't take them any presents because they've obviously passed the tube of smarties stage.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bouncing along in my Skecher Shape Ups

This is my first foray into the area of reviews for free stuff, so forgive me if you think I've gone over to the dark side - but hey, free stuff!

Anyway, I got a pair of Skecher Shape Ups in August, just in time for all that walking through the pleasant Scottish countryside we had planned to do. It turned out that the countryside was mostly under three feet of water so I can exclusively reveal that Skecher Shape Ups do not help you walk on water, but they do keep your feet dry as you wade through puddles.

The shoes are described as "stylish". This, it seems, is a matter of opinion and age. My Mum thought they were very "Californian", P. thought they looked comfortable, the children thought they were hilarious and my 15-year-old nephew just shook his head in embarrassed disbelief.

When you first put the shoes on, the initial sensation is one of added height - a bit like wearing platform shoes in the seventies but without the accompanying Bay City Rollers soundtrack. You really do feel as if you're walking on spongy ground.

Off I went to try them out and nobody laughed in the street at my ginormous trainers, proving if proof were needed that 15-year-olds know nothing about style for the elegant aunt about town. They come with a booklet and a DVD which explains that you shouldn't wear them for any more than 45 mins the first time you go out with them. So I bounced along country lanes with the recommended rolling movement from heel to toe for exactly three-quarters of an hour. And I have to say that by the time I got home, I really did feel as if my calves and buttocks had had a really good work-out.

As the days went by, I got more and more used to walking on several layers of sole, and whenever I wasn't wearing them, I felt somewhat diminished and frankly flat-footed.

I'm not sure if Bordeaux city centre is ready yet for Skechers Shape Ups, but I'm ready to try them out on dry land.

Monday, September 07, 2009


Have you flown with BmiBaby lately? Did you by any chance read the destination guide at the back of the in-flight magazine? Did you notice the name of the "The Insider" for Bordeaux? (scroll down, way down).

Admire my self-control as I resist regaling you with tales the extra money I had to shell out to BmiBaby at Manchester airport twice this summer, despite having provided them with that highly confidential and precious info for free.

I'm hoping to develop an alternative career as an "amateur photographer" (?) and tourist tipster.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Scotland Summer '09

We're back. It was the wettest August on record in south-west Scotland. Really. Flooding, torrential unrelenting rain, lochs turning into seas.

Och well, we had a good time anyway. And it was 35°C here in Bordeaux yesterday, which in my opinion is just as unpleasant as a bit of rain.

Friday, August 14, 2009

16.16 #14-16

16:16 #14

This was the first dull day we'd had and P. and I went into Périgueux to buy a few things at Leclerc - notably mugs. Drinking coffee out of bowls for a few days is all very well but after a couple of weeks the novelty value wears off.

16:16 #15

This is me working on a 19th C book for an upcoming conference.

This was my last full day in the Dordogne - the day of the village méchoui. Usually this big sheep roast takes place in an idyllic spot beside the river Isle, but this year it was raining so we all crowded into the old school yard.

And tomorrow (well, later today actually) we're off to Scotland for further adventures.

I'm going to try to keep the 16.16 photo thing up for a bit longer but I'm moving it over to my tumblr blog Desultory Notes which I've really only used as an intermittent link dump until now.

16.16 #10 - 13

16:16 #10

On day 10, we were waiting for P's four aunts to arrive for crèpes and drinks on the terrasse. E. had put on her best skirt.

16:16 #11

These are P's golfing shoes. We'd been to the Domaine de Essendiéras in the morning and he'd done a bit of putting while E had a riding lesson. Most of the kids on the domaine are Dutch and E was the only French-speaker at the lesson but that didn't seem to phase her at all.

16:16 #12

Here we are visiting our friend Dominique and his family at their absolutely gorgeous village of stone gîtes, Le Hameau du Sentier des Sources, not far from Sarlat. We'd just had a delicious lunch of cou d'oie farci, which sounds a lot better in French than in English. All of the other photos really were taken at exactly 16.16 but this one was taken a little later because I was actually swimming up and down that pool at the allotted time.

16:16 #13

This is Zac in the garden of a little house that his grandparents rent out in Jaillac. We were there to take better photographs for the new, improved website that I'm trying to make them (link later).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

16.16 #6-9

16:16 #6

This is day 6 and we're visiting one of P's sisters on the campsite that she and her in-laws own and run, Le Camping du Lac in Plazac. The children are spoilt for choice because there's a lake and a swimming pool to jump into. Decisions, decisions. I took this picture from a horizontal position, again.

16:16 #7

We stopped in Corgnac to reserve places on the Vélorail for a couple of days later.

16:16 #8

E and another aunt on their way up the hill to Château de Laxion. They were probably talking about the car crash we'd just witnessed on the road in. Actually the children only heard the massive bang of it, then P and I ran down the hill to see if any help was needed. Thankfully it wasn't, although there was a little boy in the back of one of the cars who rented the air with his screams of fright. The Château itself was interestingly delapidated and everybody enjoyed the medieval show.

16:16 #9

On day 9, we were in Brive visiting my friend Célia and we hadn't quite finished lunch. I was Célia's witness at her wedding in 1987 - the children didn't recognise me in the photograph she'd dug out. Probably because I looked like a poodle.
Célia's son Alex gave Z an electric guitar and made him the happiest 8-year-old boy in the world.

Am I boring you yet?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

16.16 #2-5

16:16 #2

By day 2 we had cracked out the barbecue and the Macbook.

16:16 #3

Day 3 saw us at the Repetto factory shop then Le Jardin d'Hélys an outdoor/indoor art fantasy where I took the Into the Wildesque photo above.

16:16 #4

Another day another barbecue.

16:16 #5

On our way to the outdoor municipal pool in Excideuil.

16.16 #1

16.16 #1, originally uploaded by Lezzles.

When we went to the Dordogne on holiday, I decided tht I would take a photograph every day at exactly 16H16 and post it to this blog. I stole this idea lock, stock and barrel from my friend Sarah who has been taking a photograph at 11H47 and posting them to her photo blog Eleven47 every day for years.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the Edge connection in our part of the Dordogne was just to weak for me to post anything more complicated than a tweet so I've saved them all up and I'll give them to you in instalments.

This first photograph is of the terrasse on one side of the house. We're lucky enough to be able to use the house next door to P's parents every summer so we're independent but close enough to eat together and the children can wander from one house to the other depending on where there's an open pot of Nutella. The house has this big terrasse which is actually the roof of the garage below, where we eat and watch the village go by - usually to the communal bins which are just across the road. I tend to spend a lot of time reading horizontally on the swing seat.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dumping ground

Since we last met, I have been to GB twice. Once to drop E off for a week at Grandma's and once to pick her up again. The going was eventful, involving an easyJet flight to Bristol that was two hours late which meant that we missed our "connecting" flight to Newcastle. Luckily there was another one later - but it was also running very late. We got there in the end but much sweat was sweated and much waiting was done at the other end. Thankfully, the coming back to get her was relatively smooth although sleazy BmiBaby did manage to grab £30 from my clenched fist for airport check-in.

Incidentally, while we were sitting on the carpet in the departure lounge in Bordeaux on the first of our long waits, I twittered "Plane delayed by 2 hours. Damn you easyJet" or words to that effect. Within a couple of minutes someone from easyJet had twittered back something about hoping they were keeping us informed. People are obviously being employed to palm disgruntled twitterers off with false concern.

Robots have also been looking out for me. Last week I desultorily searched Locasun for a gite rental in an obscure village in the Dordogne. Since then, my home page on social networking sites has featured a side bar with ads for rentals in said village. I don't find that helpful, I find it creepy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

How do you say?

I've been clearing out my computer at work in a bid to start next term with a cleanish slate. I have only the vaguest of memories of recording this video which was hiding in an obscure folder, but it seems to be a response to a 2008 Flickr meme, Word Time. I hereby revive the meme and order you all to record yourselves pronouncing the following words:

What do you call the lace up shoes you wear for working out, running etc?

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I twittered a bit about working at Vinexpo last week. It occurs to me, however, that many of you probably have very little idea of what Vinexpo is all about.

What can I say? Vinexpo is the world's biggest wine fair. It's a professionals-only affair but I get to go along with an army of other interpreters to translate the conferences and the tastings for wine experts from every corner of the wine-loving globe.

This massive circus of all things wine takes place every two years in the Parc des Expositions at Bordeaux Lac. A floating walkway — orange this year — takes you across the lake to the main building which is over two kilometres long. This year's attendance was down 7% with only 47000 visitors due to the slump, but there was certainly no evidence of slumpiness in the ethanol-laden air. Inside the main building you could walk for hours and hours along alleys lined with stands from all over the world vying for attention. Bespoke besuited buyers and sellers gargled and spat.

There's a lot of money in wine and I'm quite sure that the cumulative value of just the shiny shoes on the attendees feet would match the GDP of a medium-sized country.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Laid-back and outgoing

I'm currently reading The Year of No Money in Tokyo by Wayne Lionel Aponte (a book that would have made a perfectly good blog, now there's faint praise). I was intrigued by a passage that I can't find anymore (that wouldn't happen with a blog). It went something like this:

"The conversation started out along the usual lines, "What's your blood group? Where do you live? Are you single".

And that's it. There is no explanation of why "What's your blood group?" would be an acceptable, never mind a common, conversation starter in Japan.

I've been wondering about this for the past few days and finally got round to googling it tonight. Fortunately, this old Indepedent article explains all. It turns out that the Japanese believe that each blood group has a corresponding personality type. I'm O which means that in Japan I would be expected to be outgoing and laid-back. I could live with that.

The article doesn't say whether or not rhesus factor is important in Japan. For the record I'm O- so I am a universal donor. This is quite academic however since the Agence Française du Sang politely declines my blood. It believes that I have a high risk of developing Creutzfeld-Jakob disease having lived in Britian in the early eighties.

The downsides of being O- are
a) that I had to have injections throughout my pregnancies because P. is O+ (really a very minor inconvenience when one thinks of the problems that those tiny jabs might be solving).
b) that I can only receive blood from another O- donor, and there aren't that many of us (only 6% of the French population is O- ). So if you're one of us, what are you waiting for? Get down to your local blood transfusion place and fill up my stocks.

Update: Wayne kindly e-mailed me with the passage in his book that I had mangled beyond all recognition. It reads:
"Students spend most of the time asking me the kind of questions one might expect in Japan on the first meeting: What’s your blood type? Do you like sushi? Do you like natto? Are you married? How old are you? Can you speak Japanese? Where are you from? Does everyone have gun in America? (They tend to drop indefinite articles.)"

Sunday, June 07, 2009


Port Mosaic
We had a walk round Bordeaux's port de plaisance this afternoon. I love old rusty, dilapidated boats and cars and there are certainly plenty of those in the port. There are none of the sleek yachts of Cannes here, just a motley mixture of sorry-looking barges and various other unseaworthy vessels.

In other news, I voted in the European elections this afternoon. I met our next-door neighbour on the way there. He's about eighty, I think. He started off by telling me not to vote for Danny le Rouge because he "put France in the shit" in 1968. The conversation then moved on to the sudden dip in the temperature and he told me about how May used to be the best month for weather in Bordeaux. It's the Virgin Mary's month and people would go out until late in the evening to, well I'm not quite sure what they were doing but something to do with Mary. "There are no more seasons", he concluded. And guess what - this is all due to motorways. Yes, apparently motorways aspirate all the warm air and create cold fronts. Who would have thought?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Some uncommonly common solecisms

I've been perusing the Economist's list of common solecisms and although it greatly pains me to admit this, because I think I'm actually quite good atta de Inglish, I have in fact learned quite a lot. Please don't mock if you picked these things up in kindergarden or if you have ever noticed me using any of them .... repeatedly.

For example, I had no idea that there was a difference between compared to and compared with. Did you?
Compare: A is compared with B when you draw attention to the difference. A is compared to B only when you want to stress their similarity. ( “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”)
It had never occured to me either that there was anything wrong with the expression softly spoken, or the term homosexuals and lesbians. Nor was I aware of the difference between to forgo and to forego (I think I may have been guilty of that crime against the English language here).

Others are more widely known eg. the distinction between less and fewer. Although native English speakers so frequently use less instead of fewer that I no longer correct students for if they get it wrong. There are more important things in life; there are more important things to be taught in an English course.

Certain of these unsayables seem to have been included just to refute American usage. It's true that the American "to protest the plans" has always sounded a little strange to me:
Protest. By all means protest your innocence, or your intention to write good English, if you are making a declaration. But if you are making a complaint or objection, you must protest at or against it.
Others can only have been included to be deliberately provocative :
Scotch: to scotch means to disable, not to destroy. (“We have scotched the snake, not killed it.”) The people may also be Scotch, Scots or Scottish; choose as you like. Scot-free means free from payment of a fine (or punishment), not free from Scotsmen.
I mean, come on: the people may bloody not be called Scotch. Indeed, we ra people refuse to be called Scotch.

I suspect that if any of the sticklers at the Economist who compiled this list were to take a quiz on Facebook they would have an apopletic fit.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Proust Questions

I did this way back in 2005 and used it with my students at that time. I used it again today with a group of teachers and revisited my own answers:

What is your most marked characteristic?
I'm almost always willing to give the benfit of the doubt
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Two beautiful children
When and where were you happiest?
I remember a fleeting moment of complete happiness on a beach in Portugal when I was 21
What is your greatest regret?
I don't think I believe in regrets.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A life with no deadlines
What is your most treasured possession?
My iPhone
Where would you like to live?
Santa Fe
What is your greatest fear?
Death of a child
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Lack of patience
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Self denial
What is your greatest extravagance?
My computer
What is your favorite journey?
A hike in the Himalayas
What is it that you most dislike?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
What do you most value in your friends?
a well-developed sense of humour
If you were to come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
a sparrow
If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
a human being
How would you like to die?
Well prepared, in my sleep, age 110.

Monday, June 01, 2009

In the Pink

In the Pink, originally uploaded by Lezzles.

Anne at Papilles et Pupilles asked for a pink May mosaic. I took these pictures on 1st June - I hope they still qualify.

(The indiviual photos are in my Flickr photostream. If you want to do something similarly trippy, try Picnik's hypnotic tool in the sandbox)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Yesterday, I visited the Archives Départmentales. The director had set out a selection of their most precious treasures for us to look at and and I got to pore over this map dating from 1485. It's actualy a portulan: an early vellum sea chart. This is how a Portuguese navigator saw the world at that time (Ireland is massively overproportioned and the rest of Europe is somewhat stunted).

There's something wonderful about being up close to something that old. The most moving exhibit, however, was a thick nineteenth-century register listing all of the babies abandoned at one of the hospitals in Bordeaux. Each baby is described in detail and a little piece of the cloth from the clothes s/he was wearing accompanies the description. Because the register has remained closed for so many years, the colours of the clipped cloth are still bright. Among the hundreds of entries, I noticed a square of shiny green silk, some creamy wool, a coiled piece of gold thread and a length of pink ribbon. All heart rendingly singular.

I wonder what those mothers would have thought as they dressed their babies for the first / last time had they known that hundreds of years later, long after the babies themselves had grown up and died, other women would finger the remnants of those very clothes and wonder what had pushed them to leave their babies on the hospital doorstep.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

From Heffalump to Heroine

I promised you snippets and here's one from Andrew O'Hagan in the LRB. I know that Susan Boyle is sooooo last month already, but O'Hagan sums the phenomenon up quite nicely here. (Incidentally Susan Boyle is about the same age as me and she's also from Scotland but that's where the resemblance ends because although she will probably get a good makeover, I'll never ever be able to sing.)
YouTube can make stars out of nobody: it can make them cheap and can make them without permission. The morning after Boyle appeared on Britain’s Got Talent, three people sent me the link to her performance on YouTube. This was happening all over the world. Her success is not difficult to understand: we love to imagine that talent is hidden, and it lives among our deepest fantasies that the least prepossessing, the least styled, the most innocent among us may carry the power to amaze the world. That notion lies at the sentimental heart of showbusiness. Turning defeat to triumph, jeers to cheers, is a piece of schmaltz fans of transformation find irresistible, and most people with an interest in the wiles of human talent are connoisseurs of transformation. Susan Boyle’s journey from heffalump to heroine was instantaneous: it came not merely via her good singing voice, but via the audience’s strong sense of its unlikelihood. The powerful voice came like the uplifting last paragraph of an old-fashioned novel. If you surprise an audience by giving them something they really want they will love you for ever. They will also cry, which is why YouTube shows nearly a quarter of a million lachrymose messages under the footage of Boyle’s triumph.
Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Words, words, words

I'm presenting a paper at a conference tomorrow. Here's what I'm going to say:

Any questions? No? Great. Let's just go straight to the cocktails then.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seven Spring Melodies

Jonathan tagged me for this Seven Spring melodies meme and I am happy to oblige. But seriously, do people really change what they listen to depending on the season? I don't think I do.

Here's what I've been listening to recently. The first two are easy because the children have been learning them at school and hum them around the house.
  • Z. has been learning the words to Claude Nougaro's Armstrong, je ne suis pas noir .....
  • E. likes Boby Lapointe's La Maman des Poissons which is all about how kind the mummy fish is to her little ones and ends with the excellent line "et moi je l'aime bien avec du citron"!
  • Every time I turn the radio on, I can guarantee that Liberta by Pep's (I'm afraid the apostrophe is part of the name) will come on within about two minutes. It's starting to get on my nerves a bit but it's definitely one of the melodies I'll associate with this spring.
  • I've had another album in my earbuds at various points over the past few weeks, the Mauritanian Daby Touré's Stereo Spirit. I associate it with last summer, so it's probably wishful thinking given that it's been peeing it down for the past week.
  • My bruv and his family gave me the Jackie Album (Vol 2) for my birthday a few weeks ago. You probably had to be swoony and pre-pubescent in 1970s Britain to really appreciate this CD. It's difficult to choose a favourite track but I'm going to plump for Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)
  • ... and Rod Stewart's Maggie May ( although it's obviously not late September and I'm probably a lot older now than the eponymous older woman - the morning sun certainly really shows my age)
  • And last but not least, Devendra Banhart's Cristobal. It's two years old but it still sounds fresh and .... well springlike I suppose.
I'm tagging you all, yes all seven of you. Happy May 1st!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


There was a lot of blue - blue in the pool and the sea, the sky, the taverna chairs. And some red too - the deep red of springtime poppies. And a bit of black - mostly on the backs of old Greek women preparing for Orthodox Easter.

There was the smell of orange blossom and cistus in the air. The taste of ouzo every evening, sometimes competing with garlicky tatziki or taramasalta.

There were blue glass eye charms too - and we've come back with a few adorning bracelets and key rings.

Because the only downside of always going on the cheapest possible late deal holiday is that you only have a couple of days to look forward to discovering your destination - the Island of Evia in Greece in this case — so you have to make up for that by making the afterglow last for as long as possible.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009


TourScotland uploaded this photograph to Twitpic today. It's Cornaigmore school on the Isle of Tiree - my very first school. I started Primary 1 here in 1967 and didn't leave until we went back to the mainland four and a half years later.

Just looking at this photograph is bringing back memories of the headmaster Mr McDougal standing outside that lean-to with a great big whistle in his mouth; big boys with tackety boots streaming through the hallway; wet coats, cremola foam and the occasional sheep in the cloakroom; and the perfume of my very first teacher Miss Dodds. The area at the front of the school is the machair which stretches all the way down to the beach - a great place for a game of rounders in the summer.

The school seems to have changed a bit since then.

(Thanks Sandy)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Weekend en Périgord

Back from a great weekend at the Hameau du Sentier des Sources in Sarlat. Good friends, good food, good wine, a little sun, a happy band of children and a clutch of photos to remind us of it all. (Oh, and gariguette strawberries from the market this early in the season to boot.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Poetry snippet

While looking for something completely different today, I came across this translation by Alastair Reid of a poem by the Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco.
High treason

I do not love my country. Its abstract splendor
is beyond my grasp.
But (although it sounds bad) I would give my life
for ten places in it, for certain people,
seaports, pinewoods, fortresses,
a run-down city, gray, grotesque,
various figures from its history
(and three or four rivers).

Reid, who is Scottish, says that this so coincided with a poem he might have written himself that in translating it, he felt as if he was writing the original. Although I cannot say the same thing, in modestly copying and pasting his translation, I feel that I am at least endorsing the sentiment.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


I seem to be a little obsessed with signs of spring at the moment. Don't be fooled by the blue sky in this picture taken yesterday on the campus car park - it was actually extremely cold. After a glorious few days last week, it seems that winter is trying to creep back, but it ain't welcome anymore.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


This noisy squadron of cranes flew over our house yesterday afternoon on its way north. Which means that spring is definitely on its way too.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fête des Boeufs Gras

My creation
Bazas, originally uploaded by Lezzles.

Today we spent the day in Bazas - a small town south of Bordeaux with an enormous gothic cathedral and a unique race of cattle. Every year they fatten the cattle up for five months and then they parade the best specimens through the streets of the town behind tractors to the main square where they are weighed, judged and admired.

We spent the morning ogling their enormous rumps; lunchtime eating the enormous rumps of their defunct predecessors; and the afternoon admiring men on stilts accompany their enormous rumps by now adorned with plastice flowers. Tonight they'll be bedding down in the abattoir.

Pauvres bêtes, one look in their puzzled eyes makes it all seem a bit barbaraic really. It's almost enough to make one want to give up having animals fattened and killed in one's name.

If only it didn't taste so absolutely delicious.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Not your average Friday evening

We took in two events on Friday evening. One for the eyes and one for the ears. Actually I was hoping that the first one would be for the stomach too, but that wasn't to be.

I put on my long red, velvet jacket — only ever donned for very special occasions and then only events that take place in suitably dark places lest I should dazzle anyone — and we headed over to the submarine base, la base sous-marine. During the Second World War, when Bordeaux was occupied by the Germans, Hitler decided to build a massive concrete structure to protect his submarines. It's a hideous monster of a thing but difficult to get rid of because it has such massively huge walls and was built to withstand bombing. After many years of not knowing what to do with the site, Bordeaux has turned it into a sort of arts centre - it's filled with water and used to be a museum of pleasure boats but that wasn't much of a crowd-puller.

We'd received an invitation to the vernissage of an exhibition of work by the American photographer Louis Stettner. The rest of Bordeaux, it turned out, had received the same invitation and they were there in their droves, crowding five-deep around the drinks tables, pushing and shoving to get the Franco-American food on offer. We managed to grab a glass of something but gave up on the food when we discovered that the exhibition space itelf was really quiet, and the photographs were wonderfully evocative of Paris and New York when we imagine everything was black & white.

From there we drove to Cenon in the suburbs and had a quick drink before heading off to the Kurt Elling show (I'm never sure what to call these things now - "concert" sounds fuddy duddy, "gig" sounds faux hip). Just in case, like me, you had never actually listened to any Kurt Elling — he's a jazz vocalist. In fact, he's a stupendously talented jazz vocalist with a voice that is like nothing you've ever heard before. And certainly not in Cenon on a rainy February evening.

I was going to say something about him being creative and his voice being "powerful" but I really don't have the vocabulary or the musical knowledge to talk about what I heard, but I know I loved it, so just go listen.

Kurt is in fact a friend of friends (so he's really our friend once removed) and we had drinks afterwards. And I'm happy to report that he's an extremely nice person as well as an awesome performer.

....and if you've been reading closely you'll have realised that on Friday night although I had plenty to drink, I had not a single thing to eat.

Friday, February 06, 2009

...but I'm not so keen on

You didn't really think I was going to leave you on that dithyrambic note, did you?

Here are some of the things about Bordeaux that I detest. I detest the creeping uniformisation of the shops in town. I detest the fact that every single corner lot is now owned by a bank or an insurance company. I detest the snobbishness. I detest the privileged cliques. I detest the general lack of funkiness. I detest the lack of green spaces. I detest the emptiness of August. I detest the prevalent bon-chic-bon-genre. I detest the halfhearted grafitti. I detest the municipal conservatism. I detest the history of slave trading. I detest the fact that people don't speak to each other on public transport. I detest the lack of a really good Indian restaurant. I detest the lifeless rectangular apartment buildings.

And most of all I detest the dog shit that lies in wait on the pavements.


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 ...