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?

mardi 10 juillet 2012

S is for Selling

How do you get rid of those infuriating sales calls? They seem to have tracked us down even here. I just answered the phone to someone asking for Madame Portay. He then offered to sell me solar panels as long as I was under 70. Well, at least I qualify in that respect. I told him, in a very BBC voice, that I couldn't speak French. (He didn't seem to cotton on that I'd understood everything he'd already said.)
There was a disappointed "Oh" at the other end, and we both put the phone down. That response seems to work rather well over here.

In the UK, one of the most successful replies was "I live in sheltered housing". Other friends had different ploys. I wish I'd the courage to respond, as one did, with "I'm really glad you called. I would like to talk to you about God". Another let a conservatory salesman ramble on for a while and "Ooo'd and Ah'd" about the marvellous structures on offer, then asked politely, "Does it matter that I live in a 4th floor flat?" End of conversation.

Gavin once decided to get rid of some rather persistent Jehovah's Witnesses by telling them that we were German. They left, only to return a few days later with three copies of The Watchtower in German. Unfortunately, I was at home alone at the time. And had to say "Ja" and "Nein" as they shouted questions at me to help me understand.

dimanche 1 juillet 2012

R is for Rupert

Rupert is a great friend of mine. He's also a very handsome Standard Poodle. The good news is that Rupert has decided to write his own Blog, about his life and times in France. I might have to give him some advice occasionally, as he's never done anything like this before. So it would be good if you could give him your support too. The Blog is:

samedi 9 juin 2012

T is for Translation

What remains of it hairy? Your guess is as good as mine. By some slip of the finger, I managed to activate an automatic translator on my computer. The result was that my Mac began busily to translate everything it could find. It translated French into a sort of English and even did its worst by translating English into its own version of the
language. The results were particularly baffling on the news summary Orange gives me whenever I log on. So, apart from “What remains of it hairy?”, I was told “Italy, on the verge of suffocation”, “Goal it’s very exciting” and was also informed that “The striker will miss the chickens of the Euro because of a bad act”. What a shame. Then Marks and Spencer offered me the chance to buy “Pants cut off without pliers fine scratches”. Very fashionable, I’m sure.

When I logged onto Facebook I saw the word “Cat” everywhere. It’s simple, once you get the hang of it: Facebook was offering me the chance to “chat” with my friends. “Chat” is, of course, the French for “cat”, so that’s what I ended up with. Fancy a cat anyone? According to everything I’ve read, the ads and recommendations that pop up when you’re surfing the net are supposed to reflect you: your browsing and buying history and the profile the machine has built up about you. I’ll give it the
on-line shoe stores and even the anti-wrinkle cream ads that have started to appear since my last birthday. But I’m worried that it thinks I need an English-speaking rehab centre in Spain to help me deal with drink and drug problems.

Amazon is forever urging me to buy a Berlitz guide to Norway. I once went on a business trip to Stavanger, but that’s about the only connection I have to the country. Although I’m sure it’s well worth a visit, I’ve no plans to head there in the near future. Neither, despite Orange continually thrusting hotels in Budapest at me, does Hungary feature in my travel plans. I’m not sure either, why someone somewhere thinks I might be interested in hiring a coach in Sweden. I know I don’t travel light, but if I ever went there, I would probably be content with a Nissan Micra from Hertz. Facebook, on the other hand, thinks I should go to Barcelona. Is that before or after rehab?

vendredi 1 juin 2012

S is for Shopping

S is for Shopping

Shops can be a bit of a puzzle here. Go to any small, independent store — of which there are still many in any town — and the service is invariably second to none. Ask for something as mundane as a tin opener or as embarrassing as haemorrhoid cream and you’ll be asked whether it’s a present and if you want it gift-wrapped. Say yes, and regardless of the number of people waiting to be served, the assistant will produce a little box, a flourish of ribbons and maybe a pretty card, and wrap your purchase with a degree of flair and no extra charge. They will then bid you a friendly “au revoir”, as indeed will all the other customers who have been waiting patiently.

Go to a large store or hypermarket and the story is different. The assistants at Lerclerc in Montauban are the rudest and most unhelpful I have ever encountered  — and I used to live in London, remember. On one occasion, the girl at the checkout watched as we unloaded a full trolley. As soon as it was empty, she pointed wordlessly to a sign we’d overlooked: 10 items or less. There was no-one behind us, but we had to transfer everything to the next checkout. As our stuff was rung through, our tormentor sat happily filing her nails.

We don’t go there very often. However, yesterday we ventured in as we needed something specific. Bad mistake. As Gavin was waiting to pay, I went to go to a seat opposite the checkout as my back was hurting. The girl had hysterics. I wasn’t allowed to move in case I absconded with the trolley of as yet unpaid-for provisions. No matter that I could have been caught pretty easily and Gavin was there as a hostage should the gendarmes need to be summoned.

All this, of course, presupposes that the shop you want to patronise is actually open. You can check and double check its hours, then arrive to find a “fermeture exceptionnelle” [exceptional closure]. And if it closes for lunch between 12 and 3pm, don’t even think of entering after 11.45 or before 3.15. We rushed to a local supermarket the other day just before it was due to close for lunch. I waited in the car park while Gavin dashed inside. As I sat there, a member of staff pushed a button to bring down the barricades. A lot of arm waving and shouting managed to halt the operation and prevent me from spending a couple of hours marooned there, with Gavin stuck outside clutching several tins of cat food.

lundi 28 mai 2012

A is for Animals

A is for Animals

Let’s be honest, Henri is not the most attractive cat on the block. He’s completely black with a large, odd-shaped head. He turned up in our garden about 18 months ago. As he was wearing a collar, we assumed he had a home and was just out for a stroll. As time went on, the collar got ever more shabby until one day it disappeared altogether and was never replaced. We concluded Henri was a stray.

We don’t know what his real name is. We started by calling him “Intruder”, but then Gavin felt that wasn’t very friendly, so he became Henri. Henri pops round several times a day for something to eat. He comes into the kitchen and will even let Gavin stroke him. He then gives him a little squeak or a few soft purrs, but he won’t let me go anywhere near him. Our cats, Angus and Kandy, tolerate him but that’s as far as it goes.

Last winter, during the week when temperatures rarely rose above -10 Centigrade, Henri spent a few nights on a cushion in the lounge. But as soon as the thermometer rose again, off he went. We often see him patrolling up and down the road. He doesn’t seem to want to move in, he just likes to know there’s somewhere he can go for a meal. Problem is, of course, when we go away we put our two in Gill’s cattery. Last time, we had to ask a friend to come round every day to put something out for Henri.

On the subject of animals, I now have a bit of a dilemma. I started knitting an Aran scarf in our Stitch ‘n’ Bitch group. And very stylish it is too. But somehow I seem to have promised the finished item to George, one friend’s five-year-old grandson and Rupert, another friend’s Standard Poodle. I’ve been told both are eagerly awaiting the finished product and have been assured that it’s “just Rupert’s colour” and “George is looking forward to wearing it”. Good thing really that it will take me another couple of winters to finish it. I’m sure at least one of them will have forgotten all about it by then.

Then, the white rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland featured in a test I have just taken online. I discovered, courtesy of Staples, that, should I choose to do so, I would be able to read War and Peace in 20 hours 30 minutes. Since I have yet to read Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson for my English book club (brilliant title incidentally) and Pars Vite et Reviens [Leave Early and Return Late] by a lady called Fred Vargas for my French one, I think I’ll give Tolstoy a miss for the moment.

To complete this animal miscellany, everyone around me seems to be acquiring chickens. Today I met three that have recently arrived from Normandy to take up residence in a friend’s newly-built hen house. They journeyed there in a sturdy wooden box. Other people acquire their hens as chicks from a local market but have sometimes ended up with cockerels. Not much good if you want eggs for breakfast.

Now, anyone who followed the saga of the travels of my passport will be interested to learn that after it left Brussels, it took a little detour to Lyon before reaching Toulouse and then being despatched here. And now I have just received an email claiming to be from FedEx telling me that there’s a parcel waiting for me in Fort Worth, Texas. It’s apparently too big to be delivered free of charge, so I have been instructed to download a document which I should then take to the Post Office. I’m sure that will please the staff in our local Post Office in South West France. If I don’t do this, I have been warned I will be charged $9 a day for storage.  All things considered, they can keep the package. Something tells me it’s yet another scam… Still, it makes a change from bank workers in the Ivory Coast wanting to give me €10 million to set up a charitable foundation on their behalf.