Saturday, 21 July 2012

The "What-is-a-condom?" place, a trip to the North Atlantic and abandoning children in Foreign climes

Son, who is currently running a hotel for his friends, might recall a visit several years ago to a French restaurant, where seated at a round table, set with wine glasses, fluted, linen napkins and immaculate table cloth, he announced to the dimly candle-lit room, in an unfortunately clear, resonant, high-pitched voice, "What is a condom?"

He was probably seven years old.

We ate at the same restaurant last night – same table settings, same atmospheric lighting, same owner whose gentle politeness is unchanged, but whose English is better (or maybe our French is worse) – this time ‘sans enfants’ to mark our wedding anniversary. The food “with zee sauces made by my ‘usband” was unchanged in its fabulousness: I do not like tuna, but the unordered hors-d'oeuvre of triangles of thin toast and shot-glasses half filled with a rich tuna paste topped with a cream sauce and chives, was utterly amazing. This was followed by a hot millefeuille filled with a melting slice of foie gras (something else I don’t normally like) and tiny, mild, woody-tasting mushrooms; veal (I know ... deeply unethical meal so far, but when in France ...); and as though this was not good enough already, the desert – with alarming table firework – was absolutely wonderful – crisp curls of dark, bitter chocolate hugging soft, creamy ganache and sitting in a pool of orange sauce decorated with delicately drawn feathers of raspberry juice. Mmmm ... wish I’d photographed it.

Today, chased a flotilla of small ships round from Brest to Douarnenez and lost - in fact, missed them completely, partly owing to the mist and general fogginess making distant views a blurred impression of sails at best and our tardiness and the failure of our trip advisor to suggest getting to viewing points early enough to fit into the car parks ... however, we managed to have a good walk

"This place smells of my headmistress!" - wild purple heather, sea breeze and yellow-flowering gorse, so probably a compliment!!!

Ice-bergs ahoy!

Okay ... so I've sat in the car; I've been for a walk - now I neeeeeeed something to drink!!

Time for another walk ...

Skeleton boats and a tower built in 1694 ... to keep the English out ... BORING!!

Now, stones ... they're not boring ... how many can I take home?

For supper, we visited a delightful French family we had never met before ... ate fantastic food ... and left a child with them for a fortnight to improve her French.

Missing her already 


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Holiday homework and fishing boats

Littlest’s latest diary entry –

We have also been on many cycle rides and that was also very fun and because I am not particularly great at cycling I go on a trailer bike at the back of my daddy’s bicycle.

We also drove to some towns and we went to lots of shops and millions of art galleries. There were lots of beautiful paintings including pictures of waves, sea, pretty gardens and things. In the gallories one of my favorite pictures looked a bit like this:

Punctuation and spellings all her own.

Our afternoon was spent catching pictures of the boats that caught our supper

Sadly, Littlest only likes salmon ...

Monday, 16 July 2012

Of Mediaeval towns and crepes

When in Paris ... eat chicken nuggets and chips

When in Diagon Alley-like Mediaeval town ... eat crepes

And if into monetary matters i.e. male, speculate on the cost of making said crepes, and the immense profits made by Creperies that sell about 10 cents of raw ingredients for over 2 euros. 

Holiday plans by Littlest

France shuts for Bastille Day.

We on the other hand are very much open for holiday: shopping (the big supermarkets don’t shut on national holidays); eating; swimming, playing tennis; eating; reading; swimming; and eating!

Littlest made a holiday plan before we left home – it included “swimming – at least two times every day” (Littlest, being Littlest in her year group at school is not the strongest swimmer, and in school swimming lessons and at the annual swimming gala tends to get rather overwhelmed and over-swum by her friends; improving on holiday is therefore rather essential, especially as she discovered that ‘forgetting your swimming kit’ i.e. leaving it in the car, is no excuse, does not get you out of swimming and means that you borrow an over-large costume from school making the swimming bit even more embarrassing); “do at least eight pages of my holiday homework in France” – lots of maths in a folder titled ‘Four operations’ (this clearly needs some attention – long addition appears to be fine; subtraction okay ... when you realise it’s not addition; multiplication  ... hmm – need some times tables practice, then because it follows the subtraction section need to remember to add the rows not subtract them to get the final answer; long division ... so far none of us has worked out what method she is using ... one which gets the wrong answer every time, but which she is sure is exactly how she has been shown to do it ; “do my piano practice for 10 minutes every day” – she is let off this one while in France, as this year we left her brother and his keyboard at home; and “see lots of my friends” – she is working on this for when we get back; and “keep a holiday diary” – which is actually more homework from school, but something that she started yesterday.

This is part of her wonderful entry on Paris

“after we saw the eiffel tower we went to a restaurant near the river seine and the food there was really good. I had chicken nuggets and chips and the nuggets were just deticious. we also went to see the notrodam and there we saw a big hedge covered with miniscule swallows and there was a slightly scary but innocent man who gave me a bit of brioche to feed the birds so that they would perch on my hand and at one point I had four clinging onto my fingers and chirping sweatly in unison. I gave the friendly frenchman my one euro and we decided we had experienced enough sights, smells, feeling, tastes and loud noises for one day so we headed back to the train.”

I think she left the capital letters and commas at home with her hand-writing pen.

The rain has changed from constant to showery. And it’s time to see the positive side of precipitation.

Like the England we left behind, France and more specifically the French countryside, is looking exceedingly lush. No summer-burnt-brown grass; rivers full; and a freshness of light when the sun comes out after a shower that illuminates everything with a crystal, newly washed, glinting cleanness that is beautiful – raindrops on roses; white clouds and blue sky reflected in puddles; and the fragile dancing wisps of water vapour rising off warming tarmac.

So not all rain is bad.

I may of course change my mind.

Depending on the weather over the next few days.

Wedding anniversary and artistry

A day of sunshine (yeah!!!), light showers (L!!) and art galleries

Following the Gaugin trail through the Bois de L’Amour

Tres appropriate given the day

Littlest goes off piste as per usual

Flowers around here are given the art gallery treatment

After coffee, chocolat-chaud, or ice creams, we wander from one art gallery to another. Littlest trots in – chooses a favourite, waits to show us all which it is and then happily trots back out and on to the next gallery, probably next door. We on the other hand, trot in, choose favourite(s), realise we can’t afford any of them and sadly trot back out again and on to the next gallery, ever hopeful that we might stumble upon an up and coming artist whose work is cheaper. Were we rich of pocket however, I suspect the dilemma might have been more difficult – there were a couple of galleries where it would have been hard to know where to start, such was the quality of the paintings: check out - very pleasant, genial man, who chatted to the girls in French, wished them luck in exams, understood our lack of funds but appeared to appreciate that we entered his gallery with children who took time to look at his paintings, pointed out the bits they liked and lingered, and incidentally is an artist who paints the most sublime scenes with a remarkably beautiful quality of light.

Anyway, enough plugging of an artist I don’t even know, there are lots of others, of variable quality it must be said, but visiting all their galleries makes for a very enjoyable afternoon.

And it is a pretty place too

To round off a good day, we sat outside, in fading sunshine and celebrated 23 years

Amazing what you can do with a bit of melon, some ham and a nectarine

Friday, 13 July 2012

En vacances sous la pluie

Beaucoup de l’eau – il pluie et pluie et pluie.

Okay, so I neither speak nor write much in French that would make any sense to a Frenchman. I suspect there should be a fait in there somewhere. But I think I could gesticulate at the sky, pull a hood over my head, empty the puddles out of my shoes, shake the drips out of my hair and make him understand.

It rains ... and it rains
Mother Nature must have a sense of humour. It was only a few months ago that we were rushing to the garden centre and buying the last remaining, and because they were the last remaining, rather expensive, water butts to connect to the drain pipes around the house. Before a drought was officially declared and the water companies imposed hose pipe bans. Less than a month later and parts of England were flooded.

Now we come on holiday and ... there is spray so thick on the roads that the car ahead disappears into a foggy haze; windscreen wipers set on max; sunglasses ... !!! ... cowering in the glove compartment, and children making comments like “When can we go home?” and “What can we do in the rain?” – Littlest has already agreed that she gets so wet in the swimming pool anyway that swimming in the rain could be fun.

Bastille day tomorrow – note to self – avoid travelling at the start of a French holiday weekend in future. And avoid rain if possible. 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Paris highs and lows

The Paris metro is hot, crowded, stinks, is full of people who jump the barriers (these being the same people who bundle up their tat in blankets at the first sight of the police and scarper like a suddenly appeared flock of sheep), and it runs precisely to time. Ever a country bumpkin – or more accurately, an entire family of country bumpkins – we tired of Littlest’s excitement at riding the Paris ‘tube’, as quickly as the French mozzies, who on entering our holiday abode, smell blood – and that’s quick!

When not underground, walking was the preferred alternative – a cruise on the Seine being the equivalent of a dinner out for a family of 5 (something we plan to do later in the week). So saving our pennies, we paced the Paris pavements, fast, where we skirted the tourist routes, and at the pace of the slowest, fattest, most camera, handbag and map laden visitor in front of us, when approaching the major sites. But this scenario is the same in every city ...

Problems of visiting a major tourist city en famille – don’t do it when Littlest’s legs are still too short to keep up - do do it, however, when she is still light enough to carry; don’t imagine for a moment that you can do things like ascend to the top of the Eiffel tower without booking – you can’t, and unless you are prepared for a 2+ hour queue, which we weren’t, you won’t be going up; don’t assume that simply by wandering you will find that idyllic French, family cafe of your dreams, where you will sit and watch the word go by, while supping fine wine and enjoying fine crepe – again, you won’t, but actually, we did find a perfectly good restaurant by the river, with fantastic omelette and brilliant  ice cream , and even better, a good gluten-free choice, so ignoring the cigarette smoke, which had Littlest clutching her nose and pulling faces, it was fine; don’t try to run the visit with either military pace or precision, or if you do, don’t expect the kids to keep up; don’t expect to find a bus when you need one; and don’t expect the youngest in your party to stop asking “Are we nearly there yet? ... or ... How much longer? ... or ... Why has that man just wee’d on the pavement? ... or ... When can I have a drink? ... or ... But I really need a carry.”

Do expect her, though, to whisper inside the cathedral and share your awe when looking up inside the dome; to know Paris from films like The Aristocats, Ratatouille, and A Mouse Tale; to marvel at the human statues clothed in white or gold masonry-effect robes; to know that the man playing violin on the steps at Mont Marte is grade 5 on a good day and this wasn’t a good day; and to find cats in gardens more interesting than the views – and you won’t be disappointed.

There were lots of good points in our jour de Paris  - points to remember; family memories; special moments – like the guard at Mont Marte who let middle daughter in, but turned away an older woman wearing similarly short shorts, who was barely a couple of tourists behind her; the gardeners tending the roses along the steep sides of the funicular; the window-cleaner sliding, virtually upside-down, down the escalator at Gare d’Est cleaning its glass sides; and Eldest guessing correctly that a statue which I thought looked surprisingly like Sauron, flanked by two orcs, was actually Charlemagne: that would be the same Charlemagne, self-styled Holy Emperor of most of  Europe, who cherry-picked all the bits from the bible that suited his ideals concerning absolute power ... holy power ... and rewrote the bits that weren’t quite to his liking. Hmm ... Sauron and Charlemagne – maybe we were both right in a way, maybe Tolkien had the absolutist rulers of the past in mind when creating his own evil characters.

The best bit for Littlest was a centuries' old, simple entertainment, provided by a man with a bag of bread and the hundreds of sparrows in the hedges, in front of Notre Dame.

Other best bits? – the shedding of shoes; the coffee and the swim when we got back. And the long text message from Long-legged-boy – amazing what a prompt from his much text-chattier girlfriend can do. He’s fine. Four-legged-friend is fine. And is getting a walk every day – he’ll be very happy! It’s funny how you miss them a little less when you know all is well ...

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

There and back again ... I LOVE my bike!

Update on mid-life fitness crises -

I made it - there ... coffee and a third of a mille feuille overlooking the square in Rebais

... and back again!

Yes we stopped - about four times in total - but the pauses were not all at my behest. I cycled up all the hills - aren't gears great? I managed to avoid the potholes - somewhat reassuring to find that French roads are as pock-marked as the ones at home. And I remembered the joy of free-wheeling down-hill with a bike that rolls on the road rather than digging itself a thick sticky furrow into it. I know I exaggerate, but I am certain that I would have failed at the first hill, had I been on my old mountain bike.

Fitness regime tentatively started then ... ?

As is probably obvious, I was pretty pleased with myself - Love my new bike! - and relieved that I survived (may sound overly-dramatic but exceedingly unfit Scots are rather prone to heart attacks).

And ... I am resolved to buy a new saddle at the earliest opportunity.

However, my exploits were appraised by a third party and apparently my efforts uphill were "too slow" and down hill were "not fast enough!"

Can't win them all!!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Mid-life fitness crisis

We grow up with our children – or should that be grow old? 

In my case, the latter feels depressingly true. Perhaps though, I have been working too much recently, comfort eating (mostly chocolate), and exercising little more than my fingers and wrists when writing. Overall personal fitness levels are at an all time low. I reckon I could still walk up a Scottish mountain – second wind would kick in – it always did in the past ... however, keeping up with the kids, who are probably as fit as they will ever be, is increasingly hard. It was so much easier when they were little, with little legs that matched, very neatly, my little energy. Now though, they are varyingly like gazelles, cheetahs or hares, even Littlest can keep going, long after I have poured the first glass of wine. Hmmm ... wine?

Anyway ... in an attempt to redress the energy or fitness balance, I have bought myself a new toy. Balance is, I admit, probably a little optimistic – raising the fulcrum a millimetre or so in my favour is more realistic.

Call me crazy – some of my family do, so you’d be in good company. But I had one of these when I was a student. It was a lovely bike – a Raleigh too, and as light as a feather. Why did I ever get rid of it? Okay, so that was about a zillion centuries ago. However, I thought this was a good plan and one way of avoiding almost certain death.

Let me explain, my other bike – the one I replaced my original road bike with - is a mountain bike and about as heavy as a horse and requiring of more horse-power to propel it along a road than my legs are capable of generating - even on a flat road. I read somewhere, in my frantic search for a new bike, that mountain bike tyres on tarmac are akin to cycling through thick treacle. Exactly! - exceedingly thick treacle, the treacliest treacle you can imagine! My new bike just has to be better than that. The proof is in the pudding they say ... just as long as it’s not a treacle pudding!

So I brought my new toy on holiday. 

Someone thought it would be a good idea for us all to go on family cycle trips – or was he addressing my waistline?

First ride planned for later today. This is likely to be the best day weather-wise (huh! we should have gone further south) so it is a case of grasping the nettle – only hope it doesn’t sting too much. I am a bit worried about the blade-like seat and the stinging that might induce.

Tyres pumped. After much huffing and puffing, I was shown how to release the valve (why do men smile in that ingratiating way reserved for little women who have got it wrong?) It was much easier after that!

Annoying toe-strap removed from right pedal – yes, I am a rather pedestrian, old(!!)-fashioned cyclist. Negotiated the discussion about it looking daft to have one pedal strapped and the other not –  I’m customising my bike! And I wish to prevent falling over when I stop and can’t get my right foot out of the strapping.

Trial run accomplished – about a mile, on my own, legs like jelly, palpitations, flushed pink with excessive vasodilation, glasses falling off my nose, helmet down the back of my neck. Wrecked! It was twenty minutes long!!!

We are about to leave ... for a five mile ride ... there and back ... with hills ... hope I’m here to tell the tale later.

Long time, no blog ... far, far too long.

Parlez vous Francais?

Littlest and French friend.

Long time, no blog ... far too long. Too busy with other things - other writing, other distractions.
However – while other distractions have not all gone – check out My Name is Luca on Jottify, a new story, now hurtling towards a conclusion ... which conclusion? – not totally decided yet; might try out a couple and see what the lovely jottifying community think - I now have a bit of time to resurrect Walking The Dog.

Anyway, enough of that – as you have probably gathered, we are back en France, en vacances, a bit too far north for sunny weather, but just far enough, and not too far south to have succeeded in driving-awake after the normal frantic packing exploits of Sunday and the normal far too late collapsing into bed.How I hate packing! But that is probably a subject for a separate blog.

Time to catch up on all things Walking The Dog – what have Littlest, Four-legged-friend and the rest of the family been up to? Quite a lot actually –

Jubileeing - mmm! ... any excuse for pudding.

Hide and seeking

Walking - when rain not torrential. 

Who needs footpaths?



Littlest “a bit fed up always being eighth” – probably something to do with having the shortest legs in her year.

Learning something new

A ukelele called Layla.

The return of the fruit thief - strawberry season first

And finally resting ... yet again! A dog's life is a tiring one.

All caught up, more or less - all the above, plus boy's left school, long-legged-girl is back from Uni, boy and sister have sung in their first opera and ... we're on holiday. Almost all of us. Boy looking after Four-legged-friend looking after boy.

Right - can get on with the proper business of writing a blog now. 'Mid-life Crisis' next ...