jeudi 29 janvier 2015

D is for Drawbacks

D is for Drawbacks

There can be drawbacks living in France. It seems I’m going to miss out on a Mouse Taxidermy Workshop, run by one Margot Magpie, at the Barbican in London. It costs £65, including all tools and materials, but is sold out. The price also included entry to the Magnificent Obsessions Exhibition, which I am sure is fascinating.

Margot Magpie, a taxidermy artist, introduces participants to the processes and techniques behind basic taxidermy. I could have learnt how to skin, prep, preserve, mount and position a mouse and would have been able to take home my creation. Just think of what I could do with all the mice dragged in by the cats. Publicity for the course features a stuffed, bespectacled white mouse sitting in an armchair and reading a coy of Haley’s 2007 Complete Guide to Etiquette.

I was told: “No experience is necessary to take part and all tools and materials are provided. This workshop is open to adults (over 18) only.” But, there again, how many people actually have experience in mouse taxidermy?

Reassuringly, publicity for the course stated: “All rodents are ethically sourced and were not killed specifically for these workshops.

“No dangerous chemicals will be used and all animals are disease free.

“Please be advised that this class is not for the faint hearted. There will be minimal blood and gore, but taxidermy is not for everyone.”

I do have a vision of people emerging from the course, clutching their stuffed mice and heading for the Circle Line.

The good news is there are still places on Margot’s Art of Butterfly Preservation Course, where I could learn how to preserve, handle, set, and pin my very own butterflies. I could then take my specimens home for drying and mounting. A variety of colours and shapes of ethically sourced butterflies would be available to me.

There is a book on Amazon called Home Taxidermy for Pleasure and Profit (Illustrated Edition). It’s £6.40, but there are only six left in stock. Who needs Margot Magpie! But you can also look at Margot’s blog, entitled Of Corpse (

I’m afraid all I can think of is poor old Paddington being chased by a taxidermist in the film!

vendredi 6 juin 2014

P is for Provisions

P is for Provisions

It seemed a good idea at the time. Di told us about a company, Graines de Terroir, that is a sort of cooperative for local producers. Order organic fruit, vegetables, meat, jams and other goodies online and go and collect them between 5pm and 7pm on a Friday evening at the local brocante. I put in an order for some coriander, onions, cider vinegar, a chicken and other bits and pieces. Equipped with the address, Gavin duly went along to collect it.

Then he phoned me up. He’d been into the brocante and asked for our provisions but the woman denied all knowledge of our new potatoes and rillettes. She did, however, invite him to browse around the antiques. I repeated the address and he decided it must be the canoe hire shop in the next building. It was closed, although a notice advised potential customers to cross the river (obviously without the aid of a canoe) and hire their craft from another venue. He also fruitlessly peered into the premises of the old people’s club nearby.

In the meantime, I rang the number given on our order acknowledgement. In my best French, I explained that my husband had been searching for our supper without success. Oh yes, she replied. A man had come in asking for provisions, but he hadn’t mentioned ‘Graines de Terroir’, so she had assumed he was looking for bric a brac.

I phoned Gavin and gave him the password. Mission accomplished.

mardi 3 juin 2014

N is for Names

N is for Names

The third of June is Kevin’s day; a rather unexpected name among the Théophiles, Innocents and Constantins. Kevin is actually an anglicised (or Frenchified, if you prefer) version of Saint Cóemgen (modern Irish: Caoimhín) (498 – 3 June 618). He was an Irish saint known as the founder and first abbot of Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland; 3 June is his feast day in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. I couldn’t really imagine an actual Kevin around all those years ago. There is the famous Alan Bennett sketch where an elderly gentleman turns up at an old people’s home and a nurse exclaims “You’re our first Kevin!”. I know Maths has never been my strong point, but surely those dates from Wikipedia make our Saint Kevin about 120 when he died. He was apparently an ascetic and a hermit, so maybe that’s the explanation for his longevity.

Looking at my own Name Day and hoping to find something more glamourous than Doreen — Juliette, Florence, Tatiana or even Solange, perhaps — I find I have Gwladys. She was born a Princess in Wales in 460, so could even have met Kevin. She too was a hermit for part of her life and has also been described as pious, wise and beautiful. Well, one out of three isn’t bad… I once worked with a lovely lady from Nigeria. Her name was unpronounceable in English, so she decided to change it. Out of all the names she could have chosen, she opted for Gladys.

There are a lot of “ettes” around here. We know a Georgette, a Colette, a Claudette, a Henriette, and a Huguette; we’ve also heard talk of a Bernadette and a Pierrette. If you don’t end in an “ette”, the next best thing is to find two long names, or ones that don’t go that well together, and hyphenate them. Don’t be surprised to be introduced to a Veronique-Dominique or an Antoine-Guillaume.

Another trick is to hyphenate a man’s and a woman’s name, so it’s difficult to guess the sex of the owner when you see the name written down. We’ve come across Anne-Francois (male) and Marie-Georges (female).

It goes without saying that our own British names can pose a problem or two. I somehow keep getting “nom” and “prénom” muddled, so often get letters to Madame Doreen or emails that begin “Porter”. For a long time, at a social club we went to, the members called us Govan and Dolly. It was always easier to answer than try to explain what our names actually were. Now, the doctor has taken to bursting into a chorus of Hello Dolly whenever he sees me. Gavin generally fares slightly better in the name game, although he prefers not to keep answering to Kevin (see above). When not Dolly, I’m often Dreen. I will gloss over one French acquaintance who decided I should be Doreenette. Anyway, I’m seriously thinking of choosing another name and hyphenating it. Any suggestions?