Wednesday 31 August 2011

Romano and Guilietta

My faithful old car is back. For the past week I have had a hire car - an Alfa Romeo. Dear oh dear - it was nippy, jerky and apparently fashionable. It seemed to have several extra gears and I'm not too good at counting. I've seen them advertised on the television with sexy actresses in glamorous poses. My dear old wallow hog kinda waltzes me along. Of course my UK plate immediately attracts the tailgaters and the drama swerve overtakers - but I'm sitting on the gutter side and if it gets rough I can just step out. It's really odd, but I prefer my right hand drive because all my genes are modified with Bisto gravy and also from a passenger's point of view I am told that my left profile is more attractive. Gilles thinks we ought to go native - but honestly - would you allow a steering wheel to hide the best side of your "look". Of course not! 

I really feel that I should comment on the poor lady in the hire car office in Saintes. When I went last week she had broken her glasses and just had the lenses. She had to type one handed whilst holding them like a lorgnette. She looked like a crime scene detective looking for fingerprints. This week she had taped up the glasses and was literally jumping and hopping on one leg - the other being strapped up. I enquired as to the cause and she stated plainly that a car had rolled over her leg.(Well, what a stupid question anyway). I was going to give her a clover good luck charm but she had to talk  on the phone while she was dealing with me and she only had time to point and make abrupt commands. She needs some kinda charm - it's a desperate case.
Ever since I have lived here I have wanted to see the Roman "Thermes" at Saintes. Well, I found them and they are impressive. As always very little is made of them - they are kinda presented with a shrug. There was a bin for dog mess but no information or guidance. In England there would have been National Trust storm troopers in tweed and brogues or old codgers in togas doing a reconstruction of Julius Caesar  bathing his bits. If you come to this region - and please give yourself a treat and do come- take in the Roman heritage of Saintes. It's an education. All this was done without smart phones, video games or MBA degrees. Or maybe they had that stuff and they took it back to the mother ship. Beam me up Scottius.

Emma thinx: Need a good luck charm? Be charming. Feel the luck!

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Come brush me! Suck me!

Surely this is the uninhibited open mouthed scream and proclamation of blooms. I know, I know - I'm a dotty old Doris rattling on about Nature and flowers. Today Gilles and I rode our tandem to St. Jean d'Angely. On the roadside close to the village of Ternant the verge was a mass of joyful bloom, alive with bees and butterflies. I took the photo in order to share them. I think there is a wild flower growing scheme in France but I have no details. Whatever is going on you see bands of wonder and ecstasy along roadsides and on disused land. In a previous blog I raised the issue of the  how and why  we discriminate between weeds and "plants". In Charentes fig trees grow like weeds. If you buy a pack of four figs in a UK supermarket it's like entering a cathedral of cuisine and crossing that huge accent/income demarcated gulf between the working and middle classes. (Four figs £2.99p ($5) at Waitrose). And that's the price of weeds!

I was chatting to an English lady today. She has been here for a year  and will probably stay for a further 6 months. The main issue, as always in this life is money. It is very difficult to obtain work here for anyone. If you don't have a perfect command of the language you choices are much reduced. Another factor with language is that unless you quite quickly achieve a level of fluency to allow day to day chat without effort, a certain fatigue and sense of isolation creep in. In the past 2 weeks, 2 people have said this to me. Very probably all manner of folk have enjoyed holidays in France and dream of moving into the land of gourmet bread and sun. My advice - get to grips with the language and ask yourself if you have that desire and discipline. When you get home get a TNT decoder and a satellite dish and point it at ASTRA 1 (19.2 degrees East of South). Watch French TV all the time. The News is great because you probably know what the story is already. The presenters will speak good French. When they say a phrase - you say it. Don't be shy! Check out Claire Chazal on the TF1 news at 8pm  (7 pm in the UK). She helped to teach me French. She also writes romance novels. I must confess I've not checked her out but it's on my list.(If you wanna watch foreign TV in the UK I recommend The guys there are very helpful and professional without ripping you off.

OK - so tonight we have Poulet Provençale. I have cut rosemary, chives and thyme from my herb garden. Once I had a micro skirt/ now I dig around in dirt. As you get older- scrap the skirt. Get down and dirty and give it some flavour!

Emma thinx: Sex isn't everything in life, just its continuance and joy.

Monday 29 August 2011

Fry up - Fries down.

Then I saw it! The evidence of another world - of other beings beyond our experience. There on the road between Saintes and St Savinien the signs were unmistakeable. A brown paper bag, several wrappers for fries and a couple of Big Mac boxes. At last the French have caught up. Hot hatch boy racers with boom box sound systems had already arrived as a kind of robot advance guard. Graffiti scribbling foot soldiers had already tagged the whole of the Paris metro with coded maps and tags. Now, they feel strong enough to attack the hinterland and throw their trash from cars to show us their might. Possibly the evidence was planted by holidaying foreigners - yes - that must be the answer! In any event my general impression of my part of France is that it is immaculate by most international standards. To me, the sight of such poor conduct was quite shocking and unexpected. In my old stamping grounds of South London, whole tribes and generations of rats and pigeons are sustained by discarded fast food and its containers. Charente Maritime, even in urban concentrations is not littered in any way. I think it all comes down to my old theory of social etiquette. If others don't do it - YOU don't do it. There is still a sense of continuity between what the oldies did and what YOU do.  At my curry soirée I encountered a most interesting Anglophile who had spent time in England. She acknowledged the contributions of the Brits to the world and to the notion of democracy. Then she said "But - the democracy and freedom you have created has destroyed you - you are choking in a liberty of everything - and in the end an infinite everything is a nothing because it has no shape. " Now, I know it's rare - but I wish I'd said that. The view from a distance is often the best.

Let me return to the matter of recycled waste. Normal household waste is collected regularly from communal bins and the service is fantastic. A community elder assured me that  recyclable waste is collected every 15 days at night. Now, having debated this matter many times with neighbours - some of whom believe that there is no pattern other than the winged shrug of the gods, a few nights ago I left the windows open on Re-cyclemas Eve. I felt like a kid. Perhaps I would see the truth of the sac. I awoke at 2 am. A truck pulled up. A young lady in a baseball cap with pony tail jumped off and scooped the pile. Look - if you're reading this don't tell the children. Let them keep their dreams for just a little longer. 

Cooking moules marinières tonight. In Carrefour they have scoured the globe to find the finest wines of the European community and blended them into a most fabulous "Spécial Fruits de Mer" for about a quid (£1 sterling or $1.60 cents). My advice: If you are buying trash wine for a low low price, mixed (blended) plonk is often the best because they bung some sweet in with the sour. Garlic, onion, wine and sea food - I want to live for ever.

Emma thinx: An infinity of everything shapes nothing. 

Sunday 28 August 2011

Ye Olde Fromage shoppe

Tourism - good or bad; discuss. And indeed we do here in Charente Maritime. I'm sure that there are many university courses about the long term economics. I mean, will there always be a group of people with money who will be able to be tourists? Many huge cruise liners essentially contain tourists within their own travelling country and cut off income to all those hideous foreigners. Travel is likely to become more and more expensive and therefore more exclusive as wages stagnate or more likely fall back. If you go for Tourism at all costs then you may let real industry wither and watch the dust blowing through your themed gift shop and cafe complex if the punters don't come. In St.Savinien I hear both sides of this debate. If you fill the street with cafes and restaurants you could hardly retain the calmness and "local" feel that currently is its charm. Without some kind of work the young will have to leave and the town will have no income or commerce. Personally I would like to take a long term overview. My fear is that however hard you try, if wages fall and folks become poorer and poorer you may end up chasing a phantom dream. I think we need to know how the super rich intend to treat the poor.....but I could almost make a guess.

As for last night's soiree - all the curry disappeared and no one died. I had a bop about to Lady Gaga and discussed Kant and morality with a couple of profs. Guests turned up with all manner of extra foods and party fare. Imagine my astonishment to find a lady running about with plates and cutlery to help with washing up. Then she started on the work tops and the stove, explaining that she could not just simply be a guest and HAD to help. I had never met her before but she was fantastic and she'll always be on my invitation list. 

Emma thinx: Tourism - Lifting for 2 weeks the blindness of 50.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Internationale cuisine

Curry - that most British of foods and possibly the most non French. A few days ago I decided to have a curry bash and invite a few folks. All morning I have been mixing and matching Balti, Madras and Korma sauces. I've drained the dahl, browned the boeuf and chopped the chicken. Nothing can go wrong! As I wait for the event to start I try not to think about those very few occasions when dinners and soirées have - well - needed on the hoof adjustments. I think the worst food was when I had decided to serve whitebait as a starter for the first time. I dumped a big wedge in a hot wok and dug them out as a kind of mashed fish block. I just told the guests it was high fibre pate with eyes. 

But probably one of the worst dinner parties I ever held was when I was a member of the Socialist Workers Party. Comrades were always ravenous and survived on dry crusts and revolution jam. What they didn't know was that I had only joined because I just wanted to be a member of SOMETHING. A guy came round selling his revolutionary newspaper and told me I was a down trodden daughter of toil. I was young with kids, debts and a bum job so it rang a bell. When the comrades found out I had a gas stove and a saucepan I kinda became a culinary apparatchik, but with the emphasis on the chick. If these guys had overthrown the government and seized power, a citizens' committee would have appointed ME as ministress of cuisine (except that would have been both sexist and bourgeois). So, the comrades came for dinner. Talk was intellectual and inflamed with hatred of the Trots, Communists and the league of General Purpose Reds. WE were the only pure Socialists. I was really pleased that I had joined up with the right stuff because I wasn't sure if I was a communist or not and I could just have easily fallen in with them. As dinner ended, the bearded head comrade stood and indicated that we should all stand and sing a song called "The Internationale". Well, I guess all you guys out there know the words (check it out here). The comrades clenched fists and sang through what  seemed like an hour of revolutionary fervour, all the while glaring at me and I tried to mime, hum and control nervous giggles. By this time my horny handed husband of toil was on the phone to the Maggie Thatcher to see if they could send in the Army. (That poor man - he just had to take so much of my nonsenses and fads). I think I was the first person they had met who didn't know the words. Now - If they'd gone for Abba I'd have sung "Fernando". 

And whilst the echoes of the Internationale still resonate in my memory, I watched a small section of the Tour of Spain cycle race yesterday. In the commercial break they ran ads for Pay Day loans and ambulance chasing lawyers. To me it just kinda painted a picture of what's going on and how we are.

Curry time approaches. At least I know how to sing "La Marseillaise".

Emma thinx: Revolution - 360 degrees of Elites.

Friday 26 August 2011

Tongue tied

It's that result time of year. I have never tried my hand at many exams  and so as normal I am rattling on about something about which I know nothing. All the same, I did learn a couple of foreign languages and over the past few years I have coached various students in the UK in French. This year I have heard from my little brood who have all received A or A* grades. Now, of course I am very pleased but just imagine how much more pleased I would be if they could actually speak French! The fact is that at GCSE(The main UK qualification at 16years) and to a certain extent, A.S. levels, the whole thing is about hoop jumping. Huge chunks of the oral exam are learned by heart and regurgitated. I encounter students who cannot pronounce the simplest common words and could not tell you their mother's name. Little or no attention is given to "freestyle" skills and it is utterly frustrating to have to cram the poor souls with pre-digested parrot food so that they can pass the exam. In many ways I think it would be best to re-name language exams as "Linguistic cultural studies" and have a whole separate subject called "Getting yourself a burger in Boulogne studies". All manner of extra grades, stars and medals could be awarded. Government supremos could be given whole departments. It is also widely believed that only girls are capable of learning foreign languages. What is actually true is that boys are much more self conscious about getting things wrong and being mocked by their peers. Teachers (I believe) in all subjects fail to understand males and the whole educational process becomes a series of humiliations. Language teaching in schools is appalling and very very few students end up with any worthwhile language skills. THEY ALSO FAIL TO ENGENDER ANY LOVE FOR OR PLEASURE IN THE SUBJECT SO THAT STUDENTS WANT TO CARRY ON IN REAL LIFE.

So - there are no simple answers. Parents and teachers want systems that measure and award. Quite simply there are no prizes for any kind of freestyle. Jump the hoops, get the grades, get the university, get the top job, get money, get kids,get the kids to jump the hoops...... Who said you were supposed to enjoy it? Language teachers hated me.It was mutual. None of us learned anything.

I have a big big problem with cat excrement. The biggest part of the problem is that I do not like it. I imagine that cat loving folk do like it. Maybe it can be processed into soap or candles for Christmas gifts. About 7 pet cats regard my little garden as a public toilet. I have spent hours obtaining flat stones and placing them on all areas of exposed soil. Now the cats leave their delicate whiskered feline parcels on the shallow stones of my path. A walk down the garden is likely to leave me festooned with shit. The aroma of herbs and roses is lost in the reek of shit. I don't want to be hated as an anti-feline and I think they're quite sweet but am I supposed to like this?

Emma thinx:  Law -the codified failure of kindness. 

Thursday 25 August 2011

Om pour femme

Now and then you will have suffered me burbling on about being a Buddhist. Well, actually I'm no more a Buddhist than the pope - although he hangs out with monks. The reason I say that I'm not one is that I'm just too jingle jangle desire driven. Anyway - last night on the good old BBC I watched a programme all about Buddhists fronted by a lady called Bettany Hughes. What I loved about her was that she is a real woman - and apparently has a normal proper figure. She has a kinda finger in the chocolate -"ooh it's so sticky" Nigella Lawson style. If ever they bring out a "Grub of the Gods" TV show I think this lady should be dipping her spoon in the warm honey and asses' milk crumble. I can just see Gilles edging up closer to the screen. As for the Buddhism, well- I've always given it a good go. Many years ago I worked with a guy who I thought was a real transcendental. He told me about the Buddha and one day to help me he gave me one of his home made cakes. The rest of the shift just passed in a buzz of of unwordly pleasure. We were working in a mattress factory and if you bought anything that I made that day I'm just so sorry if your bed collapsed or if all your discs slipped out. I don't know if I went to Nirvana but I reckon I got to one of the suburbs and would have got there if all the bus drivers hadn't been stoned.

I have hired a car. It has French number plates. Suddenly, no tail gating, no drama swerve overtaking - I just drive along and everyone thinks I'm one of them. In my poor old Britmobile every Frenchman sees me as a chance to re run the battles of Agincourt, Trafalgar and the sinking of the French fleet by Winston Churchill. Instead of a GB sticker I have a white flag. Road accident figures are far higher in France than in the UK with a far lower traffic density. They've got some balls though - I'll give 'em that. The lady in the hire car office was fantastic. Even though I speak in normal French every day of my life, she saw my UK licence and reverted to sign language, mime,TALKING VERY LOUDLY and pointing. I took to nodding, turning down the corners of my mouth and shrugging. Who needs language?

How do you know about wines? In Asda in the UK there's a lady called Philipa who writes stuff on the back of their bottles. Very often she says "good with sausage". In France some bloody poets have been given the job and you can have softly fruity or mellow with hints of fruity bramble. I stand there for ages trying to choose. One day I'll pick up a Premier Cru Bordeaux and it will say "Bon avec saucisse". If it's under 3 Euros I'll buy it.

Emma thinx: Language -the rough translation of intuitive understanding.


Wednesday 24 August 2011

Carry on up your organ

Very few words are worked as hard as "organ". As I was saying yesterday I was at Saintes. Shortly before my car self terminated (French reflexive verbs are so expressive - we need more in English), I heard the organ playing in the cathedral and had to pop in. I know very little about music and so to me it is a form of magic. The organist was having a right old bash and was creating some arabesque sounds that I had never heard before. I lit my candle to Saint Universe of Beautiful Buildings and carried on feeling in a bit of a spiritual belly dancing mood. It lasted until I came to a halt in a road by the river. Before phoning the dépannage I asked a senior gent what the road was called "It is the road by the river - everyone knows this. But anyway - it will be your battery - oh yes it is always that - I have had awful problems avec myself." I thanked him and waited for the tow truck in the road by the river. Luckily the driver was a member of the "everyone" tribe who knew where I was. The everyone tribe is pretty big in France and they know most things. 

A little later the word organ resurfaced. I told an acquaintance that I had taken to going to a farm shop for my veg'. "You have to be sure that no chemicals are used - otherwise it is no different and it won't be organic." She assured me. Well, it tastes delicious and is much cheaper than the supermarkets. The term organic has always been too difficult to me - but generally I find a fair bit of grit inside the lettuce. At least you know it's been grown in dirt and there must be some carbon in there somewhere. 

And of course, there are the organs that concern Romantic novelists. Really I think that there should be a special Organ Thesaurus for we scribblers. We all cast about for some new and perfect way to describe the ACT. I've read and written enough cores and manhoods to create a novel set in a monastery apple orchard. The very word organ arouses the British sense of "Carry On" film double entendre like little else. For this reason no one has ever written a Romance where one of the stars has an organ in their front room or even a chest of drawers. Carry on!

I picked up some good words today. The French call computers "Ordinateurs". They now shorten this to "Ordi". Well, that's what I'm gonna call this little machine from now on. They also have an expression for a particular kinda guy. The term is "un chaud lapin"- that is to say a hot rabbit. I see that the charges against DSK were dropped in New York. Ah well, back to the burrow. 

Emma thinx: Stuff means trouble.More stuff means more trouble.

Tuesday 23 August 2011


I spent the afternoon in Saintes and wandered into the park. It is a truly beautiful town (City). Many times I consider the acts and works of mankind as opposed to the "natural" course of Nature. Of course, the last thing you could say of a park is that it is natural. However, flowers bloom and their composition in beds is only an enhancement of them.

 Also in the park there is a skateboard area with ramps and slides. Young warriors show their skills and hone their reflexes. At one end of their enclosure is a mural in graffiti style. I tried to work out what it was or what it was saying and I still have no idea. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that things composed can have meanings and power beyond themselves. A few times in my life I have spoken with poets about their work and told them of unities and patterns I have discerned. Several times they have never seen these undercurrents in their work. So tonight there are a few photos of Saintes in terms of composition and Art. If you get the chance, do come here. It will not disappoint.

Having meandered about in Wordsworthian fashion contemplating Art and Nature it was time to drive home. But I didn't. The car broke down and it was carried away on the back of a lorry. The charming personnel of Praud Depannage got me home. Oh dear - back on me bike.

I didn't quite get the skate park mural and I struggled a bit with the Latin.  Perhaps it was all done by the same guy. This place is stuffed with Roman history and stands on the magnificent River Charente. If you don't come here you're missing out.

Emma thinx: No woman No car.

Monday 22 August 2011

Old Boilers Feel The Cold

Both I and my Chappée oil fired heating system qualify as old boilers. Regular readers will recall my feature "Old boilers like it hot" where I went to find Monsieur Gordeau at the house with the blue shutters in the place with no name. Yesterday, the boiler stopped working. This morning I called Madame Gordeau who took a deep intake of breath and explained they were very busy this week but she would phone me back  at a very specific time - that is to say "A la fin de la matinée". No one really knows where the morning ends but she called me back at about 1 o'clock to say that her husband would call tomorrow at around "La fin de la matinée". I was very thankful and genuinely appreciative. About an hour later he arrived. He had a few minutes to spare. With him was an apprentice. Monsieur G. removed covers and interrogated the trainee - What issues could he think through? What were the factors in analysing any problem? Now this was a life I understand! This was old fashioned on the job hard learning your trade. The problem was soon fixed. The fee? .....Nothing. He had serviced it last year and so it was free. Now - eat your heart out corporate gold star super cover mind at ease maintenance in the UK. OK - you phone a kid in Bombay who says something unintelligible about needing to pay extra to get the platinum cover that has replaced the gold because of commodity price rises. This is FRANCE. Small conscientious deeply honest businesses function here and you are a valued client. They have apprentices to learn the trade and their wives answer the phone and care. This is FRANCE. A while ago I read a book by E.F. Schumacher called "Small is Beautiful". I think the strap line was "Economics as if people mattered". Read this book. If you have a boiler issue in Charente Maritime call M. Regis Gordeau on 05 46 97 78 85. Thoroughly recommended.

I am not pre occupied with waste tips. However, Gilles and I passed through La Déchtterie today with some bags of mixed sand and soil. In the skip were several plates and soup bowls. Some had been smashed by having old tiles and stones thrown on top of them. A few remained and I grabbed one. An official approached. Gilles asked if he could take the remaining plates that were unbroken. "Non! Ce n'est pas autorisé" Said the fluorescent jacket guy. Gilles pulled a Gallic face. Other punters were coming in to smash them with building rubble. You have to shrug. Sometimes eco-warriors have to retreat to higher ground. It will gnaw at his soul. He was born poor. Should we go the barricades to prevent stupid waste? Come on you young folk - the MAN has got you trapped and just looking over your shoulder in fear for your job and credit rating. Aux Armes!(See photo of rescued plate with fig. Would you have let it be stoned to death?)

I picked a big bowl of succulent sweet figs today from my tree. I just want you to know that.

Emma thinx: Rubbish the waste. Trash the tip. 

Sunday 21 August 2011

Big Chief I Spy.

I think they still do "I Spy" books. In the days before the internet, such things were important sources of information. One of my favourites was "I Spy at the Airport". I was not interested in tail fins and fire engines, but I thought one day I could be a hostess and jet around the world. One of the things not featured in the book was the automatic car park payment machine. Today I drove to La Rochelle to collect a guest from the airport. I paid the fee and returned to the car to see a British tourist break my car mirror by trying to lift a suitcase through a gap. I approached as the offender tried to twist it to some better shape. She did not realise it was my car. "Don't know what happened there." She quipped. I looked at her with curiosity. She did not look as if she suffered from any sensory issues. "You broke it with your suitcase." I said. She was with a few quite well to do Anglos who hurumphed and looked at me with that superior "how dare you" expression. They quickly bundled themselves into their brand new Mercedes E class and shot off when they realised it was my car. Sometimes I really don't like people. However, I got the mirror casing and managed to refit it - albeit a bit wonkily. Gilles will fix it I'm sure. The outcome of all this shamozzle was that I lost the ticket to exit the car park. I then put the car keys on the roof of the car, forgot where I put them and thought I had lost them. I went to the airport security and told them I had lost my keys. They took my phone number. I returned to the car and saw the keys on the roof. Much relieved I went back to the car park machine and pushed the enquiry button. SILENCE. I decided to see if there was a talk your way out of jail button on the exit barrier or if I could tailgate another vehicle before the barrier came down. There was a button. I explained my life story to a perforated grill which had slightly more personality than the folks who had broken my mirror. "Come to the Security Office". Said the machine. I duly went. "You are the woman who has no car keys." Said the guard. I think he was related to the machine because he sounded similar. "I'm sorry - I found them." Several guards shrugged but looked friendly."What is your name?" He asked. I told him.....and waited.....NOT A SINGLE GLIMMER OF RECOGNITION. Perhaps French security officials do not read Romantic stories for ladies written in English. "Go to your car and go..." He said. I drove to the barrier. I spoke to the perforated grill. It shrugged and the barrier rose. I rejoined the World. I must re-read some Kafka.

A neighbour sometimes looks after a baby - well a toddler. The child smiles - deeply and joyfully. It is a profound talent. Please World - let her exercise and keep her gift.

It's 34 degrees and I've got the oven on to cook an English Sunday Roast. Mad dogs and Englishwomen roast in the midday sun. My guest brought me some English Bisto gravy granules. Back to the moules tomorrow.

Emma thinx: Break my car mirror - 7 years voodoo.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Staying on track.

Some folk just seem to skim coolly above most of us don't they? They float noiselessly between their past and their future triumphs. As they pass they give a regal nod at us mudlarks scrambling for pennies and scrabbling to pick up the shopping that has just fallen on the supermarket floor when our eternal shopping bag handle fell short of eternity. (Is this whole everlasting carrier bag lark just a way to get folk back to the idea of FAITH. Some of these churchy guys are pretty sharp at psychology). Anyway - back to the mud. Last night I went to a piano recital at one of my neighbour's château. YES - that's right - OK -  My neighbour has a château and I went to a recital. Now - In France I am foreign, therefore I am neither posh-oui nor posh-non. In England I could go to such an event but I would have to keep me gob shut cos one squeak of the old Sahff Lundin vowels would have me sent to the kitchens to put me uniform on. However, sometimes you come across a cool dude who just has to be admired. The recital was given by the superb Alice Rosset. She is a native of Charente Maritime and the region is rightly proud of her. She played Bach, Bartok, Rachmaninoff and Brahms. She was fantastic. I had not heard much Bartok before - I think it's for very sophisticated folk who put their clothes on back to front and walk backwards in order to understand the shadows cast by the future on the fleeting present of appearance and expectation. SEE - I could be ARTY. Anyway - there she is playing this beautiful music and the 2140 hours to Bordeaux rattles past. Was she fazed? Non! She just played on. The girl's a trouper and she walked on the stone driveway of the château with no shoes. If her everlasting carrier bag broke she'd just lift the shopping off the floor with a twitch of her eyebrow. Bravo!!

Now, the above ramble reminds me of some advice I received in bed from a very cynical guy. He told me that you could never beat the English class system - but you could merely side step it. You can never quite get the vowels and arrogance of the posh Anglo. So - be foreign. At first I thought he was joking but this guy used to take me to receptions and the like at places like embassies and the Foreign and Come on it's all my wealth Office. There was no way I could pull off the My Fair Lady Act, so I went accent-uh-sexi-rissima. I don't know what they thought - but no one asked me what school I'd been to or if I had been at the races when The Right Honourable Foreskin - Smythe had won the golden fleece.

Hair dryer humid wind here today. It's a greenhouse of bursting juice. If you fell dead to the soil here you would decay in seconds among the worms and eat-you-pedes of NATURE. Life is sweet juice. The market will close with strangers hosing away to gutters whatever is left of what you nearly became....

Emma thinx: Drink deep the juice. In the hour glass is sand.

Friday 19 August 2011

Reverse Parking

Sitting here in the late afternoon with the temperature at 28 degrees, it seems almost inconceivable that the Municipal Gardens in Bournemouth UK were nearly washed away yesterday. I know I'm supposed to be writing about Charente Maritime, France and writing novels but if there is one thing that can raise any UK nostalgia from me it is Bournemouth. To me, it is a magical place of sepia sadness and lollipop longing - a childhood of sandcastles lost, trodden and overwhelmed - of proud flags on sticks defiant as the holiday ended and the dark satanic life of subservience called you back in to be counted and controlled. (Ooh- I was a terrible pupil. Those guys were stealing my free life and replacing it with punishment.)  I used to live quite near Bournemouth and all my life I've gone back there, both with family and alone - several times to write poems in the course of loves and desires gone wrong, gone good or not going at all.  I turned on the late BBC South News on my planet Murdoch satellite and saw a fabulously Municipal spokesman telling folk that the show would go on. Of course it will! I know I put up a poem yesterday but here is another one about Bournemouth Park. Check it out here.

From out of a blue sky this morning at about 8 o' clock a tremendous smack and shatter of thunder stunned the whole town. There followed monsoon style rain which lasted for about 2 minutes. My eco water butts filled and all day I've had a kinda full water not got dem empty butt blues feeling. Think I'd like to write a song one day. 

One of the things to get used to here in France is the difference  between cuts of meat. This evening I'm serving coeur de basse cote de boeuf. Now to be honest, I had no idea what this meant in English. It looks like rump steak and the price per kilo would be  that kinda  bracket in the UK. I'm gonna cook up some onions and grill it for a couple of minutes. I had a quick peak on the internet and I could not see a kinda multilingual cut of meat chart. If anyone knows different please let me know.(Might be a big enough pull to get some google gold). 

Gilles and I had a spin on the tandem. Dear Lord - we found a new hill near Les Nouillers. Dear Lord I'm getting old. I could hear his breathing was more or less normal. Sometimes the line between love and hate is very faint. Who said faint?

Emma thinx: Dribbling rivalry - oldies still wanna win.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Gravity - Figure it out.

A fig fell on my head. Now - wouldn't that be the most wonderful opening to a world changing novel. The thing is that in the garden at lunch time a fig fell off the fruit tree and bounced off my head. I ate it and it was delicious (first I took a photo). You have no idea how exotic it seems to me to have figs, grapes and lizards all around me. I feel like I should apply to be Snow White, but I'm afraid the dog ate my CV. It must seem that I am a trappy old trollop caught in a fecundity fire storm. If you were born with a concrete, tarmac and red bus shovel in your gob, all this rural paradise stuff is like - well - paradise. On the way to Intermarché, I detoured along a track that runs alongside La Charente. Bushes were heavy with blackberries and I must have eaten half a kilo. Swallows swooped and turned as they harvested their vital crop of insects to sustain their migration back south. The church tower chatters, clicks and whistles with mobs of starlings as they begin to cluster in that kind of sinister black cloak of Hitchcock un-realised fear. (Starlings are big on my poetry radar - check out my poem "Winter Starling" here.) The year has ratcheted its way up the roller coaster of time and now its pauses just long enough for your sense of joy and sorrow to mix into that stuff we call the human soul.

Along the river banks this afternoon were many guys with long rods. They sat resignedly watching the flow of water, I guess hoping for a fish - or maybe not. The fishing here seems to need merely long poles with none of those reel things that you can wind in and out and generally fiddle with. I was taken with the number of "fish wives" who had been taken out to the bank. There were knitters, readers and merely gazers. If they'd been English and if they had had Kindles in France, I would have stopped and told them how to get their pan sizzling just in case the old man didn't catch anything.(Knockout! - by me).

Going back to the falling fig - it is said that maybe no apple actually fell on Isaac Newton's head. Just imagine if a would be beautician from Tulse Hill Comprehensive had discovered gravity. Would the scientific world have taken any notice? Good job it was a clever old guy who knew some maths eh? Otherwise we might be floating about trying to write novels with the pen stuck to the ceiling. Might have helped the old boob droop I suppose. It's daft I know but I'm feeling frivolous. At least if I'd have discovered it I would have hired lawyers to snatch the patent.

At Intermarché I bought a pain parisien (brief tremble of pleasure as the word PARIS brushes across my follicles). A lot of visiteurs to France think that the only bread to get is the baguette. Actually, le pain is bigger and often better. It's a kinda supersize  Mc loaf. It was hot, crusty on the outside, soft and yeasty on the inside. I rode home on my bike nibbling at it. I often see even really old French folk sampling their bread on the way home with a simple child like joy. I love this place and my little time here on this Earth. I am so lucky.

Emma thinx: Love is free - provided you're prepared to pay any price. 

Wednesday 17 August 2011


Things are just so prolific here. I took a stroll through the allotments to check out the harvest. Pumpkins and tomatoes swell with joyful fertility. Peach and apple trees ache with fruit like filled breasts needing the suck of hunger and dependency. Nature here is swollen with it's summer of passion, giving itself up selflessly, proclaiming its spilling lust and asking to be taken - NOW! It's just so bloody sexy - but of course, that is what the whole show is all about. I've never really been a gardener - but is that the key? Did all those Capability Brown types feel the great undercurrent of sex in the shrubbery. All those manicured posh house gardens always kinda remind me of supermodels with waxed hollywood punanis. I must say I do love the word punani. I think it comes from an Indian laguage. I first heard it on the lips of Ali G (Sacha Baron Cohen). I kinda love this guy - he is so outrageous. His movie "Bruno" had me laughing to a point of pain. If he's reading this - please do a gardening movie.

Talking of punani put the great problem of panini into my head. A while ago during my big posho push I got into the operas of Mozart and decided to learn Italian. The French had driven off my husband but luckily I was with a Scotland Yard detective who tolerated my pretensions. At that time I was working in Central London and all manner of Italiano Eateroni were springing up. I used to saunter in and quip my order in over the top "ooh- just listen to my accent" passionato Italiano. Nobody noticed - well they were all city morons.(I could see they were ruining the world) . One day it occurred to me that I could not buy a panini. I could buy a panino because panini must be the plural. I wanted to ask in perfect Italian and even rehearsed the question........Anyone help?

A mere 32 degrees today so I got my bike out and cycled to St. Jean d'Angely. There were mobs of Team Top Lycra loins in the boating lake by the park. I think a couple of them called out at me as I whizzed past. Ooh - I must walk past a few more building sites. Oh No - the correctoid police will be out gain!

Emma thinx: You yourself are a fruit. Be generous.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

A mere trefle

I wonder how many songs we encounter in a lifetime. Some just pass on through but others stick for ever - often to a point of ad nauseam. Some songs just sit there like unexploded time bombs waiting for some trigger years and years ahead. Such a thing happened to me today. The Angel of all Beasts passed by and came over for La Bise (four times remember). She rummaged in her sac and pulled a four leaf clover which she had found. She handed it to me with a sense of great delight. She then showed me one that she had mounted on a card and carried in her purse. Well, today is a bit of an anxious day because Gilles is on a long drive and we have kids wound up like crossbows waiting for various exam results. But now an angel has given me a four leaf clover and I know that all will be well. I just know. Anyway - the unexpected gift plunged me back to the tune "I'm looking over a four leaf clover" performed by Les Perry and his Banjo Maniacs. It was on an old 78 rpm record that my mother had collected from somewhere. I used to play it on my record player when I was a kid. It also had "Bye Bye Blackbird" on the same disc. I never told any of my contemporaries that I played these songs because I guess it was music from the forties or fifties. In any event, this music made me feel immensely cheerful and happy and now the bloody song - banjos and all, keeps playing in my head. The only good thing is that it has driven out "Are we human or are we dancer?" performed by the Baseballs.

A trip to La Dechetterie  had me queueing behind some English folk. Their car registration gave them away of course but I would have known they were not French merely on the basis of the things they were discarding. When French folk throw away junk - it is junk. When English folk throw away junk it is what the French call Brocante. All manner of old metal rods, bits that looked like they would make a plough, trap a ragondin, reinforce some concrete or fix up a combine harvester were crashing into the bin. If Gilles goes to the tip it's 50/50  he'll bring home more than he takes.

A while ago the church bells stopped. They have now been repaired and I have been able to take off my watch. Francophiles will already know that in general church bells sound twice at the hour with a 2 minute gap. Explanations are numerous, but it's probably so that workers get the chance to check twice on the time.It  would never do to miss lunch.

Emma thinx: Someone will need that junk. It may be a long wait for their birth.

Monday 15 August 2011

The Terrier of Terroir

Today is the 15th August - a national holiday here in France. It is quiet, so very quiet. The holiday is to denote l'Assomption of the Virgin Mary into heaven and seemingly was not part of the religious system until the sixth century. However, this day and the wider period has many attendant notions and sayings. Most important is the one that says that the cuckoo loses his voice...although I haven't heard one since June. Other sayings relate to such things as "Lift a stone at this date and you will find the cool beneath." It is a general belief that Summer is now on the wane and the cold darkness begins to close in. Well - these  guys know nothing. Even in southern England it is dark until 9am and dark again at 3.30 pm in winter. If the Charentais had to live there they would have reason to be pessimists. And on this matter I must say that I believe that French people are more pessimistic and more accepting than Brits. A Frenchman thinks things will get worse for everyone and that they will bear it. An Englishman thinks that things will get worse for everyone else and it is their own fault if they cannot bear it. 

I planted my grape vines. Gilles dug up areas of his terrasse - not without some muttering. Each of his 2,100 stones were placed by hand and carry his blood and DNA. Since he is French he can scorn le Tribunal de Terrasse because only if you are one of a certain group can you mock them. An ex-viticultrice swung by to denounce my vines and the possible positioning. Luckily she was distracted by some Leylandii conifers in a neighbour's garden. "Oh yes - there are zee regulations and you will be needing zee courts of law..." Actually I needed a drink. I will sit in the darkness of the Leylandii shadow as my withered vines fester with very complicated diseases unknown to Anglos. I will drink to the Virgin Mary as she ascends into heaven and voiceless cuckoos fall dead with frost at my feet. I believe that the hunting of a bird called La Caille opens today. They're a bit like grouse or quail. Bon courage les oiseaux.

When does some awful event pass into legend and the opening of the whimsy season? Time is a healer they say - but is it? A few days ago I was rabbiting about Boadecia fighting the Romans with toilet rolls. Now, those were bloody times of unimaginable suffering and yet Boadecia jokes do not appear to arouse passions, denouncements or have social workers kicking down doors to take away the children. In France, the ghastliness of the Revolution does not prevent all manner of guillotine references. A few days ago you may recall a lady of the village told me of the death of her dog. Now, apparently the mother and father of the dead dog have combined again to produce an identical litter. The grieving owners agonise over whether or not to try and replace their dead pet. I asked some English folk if they had any views about re-incanination. The shock waves of horror had them staggering. If ever there was any chance of ascending into heaven I'm afraid I blew it. Lift off will have to be from some place without pets.

Emma thinx: Re-incanination - it's a dog's afterlife.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Marie Andouillette

There are many types of folks. Stern warnings about stereotyping from chairpersons of the non judgemental, well paid, busy-body community seriously disturbed my ability to tell the difference between a looter and an impulse buyer. Accordingly I have had to look for areas away from the front line of correctness to spot tell tale signs of discriminating differences between groups and individuals. The most obvious has always been the like or dislike of olives. Now - I make no judgement - but aren't the olive lovers passionate, witty, sexy, talented and probably related to various Greek gods? Aren't lovers of anchovy stuffed olives actually Greek gods in themselves?  Luckily my tribal pheromones repel non olive eaters so I am unable to judge them. A similar thing applies to sausages. Most folk can eat a sausage. Only those born poor or divine choose sausage over all other food. "Would you like the fillet steak Madame? - It is the finest cut in le monde and will be paid for by your publishers."
"Non - I will have the saucisse de Toulouse with some ketchup."  This has never happened but I am planning. In France we have SAUSAGE. The choice of sausage is so great that I am afraid of geting caught in a hypermarché vortex of infinite choice and be trapped in a condom shaped time cocoon for ever while I choose my sausage. While I await recognition by the Romance reading masses, my choice is often a reflection of price. There are dried sausages, garlic sausages, chicken sausages, horse sausages and I'm sure that somewhere there are sausages made entirely of old minced up sausages. Enough of this trivia - my choice for today is that of Andouillette. Strangely for a poet this word rhymes with the French word "Toilette". Now you can see why I am a poet. The Andouillette sausage is made from the bottom end of the pig's bowel. As I said - only those born poor or divine.......Let them eat Sausage!

I've been married. I've been a mistress. I've been a tandem cyclist. But - at last the French Government have given me an official status. I am a concubine. WOW - my legitimacy and heritage go back to ancient Greece and Rome- (and probably modern Rome if anything they say about Berlusconi is true). I am a concubina. This status is enshrined in the register of tax payers and residents. My relationship with Gilles is described as a concubinage. I always knew that some day I'd be a something.

Peach Jam. Today it rains and I have taken to La cuisine. I know - I know I should be writing a romantic novel, but there is something about the sweet more-ish-ness of jam that is so sexy. Gently she let  the jam spill  from her engorged lips between the ruthless hard muscles of his pecs. It mixed with the salt and musk of his recently spent passion.
"Oh, Emma," he gasped as he still shuddered with lust...."Why...oh why the jam..."
"Because - my hero - my rock hard man, jam just won't set without pecs in...."
See - women can multi-task!

Emma thinx: concubine - sexy but prickly.

Paella Fitzgerald

It was Jazz night at the local restaurant. It was to be a barbecue because last week for the Salsa night it was Paella. We had booked to barbie but as we took our seats by the musicians table they were eating large amounts of what looked like - Paella. I had guessed that they were jazz musicians because one of them was wearing an arty winter scarf, a T shirt and jeans. Le patron appeared. "Oh dear - you booked the barbecue - oh yes- but it is Paella - it is just as good." Two of our party were not seafood fans. We ordered Paella without the seafood.  The musicians munched on - even asking for more. Perhaps they don't get paid. Suddenly a DIVA trotted in from somewhere across the street. She dashed around a little, then took the micro to explain that she was exhausted because she had been so busy with important concerts at places she described as "Blah blah blah" and another equally important place called "Blah blah blah." She told us not to worry and that after some red wine she would be her normal fantastic self. She sat with some friends and chatted and then sang a little before going back to her friends to smoke a cigarette and take some medicine. The band played on - she had been in mid song - but such conduct is normal among indoor scarf summer time wearing folk I believe. We munched the non barbecue, partially non seafood Paella. The music stopped. The Diva explained "Now - important - MONGE." She sat down with her friends to eat. We paid up and left. Some shows are better than others. Last week's singer was fabulous. I suspect that Monsieur Le Patron has had better days.

As I write we are expecting folk for lunch. It is 2.30 pm. This is the weekend of 15th August and is a major holiday. All routes South are blocked with traffic......

We ate at about 4pm. It was hot. These guys are old work colleagues and are just so modern and clever. They know about things like machines that build micro chip machines that go inside computers. I kinda know how to heat up chips in a microwave. She speaks French/American. He speaks Franglo-americano. The kids sound American but adore baguettes. It's called evolution. They had to go - but I wish they had stayed.

I want to talk about saving the world, conserving energy and recycling carbon footprints. All of this is embodied in a single concept. The photo today is of a wonderful product that will turn you into a paragon of preservation. The idea is to recycle the kernels of maize into barbecue fuel. I walked from Carrefour with a kinda eco-warrior maiden swagger- a bit like Boadecia-pelting the Romans with re-cycled toilet rolls.  We lit the barbecue. Flames shot skyward. Some red embers remained. We semi cooked 4 sausages. The fuel ran out. The future looks - well-cold and raw. Probably best to just eat the fuel.  

Emma thinx: If you're singing for your supper - ask for an advance. Folks are fickle. 

Friday 12 August 2011

Brass Banned

I'm a relatively trusting soul. In the Tourist Information office of St. Savinien, there is a large poster advising you not to eat wild mushrooms. I trust the folks who created this work with all its intricate pictures and warnings of death and agony. I also trust a guy up the road who is a reputed maitre de mushrooms, a chef de champignons. Monday Gilles and I are invited on a funghi fest. You might be well advised to read this blog over the week-end......there may only be a couple of more episodes ever. Gilles is convinced that the guy is a true son of the soil and a bona fide rural wiseacre. If the Archers played in France, this chap would be Jethro Larkin. My American readers may not know that the "Archers" is a radio soap opera broadcast by the BBC. It's a story of country folk. The poor talk with hick/rural accents and the rich talk with posh yah yah patronising voices. 

Much politics over invitations, counter invitations, cancelled invitations and potential invitations. Since everyone knows everyone and everyone knows who went to whom and who has disputes and therefore did not, and who owes who and who should have been invited first, I sometimes think I will stay at home with all the lights off. Alternatively I could invite everyone for a mushroom spectacular....then I would know who really trusted me. As it stands we are doing lunch tomorrow for old Anglo/Franco/Americano work colleagues travelling South, and dinner for a local couple who are from "The North." If you are from "The North" you are different. You have a natural affinity with the Brits. It's all about darkness, rain, chips, beer, coal mines, brass bands and gritty Saturdays at Football matches in the cold sleet. Apparently Northern French find middle and southern French very difficult. In my view it's probably because the regional accents of France are like fences in the Grand National. There are many fallers.

Friday night is Jazz night at the resto St.Savinien. These guys work so hard to make their business work. I'll try and get a vid and put it up tomorrow. If any French person knows you are about to eat, are going out to eat, queueing for a kebab, sitting on a railway station bench with a sandwich, have food that is for a meal later they have to say "Bon appetit." It's a sacred mantra. If you're about to eat - "Bon appetit."

Emma thinx: Reincarnation - an everlasting buttonhole.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Eat Shit - Dog's Breath!

It's over. Gilles was off work today and finished La Terrasse. The feeling is a bit like the ending of the Tour De France. In some ways I just can't believe it's over. A full meeting of the Tribunal de Terrasse took place. The newly planted grape bush (VIGNE) was applauded. I felt re-accepted into the community. Visitors piled in, including the local Angel of all beasts. "C'est formidable! - what a job - oh yes- when you said ten days I discussed it with my husband - he says 'no way'- he knows of zeese mattairs". A lot of kissing and hand shaking followed with advice about soil for grape bushes and something called "cépage". A neighbour muttered about new plants being close to his wall. 

It's just not like England you know! Now - I am a Francophile. This is why I am here. However, anyone not French thinking of living in France must accept that this is an entirely different culture. In a sense you are interfered with in a manner beyond all normal Anglo Saxon boundaries. Your speech, behaviour and gardening are matters of public debate and concern. However, all manner of other stuff is secret and private. All kinds of disputes and dis-likings are hinted at but never explained. One neighbour mentioned another resident and asked if I had an opinion. I had very little to say. "He is an old Schnook" she informed me. Later on I saw them chatting. He was saying that the new road works might affect her drains and that she should join him in talking to Monsieur Le Maire. She shrugged and glanced at me. This is how you deal with Schnooks. The point of this ramble is that here you are somehow public property, but locked in to a secret society of alliance and opinion. This is France.

Amongst all the gardening advice came much guidance on the civil disorder in the UK. " Army commandos - yes this is the thing. Shoot them dead. All this stuff of no job etc - this is a pretext. Yes - shoot them dead and guillotine the others. It is interesting to me that as yet no one has defended the action of the rioters and looters. I don't suppose they care, but this is a street politics society. No sympathy here guys!

My neighbour's dog wandered in to the garden and ate a lot of the cat shit. To be honest I've never been very sentimental about animals. I would like to dress this up for you but you cannot deny bald facts. I must build it in to my next super swoon love Romance. He has a dog. She has a cat. They meet over a dog's dinner. It's about mutual need.....C'mon all you movie guys - this has to be the blockbuster of all time!

Emma thinx: The truth can be revolting. No revolution can change it.

Wednesday 10 August 2011


Bats - in St Savinien we have some very rare and endangered species. They live in the old quarry caves that pepper the town and also in our Préau (Charentais rustic car port/barn).   Last night I sat in the garden being buzzed by dear little bats. Somehow the flap of their wings just inches from my face felt like a privilege. I just sat there, feeling the current of air created by their wings of stretched skin. It seemed like I was part of Nature. Then I went indoors to watch the world news. I felt that Nature was part of me and that I wanted to reject it. Kids under 10 years old out  looting at 2am in Manchester UK. Tribal groups in Pakistan murdering each other when their enemy is poverty and lack of opportunity. I went back to the garden to see the bats and the stars. 

Talking of stars - I woke up at 3 am and looked out of the window. In St. Savinien, Charente, 17350, there is very little light pollution. The sky at night in rural France is the most fantastic floor show. I remember it from mon enfance- before the cars and the madness of it all. Obviously it's just a dome with holes pricked in to keep us fooled. All the same, I had to reflect on the painting by Titian in the National Gallery in London of Bacchus and Ariadne (Check it out here). I won't bore you with the arty farty guff but it is a painting crammed with love and passion. Bacchus throws the crown of Ariadne into the heavens and above her it burns as an immortal constellation. If you're able - go and see it. IT'S FREE. You don't have to loot it or steal it. Several times a day you can get a free guided tour of selected works in the gallery. A deeply intelligent person will chat to you about the paintings. You will feel humbled and ashamed that you know nothing. At the end you will know more than you thought you could know.  As a poor scum bag from darkest London with an average IQ destined for the honourless, wealthless  drudge, I started to go see this stuff. It didn't change the world but it changed me. Educators! Stop just jumping the kids through the hoops, then turning your back when they fall. Batter and discipline them until they know what they are worth! Just remember all those free tours and the sweet folk who lecture to anyone- ABSOLUTELY ANYONE - are part of civilisation and a law abiding world. 

And finally a few words about La Bise - this whole Euro kissing thing but also taking in the hand shaking thing. If you were  young and you were expected to kiss older folk and expect them to address you in a caring yet senior manner would you then go and smash up their home/shop/car/business? I tell you - you would not! Parallel so called communities have no hope. Community means everyone. Not this community or that community -teenage looters, ethnic rapists and Nazis are communities. In France the word has slightly more meaning.......but erosion and diversification do their work here too. Kiss before you smash. - Vive La France. 

Emma thinx: Search for your darkness and see the stars.