Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where does the time go?

I mean really, where does time go as you get older? I seem to remember great swathes of free time — bored time — when I was youthful: long gaping holes in the day that were impossible to fill up. Time to lie around musing. Now, no sooner have I finished one task than the next looms large, demanding attention, strumming its fingers with impatience. Work, leisure, being a parent: they're all overwhelming in their appetites for time. Books lie unread, films come and go at the cinema unseen, desultory thoughts go unthought. Is the internet the time-aspirating culprit?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Getting round to it

Belgianwaffle linked to this fascinating article on procrastination in The New Yorker. Despite my initial impulse to bookmark it for later, I managed to read the whole thing with only a few pauses to look at pages in other tabs; to get a cup of coffee; to check my e-mail; to update my facebook status; to make a move in Words .... I particularly identified with the paragraph below.

Academics, who work for long periods in a self-directed fashion, may be especially prone to putting things off: surveys suggest that the vast majority of college students procrastinate, and articles in the literature of procrastination often allude to the author’s own problems with finishing the piece. (This article will be no exception.) But the academic buzz around the subject isn’t just a case of eggheads rationalizing their slothfulness. As various scholars argue in “The Thief of Time,” edited by Chrisoula Andreou and Mark D. White (Oxford; $65)—a collection of essays on procrastination, ranging from the resolutely theoretical to the surprisingly practical—the tendency raises fundamental philosophical and psychological issues. You may have thought, the last time you blew off work on a presentation to watch “How I Met Your Mother,” that you were just slacking. But from another angle you were actually engaging in a practice that illuminates the fluidity of human identity and the complicated relationship human beings have to time. Indeed, one essay, by the economist George Ainslie, a central figure in the study of procrastination, argues that dragging our heels is “as fundamental as the shape of time and could well be called the basic impulse.”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dregs of Summer

These were taken the weekend before last at our favourite beach on the lake at Sanguinet. It was still very very hot. The sort of hot that is uncomfortable and makes you sweatily grumpy. Since then, autumn, redolent of fresh starts, has crept into the morning air.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Putting my faffing around skills to work

For the rest of this week I'll be mostly running around like a chicken with its head cut off at Eurocall 2010. I'm chairing sessions and organising all of the social networking for the conference via Twitter, Facebook and Flickr and a blog. So finally my endless hours of faffing around on the internet have become workplace skills. Result!

I'm also giving a paper on Saturday morning on the presentation software Prezi (aka the PowerPoint killer) so I'm in the middle — yes, I stupidly left this until the very last minute — of preparing that. It's a great tool - here's one I made in June for the RLS conference in Stirling.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Visited the PIP (Pole International de la Préhistoire) in Les Eyzies today. Extraordinary building - white and filled with light, great exhibits and a sunny terrace at the ecofriendly café.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


It's a swelteringoony 38°C in the shade of this pine tree. Even the wind, although unusually strong, is hot.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So far this Summer

The weather has oscillated between dreich and sweltering. Yesterday we spent a lovely sunny day at the Lac de Lacanau, today we've cancelled an outing to Le Moulleau because it's grey and raining. In fact weather-wise it's sometimes difficult to remember if we're in Scotland or in France.Stop Press: now it's hothothot again and we're beach-bound for the second day in a row.

Most singular experience in Scotland was a bluegrass concert in a church in Moffat with Craig Duncan and friends all the way from Nashville, Tennessee folks.

It was a good for wasps — I suppose I really mean a bad year — in both Scotland and France. In the Dordogne there was an influx of those nasty Asian hornets. They seemed quite partial to the quince jelly in my trap improvised from a butter dish.

In completely unrelated news, we spent an hour or two in Thiviers last week and P. reminded me that as a boy Jean-Paul Sartre spent his holidays there. This rang a distinct bell and I remembered reading (or perhaps being told in Mr Walker's "Politics and the Novel" class?) that J-P's favourite boyhood pastime while there was performing enemas on a little girl. Can this possibly be true? And why is this useless trivia taking up valuable brain-space when I can remember so little of the Sartre I've read?

Monday, August 09, 2010


Visited the Grotte de Tourtoirac. Incredible stalagmites and stalactites. Took this before the guide said that photography was forbidden. Ooops.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Friday, August 06, 2010

Au supermarché

The Carrefour Market in Saint-Martial-d'Alabarède has a special section for British tourists. They seem to hanker after Coleman's mustard, mushy peas, and Vegemite.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A Rainy Day

Visited Saint-Robert in the neighbouring département of Correze. A very pretty village, even in the rain.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

By the walnut tree

This is the walnut tree that we look on to from the terrace of the house. The walnuts are still green. Yesterday I received a book that I won on the This French Life site, it's all about truffles and walnuts and the cuisine of the Dordogne in general. It's at the top of the LibraryThing list in the sidebar.
Gotta go, MsMac has just texted to say she's only five minutes away!

Monday, August 02, 2010

En route for the Dordogne

It's a lovely sunny day and having arrived back in Bordeaux last night after our Scottish holidays, we're now on our way to the Dordogne If this works and I can blog via email from my phone, then I may treat you to a photo a day in August. But don't hold your breath.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The State of Me

In a very lopsided book swap, I ended up with a lovely new copy of Nasim Marie Jafry's The State of Me, and she got and old yellowed copy of Le Scaphandre et le Papillon.

I've been reading Nasim's blog for a while now, but I hadn't got round to reading her book. The State of Me tells the story of Helen Fleet, a young Scottish woman (like me!) who studies French at university (like me!) in the early eighties (like me!). Helen comes to France to do her year abroad (like me!) and develops ME (like Nasim herself).

You may (like me) be afraid of reading illness narratives because you suspect you are going to embark on an unhappy medical self-pity fest. Have no fear, there is no self-pity in The State of Me but there is lots of humour and lots of acute observation. Nasim writes in spare, measured sentences. The effort is contained and elegant as if the author had to calculate each word, the length of each paragraph before attempting it. The admirable style is underpinned by an indominitable sense of humour and an unfailing eye for the ridiculous. I smiled a lot, both at the wittiness and at the recognition of idiosyncratic places and practices in 80s Scotland. And there is romance too.

I obviously learned a lot about the illness ME, because although not exactly a non-believer, I simply didn't understand how debilitating it is or how much more complicated it is than simple chronic fatigue. The dialogues with the ignorant stranger were enlightening and perhaps they'll help me to be more sensitive and avoid trite comments next time I speak to someone with ME.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I write like ..

All you have to do is paste in a blog post and hey presto. I'm sure I don't write like DFL - not enough footnotes for a start.

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Hot and Haunting

Last Tuesday I got to tick an item off my "things to do before I die" list. I saw Bob Dylan in concert.

I was exceptionally excited but there were several considerations dampening my enthusisam. First the heatwave: it was absolutely boiling hot outside and a bit like a steamy pit of writhing animals inside the Patinoire de Mérideck, especially in the standing area where we were. (Aside - remember that post about Charles Edward Stuart's daughter's lover the Archbishop of Bordeaux? Well, one of his names was Mériadeck). Then there was the fact that Z was still running a high temperature and that I'd had to take him to see the doctor at the end of the afternoon - but luckily we had enlisted the services of a responsible adult babysitter (in other words, one of our televisionless friends was interested in coming round to our house to watch a match). Finally, there was the fact that Bob Dylan's recent concerts haven't really had a great press. He is accused of perfunctory performances and a lack of engagement with his audience.
I needn't have feared - it was everything I had hoped for. It was loud and raw; a reminder of the power of his lyrics (although the acoustics at the Patinoire are appalling), and a chance to commune (honestly, it was a quasi-spiritual experience) with the voice. That voice. And all of its associations.

If you're a Dylan fan, you might be interested in the set list. My favourites were Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat, Just Like a Woman and Like a Rolling Stone.

Who do you want to see in concert before you (or they) die?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Catch up

So it turns out that I'm not even very good at regular drivel. But I've actually been quite busy doing stuff n'at since the last time I drivelled here.

First I spent a day at arc en reve, Bordeaux's architecture centre, for an exhibition and a lecture by Bjark Ingals of BIG. Interesting.

Then there was E's eighth birthday. Eight's a good age, I think. She had her ears pierced. A couple of days before we had this done, that is after I had already promised that yes, now she was old enough to have holes in her ears, my friend Deborah told me that she thought it was a terrible thing to do. A bit like giving her a tattoo. What is the general feeling on this?

I wrote a paper and then went off to present it at a conference in Glasgow. I took that new direct Ryanair flight from Bordeaux to Edinburgh. It was on time but, my God, what a horrendous experience the new low-cost terminal at Bordeaux is. They've called it Billi. Basically it's an enormous cattle shed - a massive metal structure with no internal cladding and no air-conditioning when I was there. Passengers are basically herded into pens then left to stand for long periods. There were exactly three seats in our pen and you're probaby only allowed to use them if you've booked priority boarding and ten bags.

I stayed with friends in the West End. They like to eat out and we had some excellent meals. We had a great tapas style Indian meal at Mother India's Café on the Thursday evening - I love tapas and I love Indian food so this was doubly delicious especially the garlic mushroom pakora. On Saturday my Mum joined us for lunch at Fratelli Sarti - a Glasgow institution. And for lunch on Sunday we went to Chinatown for a mountain of dim sum. We were practically the only non-Chinese-looking people in a very busy restaurant - although when I tuned into the conversation at the neighbouring tables, the accents were mostly very Glaswegian with some Australian.

The weather was lovely in Scotland. Much more civilized than the 35°C we had here today.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Charlotte Stuart

I've been reading Frank McLynn's biography of Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and discovered the story of his daughter, Charlotte, which I hadn't ever come across before.

Charlotte (1753-1789) was the illegitimate daughter of Charles and his mistress Clementina Walkinshaw. However the Jacobite prince battered Clementina and she left him taking her seven-year-old daughter with her. Because of her illegitimate status, Charlotte spent a good part of her life in various convents unable to marry and estranged from her father. He didn't recognize her until 1784 by which time he was an sick old alcoholic. She nursed him tenderly until he died.

A couple of years later she died too. She had never married.

However — and this is the interesting bit — Charlotte had a secret which she managed to keep from everyone including her father. She had had a relationship with the Archbishop of Bordeaux, Ferdinand Maximilien Mériadec de Rohan, and borne him three children - the third having been born just a few days before she rushed to Italy to be by her father's side. The children were brought up in secrecy by her mother mostly in Switzerland. The secret wasn't discovered by historians until, get this, the 1950s.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Baguettes to Bordeaux?

There was a bit of a discussion going on on Twitter yesterday sparked by this article in the Guardian which claims that increasing numbers of Britons living in France are having all of their grocery shopping, including wine and baguettes, sent over from in vans from Asda. Then l'Anglais à Paris reacted to the article with a blog post entitled: "Why the hell did you move to France in the first place then?"

You'd think I'd have learned by now not to read the comments on any piece of writing on the internet that is even vaguely polemical: no good can ever come of it. But I did. I had to stop, however, when I reached the comment that argued that many people had come to live in France because they felt their national heritage was being drowned under Polish and halal goods in British supermarkets. The whole thing was just getting too strange.

I do still bring stuff back from Scotland but less than I used to — paracetamol and vitamins are cheaper; Heinz beans are just better; and the children used to love Ribena — and I have occasionally ordered household items from British companies over the internet. I also used to take French things back to Scotland, but my Mum says not to bother anymore because she can get a perfectly good piece of camembert in Tesco thank you very much. However, I wouldn't ever think of doing a virtual weekly shop in Asda. I mean why would I? To save a few euros? And who would I complain to when the wine shop, the chocolate shop, the boulangerie in my quartier closed down due to my withdrawing my custom? Je n'aurai que mes yeux pour pleurer.

And if you haven't had enough reading for one day, here's another bit from the Guardian on the evils of Tesco.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Rocking and Rolling

Summer started for the third or fourth time this year on Friday, with temperatures shooting up into the thirties only to tumble back down to barely twenty this afternoon.

Anyway, the weekend kicked off well when I met up with the lovely Anne from Papilles & Pupilles for lunch in the sun on the Place des Chartrons. It was nice to finally get to chat with someone whose blog I've been reading for years. Anne's is one of the most widely read blogs in France and if you're ever looking for a recipe in French, the chances are that you'll end up on one of her delicious pages.

The rest of the weekend was all about Z. He's been having electric guitar lessons since the beginning of the year, and the time had now come for the end-of-year concert which was even bigger than usual because the school was celebrating its 25th anniversary. This had meant three consecutive evenings of rehearsals until much later than he's usually allowed to stay up on a school night. Saturday night was the big night.

But before that, there was Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon which were to be spent at La Fête du Rugby: fun and games and a tournament with all of the other rugby teams from the départment. It is a source of perpetual amazement to me that in France they often cancel rugby practice because it's raining yet, on days like yesterday, maintain fixtures in temperatures of 32°C!

Unfortunately Z was carried off the pitch after a badly executed tackle and arrived home on his father's arm still a bit woozy with a bloody nose, a mangled lip and a swollen cheek. Every mother's dream.

By mid-evening when he went off to the concert he was feeling better though. And I think you'll agree (if you can make him out in the front row of the guitarists in the video below) that he definitely has the makings of a rock and roll star.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


On the principle that the more you eat, the more you want to eat and that the more you have sex — actually that one may only work under a certain age — I have decided to force myself to write here a little more regularly and see what happens. It might be just a few lines of drivel, or even just a photo with a brief description, but at least I will be writing. Right? Righting. Write?
So what's been happening since I last wrote in April (yikes!)? Classes have slowly wound down and we're now into exam marking and boards and things but any spare time has been more than filled up with meetings and a big new research project.
We spent a great weekend in the Dordogne for P's niece's First Communion, although to be honest I wriggled out of the actual ceremony. The family own a lovely campsite in Plazac near Montignac, so we were able to spend the whole weekend together consuming massive amounts of Périgordian specialities. The children guddled in the lake. It was the only sunny weekend we have had for ages. The weather has quite frankly been unrelenting cloudiness for much of the last two months — so much for la dolce vita in South-West France.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Moliets again

Since I started this blog, I think we've been to Moliets on the Atlantic coast three or four times. It's a great seaside resort, perfect for a quick getaway with kilometres and kilometres of pristine sandy beaches, pine forests criss-crossed with walking and cycling paths, a few laid-back bars and restaurants, and a golf course, le Courant d'Huchet and even cypress knees. Oh, and villas with pools available for a tiny fraction of the extortionate high-season rate if you can go in springtime.
Actually the only thing we wanted but didn't get was perfect weather all the time, it was only hot and sunny about half the time, which isn't really so bad.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


So we went off to the Gers for the weekend with my Mum and it rained and rained and rained. And then I found a dead mouse in amongst the pots and pans, and so we came home.

In other watery news, it was nice to see my blog reviewed by Keith on A Taste of Garlic, although I was a little dismayed to have confirmation that that iPhone in the toilet story is never going to die. A friend recently told me he thinks of me every time he goes to the toilet, and grips his own iPhone a little tighter on those occasions. And Keith, IT WAS JUST YELLOW WATER, honest!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Little Boxes

Last week I accompanied Z's class on a school trip to the Cité Frugès in Pessac.

This housing development was designed by Le Corbusier and built in 1926. It was a visionary project for the era - individual modern housing for the workers from the local steelworks, and it is hard to believe that such a contemporary look was possible over eighty years ago. It seems, however, that the first inhabitants were far from overwhelemed by the look and practicality of their new homes. The houses were among the first to be made of concrete, a cold material in comparison to the local honey-coloured stone. They all had garages on the ground floor although almost none of the occupants actually had cars; the interiors are full of straight lines and cubic spaces which probably drove the housewives mad in a period during which fussy wallpaper, carpets and copious knick-knacks were the norm. Perhaps they were mollified by the indoor toilets and the central heating.

Unsurprisingly, the people who live in the houses have added their own touches here and there often kitch-ing away Le Corbusier's original pure lines.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nature Writing

I wanted to tell you a little bit more about that amazing sea of lava in Lanzarote - the tumultuous impression of jaggedness you experience as you survey its massive extent; that chaos of lava rocks straining towards the sea. I would have added something more perhaps about the variety of colours highlighted on the volcanoes' flanks, as cloud shadows scudded/glided/slid/oozed over their surfaces. But it just won't do.
I read a piece by Andrew Greig in the Scottish Review of Books last weekend in which he observes that : "In the attempt to get across the immediacy and power of one’s experience, Nature Writing too often leads to this over-emphatic, over-adjectival, overly figurative striving." He's right.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


This time last week we were enjoying summer temperatures in Lanzarote. On our return, it was quite a shock to discover that Bordeaux is still plunged in the chilly depth of an inhabitually bleak winter.

Several people had warned us that Lanzarote is a volcanic island meaning that the landscape is grey and arid while I associated the word Lanzarote with the worst of shudder-inducing British tourism. There was none of that and we loved it. The hues of the volcanic landscape actually range from a dull black through fruity purple to burning ochre. The volcano-sides are dotted with semi-circular hollows dug out to protect the vines planted deep in the dark ashes. Perhaps there are some horrible tourist holes but we didn't see any: Lanzarote was lucky enough to be home to an artist names César Manrique and he did much to protect the coastline and limit development to low-rise villages of white casas.

Fully intending to do some hiking while we were there, we had squashed our walking boots into our suitcases, but didn't get as far as actually putting them on. I think that if we'd had two weeks, we would have got round to it, but we only had one and there were so many other interesting things to do and see, and of course eat. So we spent the days visiting the cactus garden, the Mirador del Rio, the Manrique cultural centre, and Timanfaya national park where we ate meat barbecued with the natural heat of a volcano.

It is taking me ages to cull, organise and upload all of our photographs. Here's a selection — the rest will be here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Like a cat

I feel like a cat in one of those cruel sixties experiments you learn about in Psychology. You know, the cat that was placed on a tiny platform in the middle of a swimming pool and every time it went into a deep sleep its muscles relaxed and it fell into the pool.

For the past two nights, it feels as if every time I have entered that sleep phase, I have been awoken by a little voice shouting "I've been sick!" or "I'm going to be sick!", and last night, "I feel awful", "I've had a terrible, sob, nightmare" and then at 2.30 a.m. "Mummy, can you rub my brow?".

The cat was completely crazy by the end of the experiment.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Random thoughts on lecturing

  • A lecture theatre filled with a three or four hundred students is a scary thing to look up at from the podium.
  • A good PowerPoint presentation can look awesome on a gigantic screen. Unfortunately, tiny mistakes look correspondingly gigantic.
  • Next time, I'm using Prezi.
  • You cannot over-prepare and it's not a good idea to leave the "finishing touches" until an hour before the lecture because you'll have gone all skittery by that point.
  • Talking non-stop alone for an hour-and-a-half is actually very difficult. Who knew?
  • Today's students are really well equipped and seem to constantly be taking photographs of the slides (or maybe they just liked my outfit?)
  • They also record every single word you say and transcribe them later for distribution to class members who weren't present. Unfortunately, they even transcribe the feeble jokes.
  • You've got to be bit of a show-off to get any pleasure from this particular exercise in performance.
  • Although I have no plans to take up a stage career any time soon, I could get used to that warm feeling when they clap at the end, and the natural high that comes with the knowledge that it's all over and I managed not to trip and fall on my face or do the whole thing with my skirt tucked into my pants.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fun and Games at the Opera

This could have been a nice cosy post about how much Z and I enjoyed the Opéra de Bordeaux's unusual production of the Magic Flute last night. It takes place in a ski resort with lots of kitchy decor and sixties style hairdos and anoraks. Great fun.

However, Z was going with a group from his music school and I had to make him a picnic dinner to eat on the bus. While I was sticking the ham in his sandwich, with only twenty minutes to go before we had to leave, I got a phone call to say that there was an extra ticket and would I like to go? Yes!

P. works late on a Thursday though, so I would have to ask our friendly young neighbors if they would look after E until he got home. "I'm just going to run next door and ask them" I said to the children. They followed me out and Z pulled the door behind him and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarggh locked us all outside.

And that is how Z's first visit to the opera involved some muted shouting, a borrowed car, no dinner, no coats, and no money.

But lots of fake snow.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

At the park

We have taken the children to the park to run off all of that pent up energy. Our local post office is situated in the middle of the park.

An elderly woman — old but not that old — studies the notice on the door. She is well dressed but her face wears a fixed miserable expression. She asks me if I can tell her how to get to the main post office — this one is closed. I tell her that it's closed because it's the first of January and that the other one will be closed too.

"Ah, c'est le premier janvier?" she repeats, surprised. "Bonne année".

She doesn't live far from here. It's just that she needs some money - will the other post office be open tomorrow? I say yes and explain in great detail how to get there - it's not difficult. She looks at me in an anguished, vacant way. Could I possibly go with her? Well, no not really. Could I write the directions down?

She fumbles in her near-empty handbag and finds a pen. I find a piece of paper and write the instructions down. She re-reads them several times and at the bottom of the page she adds that the objective is to go to the post office to get some money. She seems to know that she will have forgotten that part by tomorrow. She frowns, says again how lost she feels and explains that she hasn't had this maladie for long so she is still getting used to it.

She squeezes my arm. "Merci de votre gentillesse" she says. Somehow, I don't feel at all kind.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


Happy New Year! The end of the holidays is approching and this tree is coming down tomorrow.

It's been an eventful two weeks. First there was the Eurostar fiasco which we got round by forking out cash for air tickets. Then a snowy Christmas in Scotland. 15 hours of train journey on the way back - almost compromised by a points failure at the very beginning. Then P's family descended on us for a festival of eating and drinking over New Year. I'm really looking forward to 2010 and I hope you are too!


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 ...