Summer Revision

Revision books for kids for during the summer holidays are big business here in France. Every major educational publisher produces them, and every newsagent, bookshop and supermarket stocks them. And they sell well.

But why? Don’t kids learn anything at school during the year? Do they really need to work during the summer too?

France takes education seriously. As I’ve written elsewhere, schooldays are long, the curriculum is broad and there’s a positive attitude about learning at every level. The French government is prepared to support its schools and students. And on the whole, parents are too. So, although children of every age learn plenty during the school year, there’s a willingness to make sure kids are up to scratch on the various subjects during the holidays. Every student is sick at some point during the year and misses being taught certain topics. A spot of holiday revision means they can catch up.



Are they any good?

Educationalists have mixed opinions on the subject of these revision and activity books. Some say they don’t do much good, others that they’re brilliant. I go with my gut feeling. Until the other day, I had only ever bought one for Ruadhri the summer he finished at maternelle (2007). I wanted to make sure he’d picked something up during his first year. The teacher had told me he understood well but didn’t talk much, but I felt the need to make sure the first part of that statement was true! It was – Rors breezed through the activities in his holiday book. And I’m sure he’ll do the same this summer too. However, towards the end of term, he was coming out with some strange theories about maths. He assured us that the fraction 7/7 was bigger than 6/6. Nope, I argued, they both equalled one so they were the same. My maths isn’t great but even I was sure about that one. Mais non, my youngest responded. Teacher had said if there was a bigger number on the bottom, then it was bigger, full stop. Hmm. His school report had a few more ECAs (= en course d’acquistion i.e. not quite got the hang of yet) than I’d have liked to have seen, and on top of the fact that teacher didn’t hold any meetings with parents to discuss their children’s progress during the year, which I’m pretty sure she should have, I decided we needed to do a spot of work over the vacances. Rors has one more year at primary school before moving up to collège, so I want to make sure he’s covered all the groundwork. (One of Ruadhri’s ECAs related to his mastery of the COD – complément d’objet direct, which sounds as scary as it is. French grammar is a minefield – however, we’ll do our best.)


Hachette Education

I’ve bought Ruadhri Hachette Education’s ‘Jouer pour Réviser du CM1 au CM2, 9-10 ans’. It looks fun. It’s colourful, lively and the subjects are all mixed up so there’s no great chunk of maths or French in one foreboding lump. English is covered too, so those pages will give Rors a boost when we come across them. And it comes with a free pencil! It has to be said that Hachette are rather good with the educational stuff. I subscribed Ruadhri to their Tout l’Univers encyclopaedia series. This arrived in parts over several months. It’s a real treasure trove of facts. The drawback is that the cellophane-wrapped block of pages come all muddled up. You have to rip each one off and file it away at the correct point page-wise in the relevant section of the numerous folders that come with the series. This takes ages and you rapidly lose the will to live during the exercise. Well, I do. However, it does also mean that the kids are actually looking at the material. If it came pre-sorted, then the danger would be that it would never get opened. We never get many pages sorted at a time because Ruadhri quickly becomes engrossed in reading them. Which is good! Maybe by the end of the summer we’ll have it all organised.

You don’t have to pay out to do some summer revision with the children. There are oodles of websites offering free activities and printable sheets and exercises. One good example is Ma Primaire. It isn’t the highest tech or the snazziest looking, but it’s solid  and the material is there. We’ll be trawling through its webpages, and through other sites too, over the next few weeks.

Caiti is planning to do some revision too. Her six-month illness took its toll on her marks, and she missed quite a lot of days of school in the end. She’s an extremely motivated student, although an even more motivated sleeper, and she wants to do well in her Bac. So, it could be quite a quiet holiday with everybody’s heads down.

All Work and No Play – Not at Les Fragnes!

But it’s not all work and no play here, no way. Just to prove it, a photo of a lively Beybladez match going on between Rors and his dad. I’d been winning, which is why I was sent off to take a photo! (And look at our poor brown lawn, but there still isn’t officially a drought in Creuse.)



Good Start to Summer

Caiti, Chris and Benj

The summer holidays have got off to a good start. OK, we’re getting up a bit later than usual, but the animals don’t seem to notice that breakfast has been moved back a little. So long as food and water arrive, they’re happy.We’ve mended fences, cycled, swum, pottered, gardened, worked – all very satisfying.

And great news this morning. Benj passed his exams and has his Bac. He got a mention assez bien, which means he got between 12 and 14 out of 20. He’s thrilled with that, as one paper didn’t go well and he never really got on with philosophy which had a very heavy weighting for students taking Bac L (littérature). I explained how Bacs work in this recent post. So, Benj will be off to Unilim i.e. the University of Limoges in October, and I shall move into his bedroom as my office. Finally a peaceful place for writing where I can spread out a bit. I currently work at my tiny écritoir in the corner of the lounge, which is OK, but I’m happy to upgrade! Quite what will happen during the holidays, I’m not sure. I don’t think the llamas will mind Benj joining them!

We are going to be Organised this holiday. We had a family meeting yesterday and set a vague schedule of places to see (Beauval zoo, Sazeray castle, some Roman ruins near Argentan), jobs that must be done (polytunnel, fencing for sheep field, wood cutting) and when friends can come and stay. Rors will be starting on paper briquette production shortly. They take ages to dry so we need to start now! He’s also begun making things to sell in my shop. (We sell llama-y souvenirs to trekkers, or at least try to. French people are hard to part from their money.) We’ll be doing llama treks, but we’re not pushing that element of our business for the time being. We have enough with the gite and fishery, Chris’s web design and my writing. Plus we only have three trekking animals this year, and one of those, Brendan the alpaca, has had a sudden flood of hormones and gets bolshy when he’s taken away from Windy, the llama. He’s broken into the girl’s field four of five times now (hence the fence mending I mentioned in the opening paragraph). It’s a doomed love affair, she’s not the slightest bit interested in him. We’re hoping he’ll calm down soon.

The hot, dry weather continues. It’s the driest we’ve ever seen it in our five years here. Our lawn is dead and the veg need watering every night. The waterbutts are nearly empty though, so we’ll have to switch from showers to baths and use the water from those, otherwise it could be a pumpkinless winter and that would never do. We’re setting off early for bike rides since it’s so hot. I don’t know how the Tour de France cyclists cope with racing through the severe heat of the day. We were more than warm enough by 10 o’clock when we got back. It was a full family ride today. One of our family meeting decisions was that everyone gets up by 8.30am, so that we can get out on the bikes by 9. It was a nice ride, quite a hilly one. And I saw my first sunflowers of the summer, so it was well worth the effort.

Fêteful Day

Caiti painting her own face first!

It was the AIPB summer fête Sunday afternoon. Caiti was in charge of face painting and I was keeping an eye on the turkey, hen and guinea pigs we’d brought along as a mini pets corner. Limpy, the hen, behaved atrociously. She kept beating up the turkey when they were in the run together, so she had to put back in her box. The guinea pigs didn’t really enter into the spirit of the thing either. They huddled up in a heap in their cage, so we got a couple of them out at a time for people to stroke if they wanted.

Caiti was in her element. She didn’t get a lot of customers sadly. The fête had a steady stream of visitors but numbers were rather thin this year. We were competing against Wimbledon men’s final, the Tour de France and a big loto at the Salle Polyvalante in Boussac. This time of year there are lots of things happening every weekend. My personal feeling is that we should move to earlier in the year, maybe May. There’s less competition and during term time people seem to make more effort to go out at weekends. Things tend to fall apart during the holidays in France.  Caiti rattled off a host of beautiful butterflies, a pack of ferocious tigers and one lone dog. They were excellent. She’s a very artistic young lady.

Souvenir performing

The fête was fun. People had put a lot of work into the stalls. There was hoop-la, a tombola, guess the weight of the cake, duck hooking, name the monkey, how many sweets in the jar – all the good old favourites of an English summer fête. There were stalls, food and a bar, and donkey rides. And excellent music from some drummers and the local group Souvenir. It deserved lots more support. But everyone who was there had a great time, which is what it’s all about.

Suffolk in France

Lavenham and Debenham

We finally have some sheep. We’ve bought two Suffolk ewes from Edouard, the farmer who makes our hay and grows some cereals on our land. Suffolk is my county – I was born and bred in Ipswich – so I’m rather chuffed. We’re calling the girls Lavenham and Debenham after two pretty Suffolk villages not too far from my home town.

Suffolks are very popular in France. They’re a good all-rounder sheep, producing good wool and also plenty of meat.

What fate awaits our girls? Given that sheep are quite expensive, and having seen how lovely these two are, I’m now tempted to spare them from the freezer this autumn and instead invest in a ram and breed all our future supply of lamb. We have the space here.

At the moment they’re settling in. We’ve put them in the small stable for a few days so they get used to us, and us to them. They’re still slightly traumatised from the journey here and the unloading ceremony. I missed their arrival as I was on judo duty, but Chris explained that Edouard lifted and them by their front legs. He handed one to Chris to carry in, and he can now confirm that sheep are a lot heavier than they look! We’re used to lugging relatively delicate alpacas and llamas around. We’ll have to develop sheep wrestling muscles.

Before they go into a field, probably Denis and Maisie’s, we’re going to have to do a good fence check. The sole purpose in life of a sheep is to escape, I’m reliably informed by other sheep owners. We’re accustomed to boundary-respecting camelids. I dare say we have a steep learning curve ahead of us!

So I now have two of France’s nine and a half million sheep.

And a quick update … our polytunnel is nearing completion – slowly!



Celebrations and Cornflake Ice-cream

Today, 2nd July, is Ruadhri’s 10th birthday. That’s huge!

New born Ruadhri

He’s come a long way. He was born six weeks early and his first 48 hours were touch and go. Here’s a picture of him all wired and tubed up in his incubator during his early hours. As you can see he’s a bit gory – they didn’t waste time cleaning him up before they started treating him. He was given caffeine to keep his heart beating, which I’m sure explains why he has always been partial to a nice cup of tea! Ruadhri weighed in at 4 lbs 9 oz, 2.09 kg. How we agonised every ounce that he put on or lost at the time. Each one was so important. He was skin and bone for eight years but is a nice sturdy young man now, thank goodness! I’m obviously eternally grateful to the doctors and nurses at the Bon Secours hospital in Cork for taking care of him.

No party this year, though. Ruadhri and birthday parties haven’t been a good combination and after a major tantrum and sulk at last year’s bash, Chris and I decided enough is enough. There are some things you don’t want to go through again! We’ll have a traditional Dagg birthday tea with pizza, Pringles, home-made cake (by the chef in wellies) and fizzy drinks. And this year, since Caiti has her ice-cream maker, there’ll be ice-cream too. I mean, what more do you need to celebrate?

Ruadhri has spent exactly half of his ten years in Ireland, and half in France. He is a totally French boy now. He’s the most likely of the three to use a French word instead of an English one, or the English version of a French expression. For example, he’ll sometimes say: “I can’t arrive at doing this” instead of “I can’t do this”. The French use the verb ‘arriver’ to mean ‘to acheive/to manage’. He’s addicted to bandes desinnées (comic books) and his four-course school dinners!

Today is the first day of the summer holidays in France. There will be chaos on the roads around Paris and on some stretches of motorway. It will take a few days, but we’ll soon slip into a holiday routine. Computing hours will be strictly controlled! We’re planning lots of bike rides and some days out. Hopefully we’ll have a good few llama trek clients during the summer too.

So lots of reasons to celebrate. Here’s one more – Caitlin’s very own cornflake ice-cream recipe. It’s awesome!

Put 200 ml milk + couple handfuls cornflakes in a bowl and cover and let it soak overnight.

Strain the mixture. Discard the soggy cornflake mush and save the cereal-y milk. Add 200 ml cream to this, a few spoonfuls of creme fraiche, and another 100 ml or so of milk, plus 100 g sugar, or until slightly ‘too’ sweet to taste (when frozen it’ll be a lot less sweet).

Fill another bowl 3/4 full with cornflakes.

Make some caramel. (Caiti is vague about how to make this since she does it without measuring anything out, so best point you to David Lebovitz’s perfect caramel recipe here.) Pour caramel onto cornflakes and mix well so they’re coated, wait ’til the mixture cools and then smash into pieces. Very cathartic.

Pour milk mixture into ice cream maker and let it mix. When ice cream is almost ready, and in the bits of caramel-y cornflakes. If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, put the milk mixture into freezer for an hour or so until it is beginning to freeze, then mix the caramelly cornflakes in. Stir the ice-cream every couple of hours until it has frozen solid.

Pole Dancing

Spot the broken pole

Edouard, the farmer who cuts our hay, arrived yesterday to tackle this year’s grass. Sadly it’s a poor crop due to the early hot weather followed by the continuing long dry spell. Things aren’t good for farmers generally. Edouard told us that his beef cattle are worth half of what they were last year, that the cereal crops will be disappointing and that Creuse still refuses to declare an official drought. I’m not sure what the repercussions of their doing so would be for farmers, but there is presumably something.

Anyway, before Edouard climbed back into his cab to finish the last field, he mentioned that one of our telegraph poles was leaning. This came as a surprise. It had been OK when we’d last passed it at lunchtime. There’s circumstantial evidence to suggest that the event has something to do with our hay being cut by a large tractor with a large cutting attachment! However, when we went to try and prop the pole up this morning, we soon saw that it’s practically rotten, and has large splits and holes all over it. It’s a poorly pole. It would have only taken a slight bump from Edouard to send it toppling.

We have a lot of poles at Les Fragnes. Down one side of our long driveway we have electricity poles, and they cross over the drive and back at one point. And down the other we have the telegraph poles, which also cross the drive at the corner. We are a tad over-poled. It’s a pity the two utility companies couldn’t work together and save a few trees.

Poles to the left, poles to the right!

So, since this morning I have been ringing France Telecom to tell them about our pole. Phoning 1013 is a waste of time at the moment, though. There are ‘perturbations’ in their service, a recorded message tells me sadly. The answer machine bloke who comes on next won’t let me pass ‘go’ since he refuses to believe me when I tell him ‘un poteau est cassé’ – a pole has broken. He insists on putting me through to the commercial department on 1014, who promptly tell me to phone 1013. Scream. I shall just have to wait till humans appear at the 1013 site again. Given that it took around six months before I finally made contact concerning our droopy telephone wire last year, it’s not looking too optimistic for getting the problem sorted soon. But this is altogether more dangerous with a large lump of wood flopping around loose. I shall persevere since there’s no other choice! France Telecom are leading us a merry dance, again.