Why learning French is better than sex!

1.       You don’t have to hide your French language magazines from your partner.

2.       You won’t go blind if you learn French by yourself.

3.       You can learn French in front of the children.

4.       You won’t catch a disease learning French.

5.       It’s quite acceptable to pay someone to teach you how to do it.

6.       You can learn French for hours on end.

7.       Once you’ve learnt, you can try it out with everyone you meet.

8.       It’s OK to do it online.

9.       No-one is going to post embarrassing videos of you learning French on Youtube.

10.   People don’t think you’re a pervert if you learn French in a group.

Log Blog

January is all about keeping warm in chilly Creuse. This year’s winter started earlier than usual, but hasn’t been too bad overall. However, another cold spell is looming and our woodpile is a bit on the small side now. Two cordes didn’t go as far as we thought. (A corde of wood is roughly 4 steres, with a stere being a square metre. The size of a corde varies according to the region of France you live in!) So we’ve been slicing, lugging and splitting logs. OK, Chris has been doing all three, I’ve participated extensively in the last two, and even nine year old Ruadhri has helped with splitting. We treated ourselves to a secondhand log splitter this year, and it’s a dream come true. Instead of Chris having to spend hours belting the heck out of logs with an axe, and breaking a couple of handles in the process each year, now, at the touch of a button, this wonderful machine does it for us. Awesome. Here’s a picture of Ruadhri at work.

Other cosiness-on-the-cheap tactics are that we all wear an extra layer or two in winter and keep just one room heated all day with the wood stove. We only have the central heating on briefly in the morning and evening. It would be way too expensive to keep it on all day, and unnecessary anyway. We live in the lounge, with brief forays into the cold kitchen to get meals ready.

Long-term, though, we need to bump up our insulation. We thought we’d put plenty of glass wool in, but you can never have too much in this part of France! Chris has repointed the exterior of our house on the north side to help keep the wind out, but with an old building, there’s always going to be nooks and crannies that winter can creep through. The wildlife creeps in too. Shrews and mice skitter across the floor every now and again. The cats studiously ignore them, despite the fact that all three of them are mean mousers outdoors. However, once they get indoors into the warm, they slump into a blissfully cosy coma.

We’ve got to the toughest part of the year. Late January and February tend to drag bleakly by, but spring isn’t so very far away and, when it comes out, there’s warmth in the sun. I was sat outside on Monday soaking it up. But today I’m back in furry boots. A typically crazy Creuse winter.

Write back where I belong

Well, I’m writing again. No, I don’t mean this blog (although obviously I am writing it) – I mean books. I’ve had quite a long break from it. My last books were published in Ireland in 2005, bringing my total to 31. (My first came out in 1998.) I’ve only been dabbling for the last five years, mainly writing stories for the kids’ private consumption. But there’s a good reason for this apparent laziness. Moving to France. Yes, it’s given me a wealth of material, all yet to be harvested, but it’s been physically tough going and I frankly haven’t had the energy for serious writing. Falling asleep in front of the telly at nine o’clock was enough of a challenge every night. But finally the vast majority of all the heavy work is done, with just some gentle barn-to-shower-room conversion to finish, several acres of vegetable garden to establish, and a kilometre or so llama fencing to erect! No excuses any more.

Adult fiction beckons. I’m 100,000 words into a fishing-related story, I’ve got a chick-lit book started and a knitting mystery is underway. Seriously. There is quite a demand for this genre, and as an addictive knitter, I’ve got the know-how. I just have to hatch the fiendish plots. There’s plenty of inspiration around me. Our chickens, for example, are selfish and pitiless. The cats are scheming, merciless killers. Our dog is blindly prejudiced (against herons). A couple of the llamas are cunning and one is jealous and bad tempered. OK, the goats are plain stupid, but ignorance can be eveil. I need look no further than our farmyard to harness the ingredients for extreme villainy.

I’m going to be more organised this time round. I was a very scatty children’s writer (all my books to date have been children’s fiction). I’d start one book, think of another before the first was finished and get diverted onto that, then a third idea would develop and off I galloped in that direction and so on, and I would always have far too many projects on the go. While I firmly believe you need at least two projects on the go at a time, because you’re bound to hit a wall with one from time to time, it’s all too easy to go overboard and find a dozen or more works in progress sitting on your computer. So I’m being strict! Or trying very hard to be.

So the washing up sits around for a bit longer than usual while I sketch out a plot. So Youngest Son gets to do the odd extra half hour more DSing while I finish a chapter. So the two teens have to occasionally forage for food in the kitchen while I back my hero into an awkward corner. It’s hardly serious. And I’m happy. I’ve missed creating alternative realities. Playing God. Messing with words. Whatever writing is, I love it.

I’m determined to get a few more books with my name on the spine on the bookshelves. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Oh – and please wish me luck!

Firefighters versus Posties!

It’s the battle of the calendars. France is the land of calendars (I’ve blogged about this before on my other blog www.bloginfrance.com) and the most important two are the Sapeurs- Pompiers calendar and the Post Office calendar. These are brought round by members of the relevant profession and you give a donation according to your means for your copy. I’m not sure that refusal is an option!

But which is the better of the two? Let’s take a look.

First up the Sapeurs-Pompiers calendar. This is a locally-based one, ours is the Boussac version, which immediately makes it very relevant. There’s a lively photo on the cover of firefighters spraying their hoses at the École Maternelle, fortunately not on fire. The water spraying theme is recurrent – unsurprisingly – with a factory, a wedding, a playground, and a couple of other places being dowsed. There are lots of photos – fire engines, members past and present, the batterie-fanfare, and training action shots.

The calendar relies on advertising to make it viable and so there are handy ads by local firms on each month’s page, always useful. There’s the obligatory summary of the year’s saints on the back cover. The calendar comes with pre-punched holes in each page so it’s easy to hang up. All in all, a colourful, practical item.

Now for the La Poste calendar. This is regional, but only half of it – the inner 4 pages which relate to Creuse with local maps. The outer pages this year consist of a desk diary at one end, and general info about France at the other end. I use ‘ends’ rather than front and back, because this is one of those slightly confusing publications where some of it is upside down. Are you with me? Open the end with the summary of saints for January to June and you have the desk diary part, right way up. Flip the calendar over and open it like a book from the other end, with the saints for July to December, and the info part of the calendar is now the right way up. Complicated!

The calendar comes with a metal hook on the spine for hanging purposes, but if you hang it up by that, then it’s closed. Hmm. Also, with it being a desk diary this year ie the months are presented two to a page, portrait layout (rather than landscape), you can’t really hang it up anyway. There is very little room to write anything in the gap for each date so not very user-friendly. It’s good that La Poste are trying something new, but I preferred the old more traditional style of previous years’ calendars. That said, it’s a good quality item with stiff covers that come in a variety of designs so you can choose your favourite. The choice covers fluffy kittens, ferocious-looking boar, pretty scenery and cute kids, you can imagine the sort of thing. I plumped for Mont St Michel this year (and a  cheery pic of fishing boats on the back).

So, very different, both in a good cause, but the prize this year goes to the sapeurs-pompiers. However, both calendars will get good use. The longer I live in France, the more the calendar culture takes hold and the more I need!

Sky My Husband – learn French through strange expressions

Here is a brilliant party game which will help you learn French. It’s called ‘Sky My Husband’ (Ciel Mon Mari) and is made by Interlude (www.cocktailgames.com). Benj gave it to his dad for Christmas and we’ve had lots of fun with it.

OK, it’s for 2-8 players aged 12 upwards (that’s just a guideline – our 9 year old loved it).  You have to guess the English expression from the literal French translation. There’s a clue if you’re finding it hard.

It’s wonderfully straightforward, a refreshing change from all those games where you spend hours just reading the instructions and in some cases never really understand the rules. (Or is that just me?) Anyway, each player takes a card and reads out the five expressions on it, one at a time, to see which of the other players can guess it. For example: flocons de maïs.

If no one gets it on the first reading, he/she reads out the clue – in our example, céréales/petit-déjeuner. And if still no-one gets it, time to read out the answer – here corn flakes (of course!). There are songs, pop groups, books, brand names as well as expressions. It’s an entertaining way to pick up some French and makes a great gift for any Francophile.

Benj is vague about how much it cost but I can’t think it’s very dear. Our eldest is not known for his generosity (but we still love him!).