Old Friends


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Theo, one of my oldest – in the sense that I’ve known her for ever – friends is having a big birthday today.  As well as getting her an embarrassingly small birthday present because it was easy to post in Bordeaux I got to thinking how very lucky I am in that I still have two very good friends whom I have known from my earliest childhood.

While it’s true that probably the longest relationship I’ll have with anyone in my life is with my brother, who’s four years older than me, (and to that end I wish he’d give up the cigars), my memories of Celestria and Theo go back nearly of far.  In fact they are much clearer than those of my brother.  He was always around so there’s nothing in particular that stands out, whereas I can remember being taken to play with Celestria when I was three.  My first encounter with Theo when we were both four is even clearer.  We’d been to the pantomime in Nottingham and my parents’ car broke down at her uncle’s house.  Theo and I had to share a bed and we had an energetic kicking session.  She won. I fell out.  You don’t forget something like that.

Funnily enough I can't find a single picture of Theo and me together, there are lots I've taken of her and likewise her of me so we'll have to make do with this.  Even at 9 Theo would have probably done a fair likeness, she's a brilliant artist, this is about my level artwise - even now.

Funnily enough I can’t find a single picture of Theo and me together, there are lots I’ve taken of her and likewise her of me, so we’ll have to make do with this. Even at 9 Theo would have probably done a fair likeness, she’s a brilliant artist, this is about my level artwise – even now.

Theo and I shared a governess for two energetic years – we showed the boys in the village on several occasions that girl power ruled when it came to fighting, and were at the same boarding school for another two.  Luckily for me I was sent to another establishment where you actually learnt something when I was 13.  It wasn’t that long ago but there was still a distinct feeling amongst our parents’ generation that it wasn’t actually necessary for girls to be anything other than decorative.  We’d see each other occasionally in the holidays, usually at teenage parties, picking up from where we’d left off – and it’s been like that ever since.  We travelled out to Australia together when we were 21, having really not socialised much for the couple of years before, but somehow absolutely confident that we be good travelling companions.  Amazingly enough, I don’t remember one row.

We’ve been living in different countries for twenty years now and months can go by with not a lot of communication then a comment on Facebook will lead to one of those telephone calls that leaves the OH shaking his head and wondering what women can find to talk about.  And at such length. It’s the same with Celestria whom I’ve seen even less of over the years as she lives too far away to make quick visits viable when I am in England, even so when we do meet we drop straight back into that instant familiarity that comes from knowing someone for a long time and having a wealth of shared memories.

Of course if it hadn’t been for our parents knowing each other and thinking that we were ‘suitable’ as playmates our friendships would never have got off the ground.  That’s life when you’re four.  But it’s not just propinquity and our parents’ approval that is responsible for our still being friends; I grew apart from and lost interest in my other childhood companions long ago.

I’ve made some wonderful and very good friends as I got older, especially after we moved to France which give the lie to that gloomy shibboleth that you make all your friends by your late twenties; after that they’re acquaintances.  Happily not so for me, and I trust not for others either because life has changed and I doubt many of the younger generation get the chance to make lifelong friends in the way my generation did.  You need total stability for that with everyone’s parents settled in one place so that you don’t form a tight bond over a shared love of The Worst Witch only to find that Mummy or Daddy’s job means they have to move three hundred miles awayChildren today might have much more exciting lives than I did – “creative boredom” could well be the watchword for my childhood – but there are some advantages to the old days.

Still having friends with whom you shared your early childhood is one of them.

Learning Something New…



A year or so ago I wrote about the perils of language, and getting things wrong.  Mainly it was to do with pronunciation, I’d still be very wary of telling the vet that the dog had something wrong with his cou (neck) or his queue (tail) because I’m certain I’d pronounce it as cul (arse) and I know that I’ve picked up some words off the girls which probably shouldn’t be used by a respectable matron who’s getting on a bit.  Then I discovered via Facebook, that while I may be better integrated than I thought I was in many ways it doesn’t necessarily mean that I speak decent French.  Not as they would see it in Paris anyway.

One of my friends posted a splendid link in French of 24 signs that show that you’re a Bordelais which hits the spot in several places.  One of the notable ones being the one that states the Bordelais aren’t afraid of rain; if we were we’d be frightened a lot of the time. The average rainfall here is as high as the south of England and if you’ve ever wondered why the countryside in the Dordogne is so green and verdant, that’s why…   It’s followed by ‘Except when you’re in the rue Sainte Catherine…’

The rue Sainte Catherine is supposed to be the longest pedestrianised shopping street in Europe and was completely repaved in smart, shiny new paving stones a few years ago.  Just to add interest to the daily shopping experience the planners decided that the central part of the street – the road bit where the utility and delivery vehicles are allowed to go – would be raised above the pavement part by about 3 – 4 centimetres, the demarcation line being marked by an apparently wheelchair-friendly curved curb.  It probably seemed like a good idea, in practice shoppers stumble off the curb all the time, if it’s dry.  After the smallest shower of rain all the smart, shiny tiles become as slippery as if they’d been oiled and rue SaiNte Catherine begins to look as if it’s populated by zombies with everybody shuffling along the sides of the shops, seeking dry ground and too wary to lift their feet off the ground in case their foot skids away from them.

Number 2 is an absolute classic and was one of the first things I learnt when coming to live here.  In the sud-ouest when we eat a croissanty snack with two sticks of chocolate in it, we’re eating a chocolatine not a pain au chocolat.  And you can see why:

chcoWe’ve got logic on our side I feel, though the rest of France doesn’t agree.  Here’s a map showing where the right-thinkers live

la-carte-des-resultats-pain-au-chocolat-vs-chocolatine_936710_460x306and we’re in the definite minority.

Number 13 is a completely new one to me.  When you’re in the supermarket here and you want something to put your shopping in, you ask for a poche.  That’s what it’s called, always has been called, as far as I’m concerned.  According to the article, the rest of France puts their shopping in a sac, which in a way makes sense as the literal meaning of poche is pocket, whereas sac means bag.  A friend from Paris told me that the first time she was asked if she wanted a poche she really didn’t know what the assistant was talking about.  There are variants on poche too,

chocco Though I can’t help wondering if this isn’t just a case of teasing Parisians…

The Reading Box


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France has a great library service, even tiny villages often have some form of library.  Admittedly the one in our commune, pop 276, is staffed by volunteers, is only open once a month and doesn’t have a huge amount of books but it’s the principle that counts.

On a visit to the Parc Riviere in Bordeaux this week we came across this:

June 13 013It’s a boite a lire where you’re invited to ‘liberate’ your books and magazines and leave them for someone else to read.  Or you can take one home to read for yourself.  Or browse a book while lying on the grass in the sunshine of course.

There’s a whole lot more of these distributed around Bordeaux.  What a wonderful, generous and uplifting idea!

Enfin, le Soleil…


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The bad weather saw itself out last week with a lightning strike on the house resulting in two terrified dogs and one fried Livebox.  The dogs were sorted by lots of cuddles and early tea but the Livebox was way beyond Mrs Corby’s repair service and we had to wait for the technician from France Telecom.  And wait.

It was rather relaxing being without the internet, it’s amazing how much writing you can get done when you aren’t checking Facebook, reading other people’s blogs or the Daily Mail online and there was a glorious moment when we bought a paper after four days of not being able to check the weather forecast online.  The five days ahead didn’t have the usual sharply slanted dark raindrops ranged over the Gironde, there was an unbroken line of fluffy yellow tennis balls instead.

The dogs expressed their pleasure in the sudden change in temperature;

Flynn rolling 2March 14 106Sadly I’m beyond the age of copying them, I might not be able to get up again.  Walking around outside in trainers rather than clumping about in gumboots felt so liberating and after three months of going out because the dogs needed exercise and not for pleasure and with eyes blanking out the grey sogginess all around, it’s astonishing how much you actually see once the sun shines warm on your face.

I’m sure these buttercups in our neighbour’s vines that look as if they’ve been deliberately planted between the rows didn’t actually appear overnight but it seems so;March 14 022March 14 025Daisies too.  Serious gardeners might not like them but I love them, even in lawns,March 14 028I’ve passed this tree  with its ruined palombiere countless times but had never gone up close before.

March 14 062 A palombiere is a hide where hunters gather to shoot palombes, migrating pigeons, during a short season in October and March.  Some are high up in trees like this one though they’re usually on the ground.  Those ones can be huge, covering several hundred square metres and are sometimes fantastically elaborate.  it seems that a lot of the palombieres are the French equivalent of a garden shed, a place to get away from the womenfolk for men will spend a large part of the spring and summer maintaining and improving the structures and most of the season waiting in the hides for the pigeons to go over (which doesn’t happen that often), their vigil accompanied by large quantities of food and even more drink.  However the oft-repeated shibboleth that all French hunters are drunk all the time can’t be true; the palombieire near our house was still being used when we moved here in 2008, the hurricanes of 2009 and 2010 put paid to it, and the hunters used to climb up to their platform using this:

March 14 066I don’t believe it’s possible to get up this if you aren’t sober.  And did anyone ever try to do so when he was drunk?  I checked around the base of the tree and didn’t find any small crosses with arrangements of plastic flowers so I presume not.

Then onto another patch of vines where we haven’t been for ages because it’s just been too soggy and there were grape hyacinths, muscari, growing wild all over the place.

Desi muscariWe now have a little of the outside is now on our kitchen table.

March 14 001The only disadvantage to this glorious weather is that it’s no longer possible to go on ignoring the garden on the grounds it’s just too unpleasant to go outside and I’m going to have to stop merely admiring the beauties of nature and get down to some serious weeding, chopping, tidying…

Tomorrow maybe, for now I’m just going to admire the still unusual sight of the effect of sunlight on the trees.

Roofers – 0, Mrs Corby’s Emergency Roof Repair Service – 1


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A couple of weeks ago we had a spot of Weather.  Not the normal, wet-stuff-coming-out-of-the-sky weather that’s been so unpleasantly familiar since mid November but real Weather.  The type that sneaks up when you aren’t expecting it: the single, massive clap of thunder in the middle of the night that makes the bed shake, the hailstorm that appears out of a cloudless sky and destroys a complete crop of grapes in minutes or the five-minute hurricane that comes out of nowhere on a still day.

It was slightly blustery, and a strange roaring started as if a jet engine was firing up.  I looked out to see rain going past the window horizontally, followed by bits of tree.  The noise revved up a few gears as if we were about to have lift off and feeling that it might not be safe under the roof I took shelter in the doorway, remembering vaguely that it’s supposed to be the strongest part of the house.  It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised that the doorway they mean is one that has a nice thick lintel in a load bearing wall, a door frame from Leroy Merlin in a plasterboard wall probably wouldn’t be of much use. Also that the advice refers to earthquakes, not when a tree might come through the roof.

A couple of minutes – at the most – later it was quiet and calm and the OH and I were swopping what went past the window stories and saying, ‘What the Hell was that?’ Then we noticed that half of the very useful lean-to at the back of the house had disappeared.  Struts, uprights, roof…

Feb 14 013…and not just its own roof, in wrenching free it had also taken chuncks out of the wall and roof of the old wine chai which we use as a washroom, central heating depot and general storage facility.

Feb 14 008The roofer promised to come out asap to put up a tarpaulin over the hole – needless to say as this is south-west France asap meant the next morning.  Luckily, it didn’t rain – much.

The roofer came while I was out and put up a small tarp over those two big holes, failing to notice that there were big cracks running up the roof.  And cracks let in water – as we found out as soon as it started to pour.  It took him another four days to come back with a very large tarp which he put over the cracks.

All well and good, except that as soon as it start to rain again we found out he’d arranged the new tarp so that in one place water sluiced down the wall and seeped in under an old door that used to be protected by the vanished lean-to.  Worse, the new tarp was sending rainwater into a fold of the original small one which had been folded over for better cover.  There was one place the fold sagged – inside the chai. The floor was already awash.

A dustbin was put under the torrent – it filled up completely within hours.

The roofer promised he’d be there on Friday.  Then he said it would be Saturday, promise.  Unblushingly he changed it to Monday, actually turned up on Tuesday, and listened to what I told him about the other leaks with a glazed expression saying a) you’re a woman,  and b) you’re English so I’ve got every excuse for not listening, tied down the tarp, said there was nothing he could do about the water coming under the door and left in a hurry.

I set to waterproofing the door myself and did it eventually with a combination of a piece of old pool liner, a bag of bubble-wrap waiting to go the tip, several nails and a lot of swearing.

It started to rain again.  I went in to load the machine and there was no water coming in under the door.  But there was a stream of water coming down from the place where the tarp sagged.  With rare foresight I hadn’t moved the bin and it was doing an admirable job.

I’ve had to learn to do a lot of things my mother would have thought thoroughly unsuitable for a nicely brought-up girl but up to now I’ve absolutely refused to do roofs or gutters. But the idea of spending another three or four days bailing out the bin and mopping the floor overcame craven terrors about ladders and accompanied by unwanted advice helpful suggestions from the ladder holder who didn’t appreciate  just how heavy a tarpaulin full of water is so you can’t “just empty it out”, (anyway, it’ll just fill up again, won’t it?) I tried out several ideas before eventually coming with a solution using some old bits of bamboo.

Storm porn Feb 14 020It’s hardly elegant and would probably have the roofer holding his sides with laughter but they’re rock solid, don’t move and they work.  The sag has gone and I’ve got no idea where the rainwater caught in the fold is going, all I do know is that it doesn’t appear to be cascading down on my electrical appliances.

There’s also quite a nifty contraption outside for catching the water from the broken drainpipe which involves two dustbins, a sheet of corrugated iron, another bit of drainpipe, an old water bottle and two trainers.  Believe me it works pretty well.

And just in case anyone thinks I’ve been exaggerating about our bit of Weather, the OH and I had been wondering what had happened to the roof of the lean-to.  I found it about a week  later.

Storm porn Feb 14 013And this is where it came from:

Storm porn Feb 14 006That’s the house at the top right and the lean-to was behind it.

Suggestions please on what we’re going to do now.




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Yesterday on the motorway I was flashed by the car behind me.  This isn’t that unusual; French men, usually driving BMWs and Audis, appear to object to women having the temerity to hog the carriageway by going at the speed limit while overtaking a lorry.  I think we lesser beings, especially those who drive toy Citroens like mine, are expected to pull over and let the great ones speed by.

Needess to say, I don’t.  I’ve even been known to make gestures inappropriate to my age, especially when the roof is open.

Yesterday was different.  I was approaching the péage (toll gates) on the motorway, heading towards the exit reserved for those who have télépéage.  For those who don’t know, télépéage is brilliant.  It’s a little box on the windscreen that registers as you approach the toll barriers going on the motorway, and again as you leave and debits your credit card.  No leaning out to grab a ticket, no trying to put the ticket in the machine, dropping it, having to get out of the car to find it, waiting to see how much you owe, fumbling for the credit card, putting it in the machine….  So easy and saves an amazing amount of time queuing behind people whose cards don’t work or haven’t got the right money.  Best of all some motorway péages have dedicated 30 kmh lanes for télépéage users where you don’t have to stop at all, though it’s always a little unnerving heading for the barrier and wondering if it will actually open before you reach it.

I was heading for the 30 km lane when the boy racer behind flashed his lights.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because I was going too slowly; judging by his own driving  what he objected to was my not being so close to the car in front that I could read the security number etched on the back windscreen.   I have what I think are good reason for keeping a safe stopping distance – despite the fact that télépéage has been around in France for at least 5 years and the dedicated télépéage lanes are usually marked like this

télépéagewith that nice big orange T above it people just don’t seem to realise what it’s for.  You can guarantee that at least one in three times when we’re joining the motorway at our local junction there will be someone stuck in the télépéage lane wondering why they can’t get a ticket.  It’s not as if they didn’t have a choice; there’s another lane next to it with a very visible green arrow above it.

A couple of weeks ago I was coming back from Bordeaux and coming up to the 30 km lane at the péage – which looks like this –

télépéage4ie, pretty obvious with large illuminated 30 sign,plus a big t, orange markings etc – but despite all this a car was backing out of it, before shooting off to one of the credit card lanes.  A French car too, as they practically always are, so the driver didn’t even have the excuse of being a visitor who was confused by unfamiliar signs.

Did the driver think that the télépéage only sign was like instruction manuals, just there for guidance and he was free to ignore it if he wanted to?   Rather like most of the motorists in Cadillac who think that the No Left Turn sign at the bottom of the bridge doesn’t necessarily apply to them, not always and certainly not when they’re in a hurry.   If he hadn’t seen the sign, which at the St Selve péage is so brightly lit you can practically see it from space, then he definitely needs to go to Specsavers.

Anyway, I live in hope that the berk who flashed me yesterday will find one day that the car in front he’s following so closely will discover it’s in the wrong lane, slam on the brakes and go into reverse….



A few weeks ago I wrote about finding something very similar to these in the vinesKnickers(they’re still there incidentally, though looking distinctly weather worn) and I’m still curious about how you can lose your knickers and not notice in the weather we’ve been happening.

The middle daughter is currently delivering the Sud-Ouest (our local paper) which involves getting up at an appallingly early hour of the morning before driving to Barsac to get the papers, before starting her round.  Barsac, for the uninitiated, is a quiet little village near Sauternes whose chief claim to fame is having its own appellation for its wonderful sweet white wines.

Daughter turns up at 4.20 this morning to get her papers and finds this in her usual parking place outside a couple of small shops.

1912464_10152013451364833_1801574183_nIts exactly what you think is, and not a very large pen like her boyfriend suggested.

I don’t dare even think about how it got there or how it was lost.

And people think south-west France is boring.

I’m trying…


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I was never one for making New Year’s Resolutions , even as a child, perhaps I’ve always been aware of the unwisdom of trying to commit yourself to something you know you’re unlikely to be able to achieve.

I’ve never been rash enough to try to commit myself to a dry January which would have made me both miserable and feel like a failure when I finally toppled (inevitably) off my wagon but this year I did make a couple of sort-of resolutions.

The first, which is more of an ongoing rather than a New Year’s resolution is to do new things.  I got the idea off a fellow blogger a couple of years ago – she was doing a new thing every week which I feel veers into doing things for the sake of it, my objective is to do things I’d normally wimp out of (I still haven’t driven the OOH’s elderly 4 x 4 or the tractor mower which terrifies me), be impulsive occasionally, not refuse to buy something because I don’t know how to cook it, generally not allow myself to sink into a rut.  I can’t say that I’ve done anything startlingly new this year, I have a feeling that buying myself a Desigual handbag in the sales doesn’t really count, even if I’ve never owned anything by Desigual before or a jade green and pink bag r.  There was nothing new about one of the daughters saying airily as she clutched the bag, ‘If you decide the bag’s too young for you I’ll have it.’

It’s mine.

Marginally more successful was the decision arising from my realisation that my book buying habit had got out of control.

BOOKS  MOREbook addictsSadly I don’t have a local English language library though I do have the excitement of parcels in the post.  As a result this is the bookcase in the bedroom where I keep the to-read pile.

book case 015It doesn’t look like that much – except that I haven’t read any of them and all the shelves are double stacked so there’s about 190 books in there.  That’s only our bedroom too…

So I took myself in hand and decided that with effect from New Year’s Day there would be no more book buying, except for my book groups, until the end of March.  I prudently put in an order on December 31st.

I can say that for a month now I’ve been clean – well there was a slight lapse when I was ordering two books for the book groups and saw that there was a copy of Frances Spalding’s biography of Gwen Raverat which I’ve been after for ages, but is both hard to find and very expensive, for £4.  Even the sternest resolution monitor would have agreed that it would have been foolish not to snap it up.

book addictOtherwise I’ve been really good, I’ve only read what was already in the house (and what came in the post from that last order) and I felt inspired to do some bookish housekeeping.  Sorting out the to-read bookcase and ejecting the books I know I’ll never read, it’s not really a cheat’s way of diminishing the pile, going through all the many shelves and culling what I’ll never read again and the girls and OH have no interest in, and collecting all the books that various people have left on tables, the edge of the units, the middle of my desk in the expectation that the tidiness fairy is going to sweep them up and put them away and doing it myself.

There lies the rub.  I was hoping, expecting really, that at the rate I read I’d have cleared at least one front layer of books off the to-read bookcase by the end of March.  Except that in going through all the shelves culling and sorting I’ve been discovering books I forgot I had and want to read.  And where do the books I want to read go?

My to-read bookcase now has more books in it than it did on January 1st.

So much for New Year’s resolutions.