Nos Loisirs – journal-revue from 1906

On 1st July, 105 years ago, a new magazine came out in France – Nos Loisirs. It cost ten centimes and described itself as ‘journal-revue illustré de 32 pages’.  What’s more, it claimed ‘pas une ligne, pas une gravure qui ne soit pas intéressante’ – there wouldn’t be a single line or drawing that wasn’t interesting. And is that true?

First up was a letter from the editor agreeing that readers were probably saying that there were enough magazines out there already. But this one was ‘différent’ and truly ‘populaire’ – for the people. Each week there would be new writing from well-known authors, discussions of current affairs and social problems, advice to young people, competitions, humour – everything!

This issue has a long illustrated story – The Extraordinary Adventure of M. Poulot, and then a detailed discussion of the new-fangled phonograph. Charmion, the ‘chien cambrioleur’ (burglar dog) has a column about him, and this includes one of eight photos in the journal. The other is of Séverine, whose page comes next, and she talks about women and their right to vote. She concludes by quoting a friend who says astutely: ‘Until women become voters, my dear, the men in parliament won’t do anyhing for them.’ They had to wait until 1944.

There are two more stories. Then a cartoon. “Where is St Stephen?” teacher asks a pupil, standing next to a large map of France. “In Heaven, Madam,” the child replies.

A piece of piano music takes up the centrefold. ‘Sous le Fautaies’ it’s called (In the forest of tall trees) and is in the fiendish key with four flats, whatever that is. I’ve forgotten a lot about music, which is shameful since I played the violin for years!

There’s a flyer for the novel Zezia by Paul Dumas, and then some short tips on things to talk about in conversation. One of these little nuggets is the fact that ice floes floating south from the North Polar ice will take two centuries to melt. They reckoned with global warming, obviously. Other conversation starters are the snippets that trees that grow on the south side of a hill are tougher than ones that grow on the north, and that 1.7 million children in Russia have no education. Another story, a hotel review (The St Regis Hotel in New York) and an article on home improvement – specifically how to organise your boudoir. Then there’s a competition to match silhouettes to photos, fashion advice and adverts.

All in all, quite a variety of subject matter, and I’d probably have been tempted to buy the next issue. I haven’t been able to determine how long the magazine was published for, but I’ve found copies online from 1909 so it ran for several years at least.

The woman illustrated toured the world for 71 days - with her sister as companion

I love these old magazines!

Tour de France 2011 in Creuse

Only ten days until the Tour de France blasts through Nouzerines in a blur of coloured lycra and reflective sunglasses. As you’ve seen in previous posts, signs and banners have been put up to advertise the event. However, the banners aren’t in very good nick at the moment. Strong winds last week tangled them both up. The Maire will have to get his ladder out.

The big day is 9th July. The eighth stage of the Tour goes from Aigurande to Super-Besse, via our village. The caravan is due in Nouzerines at 11.15 and the riders at 12.57. But celebrations will be underway from 9.30 with – you’ve guessed it, this being France – food and drink being on sale. Then at some point during the morning, Nouzerines will be declaring its independence. It will become a cité Royale. I’ll let you have more details when I found them out!

The Tour then hits Boussac, our local town. The caravan gets there at 11.35 and the riders at 13.14. In case you haven’t noticed, the riders are going faster than the caravan. It usually takes 15 minutes to drive to Boussac from here, Les Fragnes. The riders will only take 2 minutes longer. Awesome. Boussac is celebrating with a small market of local goods, an exhibition of old Tour jerseys and jazz music.

The villages of Lavaufranche (11.44 and 13.23) and Soumans (11.50 and 13.28) are the next on the Tour route, and will be doing a lot of eating. A giant barbecue is lined up for Lavaufranche, and Soumans is planning a pig roast. I wonder if the riders mind cycling past all this food?

To get you in a cycling mood, here are some photos from old magazines and papers of Tours gone by.

Octave Lapize in the 1910 Tour
Strasbourg 1926 - the 108 riders collect their food
The 1928 Tour
The itinerary of the 1913 Tour
The 1951 itinerary
A rider in 1961 cooling down






Belts and Books

A spotlight on Ruadhri today.

Rors getting his white/yellow belt

Last Friday he finally got his longed-for promotion in judo from white belt to white and yellow belt. He’d been bitterly disappointed not to get that at the first grading of the year, but he hung in there and has  had his reward. He does still need to work at his forward rolls though, which I’ve mentioned before!

As well as his grading certificate, he got a special diplôme d’attitude au dojo. This is to reward kids for a good attitude towards their judo and encourage them to adopt a good moral code. This one recommends respect des lieux (knowing how to behave in the dojo), ponctualité (punctuality), entraide (helping the other students), politesse (politeness), hygiène (being clean and tidy),  convivialité (being courteous and co-operative), respect des personnes (respect for others) and perseverance (perseverance).

The livre pour l'été ceremony at St Marien school

And on Monday he received a book at school. For the second year running, the livre pour l’été scheme is underway. Every child in CM1 gets a book to read during the holidays. Last year it was a copy of La Fontaine’s fables, which Ruadhri knows inside out as his previous teacher was a tad obsessed by these poems! This year the children, around 800,000 of across France, are being given Neuf contes (Nine tales) by Charles Perrault, illustrated by d’Épinal. The latter is card-maker and woodcutter Jean-Charles Pellerin. As for Perrault, he was a famous writer born in 1628, so the language may be a little tricky. The Inspector who came to lead the ceremony at St Marien School mentioned something along those lines. Rors would probably have preferred a  Smurfs comic book, but it’s a very nice gesture by the government to encourage reading and to give the kids a bit of a boost. France is always prepared to invest in education, and I’m very proud of my adopted country for that.



Shear Horror!

It has suddenly got very hot, so it was time to shear the alpacas. The shiny electric shears arrived a few weeks ago, as I mentioned in an earlier post. Time to use them.

Seamus was the guinea pig. Here he is before treatment.

It took three of us. Chris wielded the shears, I held the head end and Benj lent muscle wherever it was needed. Seamus was very good, though. He’s a very timid alpaca but he took it all in his stride. Well, OK, he lost the will to live halfway through. Llamas and alpacas are like that. They’re a bit feisty to start with, but once they realise that’s not going to change things, they give up and wait to die.

As well as managing carp lakes, Chris is a pretty nifty alpaca shearer. There are a few nobbles and bobbles, but I’ll tidy up with a pair of scissors before the trekking season begins.

Brendan decided to kush (lie down) during his ordeal which made it easier to start with, but obviously Chris couldn’t do the legs so well. Again, a quick trim will tidy Brend up. He grumbled a lot and spat a couple of times, but only half-heartedly.

We got slightly over 3kg of wool off each of the two alpacas, which is a very good haul.

I made a few mistakes. I should have swept over the stable completely and spread something a bit heavier than a sheet down to collect the wool on. The sheet got creased up under our feet and so the wool went onto the floor and picked up some straw. I’ll be able to clean it up, but it means a bit more work. And we may have to be slightly more brutal with the boys next time round. The usual way to shear an alpaca is to tie them down like this.

It looks awful but doesn’t hurt the animal and makes it much quicker and easier to shear him.

I also didn’t have sacks ready for the wool. You can’t use plastic as this makes the wool ‘sweat’ and get felted. Paper or fabric are good. I quickly rustled up some sacks out of an old sheet, but only after we done the shearing. Live and learn!

The boys will be much more comfy for the summer now, and they’ll get over the humiliation soon!


Gueret 7 June 1944

I’ve often noticed plaques on the wall in various places around Gueret. And they all have the date 7 juin 1944 on them. While waiting for Benj to take his German oral exam last Friday, I walked round and took photos of the ones I could find. Then I did some research to find out what happened in Gueret that day.

Gueret, in the free zone since 1940, was the first metropolitan prefecture (chief town of a departément) to be liberated by the résistance intérieure français (the resistance) and 7th June 1944 was the day it happened. Sadly it was short lived. The Germans retook the town on 9th June, but it was liberated again, this time permanently, on 24th August.


So what was going on in Gueret on the 7th? Creuse as a whole had been veering in favour of the resistance, away from the neutrality it was supposed to have. Starting around 5.30 am, battles between the Germans and the resistance centred on two hotels in the town. They also fought against the Vichy-controlled military police (milice), who were based at the masonic lodge in Gueret. The Germans and the milice surrendered. The people of Gueret were delighted. There was some vengeance. Collaborators were hunted out, with the cry of « A mort, vendu, salaud » and summary executions took place. But after the German lorries rumbled back into town on the 9th and re-established control, the Guérétois leaders were rounded up, and sent to Limoges for interrogation. Very few were executed as the collapse of German control of France began soon after.

As well as the three plaques I’ve shown here, there was a fourth that was in pieces. The surname Becker was visible but that’s all. I hope it will be replaced as soon as possible. We mustn’t forget these brave people and what they did that day.

Tractor Temptations

We're tempted ...

We’re test-driving a vehicle at the mo. Not a brand new Lamborghini, sad to say, but a 50 year old Mc Cormick Farmall Intenational 265 tractor. These were churned out in large quantities between the 1920s and 1970s as a sensibly priced, all purpose tractor aimed at medium-sized family farms. They could do enough of the tasks needed on the farm to reduce the reliance on hired hands, not to mention horses or mules. Farmalls were prominent in trend toward mechanising agriculture.

There are hundreds of old tractors to be seen in the farms of Creuse. I much prefer these to the increasingly enormous and powerful new ones that hurtle along the country lanes round here, completely filling them. Some are so wide that the tyres are on both grass verges. Not much room for other road users.

The small and nippy (relatively) Sea Blue

This could be tractor number 4. Tractor number 1, Rusty, was this tractor’s sibling, and the first one we bought. It was brilliant, but suffered what we’ll tactfully call antifreeze deficiency problems one winter and came to an untimely end. So we got a second tractor, which Rors named Sea Blue. This is a Fordson Dexta, a very compact but tough machine. These were only produced for seven years between 1957 and 1964. Ours is the same age as me. It’s nippy, and apart from an unfindable fuel leak and the tendency for its steering to freeze up in winter, it’s been a great investment.

Tractor number 3 was another Mc Cormick, a totally rusted up wreck that we bought for a few hundred euros as we were told the engine block was fine and so we could put it onto Rusty and get him going again. Well, it wasn’t do we didn’t. That tractor was taken off for scrap a few months ago.

Notice the essential blue string



And now we have prospective tractor number 4 sat outside. We’ve had a spin around the farm in it. What I like about the Mc Cormick’s is the passenger seat above the left rear wheel. It’s metal, of course, and destroys your backbone as you bounce around it, but it’s brilliant. So we’re trying to decide if we really need a second tractor. It’s bigger and more powerful than Sea Blue, and with old tractors, you never know what’s going to go wrong next, so if you have two, the likelihood is that at least one of them should be working at any time. If we can get the price down a bit, I think Didier has got himself a deal … especially as it comes with a free, ancient benet (metal storage/carrying box)!

Bacs Against the Wall

My two teens are taking their bacs at the moment. The bac, le baccalauréat, introduced by Napoleon in 1808, is the qualification students gain (hopefully!) at the end of their three years in lycée, when the majority of them are aged around 18. Technically it is an academically qualifying degree, so if a student definitely doesn’t want to go on to university, he or she can refuse to take the bac. However, the vast majority of students sit it.

Benj and Caiti are taking the Baccalauréat general. (There are two other types of bac – Baccalauréat technologique and Baccalauréat professionnel.) The Baccalauréat general is divided into three strings. For each one, the exams are spread over two years. Benj is doing a bac L (littéraire i.e. arts). Last year he took exams in maths and computer science, natural sciences and French language. He was assessed on a TPE (Travaux personnels encadrés) project which counted towards his final marks. He then dropped all those subjects, and this year is in the process of being examined of French literature, philosophy, history and geography, English and German. Even his achievements (or lack of) in physical education over the year are taken into consideration. Caiti is taking a bac S (sciences). This year she is taking her French language exam and will have an oral exam too. She’s already had her TPE assessment. Next year, her last one at lycée, she will sit maths, SVT (sciences vie et terre – life and earth sciences), philosophy, physics and chemistry, maths, history and geography, English and German, and get a mark for her PE during the year. As you can see, her workload will be a lot heavier than Benj’s has been this year. There is also a third type of bac – bac ES, sciences economiques and sociales.

The exams are up to four hours long, which seems rather fierce to me. The longest I ever did were 3-hour ones at A-level and then at Uni, and also when part-qualifying as an accountant. Those were quite long enough! Benj had two of these 4-hour horrors on Monday. He still looks tired!

This being France, we need to complicate things. Each exam has a coefficient i.e. a weighting, which makes some subjects more important than others. For Benj, philosophy has a coefficient (coeff) of 7, which is a bit of a pain because Benj has found it harder going than he thought it would be. However, for scientific Caits, it will only have a coeff of 3. However, Benj did well in his bac last year and got well over the 50% overall you need to pass. Those excess marks will contribute towards this year’s scores. He has another secret weapon too. He has been taking an optional European German course, which he will be examined in orally. If he gets more than 12/20 for this, those marks will be added to his overall total, giving a nice little boost. (Caiti does the same course, so she stands to benefit next year too.)

If a student’s overall mark for the bac (i.e. from all the exams over the two years) is between 8 and 10, a near miss, he or she can sit the épreuve de rattrapage. This consists of orals in two subjects that the student can choose. And if these go well and bring the average up to 10, the bac will be awarded. But if they don’t, the student has the option of retaking the final year at lycée and resitting the next June. The results come out on 5th July this year, and the épreuve de rattrapage is held over the following few days so everyone their final result very quickly after the exams. This puts England and Ireland to shame where the waiting periods of several months for exam results are frankly ridiculous.

Pass rates nationally for the bac are generally above 80%, so I don’t think my two have too much to worry about. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed anyway!

STOP PRESS: It’s emerged today, 23rd June, that a question on the bac S Maths paper, which kids took on Wednesday 22nd, was leaked on Monday. However, the education minister decided not to cancel the exam, which is what students and teachers are saying he should have done.  The question, on probability and worth 20% of the marks, is simply not being marked and the other questions, more difficult ones, are being given a higher weighting to compensate. This isn’t fair at all, since, as Caiti tells me, probability is one of the more straightforward areas and candidates can usually pick up good marks on this question. There are rumours that questions from the English paper were also leaked, but I haven’t been able to find out  much about that yet.

Euro English

I happened across this by chance the other day – a proposal to Euroify English. I think it’s absolutely brilliant! It is attributed to Dolton Edwards who wrote it some time in 194os, at the very beinning of the EU. (It’s first appearance was as the European Coal and Steel Community.)

Maybe I should try and get one up on the oppostion and write my blogs and novels in this version of English!


The European Union commissioners have announced that agreement has been reached to adopt English as the preferred language for European communications, rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of negotiations, Her Majesty’s government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five-year phased plan for what will be known as EuroEngish (Euro for short).

In the first year, “s” will be used instead of the soft “c”. Sertainly, sivil servants will reseive this news with joy. Also, the hard “c” will be replased with “k”. Not only will this klear up konfusion, but typewriters kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome “ph” will be replased by “f”. This will make words like “fotograf” 20 per sent shorter.

In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters, which have always been a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of silent “e”s in the languag is disgrasful, and they would go.

By the forth year, people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing “th” by “z” and “w” by “v”. During ze fifz year ze unesesary “o” kan be dropd from vords kontaining “ou” and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.

After zis fifz year, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trobls or difikultis and evrivum vil find it ezi tu understand ech ozer. Ze drem vil finali kum tru.

Freezing and Form Filling

The fete de la musique is officially on 21 June but often takes place on the nearest weekend instead

The fêtes continue. Saturday night I was helping the AIPB run the bar and then clear away at the Foiuilles de Vieilles Pierres at St Sylvain Bas le Roc. The bar was open air, which I hadn’t expected, and I froze since I was in barmaid attire and not a sensible, warm outfit! Today was Ruadhri’s school kermesse (another word for fête). Rors and I helped set up this morning and then this afternoon I womanned the cash box. I’m getting to be rather good at that. We cycled there and back both times, so I was in my cycling shorts. And I froze during the afternoon. A stiff, icy breeze got up from somewhere and whistled around my cash-collecting table. It wasn’t very busy at the kermesse, sadly, but not surprisingly. It was all rather last minute and the Sunday afternoon slot isn’t a good one. There’s too much going on at weekends these days. There were fêtes de la musique going on at Boussac and Vijon that I knew of in the immediate vicinity, plus numerous other fêtes a little further afield. We used to hold the kermesse on Friday evenings after school, which was very good timing. Everyone was hungry and we made a lot on food. Plus it ended promptly at seven when people drifted home for tea, even if they’d just had sandwich frites and gateau. That seemed to be a winning formula, but for whatever reason we’ve changed to Sundays and it’s not a good move. However, all the kids enjoyed themselves so it wasn’t all bad.

As well as fête season, it’s form season. There are a plethora of sheets of paper to fill in at the end of the summer term, nearly as many as at the beginning of the autumn term. So far we’ve filled out a very long grant application form for Benj. Then there are demands for school transport to be completed, plus copies of the various justificatifs to be scanned or photocopied and attached. Never mind that they’re the same ones, year in and year out. You have to supply them anew each time. And there are the moving up forms. In Ireland, and England too, it’s the norm that you move up to the next year at school, unless there are very persuasive reasons as to why not. But here it’s never that certain. Even in Ruadhri’s tiny school of around 15 pupils, there will be 1 or 2 who redouble ie repeat a year. Personally, I think it’s a bit overdone, as is the practice of kids jumping years. I know four kids who have made the saut. Apart from Caiti, who was catching up with her age group at college and had mastered French adequately, the is no obvious reason why the other children have been pushed on. They don’t appear to be child prodigies, and all that will happen is that they’ll start college before they’re really ready to in terms of maturity. It’s a puzzling practice, especially given the obsession with making kids redo a year’s schooling.

Anyway, moving up involves paperwork. A document comes home, hinting at what the outcome will be ie progressing or redoubling. You read it, sign and date it, express an opinion if you can be bothered, and return the form. This same document comes back with the official decision a month or so later. You read it, sign and date it, either accepting the decision or disputing it. You can fight a proposed redoublement and ask for it to be referred to the Academie (education committee) of your area if the school persists in insisting on it, but the Academie’s ruling is final. When I asked for Caiti to jump a year, that went to the Academie too. The school were in favour of the move, but had to get official agreement which luckily they did.

And any day now I’ll receive a wodge of things to fill in for the lycée for Caiti’s rentrée in September, but those I can ignore until the day before she goes back. And as soon as Benj gets his Bac results through, there’ll be more forms, hopefully all related to him starting at Limoges and not having to retake exams, or redo Terminale.

So, keep a pen handy at this time of year is my advice!


Blog 1, France 0

Well, I’m delighted. This blog won an award this week – the Expat Focus Recommended Website Award. It’s given to “outstanding expat websites” which meet Expat Focus’s four criteria:

Usefulness: it provides helpful information for others moving to or living in a foreign country

Integrity: it’s an honest, responsible site

Activity: updated frequently or with active forums

Free: doesn’t require a subscription.

If you’re an expat, you should defintitely check out Expat Focus . It’s a site crammed full of advice and experience.

So that’s my second award. I got my Stylish Blogger award back in February, courtesy of Vanessa Couchman.

But France hasn’t got an award this week – in fact, the country is facing a fine of 17 million euro from the European Court of Justice for not adequately protecting the Giant Hamster of Alsace. No I’m not making this up. Cricetus cricetus, the European or Black-Bellied Hamster, is native to parts of Western Europe including northern France and extending across to Russia and Kazakhstan. It’s now endangered in Europe, although globally there are plenty of them left. They were trapped for fur in the past which is why numbers declined.

They certainly are giant as hamsters go, being up to 35 cm long. That’s a foot of hamster! And unlike pet hamsters, this one has a furry tail up to 6 cm long. It’s nocturnal but at least this species doesn’t keep you awake playing in its squeaky wheel all night. It lives in a complex burrow system, with a generous storage area. It’s said this can hold up to 65 kg of food. That’s more than I have in my kitchen by miles. In typical hamster fashion, the animal transports this ‘food for later’ in its stretchy cheeks.

Giant Hamsters hibernate from October to March, a bit like my daughter. To make up for lost time, they begin breeding in April, provided they’re at least 43 days old, and produce a new litter of anything up to 15 babies every 3 weeks. And yet they’re endangered! France really must do something about the urbanisation and agricultural policies that are making life so tough for this interesting little creature.