Superstitions – Grigris

I’m going to celebrate the first of October with another giveaway, this time superstition related. So it seemed fitting to have a quick look at some French superstitions – grigris – in this post, my last in September to add a little excitement to the build up!

Firstly, what brings good luck? It’s probably not too much of a surprise to learn that finding a four leafed clover, hanging a horseshoe over your door and touching wood when you make a wish fall into this category. But the next ones are decidedly wackier. Treading in dog poo with your left foot as opposed to your right, touching the red pompom on a sailor’s beret and seeing a ladybird take off are all really good things apparently. I’m not convinced about the poo one. I think that’s a myth put about by lazy dog owners who can’t be bothered to clear their dog’s doings off the footpath. They clearly don’t want to deprive the rest of us of a lucky break!

Breaking a mirror, opening an umbrella indoors, Friday the 13th and thirteen people around a table are bad omens in France, as we might have guessed. Less obviously disastrous are putting a baguette upside-down on the table, wearing new clothes on a Friday, coming across a black cat during the night (how can you tell it’s black in that case?) and – very French this one – lighting three cigarettes with the same match! So, you’ve been warned

Forty per cent of the French population admit to being superstitious.  It’s said that Sarko keeps a pressed four leaf clover amongst his papers, and 66% of French people simply won’t walk under a ladder. So if you are superstitious, then you’re in good company.  My own personal foible is not crossing on the stairs. My Aunt Olive was adamant about this at her house. And I always throw a pinch of salt that’s been spilt over my left shoulder with my right hand. I’ve done that for so long, it’s an instinct!

What are your grigris?

Just How Dumb Are Turkeys?

Sheep-proofing the fencing of the Suffolks’ field has had an unforeseen bonus. It’s now also turkey proof so we finally have someone to keep our wandering turkeys safely ensconced. To be fair, they’d been very good on the whole, only occasionally going into Yann’s field next door, or appearing in the garden or along the drive. But they had started going walkabout more often than previously a week or so back. It was looking like they’d be heading for the freezer sooner rather than later. We do not intend to lose any of our seven fine, fat turkeys to a fox at this late stage. But, they’ve had a reprieve since we now have a very large turkey run for them.

Bronze turkey coming for the camera!

Getting them there and back isn’t easy, though. We have to negotiate three gates. Turkeys aren’t good with gates. They don’t the thing about going through the open space that suddenly appears. They prefer to batter themselves against the wiring on either side, or try and squeeze through the very narrow gaps in the metalwork of the gate itself.

It takes two of us to get them from stable to field, and back again, each day. I walk ahead with a tub of grain saying “chook chook” while Chris opens the gates and assists the turkeys through, which takes the patience of a saint.

Are turkeys really dumb though? I’ve read or heard somewhere that they’re thought to be the stupidest  animal on the planet. There are tales that when it rains, they look up and drown. Our turkeys have never done that, and we’ve had some truly moronic ones. It’s true that turkeys have a primitive brain with a limited capacity to learn new things. Like go through a gate. They get by thanks to instinct and to a very strong natural curiosity. This is why if you stand still near a turkey long enough, it will start to peck at your toes, or your laces, or your shorts, or your fingers, or pretty much any part of you, just to check it hasn’t suddenly turned into something nice to eat.

Chris’s brother-in-law Paul used to farm turkeys. He had to use round pens to raise them in because otherwise they would happily crush each other to death in corners. And one year some escaped out into the snow but were too silly to go back inside when they got cold and so, unfortunately, they froze to death.

We have three types of turkey this year – whites, bronzes and blacks, and it is definitely the latter that are the least intellectual. The black male is the worst for repeatedly pecking you while the female is almost too stupid to live. She is by far the most access-point-challenged.

So, they’re not the sharpest knives in the animal kingdom drawer. But I like my turkeys. They’re better natured than chickens and there’s something endearing in their blundering stupidity. And they taste so darned good!

Note: while taking the photos for this blog, one of the white ones started to run off with my camera case and the black male predictably tried to eat my finger!


Autumn Ride

No school today because of the strike, so we took advantage of the wonderful weather to have some quality time with Ruadhri and go on a sunny fruit-picking bike ride. We did our usual route in reverse for a change, so for once I wasn’t speeding downhill past this incredible apple tree. I think there are more apples than leaves on it!

I also finally got a photo of these two old cars slowly rusting away among the brambles in what used to be someone’s front garden.

We stopped at our favourite deserted farm, St Anne’s, and picked a few grapes to keep us going. There are three different sorts growing against the south-facing barn wall. You can see two of them here.

Up to now we’ve resisted stopping for any chestnuts on our rides, since we’ve overdone our chestnut hoarding in the past. But these ones were too big to cycle past.

We reluctantly cycled away from them eventually.

On our last stop along a track, Chris and I filled our rucksacks with windfall pears before struggling home with them. I’ve just weighed mine – 8 kg.

Sadly there was a fly in the ointment. We came home to find a local person who is known to have a problem telling the difference between what’s his and what belongs to other people firkling around in one of our stables, so I had to do a bit of shouting while Chris looked fierce.

But, despite that,  it was still a lovely morning.




Schools on Strike

I can’t believe the kids have been back at school for three weeks. It’s flown by and we’re pretty much in full school routine mode now. I don’t think I shall ever get used to the horribly early Monday morning start, but at least 3 are out of the way now.

We cycle Rors to Nouzerines for his school bus

However, tomorrow our routine will be disrupted. The first strike of the school year is taking place. It’s a big one. Ferc-CGT, FSU, Sgen-CFDT and Unsa Education, all teaching unions, are all involved. Ruadhri’s school will be closed, and Caiti said quite a few of her teachers will be off too. But they have a big protest to make. Pupil numbers are rising, by up to 60,000, and yet teacher numbers are falling – well, are being cut to be precise. In four years 52,000 have been lost, and another 16,000 are facing the axe during 2011 apparently. Only one in two teachers lost through retirement are being replaced. Also, 1,500 primary classes have been cut through the closure of small schools. A couple of years ago this was a real threat facing Ruadhri’s school and so we parents formed an asso, Écoles En Vie, to get activated. We’re OK for the time being, but we need to stay alert.

The teaching staff cuts are noticeable. This year there aren’t any classroom assistants at St Marien, where Rors goes, whereas there had always been two in the past. Caiti at lycée is in a class of 35, the biggest she’s ever been in since she was in a rang of 38 as a Senior Infant at Innishannon National School in Ireland.

It’s not good, is it? I’m disappointed France is taking this route, but I still maintain that kids get a very good education here. And on the plus side, there has been a lot of investment in post-15 education and a big reform of the courses. My two teens just missed out on this. Caiti is in the last year of the old system! Annoyingly it’s meant we couldn’t even give away her old textbooks each year, as the kids coming after her have the new curriculum. They’ve been processed into briquettes!



7 Links (Better Late Than Never)

Back in July, Sonia Marsh, the Gutsy Writer, nominated me to take part in the Tripbase 7 links challenge. I was very flattered, but we hit a busy patch and I wanted to be able to devote the appropriate time and attention to doing this challenge. I have compiled nearly 300 posts so that’s a lot to work through. And then I just forgot, but now I’m back on track. So rather late, at long last here is my contribution.

So, I’m to give the links to:

my most beautiful post – hmm, I’m not sure I do beautiful posts, but I did one about Yves Rocher plant based beauty products here. I think that fits the bill.

my most popular post – without a doubt, this one! Anything with the word ‘naked’, ‘bare’ or ‘nude’ in the title has always done very well!!!

my most controversial post – off course learning French is better than sex!

my most helpful post – two possibilities here. Anyone cycling in France will need this quick look at cyclists’ rights helpful, but if you’re feeling hard done by since you’ve heard that French people don’t get fat, then this could help your self-confidence

a post whose success surprised me – again two to choose from: first up mine and Benjy’s whistle-stop tour of Strasbourg. Secondly, my examinatio of  pink toilet roll.

a post I feel didn’t get the attention it deserved – my painstaking translation of a famous poem about the Creuse masons, but if you’re not into French historical poems you might prefer to see this neglected turkey related one:

the post I am most proud of – all of them! Seriously, I put a lot of time and love into each one because I choose to. I love to entertain and inform, and most of all I love blogging.

I have to nominate up to five bloggers to take this same challenge. So I choose:

Helen Hannimann

Vanessa Couchman

Jason Matthews


Alex Adena

If you enjoy my blog, then here’s advance notice that I’m currently compiling a soon-to-arrive ebook, The Best of Blog in France. I’ll be keeping you posted. I have to master inserting photos into files for converting into the various ebook formats first though …


Autumn Omens

We only open the cover a fraction for off-season dips!

Autumn, l’automne, has got off to a cracking start in Creuse. Rors and I had a quick skinny dip in the pool on the 21st. The temperature was a bracing 20 degrees, but I managed 30 lengths before my fingers turned a worrying shade of post-mortem white!

Chris and I continue our hedgerow-pillaging bike rides. We’re adding apples and pears to the ever growing mountain of walnuts now. I’m going to start photographing all the different varieties of apple we come across and try and identify them. We must be gathering at least a dozen different sorts, possibly more. Some of them are absolutely delicious, and all of them are old. No one plants fruit trees along the roadside any more.

I’ve found a few French autumn sayings, but be warned, they’re rather grisly on the whole. Clearly autumn in the past was a worrying time, with winter round the corner and the threat of illness lurking.

1. Autumne en fleurs, hiver plein de rigeur. An autumn with lots of flowers means a tough winter ahead.

This one’s not too bad, but it’s a bad omen for this year since it’s very flowery at the moment. Our roses are having a third flush, as is the wisteria and clematis, and people’s gardens are full of blooms. Our wild fields are a sea of pink and yellow at the moment. We’d better chop more wood …

2. Chaleur de l’automne pique fort – Et cause à bien des gens la mort. Autumn warmth can be oppressive and certainly causes deaths.

We’ve got temperatures of up to 27 degrees forecast for next week. Oh dear.

3. Fièvre qui vient pendant l’automne – Est bien longue ou la mort donne. Fevers that come in autumn either last a long term or kill you.

Oh dear again. We’ve all got colds at the moment …

4. L’ hirondelle en septembre abandonne – Le ciel refroidi de l’automne. When the swallow flies away in September, autumn will be very cold.

Our swallows have already gone. Some visiting ones stopped by the other day, but they’ve gone too now. So – we’re going to freeze.

5. L’ hiver mange le printemps, l’été, l’automne. Winter eats spring, summer and autumn.

I suppose this means that during winter you eat all the supplies you’ve laid down during the rest of the year. We never seem to get through all our pumpkin though …

6. Septembre se nomme, – Le mai de l’automne. September is called May of autumn.

This is a nice one – for a change – and very true for this year. We’re back in teeshirts and sandals.


So all the signs are for a chilly, sneezy winter. But let’s be positive. It’s not here yet. Time to enjoy the nice autumn weather first, while we still can.

Contes? Count Me Out! Or: Why I Hate Fairytales

A conte is a fairy tale. Now, I have never liked fairy tales, ever. As a girl growing up in the 1960s, the only things to read were class-riddled and Golliwog infested Enid Blyton stories, the Swallows and Amazons saga featuring a girl called Titty, Tintin books with their white colonialist overtones (and anti-llama propaganda) – and of course fairy tales. So sadly I was forced to read a lot of the latter.

And I will be again this year. Ruadhri’s class is doing a year-long project on contes. Yet another reason to dislike his new teacher, whom I haven’t got off to a very good start with due to pochettes plastiques. Back in June, Rors and the rest of CM1 were presented with a book of fairytales by Perrault. I blogged about it here as I was unimpressed at the time. I hoped the book might get forgotten about, but no, it’s at the centre of the fairy tale project. Uh oh.

This week is Cinderalla week, or Cendrillon, as she is in French. Rors and I nobly ploughed through Perrault’s garrulous version, and it nearly killed me.  And then Rors brought home another version of the tale to read and compare with Perrault’s. This one was even more ridiculous, involving Cinderella’s dying mother at the outset, the fairy godmother being replaced by a bird and the ball going on for three days, as if one wasn’t enough.

Fairy tales are just plain dreadful, let’s face it. Each one is an example of bad parenting, ranging from the negligent to the criminally insane. Red Riding Hood’s mother sends RRH off through a wood full of wolves, and this is a child who can’t tell the difference between her grandmother and a wolf. She clearly shouldn’t be let out at all. Sleeping Beauty – if you happen to have a wicked witch knocking around your castle, then you should be damned careful about making sure you do remember to invite her to your daughter’s christening. Such an oversight is simply asking for trouble. The mother of the Three Little Pigs simple throws her children out into the cold without making sure they are even vaguely prepared for the real world. That’s akin to me sending Benj off to Uni without a supply of pasta. And as for Cinderella’s father, who firstly marries a truly ghastly replacement to his previous paragon of virtue and then gives up on his beloved daughter altogether, well, he is simply too pathetic for words and doesn’t deserve to be a father. Ditto Snow White. And the tales are all written by men who are hung up on dorky, endlessly patient and forgiving women who are sucker enough to fall for the first empty-headed prince that they encounter.

Nursery rhymes, mini-fairy tales, are even worse. I refused to sing any  to my children when they were little. I made do with Nelly the Elephant and a few other numbers from Junior Choice (remember that?) plus a good helping of Guide and Scout campfire songs. ‘I’m going down the garden to eat worms’ is far healthier than ‘Rockabye baby’ with its cradles plummeting from treetops.

OK. Deep breath and calm down. So, it’s going to be an aggravating year reading fairy tales with Ruadhri, but at least it will help my French I suppose. And amazingly, Rors seems to quite enjoy them. We discuss their hideous non-PCness since I don’t want my youngest growing up thinking that all women are doormats and that fairy godmothers will actually fulfil all your material desires and that the only decent husband is a handsome prince. But I really think it’s time we moved on from fairytales. Like the printed book, they’ve had their day.

Knitting My Socks Off

Non-knitters, look away now. Actually don’t – I want you to admire my socks!

I am very proud of these socks, my first ever pair. If you knew how much I hated knitting in the round, tiny needles and fine yarn, then you’d be proud of me too because those are all things you need for sock knitting. But notice I use the past tense. In the course of creating these toasty works of art, I became a sock-knitting addict. It’s fiddly knitting with four or five small needles, but once you get the hang of it, it’s rather fun. And the 4 ply yarn is so delicate. A little goes a long, long way. It’s a pity I don’t have a third leg as I’ve easily got enough wool left from the 100g ball I bought from Pip at to rustle up another sock.

I’ve already stocked up with wool for another three pairs. I had planned to knit socks for family members, but I think I’ll be selfish and knit more for me first. I need warm socks. I have permanently cold feet in winter so the more pairs the better.

Why do I like knitting so much? I learned when I was 7 or 8 from Mum. She was always knitting, so it was normal to want to do it too. And I’ve knitted ever since, with very few breaks. It’s such a useful as well as creative hobby. I’ve kitted out a lot of people in jumpers (predominantly), gloves, snoods, cardigans, hats and scarves. I knitted romper suits and leggings for the kids when they were babies. I had a long love-affair with intarsia knitting (picture knitting) and the kids had Bambi, Barney, brontosauruses and Barbie on various jumpers. I knitted Mum a jumper with a picture of her dog Holly on it, did a Spitfire on a jumper for Chris, as well as several Dennis the Menace jumpers, and one with his company logo on. They were all pretty neat, if I say so myself.

I hardly ever knitted anything for myself for a long time. I couldn’t see the point. Part of the appeal of knitting was the giving aspect of it. I read somewhere that if you knitted one of your hairs into what you were knitting, the person you gave it too would love you for ever. Don’t bother, though, it doesn’t work, as I found out with the first and long since ex boyfriend I tried this old wive’s nonsense on!

As the kids got bigger, I knitted less for them, and moved into knitting accessories rather than large time-consuming articles of clothing. When we started the llama trekking business, I became a one-person sweatshop and created loads of llama-shaped USB key covers, finger puppets, lavendar sachets, egg cosies and toys for the souvenir shop and sold them at ridiculously low prices. You never get a realistic price for hand-knitted items. People just aren’t prepared to pay for the time that goes into them. It’s a labour of unrequited love.

And now I’ve discovered socks and I’m not so altruistic as I used to be. I knit for me these days too. OK, socks are not massively quick, but since they’re smallish, they don’t take too long. And I’ll speed up the more pairs I do. Sock knitting goes well alongside the little projects I’m working on for the Knitting for Frenchaholics ebook which is up my sleeve. About which more later …

I Don’t Like Mondays

Ugh. Monday again. The new departure time for the lycée bus, 6.35am, is proving tough going. It’s  only ten minutes earlier than previously, but at that time of day, one minute equals about twenty! I’m going to bed at 9pm on Sunday, but I don’t tend to sleep very well as I’m worried about oversleeping, despite setting a very loud alarm for 5.45am, so it’s a bit pointless really. I get up OK and Caiti is being co-operative so we’ve made the bus so far.

Leaving the house is quite a procedure. We bump Caiti’s case on wheels down the stairs, trying to be quiet but never quite succeeding. However, it doesn’t really matter since Rors can sleep through an earthquake and Chris is already awake, sipping the coffee I’ve taken him and slowly coming to. Then there’s the inevitable last minute scramble to find something Caiti’s suddenly remembers she needs. I head out with the case and stow it in the back of the car. I chase cats and rabbits out from under the car. This morning the two goats were sat in the driveway behind it as well. They’d got loose. So they were shooed away too, but kept slinking back until I started the engine. We encounter wild life on the way most Mondays – deer or boar wandering across the road, the odd owl and at this time of year suicidal frogs leaping out at the car from the ditch. It’s never a dull journey.

It’s pitch black. And it’s pitch black at Le Poteau. I don’t know who thought of making this godforsaken spot a stopping point for the lycée buses, but he or she is a moron. The place is in the  middle of nowhere. The bus stop is just after a very bad bend. There is no street lighting and nowhere sensible to park. I pull in by a garage and the other car that’s regularly day is parking on someone’s garden. I can’t think of a worse and more dangerous place to have people assembling in the dark. (Le poteau means ‘post’ – an unimaginative name for a very dull spot.)

Boy, do I need coffee on a Monday!

The coach turns up when it feels like it, the kids grumble their way on and the parents shoot gratefully back home for caffeine. And occasionally to get dressed. I’ve done the run a couple of times in my pyjamas over the last three years when things haven’t quite gone to plan. We’ve only missed the bus once, luckily not a pyjama day, and it was because the bus had been rerouted. The powers that be decided not to let anyone know beforehand, just for a laugh. Grr.

I’m back at the house by 6.55 these days (the bus stop is 11 km away) and get lots done in the kitchen before getting Rors up at 7.20, and then setting off with him and Chris on our bikes at 8 to deliver Rors to his bus-stop at Nouzerines. Chris and I have our morning ride, currently incorporating fruit and nut gathering, then feed anglers and animals before settling down to admin and work. I usually feel quite chipper still.

But by lunchtime I’m wrecked! I hate to admit it, but I’m ready for a snooze. Crikey, I’m only 49 – not 69. However, the early start is a killer. Caiti wondered about coming home on Wednesday afternoons every now and again. If she did, this would mean going through the Monday ritual on a Thursday morning too. I’ve told her that as much as I love her, there is no way I can do that twice a week. Not at these new early times. Maybe I’ll toughen up as the term goes by. I certainly hope so.

There’s an end in sight. Caiti finishes at lycée next summer and will head off to Uni. So I’ll get a four year break before having to do the dreaded Le Poteau run with Ruadhri from 2016. But that’s looking way too far ahead!

Coffee pic from

Socks and Flocks

Wool is becoming something of a recurrent theme in my blog at the moment, but since I’m an avid knitter and I own an assortment of woolly animals – llamas, alpacas and sheep – then I suppose it’s only to be expected.

First up socks! I have triumphed over the intricacies of knitting in the round using 5 tiny needles and very thin 4-ply wool. By preference I’m a two-needle double-knit-or-upwards wool knitter. But I felt it was time to challenge myself to try something new and I’ve succumbed to the lure of sock knitting. I have finished my first ever pair. Be impressed!

Not as innocent as they look ...

Now the flocks. Well, flock, and it consists of 3 sheep. But 3 sheep are as much of a handful as 300, I’m sure. Our 3 Suffolk sheep have been proving tricky customers and persistently managed to escape from their field. We were sure we’d put up adequate fencing, but they thought otherwise. Seeing that one of the ewes was systematically working her way along the long side fence, nudging it up with her nose to see if she could out that way, we attached a line of barbed wire to the bottom of the grillage. Chris and Benj also whacked in extra poles between the existing ones to help tension the fencing.

No more escapes that way. We also did some pre-emptive work on the back fence, which is one we inherited. (All the rest we’ve erected ourselves.) It was in fairly good nick with a lot of rusty barbed wire attached to poles and trees. We fortified that with good solid chataigniers (chunks of chestnut tree) and more strands of much newer barbed wire.


Just add machine gun posts, and we should be OK

All was quiet for the best part of a fortnight, but then last week, the escapes began again. The two ewes started squeezing through the back fence. The barbed wire didn’t seem to bother them. It did bother the ram, though. Now, male sheep are remarkably well endowed in the ball department. Decidedly over-enthusiastically so. He clearly didn’t want to risk getting his substantial family jewels tangled in barbed wire so he stayed put in the field, but bleated anxiously whenever his women disappeared, which alerted us to what was going on. A couple of days ago this was happening every half hour or so, which was totally OTT.

So we have now added wire netting to the fence poles and barbed wire. We bought loads of grillage, wire netting, but still ran out. I dashed into Boussac yesterday to get some more, but had to make do with one metre high chicken wire since that’s all I could find. However, it seems to be fit for the job. Chris and I spent our Sunday morning tacking it into place and making holes in ourselves and our clothes with the barbed wire, sharp bits on the chicken wire, the grampillons (U-shaped tacks) and also the trees. There are a lot of hawthorns in that patch of woody hedging that our fence goes through. No pain, no lamb chops I guess.

Fencing in progress

We paid €340 for our three sheep, and I reckon they’ve cost us at least half as much again in extra poles and fencing. And between Chris, Benj and me, we must have spent at least 40 hours or so on the work. But I think it will still be worth it when we can become self-sufficient in mutton. And it had jolly well better taste good after all this aggro!