28 January, 2009

The Great Storm! - Day Three

Day Three

On Monday we had electricity on and off throughout the day – more on than off. The water finally came back on late in the afternoon, so we at least managed to have showers!

We managed to check emails and the news etc, and discovered that over a million homes in SW France have been without power, phone and water, and that about 15 people have died as a result of the storm. EDF France drafted in over 1000 power workers from the other countries in which they operate – UK, Holland, Portugal and somewhere else!

Moses came back again in the evening, with some steaks that he cooked for us.

And I am about to go to bed because I am now full of the cold that Isla has! She’s so generous – she always makes sure to share everything with me, particularly her germs! I guess last night wasn’t such a win-win situation after all.


27 January, 2009

The Great Storm! - Day Two

Day 2

We woke up to no electricity again. To be fair, we really didn’t expect it to be back on so soon. We needed to get a gas bottle though, so we threw on clothes and went out. On Sundays there are a few shops open, but only until lunchtime. The weather was a lot calmer, but we went further afield than the day before and saw an enormous amount of mess all over the place. It was no wonder there were so many people without power. The wind had calmed down a lot, and it was clear enough to see as far as the Pyrénées.

The whole town of Condom was without electricity. They had power in Fleurance and Lectoure, but no phone lines. We tried to buy some phone credit as I was down to about a euro, and my mum’s battery was dead. We couldn’t get any anywhere because there was no communication with the Orange server. In one of our local villages we found a shop open – the guy who runs it is also a pompier, so he had one of the pompier generators running the shop, because he also sells fuel, and the pompier vans had to be kept fuelled up so that they could get around and cut up the trees and clear the roads for the power guys!

My friend (and fellow blogger) Joocey phoned me on the mobile, so I got her to phone my gran to let her know we were ok (no credit, couldn’t do it ourselves!), and to change my Facebook status to let everyone know why we were incommunicado!

By the time we got home, we had no water. Our water comes from the nearest water tower, and is sent to houses by a water pump. No electricity = no water pump. What we had been using, were the dregs of what had been in our pipes.

Time to think logically though. We have a big swimming pool just outside the back door. No chemicals have been put in for months. We got out the stock pot, an old preserving pan and the biggest saucepans, filled them up and boiled them all on the gas hob. We filled the bath with cold pool water and left a large jug in there for flushing the toilet. Once we had washed up all the things that had been in the dishwasher, we boiled up some more water and washed ourselves standing by the kitchen sink. I had got to the point that when I took the scrunchie out of the hair, it stayed in its ponytail! I felt filthy and disgusting. I felt human again after that though.

We are living in the 21st century, but it felt more like the 18th. It gave us some small inkling of how people (ie. Jamie & Claire!!) managed when all they had was fire to heat and cook by and water from a stream or lake to wash, cook and drink.

We had to use up some of the food that was in the fridge – we had a whole packet of chicken breast and another whole packet of mince, so we made a massive chicken curry, and a big chilli con carne. A bunch of people came round in the evening, with their own fod that had to be used up, and we had a brilliant evening. In the kitchen we have a candelabra that takes ten candles, and it was almost as bright as electric light in there! We all got quite pissed, had a sing song, and just had a laugh – I think we all needed it.

By the time Isla went to bed she had a raging fever, and was full of the cold. She slept in my bed – I thought my coldness could cool her down, and her fever could warm me up – a win-win situation!

26 January, 2009

The Great Storm! - Day One

Well, I have been incommunicado for the last few days – since Friday night, in fact. We were out to dinner at a friend’s on Friday night, and came home at around midnight. Our other friends who were there didn’t leave until around 4am, and as they were leaving, the Great Storm was starting.

Day One

We woke up on Saturday morning to gale force winds, and no electricity. It wasn’t a huge surprise, as the storm had been forecast. We all lay in our respective beds with the doors open and played “I packed my suitcase and in it I put…” and then “I packed my cold box and in it I put…” and then we had to resort to “The Minister’s Cat”. We stayed in bed as long as we possibly could, because it was the warmest place to be.

All morning, we still had a phone line. We have an old phone which doesn’t require electricity, so we had that plugged in, in the hallway. We did manage to speak to a few people, but by the afternoon the phone line had gone too.

Our garden was a total mess. Isla’s slide was on its side, her swing wrapped around tree branches. The Leylandii at one point were almost horizontal, as was our little palm tree. At one point while we were still in bed, Isla was sitting inside on the window sill watching the wind in the garden, and saw a big branch flying across the driveway, and hitting into the back of the car, smashing the back windscreen. She said it was really weird – there was no noise, it was like watching a silent movie. When we finally got up we lit the fire and had some food. We left my dad at home, and braved the weather to go out and check other peoples’ houses. We went to one that had a couple of massive trees down, but the house itself was ok. Another one has some tiles off the roof, and another has another massive tree down, but miraculously all the houses themselves are ok.
The area had been devastated though. There were trees down across the roads everywhere, taking down power lines and phone lines. The centuries old village wall has collapsed, but most houses have escaped undamaged, but some friends of ours have lost their barn which collapsed on top of their camper van and their white van. Another friend of ours has had her house burn down – but that was before the storm. However, after the storm, they discovered that their van had been squashed too. So the rest of us don’t really have much reason to complain. We are lucky at home, because we have a gas cooker – oven as well as hob. So we could still cook. A lot of people only have electricity, which makes life rather difficult! However, we didn’t use the oven to cook, mainly because it’s crap – we live in rural France – the insulation around the oven has been eaten by mice! It makes it a rubbish oven, but a very effective heater! So, we had baked potatoes – wrapped in tin foil and baked in the red hot coals of the fire! They were gorgeous – I’ve never had baked potatoes so light and fluffy and creamy on the inside. A friend of ours, Moses (not real name!), came over in the evening as his house was freezing! He ate with us, and we introduced him to the delights of “I packed my suitcase…” and “The Minister’s Cat”, and then we played charades, which was a bit difficult in the semi-light!

The one thing we didn’t manage to do was wash ourselves – our water is heated by gas, but the gas heater ignites electrically! So, we spent a day being dirty, which was nasty.

When Moses left, my mum and I stayed up for a bit longer asking trivial pursuit questions. We didn’t want to go to bed too early because we’d never get to sleep. As we were going to bed though, my mum’s mobile rang! It was the alarm company of one of the houses we had been to in the afternoon. So, we had to go up to the house and check it out! It was about 2am, we had to walk up the driveway in the dark, as the tree was across the driveway, and had to go into the house in the dark with no electricity! It wasn’t much fun. Luckily everything was ok – I think that the power must have gone on and off a couple of times upsetting the alarm and making it go off. We didn’t get to bed until nearly 3am.

I Got An Award!!!

First of all, thank you so much to Joocey for updating my blogs and my Facebook status!

I have my first blog award - I'm sooo excited! - from Jo at Life's Perfect Pictures. Thank you so much!

So, I have to pass it on to some fellow bloggers that I read.

Here goes...

1) Joocey
For obvious reasons, two of which are that she is the fabbest friend, and her blog is great too!
2) Ness at Drover's Run
Her photo based blog is great!
3) Rosiero at Alcoholic Daze
For her wonderful blog.
4) Just Me
Because I really like her blog, and would like to give her the award to cheer her up a bit!
5) Princesse Ecossaise at La Belle Saison
Because her blog is great, and she's an Irn Bru devotee too!
6) Shakespeare's Housekeeper
For her lovely and funny blog about living with a writer.
7) Aims at Big Blue Barn West
Because I have never read anything quite like her blog.

Now what you have to do (for those who don't know) is copy the picture, post it on your blog (if you want to!) and give the award to the bloggers that you love with a link to their sites.

25 January, 2009

Stormy Weather

I'm writing this on behalf of Mademoiselle duGers, since she has not a jot of electricity, water or telecommunications. (Thanks to those infernal nasty storms that have been battering France and Spain.) Hence she has nothing with which to access her internet. Poor thing. Its a bit like the 18th Century, by all accounts, except that she does have a rather handy swimming pool to get water from, and a gas cooker to boil some water. So at least a cup of tea (albeit slightly chlorinated) is possible.

Fear not, though - I'm sure normal random rambling service shall return shortly.

21 January, 2009

To The Rescue!

Well, today has been one of those days that just went haywire!

When I woke up this morning, I quickly checked my emails before taking Isla to school, and found one from my friend who is on holiday - the one who got muged the other day, and lost her handbag with everything inside it. I think it was problem written in a very low moment, but the long and the short of it is that we had to find out how to do Western Union today, and go into town to the post office and do it, so that she could have a little bit of cash in her pocket. It wasn't a problem, as we owe her money anyway, for some duty free cigarettes that she got for me. It was an experience though, but the money they charge you just for sending a small amount of money is daylight robbery - as she said herself, at least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a face mask!

She seems to be coping with it fairly well - I'm not sure I would have taken it so well if it had happened to me in Japan, but then Japan is a much more technologically advanced country than the one she is in, and things would have moved much more quickly I'm sure.

On a brighter note, I have some dogsitting booked for a few days in the next month or so, so that'll be a nice break. It's close to home too, so at least I can take Isla with me as it's close enough to school. As they say, a change is as good as a rest and all that!

Also, you know Isla got her hair cut?...well so did I! From very long and fine, to shorter and fine! Not a drastic difference, but it has given my hair much more bounce. Ever since I was pregnant, I've had a problem with my hair falling out. Every morning in the shower, loads comes out. It wasn't until about four years ago that I discovered that this was to do with having an underactive thyroid. That explains why I suffer from the cold so much too - so much so that today I actually taped up the front door with masking tape because I've been sitting in a draught! We have a back door, so it's no real problem!! It's rural France - nothing fits!! Anyway, back to the point - my hair is now shoulder length, and appears to have much more bounce than it did - the length was just dragging it down. I've just about got used to it!

If you're easily scared, look away now...!

Long Hair
Short Hair

17 January, 2009

Shipshape and Gers Fashion

I spent this morning (well, what I saw of this morning!) getting my bedroom and Isla's bedroom sorted out. When Grandma comes to stay, we move Isla's desk to under her bunk bed, and put a single bed in its place. Isla then comes in with me and shares my double bed. After all, we can't expect an 88 year old great grandmother to climb into a bunk! While we were taking her back to the airport, my dad got the bed out, put the desk back in its place and made Isla's bed for her. She was so chuffed when we got back, because I'd told her we'd do it the next day!
So, today I was sorting out televisions etc. Isla got a TV and DVD player (DVD player was only 19€ from Leaderprice!) for Christmas, which was set up in her bedroom that day. Grandma arrived just three days later, so I moved it into my room, thereby removing the TV and DVD player that I have in there! I don't use it much, and it wouldn't have been fair to give her a present only to say "you can't use it for the next three weeks"! My TV is an old UK one, the front panel fell off years ago, it's not compatible with French TV (no loss there), but is perfectly fine for DVD's.

So, that moved into my room along with Isla and all her toys!

I got her stuff back into her room, my stuff back into my room and my computer back onto my desk, which had been reserved for her to do her homework! All back to normal! And, I get my whole bed back to myself (and the odd labrador or two!).
I went for a nice long walk today with the dogs, and a couple of friends with their dogs - six dogs in all! It was a beautiful day, just a little chilly but clear and lovely. We walked down through the field opposite our house to a little irrigation lake, and then up the other side to the road, and came home via the road. A nice big circle! The dogs found a stick that they couldn't budge as it was still rooted into the ground - as you can see, it was extremely frustrating for Champers - she spent about ten minutes trying to get it out. It was driving her nuts!
I must do more of this exercise stuff - the excesses of Christmas are never easy to shift, and like Ness at Drover's Run, I have an underactive thyroid that makes it really hard to lose weight. It's not an excuse - there's a lot more I could do, but I don't! Maybe it's time to start!

Random Recipes

There are a couple of recipes here, handed down to me by my mum. The Coconut Slice recipe was given to me by my dad's cousin, who died 9 years ago. She used to come to visit us in Scotland, and always cames with tins full of cakes and things. My cousin (who lived with us at the time) and I always looked forward to her coming, and our favourite was always the Coconut Slice. Try it, it's gorgeous!

This post goes with a post about family recipes, on my other blog Memoirs of a Mother, located here.

16 January, 2009

Patience Is A Virtue!

Well, it’s been a hell of a couple of days!
My laptop had to go back to the shop. There was nothing drastically wrong with it, just a couple of small annoyances that had to be dealt with before the guarantee expires on January 23rd! I know, I was cutting it fine, but I didn’t want to be without it when I was dog sitting, or over Christmas and for all I knew they would have to send it off to be fixed. The fan was making a nasty whirring noise – I knew what that was though, it was just almost two years of dust and probably dog hair too, so I knew that just needed to be cleaned out. The other problem was that the DVD burner has never actually worked properly. The data transferred to the DVD ok, but it never actually completed the task and spat the DVD out. So, off we went to Conforama in Auch, where there is a very nice man (who I found out is married yesterday – boo, hiss!) who fixes computers. Also it had to go back there as I had the guarantee.

He fixed the burner and the fan overnight, and we went back to get it yesterday. Unfortunately, it had to be reformatted, but he had managed to save all the files (even though I had already backed them all up on the external hard drive) and all my email details, which was fab. Got it home, got it out, and tried to connect to the Orange livebox with the wifi. No luck. Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to bloody connect. Phoned him, and everything he suggested to make it work, I had already done. Took it back in, he fiddled about for half an hour, and got it connected. Came home again, and sure enough it would connect to the livebox, but not to the internet. My mum’s worked ok, so I couldn’t figure out what it was. I decided to not worry about it for the moment, plugged in the Ethernet cable, and set to downloading all the programmes I needed and had neglected to save! Now I’ll remember to save all the install files! I got most of the downloading and set up done last night.

When I had had enough of that, I went onto the Livebox configuration page, and tried to see if there was anything there preventing me from connecting via wifi. I couldn’t come up with anything, so unplugged the Ethernet and kept trying. Finally, it occurred to me to double check the WEP key that I had written down, and then saved on word. It turned out I was ONE letter out – hence all the problems! How irritating is that!

Anyway, it all works fine now, and I have everything set up again the way it was, except for one program which I will do tomorrow. Computers are meant to make life easier, but when they go even a tiny bit wrong they don’t half create problems!

The other thing is that we had to go to bloody Bergerac today to the airport to take Grandma back. If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you will know how much I detest that drive. It’s at least 2 and a half hours, on a long and winding road, and is a pain. But, that’s the only airport at the moment that takes flights from Southampton, so we have no choice. Grandma can’t cope with larger airports, and at her age, why should she have to?! It’s enough that she can still manage to do it on her own. My uncle takes her to Southampton, she has meet and assist, and we pick her up at the other end. The fact that she is still willing to travel at 88 years old is amazing. Good on her!

Despite the fact that I have had a frustrating couple of days, it’s nothing compared to my friend. She’s on holiday, and had her handbag nicked the other day, containing her passport, phone and brand new iTouch that she got for Christmas. She’s far away, and feeling crap about it all, not to mention very shaken up.

So my couple of days weren’t that bad really, were they?

Isla's Haircut

I made a brave and bold decision the day before yesterday. I cut Isla's hair!

I was cutting her fringe, and I asked her if she wanted me to cut the whole lot off - she said yes!! I asked her about ten times if she was really, totally and utterly sure, and she assured me that she was!

Once I'd made the first cut there was no going back! It was quite easy really - it was meant to be a bit longer, but I kept discovering that one side was longer than the other! I got it sorted though, and I think it looks great! It's very fine, so being short for a while will be quite good for it, and by the time summer rolls around it will be long enough to tie back to go in the pool. It makes mornings so much more pleasant not having to brush knotty, long hair. I've even seen her making herself cry while she brushes it! So, life will be a bit easier.

She loves it, and she loved the reactions of her friends! It's never been cut short since it started growing, only ever been trimmed, so no one in her life has ever seen it this short!

I think it looks great, and really suits her!

08 January, 2009

Domestic Goddesses Strike Again!

My mum and I have spent another one of those days cooking. We do this once in a while.

To explain - we have this electricity system, supplied by EDF, called Tempo. What this means is that we have six different rates of electricity: Expensive (day and night), Medium (day and night) and Cheap (day and night). The expensive and medium days only occur during winter months, which makes sense as people use their heating more. The rest of the year is cheap. So, on expensive days (which EDF conveniently plan for the coldest days of the year) we don't use any appliances which use a lot of electricity, so no heaters, washing machine or dishwasher or kettle - apparently kettles are one of the most expensive appliances to use - something to do with heating elements. If you want a cup of tea, boil a saucepan of water! On expensive days we live in the sitting room and the kitchen. We have a big gas cooker, so we spend the day cooking loads of meals to put into the freezer.

Yesterday we went shopping and bought loads of meat, so today we did interesting things with it! We made cheese samoussas, beef samoussas and chicken samoussas, and I also did a chicken curry. We also bought a massive pack of pork, almost ten kilos for about €23 I think, so we had to separate that into packs of chops and there was a massive roasting joint which will do about three meals. So, all in all a very productive day, and kept warm as well!

Such a fun life we lead in the Gers during the winter!For the Butter Chicken I forgot to put in the recipe that I added about 100ml of chicken stock, and that I used 500ml of crème fraiche, but that's just because I really like juicy curries!

Hope you try and enjoy!

I'm sure more exciting things will happen for me to tell you about!

07 January, 2009

Christmas Chocolates

I feel let down this year. We got loads of chocolates for Christmas, as always, but none of them are quite as good as English chocolates, so I bought a big tin of Roses for us all to share.

To my horror, they have changed what all the chocolates are! The yellow ones are no longer chewy caramels, they are soft caramels. The green ones aren’t praline, they’re also soft caramel. They’ve done away with the little barrels of caramel and replaced them with the big yellow ones. To confuse matters, the blue square ones are now chewy caramel, they’ve changed the pink one to sort of rice krispie crunchy chocolate, and the fudge is now long and gold instead of pink. And, there were no mini Bournevilles any more – although, to be fair, it may be years since there were any and I just haven’t noticed before now.

Roses will never be the same again…

NB. Image not my own work.

05 January, 2009


When it snows, the world comes to a standstill. I don’t get it. How can one measly little inch of snow affect the world that much?

When I used to live in Edinburgh and tiny bit of snow would bring the entire bypass to a standstill. On the other hand, when I used to live in the countryside in Dumfries and Galloway, the world would still carry on as normal despite heavy snowfalls. I suppose it’s just the difference between townies and non-townies! Townies are wimps!

In France they take this problem to the extreme though. A few years ago my mum took Isla up to school one morning only to find that school had been cancelled! The teacher was there, and she told her that there was no school that day because the buses wouldn’t go out in the snow – there was less than a centimetre! My mum told her that she used to drive a school bus, and she went out in much worse snow than that. The teacher smiled at her and said “Ah yes, but you’re from Scotland. You’re used to snow!” Another time, I had a phone call from the school saying that school had been cancelled for the day because the toilets had frozen!

We weren’t particularly used to snow at all actually. There was only one year, 1996, that it snowed really badly, but apart from that we got the odd day of snow now and again, but it wouldn’t stay on the ground long before melting away or being rained on! In 1996 the village we lived in was snowed in. Unfortunately I wasn’t there, because I was at uni in Edinburgh – I have never before or since been so pissed off that I wasn’t at home! Anyway, the village lost electricity. There were loads of elderly people there, none of whom had any power at all. There were two houses in the village that had Rayburns (like Agas) which were oil fired and didn’t require any electricity to run, one of which was ours. So, my mum and our neighbour made soup for the old people and kept massive pans of water boiling so that people could come and fill up their thermoses for tea etc. Our problem was that the Rayburn heated the water – if the water got too hot, the central heating was meant to kick in and send it around the radiators. As there was no electricity, the central heating didn’t work, and if the water got too hot with nowhere to go, the boiler would blow up! So, my mum and dad were offering hot baths to anyone and everyone to get rid of all the hot water! It got so bad at one point that Dumfries and Galloway was declared a state of emergency, and the army were sent in with provisions! It was amazing, though, how in times of trouble the village people really did pull together and act like a proper community.

So, back to France…today I have been informed that there will be no school bus tomorrow, in case it snows. Snow is forecast – there is a 30% chance of it. But, whether we get it or not, there will be no bus. Just in case.

Christmas Photos 2008

02 January, 2009

20 Pointless Bits Of Information About Me!

Just below my right knee I have a deep indentation which is the result of mucking about when I was about 8. Getting changed after a swimming lesson at school, I was being stupid and bashed it on the corner of one of the benches in the changing rooms and didn't realise until someone pointed out the blood that was pouring down my leg! I had a big hole in my leg for ages and it took forever to heal!

Lilac paint on plaster, and some of my own photographs, framed.

It's white and grey with a picture of Christmas lights as it's wallpaper.

A lot of different stuff, depends how I am feeling. I have different playlists for different moods - my miserable playlist needs tranquilisers to listen to!

A gorgeous photo I took of the Christmas lights in Fleurance.

The summer and a swim!

As much as any other type of marriage I suppose.

About 11.30pm I think

Yeah, not sure why sometimes though!

Late night Border News - on ITV Border

Me? I'm not scared of anything! Well...maybe spiders, and needles and probably axe murderers although I've never met one!

Doctor Who - when he erased Donna's memory - see, I'm a bit sad!

Amor Amor by Cacharel or Ultraviolet (for women) by Paco Rabanne

Dark hair and dark eyes - the darker the better

Oh God yes! I've been addicted to them before for toothache! Couldn't have done without them!


Spicy chicken and merguez sausage

Nothing, I'm full! But...I have a tin of Roses next to me!

I don't know really - it's a very long time since I've been mad with anyone.

Nah, I don't think so. Would be nice though...I'm open to offers!

One Year In 40 Seconds by Eirik Solheim

One year in 40 seconds from Eirik Solheim on Vimeo.

Condom On Ice!

It sounds painful doesn’t it!

It’s not really about ice and condoms, but about a small, artificial ice rink set up in our local town, which just happens to be called Condom.
The name of the town gives no end of amusement to tourists, and there must be literally millions of photographs of people standing next to the sign with silly grins on their faces!

Anyway, last year – oh no, the year before last now – they had this plastic ice rink in Condom and I took Isla there. I was delighted to see that it was there again this year (last year?) so I took Isla and her friend L.

I had arranged to meet a friend there at 3pm on New Year’s Eve, but when we arrived they didn’t have any boots of the right size for Isla and L, so we had to wait a while. Their names were written on the list and we were told to come back in about an hour. I had Champers (one of my Labradors) with us, so we got her out of the car, put her on the lead and had a little walk around Condom. I had to go to the tabac, where I was some sweeties that I used to have when I was little – Snap Crackles, so I bought the girls one each. We walked sort of around the block, and came back towards the ice rink. There was a ride there which was a sort of bouncy caste that went round and round, so I let the girls go on that too, as we still had some time to kill! They loved it, and came off with wobbly legs!
We got back to the rink, and the girls still had to wait for a while, until other kids with the right sized feet came off! It wasn’t too long until Isla got some boots, as her feet are a bit bigger than L’s, but it took ages to get boots for L. While we were waiting, I was standing around waiting with Champers, and loads of kids came up to talk to her, and fell in love with her! There’s nothing quite like a Labrador!

L eventually got some boots, and went on and they had a brilliant time together. Isla has only ever skated on this plastic stuff and on rollerblades, but L has skated on proper ice, and was a lot better than Isla! Isla fell over 5 times!
They were on for probably about an hour, and had a blast!Hopefully it’ll be back next year – if I’m still here! If not, I’ll take her to a proper ice rink! Dumfries Ice Bowl here I come!

Speaking of which, my friends were celebrating Hogmanay in my favourite pub of my misspent youth, and even texted me to inform me of the fact! I was there in spirit though, because when I went to bed I dreamt I was there with them!

I hope you all had a good Hogmanay, and the 2009 will bring you everything you want and deserve!