Sunday, December 18, 2005

18/12/05 Merry Christmas 'an all

Hello everyone, a bit early I know but I thought I'd get in before the rush starts.

Well, we had a lovely Indian summer up until a couple of weeks ago - exceptional, really - and today, right on schedule, it snowed. We woke up to about 20cm of the stuff, nice and powdery on cold ground, to boot. As it's been about four years since I last put chains on the car I walked Jeremy up to collège with the snow still swirling around us, then came back home and got Margo to help me. (Not too proud to ask for help.) It's true that the quick-fit chains go on in less than a minute - so long as you can remember eaxctly how you're supposed to do it. Otherwise you can spend half an hour. I must admit that they're convenient - the ones I got are even auto-tensioning, so you don't even have to stop after 5 minutes to adjust them.

Anyway, made it safely down to the nationale thinking "right, I'll just carry straight across to the autoroute and take the chains off there, where it's nice and clear" only to find that the autoroute access was blocked - a lorry had gone sideways across it - so I did the 10km to Montmelian like a complete prat, at the magnificent speed of 50kph. There I finally got onto the autoroute only to find, a couple of km further on, that the circulation of heavy lorries had been banned and that they were consequently all parked in the two right-hand lanes, leaving us with a one-lane autoroute. Great. Back to three lanes after the péage, but then at Chambery the tunnel was down to one lane and then, as the autoroute to Lyon was cut, there were more lorries on the side of the road.

Finally got up the hill and negociated the tricky last 300m to the office - being a relatively little-used road it's low on the list of priorities, so the snow-plough goes by in the afternoon (when it's not needed anymore). The anti-skid thingy light was flashing on and off like a tacky disco globe and I was wallowing across the road like a bloated cow but I finally got there - only an hour and a quarter after leaving home.

It's not supposed to snow tomorrow, but it'll freeze tonight, which'll make it even more fun going in to the market tomorrow morning. Still, on the bright side, we do have the latest series of Dr Who! In Frog, unfortunately, but I can live with that.


Wel, a week has gone past since those last lines and apparently nothing of great interest has happened, or I'd surely have noted it. Wouldn't I? At least it hasn't snowed again - not down here anyway, although that might change this week as snow is forecast down around the 500m level.

One thing we did get around to doing before the snow arrived was going down to the Foire Internationale at Grenoble. Our long-suffering kids got dragged along, and it did make me wonder why we bother trying to do things as a family given that when we do we all wind up foul-tempered and bloody-minded. Personally I quite enjoyed going around, even though there's absolutely no way I'm going to buy a €6000 wood-fired stove for the kitchen even if it does come with a personal letter of recommendation from Paul Bocuse, and you can forget about the 20m swimming pool. I was happy to come across a specialist stand in the food & drink section and pick up some more decent curry powder, although I did think that their chocolate-scented tea was a bit of a failure. To say the least.


Yet another lapse, I see - it's not that nothing actually happens, just that the things that do get around to occurring are usually far too ordinary to warrant mentioning. We made it down to Grenoble again yesterday to do the last bits of Christmas shopping and to deliver clean clothes to Malyon before she went off to Valence for the weekend with a friend from lycée. Being a large city, Grenoble has a not-too-bad public transport network and in any case, like many French cities, the centre is relatively compact, so it actually turned out to be a rather good idea to take the ring road around to the enormous (free) carpark at the Grand'Place mall on the southern side, park there and take the tram into the centre. The family tram ticket cost €4, less than two hours parking in the centre, so it really ought to be pretty much a no-brainer.

The Chinese shop I usually go to had moved from its usual place behind the Halles to somewhere up Cours Berriat, which was emphatically not on our plans that day, so I'm still short of satay spices. On the other hand, the flash grocers next door were still there, so I managed to pick up some stollen cake and some pain d'épice and some posh tea and some more curry, all of which'll doubtless turn up as stocking-fillers at Pesselière. And the Laiterie Bayard (est. godnose when) deigned to open its doors at 14:30 and sold me sherry and vintage rum, and pressed a small sample bottle of extremely old Chartreuse into Margo's hand as we left. ("Laiterie" is perhaps inadequate for the establishment, although it does sell cheese, which is actually present on the premises and may be inspected. Not a Monty Python cheese shop. In fact, I'd say it dates back to somewhere around 1910, going by the tiles walls and antiquated notions of hygiene - still sprinkle sawdust on the floor. They also have as large a selection of fine wines as I've seen anywhere, ditto whiskies and rums. A nice shop.)

During this time Jeremy had been lured into a comics shop- and that's a pitiful word 'cos we're talking about the coffee-table art-book style rather than the latest Donald Duck album. We dragged him reluctantly out and headed off in search of Arab pastries for the girls. Luckily it's the right area, so we didn't have to go far. Found an Arab grocer ... what I really like are the bins full of raw spices - cumin and caraway and curry and paprika and chili and turmeric and godnose what else - and mysterious packets proclaiming themselves to be authentic Turkish coffee or tamarind paste, or bulging fresh dates ... it really is so easy to please me.

Anyway, we're heading off to Pesselière on Friday, if all goes well, then coming back on the Tuesday, admittedly to much wailing from the kids. Life is tragic.A very merry Christmas and happy New Year to all of you, and we'll catch up with you soon.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

14/09/05 Life's too short ...


Hello to all of you, and as you may have noticed we passed briefly across the radar screen in August. To all of you that we managed to see - thanks for putting up with us. To those that we missed - sorry, we'll try to do better next time. You can always come over here, you know. It's not as bad as it's painted, and we do have the room now.

The return trip was relatively simple. Left Hamilton at 17:00, flew out at 22:00 and arrived at Incheon (Korea) after 12 hours, spent 3 hours waiting before boarding an Air France flight for another 12 hour flight to Roissy where we hung around for 3 hours until our TGV arrived to take us down to Chambery 3 hours later. I admit it was a bit tiring. I also have to admit that I preferred Air France to Korean Air. The service was fine on both, it's just that - let's face it - kimchi (the Korean national dish, spicy pickled cabbage) does nothing for me. It's an acquired taste, and I've not acquired it. And even if I had acquired it, I'm not sure that I'd appreciate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner - especially breakfast, where it's served with a sort of rice porridge. My advice is to give it a miss.

On top of it, Jacques fell into conversation with the crew (as is his wont - godnose how he does it) and discovered that one of the stewardesses was the neighbour of one of his nephews (also an Air France steward) in Chamonix. From which point on we got a couple of bottles of champagne (nicked from 1st class, I assume) tucked into our hand baggage, and were royally served in wine and whisky.

All things considered, the plane was the easy part. At least, once you've checked in (the Korean Air guy was very kind, and weighed us in at exactly 120 kg - rather generous, I think, and of course completely ignored the 40kg or so of "carry-on" baggage) your suitcases follow you around without your having to concern yourself with them (except in a statistically insignificant number of cases, where they eventually turn up on Easter Island). Trains aren't like that - at least not any more. We had the TGV from Roissy to Lyon, then the slow train from Lyon to Chambery, with ten minutes to connect at Lyon. With our 160 kg of baggage. The TGV was full, as were the baggage racks, so we piled our suitcases on the floor by one of the doors and sat down, to watch all the latecomers arrive and pile their suitcases atop ours. Not good - or at least, not too helpful in the "speedy change of train" department. Then we got to Lyon to find that the door now hidden behind the Pile of baggage was the one opening onto the platform. A few very busy minutes followed - clambered over the Pile to open the door, pulled all the baggage onto the platform, grabbed ours and legged it. We made it - just.

The next day - Monday - I drove Jeremy down to La Grande Motte, on the Mediterranean near Montpellier, where he was supposed to be spending the week with Sophie and her two, Lucas and Rémi. The I drove back - a nice little 8-hour round trip. It's Friday as I write this, and everyone seems to be more or less back to normal.


Time has passed, hasn't it? As far as I can make out we're still all alive and kicking - albeit feebly - and we seem to have survived the annual ceremony of the "rentrée scolaire". The only real glitch we had was with Malyon, whose request to be put up at the boarding establishment at Grenoble somehow didn't make it into the system. Which we discovered about two days before she was supposed to turn up there. She only had a couple of days commuting until - as always happens in the first week or so - someone either dropped out or never even turned up, so she's now comfortably ensconced. She does have school on a Saturday morning this year, which is a bit of a sod, as she really needs to sleep over in Grenoble the Friday night and she can't do that at the boarding school - luckily we've found someone who'll put her up.

Jeremy's gone into 6eme at collège - the equivalent of Form 1, or whatever it is now - and has discovered the delights of having homework. It does not impress him. I can understand that. Doesn't help that he really misses Malyon - rather more than we thought he would. I really don't know what we can do about that. He's asked to see the school shrink again, to talk about things - I suppose that's a good sign.

Anyway, the grape harvest has kicked off and so for the next month the departmentales will be clogged by tractors with enormous trailers either laden with grapes on their way to the winery, or empty and banging their way across the road at the slightest hint of a bump as they head back to get filled up with grapes again. I'm back on the nationales and autoroutes until further notice.

In the weather department it's fine enough, still up in the twenties during the day but in the mornings you can tell it's autumn. Apparently it wasn't that much better when we were with you. Let's just hope it stays fine for the next month or so - keep the fuel bills down.

Love to you all
Trevor & Margo

Monday, May 16, 2005

16/05/04 French Connection, n°3 -a quick note

Hello again.

Just a quickie, to let you know that we're still alive and have not yet been condemned by Rumsfeld to whatever pit of Hell it is that has jurisdiction over cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

We've finally made it through the winter and are feeling comfortable enough to have turned off the central heating - just as well given what's happened to the price of fuel oil recently. It's almost warm enough for Margo: it's 27° in our bedroom right now, which is certainly warm enough for me.

And of course the garden is growing - mostly weeds, I'm afraid. I'm going to have to go down there soon with a low-yield atomic bomb (buy one from Pakistan over Internet) in an attempt to get rid of the dandelions and thistles, then I'll have to reseed a vast patch of lawn that was doing very well for itself until the heatwave last summer but which has, since then, turned into a sort of thistle nursery. Having a flock of cows invade in January didn't help matters, as they crapped everywhere (of course), left great holes from their hooves and ate back one of the feijoas to the ground: happily it seems made of hardy stuff and has started to grow back.

One of those months when everyone disappears: Toerag went off for a week to Barcelona, then Jeremy disappeared for 10 days (school trip to the Ile d'Oleron, off Britanny) and now Margo is headed off in a couple of days for two weeks in England with her class. I'm the only one who's not going anywhere.

We're also trying to get Toerag into the International College at Grenoble. Which means that tomorrow morning I have to get her down there for the oral exam: the written part was last week. Should she be accepted (and it's not a walkover, given the number of English-speaking students who apply [Grenoble's a hi-tech centre with an awful lot of expat Americans and English {remember, too many embedded brackets are a sign of a sick mind}]) she'll do her brevet international, and the closest simile I can come up with for that is a multi-lingual bursary exam. It involves lots of work - the standard Frog exam plus 10 hours per week minimum of instruction in English - good.

Whatever, it'll get her out of the house. Not that she's a pain, just that she's a thoughtless, egocentric self-absorbed verging on hormonally-overdosed child of 14 going 15 who is discovering boys and hours spent in the bathroom with Yves Rocher (thank god we now have a sufficiency of bathrooms, although it's a bit unfair on Jeremy who has to share with Malyon). Yes, I know this is normal adolescent behaviour, yes I know that you've all gone through it or soon will, that doesn't really help. She can still be a right pain.

Jeremy has been going off to see a "pyschomotricienne" for the past six months now, and it seems to have helped him a lot. Well, we think so anyway, and as we're the ones paying for it, that's probably what counts. The general consensus is that he was sufficiently uncomfortable with his body to push him into mild depression, so the therapist has him doing happy-clappy things (I exaggerate a bit) and the results are enough that I don't regret the fees. He's a happy lad. Fortunately, it hasn't stopped his ability to have (when he wishes) an intelligent adult conversation, which is always a good party trick.

The animals are fine: Kelly is still spaced out on her epilepsy medication but she's still the enormous bad-breathed loving hulk she's always been, just a bit calmer. The guinea-pigs have made us rather doubt Jean's sexing ability - they were supposed to be two females, but Punk has bits and a tendency to hump stones - or Blueberry, when she doesn't have a headache. No baby guinea-pigs as yet, so perhaps we're reading too much into this. Could be just animal high spirits.

Our plans for the summer involve doing as little as possible, and getting away to Palavas (yes, the Mecca of the Français moyen) for ten days in July: any suggestions concerning reasonable excuses for not doing things around the house that I know really ought to be done but have no great wish to do will be gratefully accepted.

Trevor, Margo, Brats, Animals

(Oh, we let the bird go. Margo took it down to the vet - she had to take Kelly down anyway - and he said she's fine, let her go. Then the stupid thing flew off, perched on a halogen and burnt her tailfeathers off - end result, we had to keep her for another month. Until they grew back. Cretin. She finally flew off, and my office floor is no longer covered in bird-seed and straw. Happy ending.)