Mind your PQs – or why French toilet paper is pink!

This question popped up in my brain the other day as I was doing the weekly shop in the supermarket. There were a few packets of white toilet rolls, but all the rest were pink. And, if you’ve been to France, you’ll know that it’s not a particularly nice shade of pink.

So – why?

Well, toilet paper (commonly known as PQ here – from pécu which is short for papier cul ie bum paper) goes back to sixth century China. However, it only became widely used in France in the 1960s! Bit of a time lag there. It had been around since the beginning of the twentieth century but was most definitely a luxury item. Newspaper was used, and then for a time, that dreadful shiny stuff that was no good at all if you remember!

At one time, toilet paper was made from virgin wood pulp. The WWF protested against this, and these days more recycled pulp is used. The vast majority of the toilet roll tubes are made from recycled paper. Recycled paper pulp tends to be a grotty grey so either needs more bleaching or dyeing a stronger colour to make it more appealing.

Pink is just a regional preference, although I can’t find out who started the craze for this colour in France. The idea behind coloured toilet paper was to make it match the décor in the bathroom. I cannot believe for a moment that anyone would paint their smallest room Grotesque Pink so I’m not convinced that rule holds for France. Germans prefer paper with motifs I’m told, Americans plain white.

As often happens, the French are going against the general grain by sticking to dyed toilet paper when the worldwide trend is for white paper. It has been suggested that dyes cause irritation in sensitive areas, and of course there are the environmental concerns. Whether the pink dye is better than the bleaching that produces white toilet roll is debatable. It’s more expenisive though. Sadly, unbleached toilet roll is not readily available anywhere since apparently consumers don’t like its brown tinge. Ironic really.

Toilet paper is evolving. There are now scented papers, 3 and 4 ply papers, quilted, even glow-in-the-dark paper. But the pace of evolution is slower here. We still like our pink PQ.

Eating llamas

Now, I’d always been under the impression that you couldn’t eat llama meat in France. I was told that on good authority. But I was doing some research yesterday – not, I hasten to add, because I want to eat either Gabby, Windy, Katrina, Lulin, Vicky, Georgie, Mellie, Ciara, Plunkett, Elrond, Oscar, Denis, Seamus or Brendan. (Everyone knows you can’t eat an animal with a name!) I was checking things out for my famous living in France book. And also because I just wanted to know. Every year, the most popular questions posed by people who come to trek with our llamas are 1) Can you ride a llama? (no) and 2) Can you eat them? I’ve been telling them no, but I thought I should find out for sure.

Here come my nosey girls, alpacas at the forefront

Anyway, I stumbled across a very long document issued by UNECE, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, entitled ‘Llama/alpaca meat carcases and cuts’. France is listed as one of the countries whose delegation was involved in drawing it up. This suggests to me that therefore they support the idea of eating llamas. I’ve emailed UNECE to ask but haven’t had a reply yet. They probably think I’m a passing lunatic!

Ciara's ears are down because she's not sure about the camera

Anyway, all meat has a code according to what species it is. Beef is 10, turkey is 71, llama is 60 and alpaca is 61. There are then more codes for what age and sex the animal is, another set according to how it was reared (indoors, outdoors, organic etc), and more pertaining to how it was fed. And one set for fat thickness of the final cuts of meat L In fact, there are 14 different sets of codes, or fields.

There’s a handy multilingual index of products, so I now know that Pecho corto sin tapa is Spanish for brisket point, and that the Russian for cube roll is nine words long. (It wouldn’t paste here – my computer couldn’t cope!) The UNECE report finishes with many pages featuring colour photos of various cuts of llama and handy diagrams showing whereabouts on the body this is found. It’s actually fascinating but I appreciate it may not appeal to persons of a nervous disposition.

I’m not about to start looking up llama recipes, although there are plenty out there on the Internet. Llama meat is very popular in South America. I saw a programme on telly where some travel reporter was spending time in Peru and eating llama and guinea pigs. The former was tasty but tough, he said, and the latter absolutely delicious!

A few nice photos of our littlest alpaca to finish with. Elrond, who is now 7 months old, has now become known as Mutton Chops for obvious reasons. He’s one fluffy paca!

Elrond 'Mutton Chops' and his mum Amélie
Now his ears are down too - he's run out of braveness!

If you want to see how Elrond has changed, look back at his baby photos here.


Tome Raider

There’s a lot happening in the book world in France at the moment. Next week sees the Salon du Livre in Paris, France’s equivalent of the London Book Fair that I have been to several times. I’m sorely tempted to go. It runs from 18th to 21st March at Paris Porte de Versailles – Pavillon 1, Boulevard Victor, Paris 15ème. (Website at http://www.salondulivreparis.com/.) But … Caiti has her  hospital appointment on the 16th, it’s St Patrick’s Day on the 17th (so we’ll be having a little party at  home) and then Argyle, our favourite French rock band, are coming to Boussac on the 18th. That will be a late night so I’m not sure I’ll be up for a long trip to Paris on either the Saturday or Sunday. I’ll probably still be recovering from my Strasbourg trip this weekend! But we’ll see … it would be fantastically interesting.

And last week some French publishers were being raided. Other European countries have seen similar raids, but France seems to have had the most. Hachette Livre, Gallimard, Flammarion and La Martinière were among those affected, and commented that the authorities involved didn’t tell them why.

The above photo is from http://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/european-union-officials-raid-ebook-publishers/

But it’s all to do with ebook pricing. Many of the publishing companies under scrutiny have only recently got into them and haven’t setup a proper pricing policy yet. For now, they are going along with a temporary agency model for pricing, and this is what is causing the problem. Agency pricing is very like the net book agreement that used to hold sway in the UK and Ireland. Under this, publishers set the price at which a book was to be sold, and that was that. Booksellers couldn’t sell it for less. The net book agreement was brought down when supermarkets and the big chains of bookshops challenged it.

At the moment France adheres to the Lang Law for physical, i.e. paper, books. It establishes a fixed price for books sold in France and limits the discounts that can be offered on them by booksellers. But it doesn’t apply to ebooks. So publishers are fixing the price in stone and EU officials don’t like it, even though the French Competition Authority said in 2009 that the agency model was “a possible solution” for pricing ebooks. However, by restricting booksellers from offering discounts to promote some of the titles they stock, this goes against some of the objectives of the culture ministry in France.

A statement from the Directorate General for Competition read: “The European Commission can confirm that on 1 March 2011 Commission officials initiated unannounced inspections at the premises of companies that are active in the e-book (electronic or digital books) publishing sector in several Member States. The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).”

It seems odd that publishers are reverting to this old practice of price fixing and making books more expensive than they need to be. Some pro-electronic publishing forums have suggested that, like cigarettes, ebooks produced by the publishers adopting the agency model should come with a warning along the lines of: Warning: buying this book will support a publisher who wants to increase book prices for all.

It will be interesting to see how this matter is resolved. For my own part, I am a little annoyed that the books I buy from Amazon.com for my Kindle cost me more than they would a buyer in the USA. Books that they can get for $2.99 cost me, here in France, $5.74. Why? There’s no extra expense in sending Whispernet to France. Also books that are free in the USA, either aren’t available for Europe or you have to pay for them. Doesn’t seem quite fair. However, I did manage to get an Amanda Hocking novella for 99 cents though, the same price as in the States. (If you haven’t heard of her, you will soon. She is one of the first ebook millionaires, lucky thing! Her blog is at http://amandahocking.blogspot.com/ where I’ve taken her photo from.) Review of her book coming soon!


Back to school – let’s get cooking

Back to school today after two weeks’ holiday. It wasn’t a great fortnight – the weather was grim for the first twelve days of it, and there’s very little going on. However, the kids kept busy, and the time passed pleasantly enough. Benj mainly revised for his Bac Blanc exams this week, while Caiti, when she was well enough, did some fantastic baking. Recipes will feature soon! Ruadhri got up to all the sorts of things nine-year-old boys like to do. His guinea pigs got plenty of cuddles. Benj and Caiti are back at lycée for the week so food consumption will drop dramatically. I have to shop every five minutes it seems when everyone’s at home!

It’s time to get organised on lots of fronts. Our first anglers of the year arrive in three weeks’ time. (We offer fishing holidays via Angling Lines – see us at http://www.anglinglines.com/docs/ourvenues/lakes/alderlake/index.php and http://www.anglinglines.com/docs/ourvenues/lakes/notaires/index.php). So we need to finish off some jobs in the gite – replace the oven, tile the utility room floor and springclean the whole house. I’ve just finished organising the library, as I mentioned the other day. Every year we try to make little improvements so our visitors have a great time with us.

Alder Lake

The cabins down by Alder Lake need a tidy up too. These provide a composting loo and basic facilities for cooking and eating, and drying out if the weather’s on the wet side. The fishermen at that lake bring their own bivvies to sleep in. Many self-cater using the oven in the big cabin, or their own little camping stoves. But some buy our meal package. The first group of six anglers want us to feed them so I must start planning menus and buying in the food this week, and get what I can into the freezer beforehand. It pays to plan ahead, especially during term time when we have to get Rors to and from school on top of all the usual farm chores, but it’s enjoyable and earns us some extra money.

And I’m organised mealwise for us this week. One of the www.orgjunkie.com challenges is to plan the week’s meals. I know I said not long ago that was possibly too much for me to do, but I’ve changed my mind! (It won’t be the first time.) Here we go for a week’s evening meals. Perhaps some of these suggestions might tempt you too. Our breakfasts are croissants with jam or pains au chocolat every day (since we’re in France), and our lunches are usually sandwiches, fruit and yogurt.

Monday: we’re always tired on Monday nights as we’ve been up since 6 a.m. The bus for lycée leaves from Le Poteau, 11 kms away, at 6.45 a.m. Ugh. So something nice and easy. I’ve plumped for cassoulet de Toulouse which is basically just beans and sausages, but a bit fancier. This will come out of a tin and be followed by fruit.


Tuesday: Pancake day, so guess what we’re having! Our favourite fillings are grated Emmenthal cheese and diced ham for a delicious savoury course, and chocolate spread and vanilla ice cream as a sweet treat. I make my pancakes using my fabulous free-range eggs with their ultra yellow yolks.

Wednesday: Ruadhri’s at home all day on Wednesdays, so we need a nice filling tea as he won’t have his usual four-course school dinner. He loves pasta so we’ll have pasta with bacon and mushroom sauce. Chris usually makes this up as he goes along, but here’s a nice recipe, which is very similar to what we have: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2329/bacon-and-mushroom-pasta. Banana custard for pudding.

Thursday: no question. David Lebovitz’s awesome tomato flan. Here’s the recipe from when Caiti made it for my birthday last year; http://www.bloginfrance.com/2010/august-celebrations/. We probably won’t need pudding afterwards, not if we have it with potato salad, but I’ll have some flapjacks ready in case we do.

Friday: Now, I’m taking Benj up to Strasbourg University for an open day on Saturday. It’s a seven hour drive from here, eek, so we’ll be leaving on Friday morning, staying overnight, and getting back very late on Saturday. Caiti might well come too. I’ll have to pick them up from lycée Thursday evening, but after they’ve had their tea there! So, Chris and Ruadhri will be holding the fort here and they’ll have homemade chips and kalimari in batter. Chris uses an egg-free batter mix which comes out very crispy: http://www.hub-uk.com/tallyrecip01/recipe0008.htm. A pot of cream pudding will go down nicely after that.

Saturday: we always have pizza and salad. Caiti makes it for us when she has the time, but this week it will be a shop-bought one, given the circumstances. Fruit and ice-cream to follow.

Sunday: time to use the venison we were given the other week by the local hunters. Here’s a nice recipe we like: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/venisoncasserole_83746. I have some apple pie in the freezer to use up tonight.

Bon appétit!

Making friends in France – Amitiés Internationales du Pays de Boussac

It’s taken nearly five years, but now most of the major renovation work has been done, and Chris and I have spare energy to start having a life outside Les Fragnes.

It’s time to start giving back. I’ve been on the ‘bureau’ of the informal parents’ associations for the co-operative of the three schools of Nouzerines, Bussière St Georges and St Marien. But I suppose there I’ve really just been making up numbers, although I have been actively involved in various fundraisers. At the end of January, I was in charge of the cashbox at our ‘Récreation des Génerations’ games afternoon and did the washing up afterwards. Useful or what!

I’d long been impressed by the activities organised by AIPB – Amitiés Internationales du Pays de Boussac – a group of English and French people who have got together to integrate our two cultures in this region, since it has a sizeable British contingent now.  We’ve been to two of their carol services and to the phenomenal Battle of the Bands last year. So I contacted AIPB to sign up and see if Chris and I could help out in any way. Well, by chance they were looking for people to take over the website management and write press communications (in English). Those just happen to be things Chris and I are rather good at. So we met up with some committee members and have been taken on. Last month we went to our first meeting to be introduced to the rest of the committee and get involved, and today was March’s meeting. Everyone was delighted with how Chris has transformed the website and with my press communications so far.

Boussac's central square

The committee meetings are fun. There’s about a dozen of us, slightly more Brits than French people. Wendy, our chairperson, takes firm control, but breakaway groups can form and chat away instead of concentrating. Not for long. We – I mean they – are soon brought to order. There are differences between French and English culture. Only today a quandary arose. An English member proposed that we donate around 50 euro towards the Nouzerines Church Restoration (see my earlier posts http://www.bloginfrance.com/2010/a-difficult-birth/ and http://www.bloginfrance.com/2011/cant-see-the-point), in return for having our logo put on the programmes for the music festival that is being organised. The Brits were in favour, but the French were horrified. Effectively, we, an Association (asso is the abbreviation used in France) would be giving money to another asso and that isn’t the done thing at all. In fact, a couple of the French members thought it was ‘interdit’ – forbidden! So we non-French compromised, as we often do as ex-pats. We proposed that we’d encourage as many AIPB members as possible to go to the various concerts and donate as much as they felt they could afford to. But whether we’ll still get our logo on the programme, I’m not sure! There are times you have to tread carefully so as not to squash French toes.

A busy year lies ahead for AIPB. The summer fête is scheduled for 3rd July and will introduce French people to the delights of an English fête, with skittles, hula-hoop, rubber ducks to hook, a tombola, face painting (by our Caiti and some friends), a pets corner (we’re providing the pets but we haven’t told the animals concerned yet!), artisans’ stalls, white elephant, food, cakes, dancing displays and music in the evening. It will be held at Lavaufranche.

The AIPB will be running cake stalls at various local functions throughout the Pays de Boussac, such as the Nouzerines Fête, the race day at St Sylvain Bas le Roc, and when the Tour de France hits Boussac and Lavaufranche in July. Don’t groan – cake stalls may sound a bit grannified, but they are hugely popular. French people love trying English cakes. We’ve introduced some Irish baking into the mix too!

The awesome Argyle, winners of 2010's Battle of the Bands

The next events will be an awesome Battle of the Bands round 2 on 5th November (Boussac Salle Polyvalante). Argyle, last year’s popular and well-deserved winners will be back. (Find out about them http://www.myspace.com/argyle4.) The Christmas carol service takes place at St Anne’s church in Boussac on 9th December. There will also be several member-only outings during the year, mainly designed to discover the local history in this wonderful region.

AIPB makes donations to local organisations and charities and is starting to make an impact on the local residents, so the only way is up! The new look website is well underway at www.aipbboussac.fr.

Sorting shelves and cracking shells

My quest to be better organised continues (inspired by www://orgjunkie.com). The latest thing I’ve tackled is the ‘library’ in our holiday cottage. When we used to go on holiday, pre llamas, I was always delighted to find a shelf of books offering some entertainment for quiet half hours, or if the weather was bad. So we’ve filled three bookshelves with books for our guests, making sure there’s plenty of children’s books (including some I wrote!).

But the shelves were constantly untidy and the books weren’t taken care of so I decided to create a more organised library. I’ve filled the shelves completely and put up book ends so the books won’t keep falling over and ending up in a heap. I’ve also labelled each book and given it a number – A1 etc for books by authors whose surname starts with A, and so on – and have an index book to record them all in. It took a lot of work, but finally, we know exactly what books we’ve got there! I’m working on the principle that if it looks like we value and take pride in our little library, then the guests are more likely to do so as well.

From shelves to shells. The hens are laying busily now that the sunshine has finally reached France. But, like every year, I was too parsimonious in my frozen egg usage over winter, not wanting to run out! So I have a lot of frozen eggs left, and now a new supply of fresh ones!

Freezing eggs works well. You can’t freeze them in their natural state though. You need to beat them for successful freezing. I do two at a time and store them in a yogurt pot with a plastic covering (cut from a bread bag or other recyclable plastic bag) held on by an elastic band. Lots of reusing there!

The egg looks a bit gunky when it defrosts, as you can see in the next photo, but it’s perfectly OK and works as well as fresh egg.

One hundred years ago there was an egg crisis in France. In 1905 a law had been brought in making it illegal to pass preserved eggs off as fresh ones. But six years later, the practice was still widespread. Eggs were preserved in lime in those days. The secret with any type of preserving is to keep air and bacteria out. For the lime method, 12 oz of quicklime was mixed into a gallon of water, together with small quantities of other chemicals (salt, soda, saltpetre, borax and tartar). This would be poured over eggs in a barrel, and the barrel was then covered with a cloth. The lime would tend to make the eggshell feel very rough, so that was one way of telling if an egg had been preserved. Eggs could keep for 6-9 months this way. Modern-day preserved eggs are known as century eggs and are common in Asian recipes. These are preserved using lime together with salt, tea and wood ash.

Give me fresh eggs straight from a chicken any day!

Limpychick, who was trodden on by a llama when tiny. She's fine - but limps!


There’s a very persistent cormorant hanging around Alder Lake (the biggest of our three) this year. Just one, but one is more than enough. Fishery owners don’t like cormorants. They can do a lot of damage to valuable fish. Cormorants are protected so you can’t do anything drastic to make them go away. So when we see them, we run around waving our arms and whooping to scare them off. It’s a good job we have no neighbours! Surprisingly, acting like maniacs can be pretty effective, but obviously this guy has seen it all before.

So today, inspired by what some fellow lake-owning friends have done, we made two scaremorants – scarecrows for cormorants.

The first step looks like we’re getting ready for Easter early, or are about to sacrifice one of the children.


But add some clothes, and you can see where we’re going with this!

Time to put them in place. Cappy went on the east side of the lake. His silver fingers sparkled in a nice cormorant-frightening way in the sunshine.

And Hoodie on the opposite side. His dangling CDs are very effective.

Between scaremorant emplacement, Chris took time out to tut-tut over the latest mole hill. There seems to be a plague of moles this year.

Chris hates moles!

It remains to be seen how effective the scaremorants are, but we had fun making them!

Photo 6 and or 7

Write up to date


Gratuitous cute kitten photo to make you say 'ahhh'!

OK, where am I on the writing front? I promised I’d keep you updated in my blog post http://www.bloginfrance.com/2011/write-back-where-i-belong/, and, since I always enjoy seeing how other writers are progressing, here’s my contribution.

I’m 22,000 words into my living in France book and really enjoying writing it. We have come so far in our five years in France. We’ve all changed and grown (the kids literally!) and developed. In a nutshell, I think we are wiser, better adjusted and more interesting people for having gone through the various experiences moving abroad has thrown at us. And it’s thrown a lot! I’m glad I kept a blog during our early days here at Les Fragnes, and not just because it’s the main inspiration for the book. I made notes about many trivial but fascinating little incidents that I probably won’t use, but it’s wonderful to read about them again, and relive the moments. For example, when Caiti built an incubator for some lizard eggs we found (sadly they never hatched); wandering around in the sunshine in our pyjamas, just happy to be in our new home, the day after we bought it; finding a slug in Ruadhri’s welly boot that was as long as the sole; watching a wild boar piglet sprint across our lawn, and then sprint back again! I’m including an appropriate French proverb at the opening of each chapter. So I’ve done a lot of looking up and found some amazing ones! I sense another blog post there! I don’t think the book’s boring. We’ve had plenty of interesting adventures during our time here, and I’m not being too introspective. I’m slotting us into our new country and talking a lot about France and French culture. But maybe I’m just biased! Time will tell.

Caiti modelling some of the old clothes we found back in 2006
Ruadhri saying "I didn't do it!" during the early days of renovation

My fishing mystery is 75,000 words now. I’m reckoning about halfway. This is a bigbook! It’s not too technical, but fishy enough to appeal to anglers. So I’ve been researching where necessary and, the easy option, picking my resident fishing expert’s brains. (We run a carp fishery here and Chris is the fish guy. I’m the llama/alpaca/scrubbing the gite toilets gal!) There isn’t actually a great deal of fiction out there for them – I’ve been looking. I’m very fond of the main character, Marcus, who is a nice guy with a few bad habits. So far so good, but I need to rethink my original planned ending – it needs another twist. A few walks should sort that out. During the school holidays I have company on my walks, which is lovely. But it does mean I can’t think, so I’ve been doing that in bed instead, which keeps me awake half the night so I’m permanently tired. It’s exhausting being creative!

Other stories are on the back burner for the moment, but I have teenage story I’m well into and would like to finish within the next few months. And plenty of ideas tossing around in my brain that need some sorting out.

Et voila! Oh, not quite, I’m blogging every day too. Taking up the WordPress post-a-day challenge was a good move. It’s making me sit and write when otherwise apathy would prevail, or at least the washing up would get done, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Forcing my brain to crank into action so  regularly is helping with my other writing. I’m sure I’m finding it easier to generate ideas now. And I take the camera practically everywhere in case a blog opportunity suddenly arises and I can tick another day off!

Knitting has been pushed slightly into the background while all this typing is going on, but tomorrow the sewing machine comes out for some crafting. My Kindle comes out every evening, and plenty of proper work is getting done too, so all in all, I’m good and productive. Long may it last.