Sept choses about me

I have felt very honoured and humbled this week to have had my blog considered worth nominating for a second blogging award by two of my new friends. The life of a stay-at-home-mum can be very lonely at times, especially when living in a foreign country (however welcoming its natives may be), and I have had a great deal of pleasure, these last few weeks, in forging new friendships with other bloggers. When I started writing my only aims were to create a space where I could try to remember my pre-baby identity and to talk about something other than trains. A typical conversation with my son (who loves Thomas the Tank Engine) goes as follows:

Son: “Ga choo choo ee ka cranky.”

Me: “That’s right. The red choo choo crashed and had to be rescued by cranky” [a crane].

Son: “Ga choo choo ee ka cranky.”

Me (chuckling): ” He did need rescuing, didn’t he?! Look, what’s that over there?”

Son (louder): “Ga choo choo ee ka cranky.”

Me: “Yep.”

It has felt wonderful to know that I have acquired a minute band of readers and I find daily entertainment in reading the fascinating blogs of others. Since I have still not been able to make contact with certain bloggers from my previous round of nominations (whom I would only select anew in any case, along with all of my former nominees) and I do not have sufficient popularity in the blogging world to list fifteen bloggers who would necessarily remember who I am, I feel that I must, reluctantly, decline the award on this occasion.

I still have every intention of taking part in a private capacity, and have spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to think of seven interesting things to reveal about myself. I do not live in a tropical, eco-friendly paradise, like the intriguing and adventure-seeking Becca of From My Lofty Hill, neither can I write witty poetry or do a cart-wheel like Confessions of an Irish Procrastinator (whose main confession ought surely to be the shameless lack of procrastinating to be found over at her busy and highly entertaining site).

Here, after much agonising, are seven (hopefully interesting) things about me, and if any of my would-be nominees fancy playing along too I would be fascinated to read the responses:

  1. I am half Czech (or more accurately quarter Czech and quarter Slovak – my grandfather was born in the Slovakian region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and my grandmother, five years later, in the Czech side of the newly formed country of Czechoslovakia – Granny is Bohemian). My Czech is very poor indeed – I was attempting to wrestle with it when I moved to France and realised that remembering my French was probably more useful for the time being. I know enough to have been able to teach my husband how to order a large beer, whilst we were in Prague.
  2. I cannot bear to be late. It makes me very anxious and bad-tempered. My vicar told me that I hold the record for being his earliest ever bride, when I arrived at church a full seven minutes early. I consider it one of my greatest achievements.
  3. Before my little chou was born I worked as an unqualifed teacher in an American nursery school in Switzerland (ill-health preventing me from completing my PGCE – the British teacher training course – a few years earlier). I spent my time there singing, dancing and crafting, sadly all things that my son dislikes – he screams when I sing as he thinks it means that he is about to be put to bed.
  4. Despite being only five feet tall I appear to have extraordinarily springy legs and once managed to crack my head open on the corner of a cement ceiling (that even my six-feet-and-higher friends could not reach) just before I was due to appear onstage as part of my town’s production of ‘The Gang Show’*. There is now a ‘mind your head’ notice over the stairwell in question. (I ended up at casualty dressed as a tarty school girl on Hallowe’en…it was assumed that I had had a drunken brawl.)
  5. I once fell asleep on the back of my husband’s motorbike whilst we on the motorway (I had run away from my horrendous au pair family only the night before, so was understandably a little tired). My not-then-husband was unimpressed.
  6. I love Pride and Prejudice so much that I can recite most (if not all) of the dialogue in the 1995 television adaptation as it plays (I refuse to watch the film on principle). I am also the proud owner, since the mature age of ten, of a signed photo of Colin Firth and of a ‘Mrs. Darcy’ t-shirt (courtesy of http://www.pemberley.com). I realise that I am a lost cause and I am proud of it. (On a side note, I was actually named after a character in one of Austen’s novels.)
  7. I love old black and white films, anything starring Carey Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman or Grace Kelly and newly technicoloured musicals (specifically Singin’ in the Rain and High Society).

*A variety show performed by members of the Scouting Movement.

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30 choses à faire avant 30 ans

When I was still a youthful girl of twenty-five I assumed that I had years ahead of me to compile my (practically obligatory these days) list of exciting challenges to set and then cross off before the clock struck the stroke of 23.35 on a particular day in the far off future and I became cursed with instant and irreversible old age. I got as far as deciding on challenges number one and two on my twenties’ bucket list before life got in the way and I forgot all about it. These were to have read all of Dickens’s novels and to have visited thirty countries. Life never quite going exactly according to plan I know that I have now already failed both tasks. Theoretically I might still possibly be able to power read my way through the second halves of The Old Curiosity Shop and Dombey and Son, by devoting every second of child-free time to the cause. (A midwife laughed when she saw the enormous Dombey and Son that I had brought to while away the hours before my son’s grand entrance into the world. She was right to laugh – by the time I finally saw a doctor (it turns out that hospitals are packed nine months after Valentine’s Day) my son had made it very clear that he was on his way. Three sleepless nights later and my poor book was reluctantly abandoned – I never read a single page.) I would still, however, be faced with the prospect of racing through Barnaby Rudge at a brain-scrambling speed, and I ultimately decided (as an quasi-mature and rapidly aging twenty-nine year old) to abandon my quest and to enjoy them at leisure instead. I fared even more poorly with my intention of visiting thirty countries. So far I have stepped foot on the soil of twenty-two foreign lands, the mortgage and a disinclination to drag around all the paraphernalia associated with a loud and strong-willed infant joining forces to make staying at home look like a very attractive arrangement.

There are now only four months remaining until the dawn of that dreadful day. The mind games of denial have already begun, and now the closer I get to turning thirty the younger it seems. I have even started to think it possible that life as I know it might not actually end. After all, my aged thirty-something-year-old husband seems to be managing tolerably well. He even finds something to smile about every now and then. I have taken to wondering if my thirties will finally be the making of me. I know that these are simply the mad ravings of a lost soul, but even so I cling to the hope that I might survive the process of leaving my twenty-nine-year-old-self in the past to face my future. The list-worshipping part of my brain, however, is becoming anxious not to let an opportunity for a really long list pass it by, whatever the outcome – it craves the satisfaction of crossing off a bucket list in competition with the ever-ticking clock of impending doom. The rest of me having no desire to feel like a failure on my birthday, a compromise was hurriedly made. Here, then, is my ‘thirty before thirty’ list of (hopefully) realistic and child-friendly challenges:

  1. To visit Monaco – this will be our second attempt (the first failed due to a minor motorbike accident during a freak hailstorm on an alpine mountain pass in June 2014. It was thrilling but relatively uneventful – my husband bruised his ego and I bruised my derrière);
  2. To finish building a vegetable patch and start growing stuff (this involves a great deal of heaving rocks, that used to belong in our walls, around the garden);
  3. To finish reading The Old Curiosity Shop (luckily I already know the end in case my son is successful in his endeavours to prevent my paying attention to anything that happens not to be him);
  4. To begin a new classic. Any and all suggestions will be gratefully received;
  5. To make eco-friendly beeswax ‘cling film’;
  6. To be brave enough to face Catholic mass in my little town (it’s in French and I’m Anglican…and a wimp);
  7. To climb to the top of our tiny mountain – hikers walk perhaps half an hour uphill just to get as far as our house, and my brother has run to the top twice. There is no excuse not to hike up too;
  8. To spring clean the house from top to bottom. I hope to discover long-forgotten floors and counter space;
  9. To clear the dining room table so that I can get out my sewing machine to make something for my little chou, and to finish sewing my skirt (the table is currently moonlighting as a fort);
  10. To dye my hair, just to feel thirteen again;
  11. To visit our local cave – it really is about time. The owner also supplies us with fifteen stère of wood each year for our heating, his uncle used to own our house and his cousin installed our septic tank – we must be virtually friends at this point;
  12. To finish the first chapter of the book that has been in my head for the last five years, and of which I have written nearly a page in all that time;
  13. To make a successful tarte tatin. It has so far eluded me;
  14. To finish at least one of the Christmas projects that were started respectively two and five years ago;
  15. To finish the back kitchen wall – to finish plastering, bodging (a technical term), painting and to make the curtains that I spent over a year acquiring through cunning remnant hoarding;
  16. To go on a date with my husband. We went on three last year (one lunch and two waiting-for-takeaway drinks). They were heavenly;
  17. To visit somewhere new in Ain*;
  18. And in Haute-Savoie*;
  19. And further afield;
  20. To have at least four barbecues, which equates to one per month. They are my husband’s favourite things;
  21. To begin painting my bird cupboard;
  22. To (get my husband to) reassemble my bike and go for a bike ride;
  23. To remind myself how to knit (once again);
  24. To do something truly worthwhile for someone else;
  25. To bring downstairs all the books in the attic and to start organising them into a library
  26. To create an index for my (now full) handwritten recipe book (I really am that uncool – I have been waiting to do this for years);
  27. To start running again;
  28. To paint my son’s bedroom – his nursery has yet to be finished and he is now two and a quarter;
  29. To do one thing completely and utterly new and different;
  30. To host a three-course dinner complete with tablecloth and wedding china (which has been taken out of the cupboard a grand total of twice since we got married over four years ago). I used to love this ‘game’ when we lived in Geneva.

I hope for victory, but may settle for partial defeat – see you in four months, thirty-year-old me!

*Neighbouring departments in France

Mots du jour:

30 choses à faire avant 30 ans – 30 things to do before (turning) 30 derrière – backside/bottom cave (à vin) – place where wine is made stère – roughly a cubic metre of wood

Sunshine Blogger Award

A couple of days ago I received such a lovely surprise when I found out that Becca from From my Lofty Hill (A.K.A Becca from Sunnybrook Farm) had nominated my blog as part of her contribution towards her own Sunshine Blogger Award post. I am delighted to have been nominated, never thinking, when I started writing, that anyone not comprising my gang of captive followers (my Mum and my husband) would ever think my blog was worth reading. So many thanks indeed to the lovely Becca for the wonderful compliment, as well as for the support and encouragement. I really appreciate it!

Quite apart from having one of the best blog names that I have come across (she really does live at Sunnybrook Farm!!), Becca’s tales of her life in Belize are both thrilling and fascinating. She is the master of dramatic build up. From snake bites and tragedies to brand new baby chicks and adorably romantic gestures her blog is certainly an adventure worth reading…who knows what will happen to her tomorrow? I can’t wait to find out!

 

The Sunshine Blogger award is given by bloggers to bloggers who inspire positivety and creativity in the blogging community.

RULES

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you in your blog post and link back to the blog.

2. Answer 11 questions that the Blogger asked you.

3. Nominate 11 new bloggers to receive the awards and write them 11 questions.

4. List the rules and display the Sunshine blogger award logo in your post on your blog.

QUESTIONS from Becca:

  1. What made you start blogging?

This is my second attempt at this blog – I started it initially back in 2016 in the hope of staying sane whilst my baby enjoyed his nightly midnight feasts. Soon afterwards I was given wonderful advice on how to help him to sleep through the night, so my blog ended abruptly and I began to remember what sleep felt like again. I have now restarted (as part of a new year’s resolution) now that my little boy is so grown up that he goes to morning nursery school…the house feels so lonely without him that I need company, even if it is only my own thoughts!

2. Where do you get ideas for your blog posts?

My brain gets a lot of free time whilst I’m performing the non-playing aspects of stay-at-home-mumming (particularly when my little boy was even smaller) so it does its own thing and we catch up during nursery hours and after bed-time, which is usually when the ideas appear. I get a lot of inspiration (and help) from fond memories of books I used to read before I became a mother.

       3. What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My parents always told me not to worry about exam results if I had done my best. I think that this can also apply to life generally – if you’ve done your very best then there is no point or reason in worrying about consequences – there is nothing that you can do to change them. I’m not very good at following it – one of my greatest skills is worrying.

      4. If you could describe yourself in three words what would they be?

Worrier, stubborn, bibliophile

      5. What is your favorite animal?

I loved pigs when I was young, and wanted to be a pig farmer until someone helpfully pointed out what that entailed. My favourite zoo animal is the penguin.

      6. What do you wish to accomplish in 2018?

I hope to complete my share of the DIY list pinned next to the front door. I also hope not to abandon my blog a second time.

7. Are people outside the blogging community aware of your blog? i.e. family,friends

My Mum and my husband both dutifully follow my blog (my Mum is also a faithful commenter and liker). Other than that I have told no-one about it – I really like the freedom that anonymity gives me to be completely myself.

      8. What is your favorite dish to cook?

At the moment my favourite dish to cook would be anything terribly easy and mess-free. The dish that probably gives me the most satisfaction (after having cooking it) is řízky, the Czech (pork) equivalent of weiner schnitzel or chicken Maryland. Everytime I make it my technique improves a little, although mine will never be as good as that of my Czech mother or my Czech cousin.

       9. How did you choose the title of your blog?

I live in France and am the only non-bilingual member of my household – even before my son started to talk there was a fair bit of language muddling (my husband is not bilingual by choice). I wanted my blog to reflect the two languages spoken in my home. I am a stay-at-home-mum (thus technically unemployed and so a “chomeuse”) to one little boy (my little “chou”).

      10. Summer or winter?

I much prefer Summer – but can I be more specific and say a UK Summer? My two boys have such delicate Irish skin that we end up spending far longer indoors than I’d like, hiding from the cruel French midday sun.

      11. What made you smile today?

My son, having screeched that it was morning and that he was awake until I gave in and went down to his room, heard my footsteps and decided to pretend to be asleep (whilst giggling) when I opened his door.

 

My nominees:

There is no obligation with any of my nominations. If you would rather not participate please just accept this as proof of my good opinion 🙂

 

My questions:

  1. Why did you start your blog?
  2. What are your favourite things to do (when you aren’t blogging, of course)?
  3. If you could only visit one place, where would you go?
  4. Do you have a favourite post from your blog?
  5. What is your favourite book? (If it is far too difficult to choose, who is your favourite author?)
  6. What are your goals for your blog?
  7. Which three possessions would you grab in the event of fire?
  8. Do you live in the town or country where you were born?
  9. Do you have any unusual phobias?
  10. Do you speak another language?
  11. If you could chat to any person in history (real or literary) who would you choose?

Thank you for making it this far. I can’t wait to read your answers!

La Saint-Valentin

Book of the day: Wuthering Heights

Valentine’s Day is not a particularly celebrated occasion in my household. As much as I enjoy tales of enduring love, aided and abetted by theatrical grand gestures and heroic sentimentality, where the most sophisticated performances cause tissues to be conjured from thin air and unsuspecting women to be transformed temporarily into pandas, I only slightly envy girlfriends whose partners have sacrificed a good deal of time and sanity into creating the perfect Valentine’s celebration. In truth I am not overly keen on being the centre of attention and feel easily flustered and uncomfortable (even in a crowd of two). My poor husband is positively allergic to the glare of the spotlight. In this one and only instance he is the master of subtlety (he is at all times the king of the understatement). If I were suddenly to perish I cannot for a moment imagine him prowling the woods (there is an unfortunate dearth of moors) near our home afterwards, howling, and demanding that I return as a ghost to haunt him, after the manner of Heathcliff: “Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad!…I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul.” I fear that I am simply too sensible and boring to wish that amount of pain on anyone, let alone my darling husband. The sight of him attempting such a gesture would, no doubt, make the unpleasant process of passing far more entertaining for me, but after the initial adrenalin has worn off and he decides that it is warmer inside I can think of many thrilling ways of spending an afterlife on Earth in addition to sitting in silence next to my husband, watching him watching his computer in the office and gnashing my teeth while he rinses instead of scrubs our son at bathtime. I find it difficult enough to command his attention now so I dread to think how much more easily he might ignore me as a phantom.

Similarly I have never yet unburdoned my soul upon a kindly domestic, after the manner of Catherine Earnshaw, who cried “Nelly, I am Heathcliff!” in such an unshakeable belief that two souls can be fused together as one. Yet I love my husband dearly and I believe that our relationship will endure. I just choose to manifest it in a different, more culinary-based, way. I think that, unlike Catherine and Heathcliff, we are just too sensible (or already too old) for sensational, yet ever so romantic, twists and complications. I am certainly not interested in becoming embroiled in a love triangle, torn between choosing dysfunctional true love or tantalising social advancement. Neither is my husband the jealous and vengeful sort – he is simply too practical. (I once commented on Poldark’s alluring physique whilst watching an episode in which he was scything topless. My husband’s only reaction was that he was using the wrong technique, and so was perspiring uneccessarily – thus missing the entire point of the scene.)

We are not, then, overly romantic, and I do not expect any wild effusions of adoration from him on the big day. I am frequently spoiled in other, calmer ways. A surprise present of a Coop chicken tartare sandwich is more in line with my preferred manifestions of romance (even more so if accompanied by caracs). The grandest gesture we can make to each other at present is the offer to wash and put to bed our resisting toddler. We have accepted (through trial and error – his, not mine) that rehearsed speeches are really not our forte as a couple. I famously mistook the beginning of my husband’s proposal for a break-up announcement. It was entirely his fault, caused by a refusal to pay due attention to suitably educational television shows as a youth. Had he done so he would have been only too aware that the phrase “we need to talk” (followed by silence) has devastating connotations. For perhaps ten seconds after the terrible words were spoken I considered which of my transgressions had been my undoing, and panicked about how I was going to get everything on a plane to return home. In hindsight I have come to believe that scaring one’s partner with the threat of imminent homelessness is probably the most cunning and effective way to ensure an acceptance.

We did make an attempt at a romantic gesture for our first wedding anniversary, which took the form of a joint present: a badminton net and racquets. It provided a few hours of entertainment during that Summer, but sadly rusted into retirement only too soon. We put it away in our disused stable and promptly forgot all about it. A couple of years later it was rediscovered during a mass clear out in preparation for the builders’ occupancy. Wrapped up the net was the mummified corpse of what we imagined to be an écureuil. It being impossible to separate the one from the other they both made a rapid exit from our establishment, and I suppose that, somewhere, they must still be entwined. Now if that isn’t a metaphor for a love that endures I don’t know what is.
Mots du jour:

La Saint-Valentin – Valentine’s Day caracs – delicious Swiss chocolate tarts, covered in green icing écureuil – squirrel

My character, selon ma maison…

Book of the day: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (no doubt the first of many mentions)

Huddled in three layers of clothing, willing the fire to take at last, and scrambling through the laundry basket for a clean pair of socks, I shiver my way through the early mornings in the ice-box of my imaginary castle.  Our poêle à bois needs replacing and Winter is unkind to stone houses with poor insulation and no central heating. Over time we have grown used to the cooler temperatures but sometimes I do miss our little appartement in Geneva, where the heat rising from the flats below could, at times, create almost tropical conditions in the depths of Winter.

As much as I loved Geneva, buying a home in city so wealthy that, unlike the gold-paved streets of Dick Whittington’s imagined London, the streets here (particularly those next to the train station) really are paved with diamond-like shards that sparkle at night, involves the quirk of a ninety-nine year mortgage that my husband and I decided to forgo. We would also have been several million Swiss francs short of any asking price (not having any millions at all, and consistently forgetting to buy a lottery ticket). We looked further afield instead, to the surrounding suburbs in France, and found our family home on our first attempt. Here we have lived, surrounded by dust and half-finished DIY projects, for nearly four years. Our son has ruled it for two. Evidence of his dominion is scattered everywhere, mingling with the dust – we are not expecting visitors.

The deeds state that our house was built in 1850, but then so was every other house in the surrounding area, according to official records. However busy and prosperous a year that would have been if true, our home, like the majority of her neighbours, is lying about her age, and may be up to two hundred years older than she claims (that’s a good beauty regime…). The outline of the building appears on maps dating well before 1850 and our stone mason believes the thickness of the walls betray their secret. The reason for the 1850 label is bureaucracy at its least interested: it was simply the year (or thereabouts, there may well have been some rounding with this extent of official inaccuracy) when Napoleon Bonaparte (or more probably a laquais, given his decease in 1821) finally got round to documenting this particular corner of France, no doubt as part of his ‘Code Napoléon’ of 1804, which set about replacing the (greatly muddled) feudal laws and lore. Ordinary houses that in all probability could not provide a date of origin were gifted 1850. Simple and merciless, it is clear to see how he tramped over such swathes of territory.*

My lovely uncle, who was an expert on listed buildings, believed that our house had upwardly mobile social aspirations and dreams of grandeur. There are several imperfect stone features (cracked, chipped, or broken in two) that he believed would have been originally intended for one or other of our house’s grander neighbours, perhaps even a local chateau, but which, upon being declared unfit for purpose, became a ‘seconds’ piece, and ended, up, somehow or other, as embellishments in our own home.

The Austenite inside me can’t help but remember an essay I was tasked with writing for my A-Levels: a commentary on Jane Austen’s use of buildings to reflect their inhabitants. Nothing from school ever being thrown away in case it should prove useful at a later date (as it would have been now), it is seemingly one of the only items still living at my parents’ house, so, oh no! I have had to dip into Pride and Prejudice again…the horror!

What, then, do Austen’s buildings say about her characters? The ever lovely Mr. Bingley’s eagerness to rent (and continue to rent) Netherfield Park (itself a ‘good house’) shows his disinterestedness in raising his social status and throwing off the shame of his origins in trade, by owning an estate. (Incidentally he spent a whole thirty minutes in looking around first, which is twice as long as our viewing – how indecisive of him!) The neo-classical Rosings Park is a ‘handsome modern building, well situated on rising ground’. Just like Lady Catherine it looks down on everyone from its lofty position, but its newness, combined with Mr. Collins’s vulgar boasting of costs (the windows, the fireplace…) reveal the de Burghs as coming from ‘new money’, and as having more of it than taste. In contrast Pemberley, also perched on ‘rising ground’, highlights Mr. Darcy’s station, but Elizabeth Bennet’s assertion that ‘she had never seen a place for which nature had done more’, firmly establishes Mr. Darcy on his pedestal, and justifies women everywhere (myself included) in falling hopelessly and irrevocably in love with him (thank you very much, eighteenth-century tradition of moralised landscape design!).

What then, might my house reveal about me? It is an unfinished work in progress – messy and dishevelled – as am I, most unashamedly, but as yet I hope that we are both still unspoiled, with the potential to be better. We certainly both have our quirks – our house has a most haphazard layout, and odd half-levels between certain rooms, and I, myself, have always been a rather jumbled and disorganised individual. Unlike my house, I have yet to lie about my age, although I do confess that turning 29 again this June is a tempting plan. I have no dreams of grandeur of which I am aware (apart from those which result in my becoming Mrs. Darcy), but I certainly feel like I too possess a few ‘seconds’ about my person (imperfections make us unique…). Finally, although our house is also ‘well-situated on rising ground’ I know that I will never look down on all I survey (like the odious Lady Catherine), since our lofty view compromises only our own crumbling outbuildings – the only person I can therefore ever look down upon is myself!

 

*I have worked this out aided by the tales of a helpful local (probably our mason), my translating husband, and a bit of the internet; it is basically accurate but I would hate to be relied upon as an authority on this subject. If I have erred horribly, please forgive me, or, better yet, please correct me!

 

Mots du jour:

selon ma maison – according to my house poêle à bois – wood burner appartement – appartment/flat laquais – lackey

The Coalman is maître chez lui…but does he have his own moat?

According to legend, in the 16th century King Francis I of France presumably lost his way whilst hunting and found himself, late on a Winter’s evening, outside a collier’s hut. Requesting food and lodging for the night, he was admitted by the lady of the house and proceeded to make himself comfortable by the fire (seated in the dwelling’s only chair), whilst awaiting the return of the absent collier. Upon arrival this collier is said to have greeted the king amiably but, completely ignoring his guest’s (infinitely higher) social status, and no doubt failing to recognise him, demanded both chair and fireside location, stating that this was where he always sat, that it was his chair and that ‘charbonnier est maître chez lui’. Apparently Francis I was a good sport – he perched himself instead upon a stepladder and didn’t immediately vow to have the poor man imprisoned for insubordination. Supposedly they then discussed current affairs as equals and parted on good terms the next morning, after the king had revealed his true identity and paid his host for his hospitality.

I cannot verify the historical accuracy of this tale, or whether the collier’s hosting skills, and seeming disregard for his own wife’s comfort (with only one chair in the hut I doubt she ever sat down), were really as dreadful as they were made to appear. Dubious manners aside, however, I applaud the sentiment. No-one should ever feel themselves inferior to a guest in their own home (and certainly not to one of the uninvited and intrusive variety). Homes have a duty of care towards their occupants; they should support, uplift and protect, building self-esteem, and confidence, whilst promoting a general sense of well-being.

The equivalent expression from my homeland is that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’. It is a maxim that I have had to cling to, since, despite the existence of a wealth of châteaux in my locality, to my continuing chagrin my husband steadfastly refuses to acquire one for me (I have no idea why). I have therefore had no choice but to dive, head first, into the depths of my imagination to create my own castle within the framework of my (actually quite lovely) French farmhouse. As an anglaise I am revelling in my right to embellish as the queen of my own castle. I have reimagined rooms into The Back Kitchen, The Library and The Reading Room (where nobody has ever read), and my pièce de résistance is The Minstrel Gallery (a dark upstairs corridor where various musical instruments gather dust and where a large, railed-off hole looks down upon our dining table thanks to the removal of an unwanted staircase).

My imagination becomes somewhat unstuck regarding the creation of the moat, which any self-respecting English castle ought to possess. There was the exciting possibility of half a moat when we first made the acquaintance of our home – the agent immobilier casually gestured towards a ruisseau at the bottom of the garden, which my husband became unwilling to translate, no doubt fearing that my inevitable reaction would raise the asking price (I squealed, a garden with a stream is my ideal), but disappointingly it has stubbornly remained blocked and come to nothing. I have, therefore, had to improvise wildly and to reach back into my dim and distant past to retrieve a higher level of maths than I currently possess, in order to convince myself (fairly easily done, we are usually in agreement with each other), by way of proportions, that I could still have my moat.

Here is my logic: the extent of a figurative Englishman’s castle’s moat must surely depend upon the proportion of Englishmen living within. There isn’t a huge amount of pure English-ness in my blood, less in my son’s, and goodness only knows in my husband’s. Proportionally, then, we should be allowed to claim a smaller body of water on the boundary of our property as our moat…and I have found a perfect specimen. It is the tiniest moat in existence, probably more of a ‘moatlet’. It is rectangular, measuring a few feet in length and a few feet deep (I am guessing). It is patrolled by two sentry toads, and guarded by very distant cousins (several times removed) of the dragon: beautiful black and yellow salamanders. Wikipedia informs me that Francis I’s personal emblem was coincidentally the salamander, which clearly justifies my entire argument and renders all the maths unneccessary (as usual). We inherited the staff. Water can be seen if you peer closely into the gloom, taking a form similar to that of a puddle. Normally the only people to venture within are men from the waterboard, who brave the guards to read our water meter.

Until recently a drawbridge has always been down, covering the entirety of the moat. You would be forgiven for mistaking it for an old piece of bent metal. It has always provided safe passage up until recently, however, when my husband discovered that the wooden supports had rotted away, turning our little moat into a combination of a ha-ha and Edgar Allan Poe’s most excellent pit. It suddenly become a trap to ensnare unworthy fiends, trespassing monarchs and our unwitting selves. Happily there are many other ways to access our home so only the most foolish or least worthy had any occasion to fear falling to their doom. Until such time as my husband was able to repair the damage an old car trailer was heaved over the hole. The farmhouse to castle transformation was now complete, and we were fortified against siege. Enemies beware!

Mots du jour:

charbonnier est maître chez lui – the collier is master in his own home, or the Engligh equivalent: an Englishman’s home is his castle châteaux – castles anglaise – English woman agent immobilier – estate agent ruisseau – stream

Merci beaucoup!

I have an enormous thank you to say to the highly talented Fatdormouse over at View from the Teapot for this beautiful zentangle of a gorfou sauteur (I did have to look that one up). It was such a treat to receive not only ‘real’ post for a change, but also a special, one-of-a-kind present.

Thank you so much – you have made my week 🙂

Mots du jour:

Merci beaucoup – Thank you very much gorfou sauteur – rockhopper penguin

Flying toute seule

I have never been a particularly happy flyer. Despite having the laws of physics explained to me I cannot (and refuse to) understand why aeroplanes stay in the sky. I do not sleep well on the eve of a flight, dwelling, unwillingly, on any number of the aviation horror stories that have appeared in the news over the last few years. I pay particular attention to the pilot’s welcome announcement and try to determine his* mental state. If he greets us cheerily I breathe a sigh of relief and begin to relax. If I detect an undercurrent of anything other than rapturous delight I am immediately transported into the world of ‘Dad’s Army’, as Private Fraser’s voice echoes round my head: ‘We’re doomed!’

Living abroad, however, and flying home at regular intervals to remind my siblings of my continued existence (as well as to stock up on essential cheese and chocolate – France and Switzerland may be masters in the milk industry, but sometimes nothing compares to a piece of strong cheddar and a Dairy Milk bar**), has made me more or less resigned to the 90-minute ordeal, and I was beginning to grow almost complacent when the birth of my son altered everything. Travelling with a baby probably does as much for one’s life expectancy as smoking forty-a-day. Keeping an infant of a generally curious and rascally nature (who loves aeroplanes) still for an extended period of time requires patience and ingenuity. Keeping this same (restrained) infant quiet doesn’t bear thinking about.

Last Sunday, then, I took my first solo flight back to the UK in roughly two and a half years. It was one of the most relaxing experiences I have had in months. Twelve years after my maiden flight I finally understood how to achieve flying nirvana. Here are my thoughts on the subject:

  1. Under no circumstances allow anybody to sit on your lap. This is fundamental to the success of the whole flight, as it ensures that your leg muscles stay unseized and awake.
  2. Bring a long book and read it continuously from the moment you enter the airport until such time as you have passed through passport control at your destination (saving the few occasions when you are obliged to communicate with other human beings, such as going through security, showing passports and boarding cards, memorising the emergency protocol and acting as the pilot’s personal psychiatrist). I unearthed ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’, which I had started as my ‘Summer holiday book’ (managing a full two chapters in one week!), and, during my round trip devoured well over a hundred pages – bliss!
  3. Take no responsibility for providing the inflight entertainment – this will greatly reduce stress levels. On my outward journey a choir of three of four babies was performing in harmony on and off for the duration of the flight. I was unfazed – I was not conducting. Mine can scream louder.
  4. Pack everything into one cabin bag. Then get off the plane, swagger down the corridors, throwing a backwards laugh at those waiting at baggage claim, and get on with life.
  5. Do not bring any of the following: buggy, car seat, nappy bag, hold luggage (comprising almost entirely extra baby clothes for all the inevitable little ‘accidents’), doudou for the baby (sadistic and evil, it will attempt to wander off and hide at any and every opportunity, in order to ruin your life). It is also advisable to refrain from appearing as though you have just held up a toy shop.
  6. Take care to avoid sitting next to excitable husbands, humming the terror-inducing ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ at take off (on every single flight).
  7. Decline the highly expensive aeroplane snacks and eat a sandwich à emporter courtesy of lovely parents. The feeling of being taken care of is so luxurious.
  8. Chat with confidence to the passenger beside you (should you both feel so inclined), revelling in the knowledge that at no point on the flight will you need to apologise in shame for any screaming, kicking or unwholesome smells.
  9. Remember not to succumb to the temptation of changing a nappy in a cramped metal box at thirty thousand feet. It isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.

*I am still looking forward to encountering a female pilot.

**Not at the same time, although I am now wondering if this might not be a heavenly partnership (I do, after all, enjoy Christmas cake mainly for the cheese and icing combination).

Mots du jour:

voyager toute seule – to fly alone (f) doudou – cuddly toy/comforter un plat à emporter – a takeaway

Ça pousse – janvier

Book of the day: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I confess I am a monster. My inner Hyde has overpowered my outer Jekyll and I am, at last, awake to extent of my addiction. I am a pathological killer of plants. Despite beginning with honourable (and strictly scientific) intentions, my attempts at nurturing are always thwarted, and, after a perfectly acceptable level of disillusioned neglect (nothing of any interest having happened thus far), weeks later I am unfailingly roused, as if from a trance, by the sight of some poor, withered specimen, and I can only ‘wonder at my vicarious depravity’. I dispose of all evidence linking me to my crimes and stealthily transport my victims to their final resting place in the compost bin. Then I begin again, with a new plant, and again witness the results of my demon’s revelry. I have now amassed quite a collection of empty pots, each the former coffin of a plant who met a tragically premature end. ‘The veil of self-indulgence was rent from head to foot’ and the seriousness of my illness was finally made apparent to me after one particularly obscene display of destruction, when, ‘tortured with throes and longings’ I abandoned myself to Hyde. ‘With a transport of glee, I mauled the unresisting body’, my helpless victim an ill-fated peace lily (an unwanted hand-me-down thrust upon my husband several years ago by an unloved one*). Luckily, I have never yet been brought to justice for my crimes against horticulture.

I would love to have been born with naturally green fingers, but sadly I inherited my parents’ pink digits. Attempts to remedy this with science, and to colour them artificially, have produced some pleasant temporary hues over the years, but within three to six washes they have nearly always returned to their original, bland state (and with the unfortunate side-effect of an unwanted doppelgänger). I would, undoubtedly, have guaranteed success were I to consult a stylist, but that would be cheating, and I would still have to return every few months to touch up the tips (besides, my husband would never notice in any case). No, I would far rather save my money and continue my reckless dabbling until I get it just right by myself.

Whilst living in Geneva I managed, during one particularly experimental year, to fit twenty-one window boxes onto our tiny balcony, squeezing them into every available space: crammed onto the railing, the floor and our Summer apéro table (a brilliant investment, vital for the slurping of kir during long child-free Summer evenings); perched on the rungs of a little step-ladder; and mounted onto the shutters, probably violating all health and safety regulations, given that we lived on the fourth floor, and the boxes were tied on with bits of string. The season’s endeavours ended with our return from our Summer holiday, when I found a barren desert awaiting me. In the three years that I was sole custodian of the balcony only one plant has survived.

Now that we are in France, with thirty years or so of untamed jungle to our names, my gardening ambitions have reached new heights, and I am determined to control, once and for all, my homicidal urges. My resident gardeners, however, became a little over-enthusiastic in their desire to help last year and unwittingly launched a two-pronged attack on my hard work – the cats dug up nearly every seedling within a couple of days and the coos are now making short work of any survivors. I will, therefore, resume my outside plans in Spring, and focus, yet again, on the plants indoors. With a bit of luck and a great deal of self-restraint they may (possibly) survive to adulthood.

Les victimes:

Avocado

My avocado plant was in the peak of health from the day when it finally sprouted (some months ago) until about a week ago when I resolved to nurture it. I had planted the pit, not by following the water and tooth-pick method, but rather according to the simpler instructions passed on by my Mum – it was pushed into a pot of soil and forgotten about for some weeks. Today it has developed lots of brown spots. Clearly it has heard of my intention, has no desire to be experimented upon by a crazed novice, and so picked up the gauntlet, intending to cut short the meddling as soon as possible rather than enduring until the year ends and I am released from my bond. I am too competitive to let it win and so took steps immediately. Armed with the internet and my willing side kick we assessed the damage. Conveniently, someone else on planet Earth had had a similar problem some years earlier, and there was consequently a wealth of (conflicting) advice from the obviously concerned reading public for us to sift through and appropriate. There was even a picture! General advice appeared to suggest that I needed a larger pot, some fertiliser and to stop watering it from the tap. I followed these suggestions virtually to the letter (substituting specialised fertiliser for an unopened box of generic engrais that I happened to find in the shed).

Next day update: My meddling appears to have made it worse. The ends of the leaves have now turned brown too. The internet reckons that this may be salt burn as a result of fertiliser, which, according to today’s forum, avocados apparently do not need. There is no reasoning with the internet.

Lemon

Two days ago I was pleasantly surprised to find that now have not one, but two tiny lemon seedlings. I splurged on bio lemons after reading that chemically lemons are often bred not to be able to reproduce, and planted them towards the end of last year as per more internet advice – I sucked the pips until pot was full of soil, and then spittooned them into their new home. They remained covered with clingfilm until they sprouted.

Pomegranate

Two small pomegranate seedlings are growing nicely and have still not been ‘accidentally’ knocked over by my lawn-loving husband, whose treacherous colleague told him how large pomegranates can grow, and who is now distrustful of my true intentions. To plant them I washed the flesh off the seeds, lay them on kitchen paper near to the fire to dry them off a little, then poked them into a pot with a sprinkling of wood ash (as I had read that they like a bit of whatever it is that ash encourages – is it acidic soil or alkaline? I have completely forgotten), which I then also kept covered with clingfilm.

Chilli

Two of my three chilli seeds have now woken up and are just poking their heads out in their little propagator. These came as a kit with dehydrated soil disks, a lovely Christmas present from my brother, and I am attempting to grow Cherry Bomb, Padron and Firecracker varieties (I am still waiting on the Firecracker).

 

*Happily, the feeling is entirely mutual.

Mots du jour:

Ça pousse – it is growing/sprouting apéro – short for apéritif, a pre-dinner drink engrais – fertiliser bio – organic

Nous recommençons: a new beginning

My text, this dreary Sunday afternoon, is taken from the second book of ‘The Railway Series’, chapter 2: ‘Thomas’s Train’ (I have just put my toddler to bed, in the hope that he might agree to nap today).

It occurred to me, during my daily revision of that excellent work, that I ought probably to make some account of my eighteen-month absence from writing, after barely even beginning. Was I, like Thomas, so impatient to start my new blogging journey that, in my haste, I ‘forgot about the coaches’, running ahead with no substance behind me to bring to an inquisitive reader? In short, did I start my blog prematurely and run out of steam? I hope not, but, for such an indecisive person generally, I have an extraordinary knack for acting upon snap decisions, and hurrying off without waiting for the implications to catch up with me. How many people, for instance, would hunt down and secure a second disastrous au pair position within a week of kindling a romance with a handsome nearly-native, just to see what would happen? (My opinions on the au pair trade can be found here: Il était une fois: a cautionary tale.) For the survival of a rational and intelligent human race I hope that only few would do the same. I was fool-hardy and reckless and must thank a higher power than myself for my happily-ever-after ending.

Admitting that I leapt before I looked would be preferable (though both mundane and wounding to the pride) to disclosing a more sinister account for the intervening months. After all, I cannot deny that certain threats had been made in response to the continued screams of a fractious infant (full details of which an be found here: Allons-y!). Did I, then, spend my time training for, and competing in the 2017 London World Championships, thus breaking free from the shackles of domestic bliss in a glass-shattering display of human athleticism and rage? Did I have a crise of my own and demand to be relocated to an exclusive Swiss sanitorium in the Alps, where I could be (unwillingly) nursed back to responsibility? Or, did I abandon the screamer at the local SPA, hoping vaguely that some poor-sighted soul might mistake him for an unusual hairless breed of cat, and thus offer him sanctury, whilst my husband and I boarded a cruise ship headed for warmer climes? Speculation being far more enjoyable than the truth, I prefer to thow a delightful veil of mystery over the whole affair, and leave it to you, reader, to decide for yourself.

All that remains is to provide the following clues to help illuminate my exploits:

  • Poor Daisy, is, alas, no longer with us. It was inevitable but still very sad.
  • We were adopted by Delilah (a local stray), who, despite our best efforts, is now chipped and spends most of her time sleeping in her red basket by the fire. It’s an easy life for some.
  • My husband destroyed yet another fake wall back in February (this time in the dining room), which it was my pleasure to sort out.
  • Mr. Tulkinghorn, a handsome Indian Runner, has joined the Coos’ cooperative. He also answers to the name of ‘Duck’.
  • We have yet to be paid a visit by a firm of glaziers.

I have now only to state my desire for a second chance to write a blog and to end with the profound words of a wise driver: ‘let’s go back quickly, and start again’. Let’s indeed!

Mots du jour:

Nous recommençons – we start again crise – in this instance a tantrum SPA – Société Protectrice des Animaux (similar to the British RSPCA)