A Song for Europe

Pic from Amazon.com

As a self-confessed and beyond-help Eurovision junkie, I couldn’t resist buying Simon Lipson’s A Song for Europe. I stumbled across it by accident when I was messing with my Kindle one evening. I punched in Eurovision to see what it would come up with. Would you believe 12 items? Actually, 8 of them appear to be the same book. A Song for Europe was sensible priced at $8.62 so I hit the buy button. (It’s very easy to hit it, a bit too easy – a lot of work must have gone into Kindle’s design to facilitate that.)

Why do I like the Eurovision Song Contest so much? It’s so alive and vibrant. It’s truly European (plus a few other countries like Israel and Turkey who can enter because they’re within the European Broadcasting Area). It’s such a kick to think that millions of people across Europe and beyond are watching the same thing at the same time, rather than slumping in national isolation in front of their usual TV programmes. And there’s so much talent out there. So many different musical styles. So many different ideas of what cool outfits are. Most entrants sing in English, and there’s the odd moment when the words don’t quite make sense or sound quite right. Last year’s ‘What for are we living?’ from Latvia is a good example. But who cares, it’s a great song and Aisha performed it well. Long live Eurovision.

And it’s live. Nerves attack, morons jump on stage to join in, the presenters fluff their lines or interrupt each other in the wrong place. What’s going to happen next? It’s compulsive viewing. We watch the BBC version and commentator Graham Norton is the natural successor to Wogan, who made it impossible for anyone to ever take the competition seriously again.

But let’s look at the book. At first glance, the story outline is almost sad. Personable Mike Kenton loses his job and that’s the final nail in the coffin of his crumbling marriage. He finally moves out of his nice house, away from the two daughters he adores, and settles into a poky flat. He turns to his music again, and is spotted by music executive Ben in a tatty bistro. Ben asks if he can enter one of Mike’s songs into the Eurovision Song Contest. Does this rocket Mike into superstardom and solve all his personal problems? I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but it’s not predictable. The book is too realistic for that. A couple of other women emerge to complicate things further too.

2010 Eurovision

This is a really well-written book. Mike is portrayed so realistically – his love for his kids, his depression, his nerves, his indecisiveness. The dialogue is modern and natural i.e. there’s plenty of swearing. Five year old Millie is one of the worst culprits, a nice touch. (Every child goes through the swearing phase to their parents’ chagrin – I mean, where else did they get it from? We can’t blame école in our youngest son’s case as he swears in English.) Mike gets a taste of stardom but he keeps his feet firmly on the ground, like the book does.

Amazon summarises the book as: A laugh-out-loud comedy about love, family, friendship and Euro- tack by acclaimed stand-up and comedy writer Simon Lipson. I agree, but there’s more to the book than that. You’re also almost in tears at times, and the stage fright descriptions seriously make you feel ill.

Entertaining all the way through, this is an excellent read by a top-rate author. Buy it now and you’ve got time to finish it before the Song Contest on 14 May. You’ll look at the event with new eyes now.

Simon has a website at www.simonlipson.com

Daily snippets for 30 April

Today’s saint: Saint Robert of Molesmes

Famous French person born this day: in 1245 King Philip III of France

Famous French person who died on this day: Eustache Le Sueur in 1655, painter and founder of the French Academy of painting

Today’s word: une chanson – song

Dog Gone Blog

The new turkeys

Actually, it’s not – fortunately – but it might have been. And I like the title! (You might remember the Dog Blog of a few months ago.) A thunderstorm on Wednesday night, but nothing like as bad as Monday’s humdinger though, freaked our dog Nessie out and she ran away. At least that is what we think happened. She might have chased a deer and then got lost. Anyway, she was in the garden at 8pm but nowhere to be seen at 10pm when I called her in. She sleeps in the house but spends the day outside usually. Chris and I wandered off in the rain in our nightwear and wellies and checked around the outbuildings and down the tracks, but no sign. We began looking again at 6.30am on Thursday morning, Chris on foot, me on my bike. Still fruitless.

The old turkey

I took a temporary break to go and pick up our first three turkeys of the year. Luckily they didn’t know that this is currently in our fridge (the last of last  year’s batch).  We’ve installed them in a run in the alpaca shed, where they’ll be warm and dry while they get used to other poultry, and us. We’ll let them start free-ranging in about a week’s time.

Chris uses this recipe to cook our turkeys, and they turn out absolutely delicious.


Then back to dog searching. Caiti had just finished designing a lost dog poster when there was a knock at the door. Our new English neighbours from Buzzycluck Farm had come round to ask if we’d lost our dog, because they had one very like her at their house! She’d turned up last night and taken up residence in their barn. So I jumped in the car and went to retrieve our lost and stray. She was pleased to see me but very guilty!

Thank goodness we’ve got her back. We missed falling over her and seeing her chase the military aircraft and bark at herons, and she’d only been gone a short while.

Here’s a photo of my boule de neige shrub to round off this blog. This is such beautiful plant. I may have to relocate it before too long as these can grow pretty big and I put it right next to the house. The flowers don’t last long, sadly, but while they do, they’re magnificent.

Daily snippets for 29 April

Today’s Saint: Saint Catherine of Siena

Famous French person born this day: Jean Charles Emmanuel Nodier in 1780, Gothic author

Famous French person who died this day: Paul Belloni du Chaillu in 1903, anthropologist

Today’s word: chien errant – stray dog

Today’s expression: avoir du chien – to have a certain something


You Know You’re Fully Frenchified When …

You may be an ex-pat, but you know you’re as French as you’ll ever be when:

  1. It no longer even occurs to you to go shopping at lunchtime.
  2. www.pdclipart.org/

    You dunk your croissant in your coffee.

  3. You shrug at least ten times during every conversation.
  4. You blame everything on Parisians.
  5. You actually enjoy French television programmes.
  6. You wouldn’t dream of coming back from the shops without a baguette and a tub of fromage blanc.
  7. You arrive everywhere half an hour late.
  8. You sing along to Jonny Halliday records.
  9. You no longer hanker after Heinz salad cream or McVitie’s digestives.
  10. You know the names of a good few of France’s 629 different types of cheese.

Any more suggestions?

Daily snippets for 28 April:

Today’s Saint: St Valerie, martyred in the second century

Famous French person born this day: in 1912, Odette Sansome Hallowes, French resistance worker

Famous French person who died this day: Peter Chanel, missionary and martyr

Today’s French word: patriotique – patriotic

Today’s expression: les grands esprits se recontrent – great minds think alike


Cop Out Blog

I hope it doesn’t seem too much of a cop out, but I’m going to point you in the direction of my Books Are Cool blog today. I’ve been beavering away on that this last week. There are some more book reviews up, details about some more of my books and plenty of new posts, so do catch up on it. I’ve also dished out an Unexpected Index Award!

Apathy hasn’t struck at the Blog in France end – just exhaustion! This morning I had a good, long bike ride, and then a food shopping session (ugh) at Boussac, amazingly accompanied by Ruadhri, voluntarily! That was a nice treat for me. Washing, washing-up, animal husbandry came next and then a gentle hour’s lugging lumps of tree to the trailer from our woods, followed by splitting and stacking all the logs. Now that I’ve sat down at my computer to be creative, nothing’s happening! And I know I had a really good idea for this post a little while ago …

Approaching Thunderstorm by Martin Johnson Heade

We had a major thunderstorm last night (Monday). It went on for well over an hour, and the fuses kept tripping. Finally some much-needed rain for us. Nessie, the dog, couldn’t cope and tried to hide in a corner of the lounge. She can’t handle thunder at all. In contrast, the llamas and alpacas didn’t seem to notice. A couple of them didn’t even try to get out of the pouring rain and hail. They’re very stoic and resigned animals – possibly not very bright!

Normal blogging service will be resumed tomorrow.

Daily snippets for 27 April

Today’s saint:  Saint Zita of Lucques, born around 1218

Today’s dicton: À la Ste Zita, le froid ne dure pas. (It won’t stay cold on Saint Zita’s day.)

Famous French person born on this day: Marc-Antoine Parseval des Chênes, in 1755, mathematician

Famous French person died on this day: Olivier Messiaen in 1992, musician and ornithologist. He incorporated birdsong transcriptions into most of his music.

Today’s French words: l’épuisement – exhaustion / la paresse – laziness (which am I really suffering from?)

Today’s French expression: avoir un coup de barre – to be worn out

Good Reading from 1909

Tame on the outside, but quite explosive underneath!

Old magazine time again. We have quite a pile of Les Bonnes Lectures (Good Reading) from 1909 which I had never given much attention to, until today. Since it’s April, I started browsing through the April edition to see what good people were reading about 102 years ago.

Les Bonnes Lectures announces itself to be a ‘revue mensuelle pour la conservation et l’accroissement de la Foi’ – ‘a monthly review aimed at consolidating and expanding your religious faith’. Now that’s a good intention if ever I heard one. And in case you doubted the claim, the inside front cover has testimonies verifying that Les Bonnes Lectures does what it says on the tin from two vicars, one priest and a curé. To ensure there’s no let-up in your attention, page 2 sees the headline: Un Fléau National – A national calamity. What could this be? A table of figures is presented, taken from the most recent census, showing that 1,804,710 households are childless, 2,966,171 only have one child, 2,661,978 a mere two, and it continues to the last two figures of 34 households with 17 children, and 45 with 18 or more. (I had to go off for a cup of tea at this point, imagining myself with another 15 alongside my existing 3 kids!) If I were a good mathematician I would probably be able to work out the average family size for 1909 from the full table. At a guess, I would put it around 7 or 8 children.

So, is it the large family size which is the calamity? Au contraire, it’s the small families and the selfishness – égoïsme – of the parents who don’t produce at least a dozen offspring. Personally I would have thought poverty had a lot more to do with it.

The rest of the magazine seems to be equally outspoken. There are a few pages warning of the dangers of reading ‘La mauvaise presse’ – gutter press. Alongside the tyranny of these bad newspapers, ‘l’autocratie de Louis XIV était un jeu d’enfant’ (i.e. living under Louis XIV was like a walk in the park compared with 1909). There is an article by Marie-Ange warning how the Devil makes work for idle hands (and it’s stressed that this is originally a German saying); a poem about St Joan of Arc; a sermon about St Philip; a story (Tante Noisette ou le Drapeau Sauvé – Aunt Hazelnut or the defence of the flag); the fourth part of a series on the moral education of children; a legend called Le Jardin du Roi (the King’s garden); a fable warning against pride – La Violette Ambitieuse (the vain violet); two improving tales for children, and finally another sermon.

Two ads from the magazine

The last couple of pages have an advert for a pilgrimage to Rome organised by the Ligue des Femmes Françaises and some other adverts. What did advertisers think readers of Les Bonnes Lectures were after? Honey sweets, music for songs especially written for Christian families, medicine for indigestion, sewing machines, powders to relieve rheumatism and seed catalogues. Well, you’d need to plant a lot of veg to feed your 18 children!

Appearances can be deceptive. The magazine is dull looking with a drab blue cover and a serious sort of picture on it. There is only one more illustration in it, until you get to the adverts, and that’s a picture of St Dominic on the children’s page. But it’s full of strong opinions, powerful sentiment, original interpretations and a lot of good intentions. Whether you agree with the viewpoints or not, it actually is a pretty good read.

(Other posts about some of the old magazines we inherited when we moved into Les Fragnes are Cycling Season, La Mode Illustrée and Monday Méli-Mél0)

Daily snippets for 26 April

Today’s Saint: St Alida

Famous French person born this day: in 1798 Eugene Delacroix, painter

Famous French person who died this day: in 1893 controversial athlete Violette Morris

Today’s word: la famille nombreuse – large family


Come on a Bike Ride

Chris and Rors went shooting, Caiti was in bed for the long haul and Benj was nursing his sprained ankle. So I had Easter morning to myself. I went for a bike ride.

The young cows in the field opposite our gateway were interested when I appeared. Did I mean feeding time? They came over for a closer look.

These guys are a mixture of Charolais and Charolais/Limousin crosses

I turned right and went to investigate the new sign Caiti had spotted further down the road, passing a huge bunch of Solomon’s Seal flowers on the way. This plant is lily-of-the-valley’s big brother.

I soon came to the new sign. It declares: 9 juillet le tour de france passe par ici. It’s very hard to read though! There are some jolly and patriotic blue, white and red stripes too. We still can’t quite believe how close the Tour is coming this year!

It's the tall wooden sign ...

Tucked behind the roadsigns and is a wooden cross, inscribed with ‘La Croix de Bléron’. I shall have to look into this.

I stopped at the edge of Nouzerines to admire the view of the nearly-finished new spire.

Still scaffolding around the tower but the work is almost done

Just a little further down the road is a stone cross and St Clair’s miraculous fountain.

The water of St Clair's fountain cures eye diseases

The next cross I came to was on the other side of the village. This time it’s an iron one.

I put my head down and chewed up the kilometres for a good half hour, stopping only to take a picture of the death slide. This hangs precariously over the road. Someone didn’t like their kids!

I wouldn't fancy climbing up there!

The next photo is quite close to home. Chambon is a derilict farmstead down the road from us. There are connections between it and Les Fragnes, our farm, that I’m in the process of investigating.

A typical sight in Creuse - an abandoned farm

The cows opposite the gate had decided it was going to rain when I got back. They were all lying down. I nipped down our drive, put my bike away, downloaded my photos and tucked into one of the Chef in Wellies’ wonderful hot cross buns. All in all, a very pleasant morning.


Daily snippets for 25 April

Today’s saint: St Mark, who introduced Christianity to Africa

Famous French person born on this day: in 1270, King Louis IX of France

Famous French person died this day: staying on a royal theme, in 1566, Diane of Poitiers, the mistress of Henri II

Today’s French word: vélo – bicycle

Today’s French expression: Ça remonte à la nuit des temps That’s as old as the hills. (Perhaps my crosses are.)






Happy Easter

You’ll be too busy eating chocolate to have much time for blogging, so a quick one today.

First up a photo of Ruadhri’s Easter Garden. He was in a rotten mood when he started it on Saturday afternoon, but he ended up enjoying the project, despite himself!

The main reason for his grumpiness was that the great bunch of guests who’d been in our gite for a week had gone home that morning. Ruadhri had made friends with the three boys, Alfie, Charlie and Freddie, and they’d been playing together most of the week. He really misses them, especially Alfie. They got on like a house on fire (99% of the time!).

Another contributing factor to the bad mood was that Rors reckoned his dad had cheated during a match of Beybladez. Unlikely, since neither Chris nor I have been able to fathom out the rules, at least as told to us by our youngest son!

Alfie and Ruadhri had a brilliant time together

Here are some seasonal bunny and egg related jokes to make your smile, or probably groan, on Easter Day. (The daily snippets about today’s saint, famous people and French word are at the end of this post – you’ll just have to read the jokes first!)

Have a great day. Joyeuses Pâques !

What is the difference between a crazy bunny and a counterfeit banknote? One is bad money and the other is a mad bunny!

Why did the other rabbits say that the Easter Bunny was self-centered? Because he was eggo-centric!

What do you get when you cross a bunny with an onion? A bunion.

What did the bunny want to do when he grew up? Join the Hare Force.

What do you get when you pour hot water down a rabbit hole? A hot cross bunny.

How do you post a bunny? Hare mail.

What happened to the egg when he was tickled too much? He cracked up.

What does a bunny use when it goes fishing? A hare-net.

What did the rabbit say to the carrot? It’s been nice gnawing ya.

What do you call a rabbit with fleas? Bugs Bunny.

What kind of book does a rabbit like at bedtime? One with a hoppy ending.

Why are people always tired in April? Because they’ve just finished a March.

How can you tell which rabbits are the oldest in a group? Just look for the grey hares.

What do you call ten rabbits marching backwards? A receding hareline.

What do you call a sleeping egg? Egg-zosted!

Why did the rabbit cross the road? Because the chicken had his Easter eggs.

Why did the egg cross the road? Because it wasn’t a chicken yet!

What do you call a dumb bunny? A hare brain.


Daily snippets

Today’s Saint: St Fidelis of Sigmaringen (where Benj and Caits have been on an exchange visit with lycée) – a counter-reformist martyred by the Calvinists

Famous French person born this day: in 1952, Jean-Paul Gaultier, fashion designer

Famous French person who died this day: in 1939, Louis Trousselier, cyclist

Today’s French word: une blague – joke

Today’s French expression – avoir le cafard (to have the cockroach, be down in the dumps). Example: Ruadhri a le cafard parce que son ami Alfie est parti.

Three Weeks to Get Naked

I’m giving you plenty of warning so you can psych yourselves up for this. World Naked Gardening Day is in three weeks’ time on Saturday 14 May – the same day as the Eurovision Song Contest. The latter a big event in our house, well, at least for the female contingent. My mum was addicted so I used to watch with her, and groan when she voted for Israel and Malta without fail every time, and now I carry on the tradition with my daughter. The whole thing kind of sucks you in…

But back to naked gardening. The official site is here. Why do it? According to the site: First of all, it’s fun! Second only to swimming, gardening is at the top of the list of family-friendly activities people are most ready to consider doing nude. I wonder who they asked to get that result! And how do you do it? Do so alone, with friends, with family, with your gardening club, or with any other group collected for that purpose. Do it inside your house, in your back yard, on a hiking trail, at a city park, or on the streets. Stay private or go public. Make it a quiet time or make it a public splash. Just get naked and make your part of the botanical world a healthier and more attractive place.

This rather clever poem appears on the site too:


In Winter, when the trees are bare,
We mortals don our winter wear.
In Spring, when trees begin to dress,
We mortals then start wearing less,
Until, for some, with Summer’s heat
The role reversal is complete.

Are you tempted to join in on World Naked Gardening Day? Go on – give it a go. (I’ve mentioned it before in this post about 2010.)

His left ankle shouldn't be that shape

I’ve been getting ready for Easter today, writing up the treasure hunt clues for the children so they can find their Easter treats. In Ireland these were always Easter Eggs, but over here it might be a chicken or a fish or a bell. There’s a lot more variety of Easter goodies in France. We started this tradition when Benjamin was tiny and have done it every year without fail. I write the clues, print them and laminate them, cut them up and then always get myself in a knot putting them in the right order around our farm. Benj gets a reprieve this year as he’s laid up with a sprained ankle. He started a fitness campaign yesterday, went for a training jog with a friend and managed to twist his ankle. Maybe he should have stayed unfit.

Here’s his one clue for 2011:

Dear Benj, we’ll let you off this year. / Your Easter fish is nice and near.

It’s behind the door you rarely ope / Because you are a lazy bloke!!!

(But we still love you! XXX)

Chris got it in one when I showed him – the dishwasher. Eldest Son has immense difficulty in putting anything in this machine.

Ruadhri during a previous, chillier ride

We had another lovely, sunshiney bike ride this morning, doing a circuit round Vijon and other small villages. Ruadhri didn’t stop once. I was mega impressed at this fitness and determination, since it’s a rolling ride with some very steep hills. And especially because he’d been grumbling about having to go for a ride at all. It turns out there was an ulterior motive. Chris had told Rors that the quicker we got the bike ride done, the sooner he could go and play with the three little boys who are staying in our gite this week. Rors has had a wonderful time with Alfie, Charlie and Freddie since they got here and he’s really going to miss them. A few nice long bike rides should distract him …

Daily snippets for 23 April

Today’s Saint: St George of course!

Famous French person born this day: Joan of France, Duchess of Berry in 1464 – Queen of France

Famous French person who died on this day: Baron Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin in 1839, admiral and explorer

Today’s word: la cheville – ankle



I had a computer crisis during the week. Thunderbird, my email program, suddenly stopped working. Chris patiently spent an afternoon sorting the problem out, and in the end installed a new program, Opera, instead. Opera happily uploaded the 30,000 emails in my archives. 30,000?!? I couldn’t believe it. Now, there do appear to be two copies of every email there, ones I’ve sent as well as those I’ve received, but that’s still a heck of a lot of emails. A ridiculous amount.

So I’m getting e-organised. I have unsubscribed from a lot of newsletters that I simply didn’t look at any more, but was too lazy to do anything about. Which was pathetic, since it takes about thirty seconds to go through the unsubscribe procedure, if that. I’ve also permanently deleted a lot of old emails. I actually thought I’d got rid of them, but they’d been sat in cyber limbo somewhere, waiting to be either summoned into existence again, or debyted or devirtualised or whatever the term for obliterating an email is. They’ve gone for good now.

I’ve also lost one of my email addresses altogether, but that’s done me a huge favour as it’s the one I tended to use to sign up to things with overzealous enthusiasm, such as Google Alerts. I had totally overdone those so will restart, possibly, in a much more civilised fashion. I’ll wait a few days first to see if I can live without them.

My e-organisation doesn’t stop there. I’ve accumulated 162 posts on this blog now, and they’re starting to add up on Books Are Cool too. I was getting to the point of not being sure if I’d written about something before. True, there’s the A-Z index, but I couldn’t remember exactly what I’d covered in the less precisely named posts such as ‘Wired’ or ‘End of a Revolution’ or ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Nodes and Nudes’, for example. So, my inner indexer emerging again, I’ve compiled a cross-referenced record of all my posts and what they’re about. I used a small répertoire – address book – to do it, and a couple of highlighters, and I’m very proud of the end results. It’ll help me stay on track and not repeat myself too often, all being well.

Vendredi Saint – Good Friday – today. Caitlin, the Chef in Wellies, is rustling up some hot-cross buns as I write. Those are essential Easter eating in our household. As is chocolate, of course. I have quite a stash waiting for Sunday. And our last 2010 turkey, in the freezer. (This year’s batch arrive next week. I’ve gone for three whites, three blacks and three bronzes (grises).) So there’ll be turkey gobbling to add to the other animal noises at the farm in the very near future.

Daily snippets for 22 April

Today’s saint: St Alexandre, martyred by crucifixion in 178 at Lyons.

Famous French person born this day: in 1766, Madame de Staël, writer

Famous French person who died this day: Antoine de Jussieu in 1758, naturalist

Today’s words: une dinde – turkey; un dindonneau – turkey poult (young turkey): un dindon – male turkey


Noisy Nights and Days

It’s noisy here these days. The birds are in full song now that spring is here. And it’s wonderful. All night long the nightjars (or possibly nightingales) are singing. It’s so weird to hear beautiful birdsong in the pitch black of night. Whenever I get up at night, which is frequently at the moment since I’m a dreadful insomniac these days, I have to open the door to listen. It’s just so magical. At the same time as listening, I’m fending off the cats whose sole aim in life seems to be to get into the house. And the owls hoot during the nighttime hours too.

Hoopoe - a rare visitor

Come morning, those birds stop singing and all the others start up – there are so many different ones. As well as the songbirds, today a pheasant was klaxoning out in one of our fields. A cuckoo joined in, and in the background woodpeckers were energetically battering the trees. Jays and herons croaked as they took off. The other day we even had a hoopoe whooping. Wild ducks quack as they fly over or forage in our fields and swim on our lakes. We wonder if one of our ‘bantlings’ is back. These are the wild ducks our bantam hatched two years ago now. There were five that made it through chickhood, and they all flew off eventually after a few months with us. But a wild duck is in the alpaca field every morning, looking very much at home there, and she’s not as shy of us as wild ones usually are. Perhaps she’s come home.

Spot the guinea pig

Our chickens cluck happily to themselves all day, and turn up the volume sharply when it’s egg laying time. (Well, wouldn’t you?) There are outbursts of aggrieved squawking when a hen finds that someone is already on the current favourite nest so she’s going to have to hang on if possible! And to get away from birds, the guinea pigs chatter contentedly as they run around the garden. We’ve given up putting them in their runs as they always escape, so we simply let them run free all day now. Daft things – they find somewhere to hide, and spend their time there. Their current favourite place is underneath Ruadhri’s Action Man car.

Cows low in the distance, our llamas hum from time to time, and the carp make the occasional splash as they lurch out of the water for an insect on the surface. We rarely have the radio on – there’s more than enough to listen to without it.

Daily snippets for 21 April

Today’s Saint: St Anselme of Canterbury, a monk and philosopher

Famous French person born this day: Michel Rolle, mathematician, in 1652. He was born in Ambert, a town in the Auvergne that I love.

Famous French person who died this day: Jean Racine, playwright, in 1699

Today’s word: oiseau – bird