Saturday, 19 December 2009

More work

Yesterday I received a letter from the college that teaches students nursing.

Way back in the year I had written a letter on spec to them, as I had been alerted that a change in policy meant that all future nursing staff needed to be able to speak English to a level that they could greet and register patients. Over three years this builds up to a level where they have to be able to read and understand medical articles in journals, medical letters and also write on the subject of medical care of patients.

I had a meeting with the director of the college. Next contact was months later, when I met with one of the teaching staff. There would be three of us teaching. Her, me and a former student of the college who had also been an English teacher for several years. She would be in touch by email and would send me a copy of the minutes of our meeting etc. Our next chat would be on the 17 December, when the three of us would meet up to plan the course etc.

No further info was received until yesterday when I received a letter from the director of the College reminding me of Thursday’s meeting between 1 and 2pm. There was also something about meeting the students and teaching.

I arrived and I met the other 2 teachers. Next thing I knew, I was in a room with 55 students.

Apparently I was going to introduce myself, then I was going to go the female teacher to another room with half the students, to start their course.....

So that was fun then. Fortunately the other two had decided to concentrate on greeting new patients with page 1 of the patient registration form, and a sheet with a conversation which had gaps in. They had to slot the correct phrase into the correct gap.

The teaching is for 20 hrs per term. Most of them have done some English at school. For some of them that would have been 20 years ago. One or two have done no English but as far as I know they weren’t in my group.

Future sessions will last 3 or 4 hours, but there will be a 15 minute break......

Meanwhile on the school front. Just as I was leaving on Tuesday, the head teacher told me that the class would be going skiing every Tuesday for 5 weeks, and could I teach them on a Thursday instead. I said I would get back to her once I had found out my nurse teaching hours. So tomorrow, I have to unravel and negotiate, because if she still wants me to teach the CP/CM1 class on Tuesday, I would have to hang around somewhere from 11.45 until 3pm to teach them...

Well that's it for this year. Unless something startling happens, I'm blogging off until a few days into the New Year. So a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my reader. Ho!, Ho! Ho!
p.s. Dad, If this red bit comes out green, try cleaning the nozzles on your ink-jet printer .

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The rope

Last Tuesday I was sitting in my car in the public car park next to one of the primary schools that I teach at. Two mini buses arrived and after some manoeuvrings finally switched off their engines. There were two adults per bus and about 13 children aged around 4 years old, in total.

The tots wandered around aimlessly while the adults looked at a map, and waved their arms vaguely towards the town centre.

One of the adults then went back to one of the buses and came back with a length of blue nylon rope which was joined to a length of green rope. There were knots at regular intervals along the length of the rope.

Now I was parked with a fast flowing river behind me and on my right there was a bridge crossing the river.

Were they going to tie the children together and throw them into the river?

Everyone milled around a bit more, arms were waved and pointed and there was at last a feeling that something might actually happen.

Two adults each took the hand of two children. The remaining 2 adults took one end of the rope each and stretched it to full length, one at each end. Children then deployed themselves between the knots, on alternate sides of the rope. The convoy then moved off with no soundtrack from the Jungle Book. Progress was slow. It was okay for the adult at the back end of the line, they walked forwards. The adult at the front of the line walked backwards, facing the children.

By the time I returned about an hour later, the mini buses had gone, so I can only assume that the pushmepullyou had successfully completed its mission.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The old contes

Last night our local resident’s amicable society put on a storytelling evening.

A group of 5 storytellers travelled down from Toulouse to entertain us with an hour and a half of stories.

The event took place in the local primary school main hall. Tickets were 2 euros per adult and free for the under 15’s. I got there 10 minutes before kick-off and installed myself in the third row from the front.

The scene was set with a black velvet cloth strung across the end of the room as a backdrop. There was a table with a propped up, open book. Pairs of socks hung from the top edge of the backdrop and there was a small Christmas tree.

The hall filled up rapidly and children outnumbered adults about 3 to 1. The youngest children there would have been about 4 years old and would prove to have a limited attention span for this sort of thing.

The lights were dimmed and 2 portable spot lights lit the “stage”. Out trooped 4 women and a man, each carrying a small stone lamp with a candle burning inside it.

There followed a mixture of carols, rhymes, mottos and of course, stories.

Being that this was France, none of the stories were in English, but I understood most of what was said.

They tried their best. They spoke rather quietly, so I don’t know if my 87 year old friend Rene who was a few rows further back than me, heard it all.

One of the ladies “froze” occasionally as though she had forgotten what came next, but just as I had decided that I had had enough of concentrating, the stories finished. The hour and a half was actually an hour.

I had never heard any of the stories before, but C the mother of my French family, said that she had heard all of them except one.

I now know that spiders were responsible for today’s custom of hanging garlands on Christmas trees. How St Nicholas brought three lost children who had been butchered by a butcher and their body parts hung to cure in his cellar for 7 years, back to life. No body knows what happened to the greedy mother and daughter who had demanded strawberries, violets and red apples in January. They lost their way in the snow and were never seen again...... The Cinderella type daughter that they left behind them got their cottage and a year later she married a handsome young man who was passing by, looking for work. There was also a tale of a teddy bear who was mistreated by the girl who owned him, ran away into the snowy night and ended up helping the Santa Queen to deliver presents. Of course the presents ran out just as they reached the house of a very sick little girl. Of course it was a far far better thing and a far far better place etc and teddy made the ultimate sacrifice, jumping into the little girl’s stocking which was hanging in the fireplace.

I chatted to Rene and his wife afterwards and he said that it brought back his childhood.

The next event will be in 2010 with a drink and galette to celebrate the New Year. The round galettes contain one or two small china figures, so you have to watch when you bite into a piece. If you find one of the figures you will have good fortune, and / or a broken tooth. Who says I’m not a romantic?
What? all of you?       Bast****ds!!!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Pussy whipped?

I thought that I would take a moment to bring you up to date with the lives of Bee Boy and Madame.

Longtime readers may remember that Madame’s youngest cat was knocked down and killed earlier this year, and now lies buried in my garden.

A month or so later, she acquired another stray cat, which was living on the streets of a nearby town and was being fed by the staff working at the Secu.

He was given the name Romeo and was as black and shiny as coal. Aged around 3 years old, it took some time for him to get used to return from his roaming to Madame’s flat for bed and board, but eventually a routine was established. Old cat, small dog and Romeo lived together in relative harmony, although I did not hear them practicing much.

Then, one day, the tear-stained face of Madame informed me that Romeo had disappeared. She was sure that someone had stolen him. She had had a cat stolen previously. She does not believe in putting collars with name and address on her pets, in case they get trapped in something by it. I suspect that as small dog and Romeo like running across roads in front of traffic, that it would not lead the injured parties to her door, but I do not know this for sure.

Moving swiftly some months and she now has another stray. A kitten of about 3 months, I wonder how long this one will last. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen it for a few weeks....

Early summer saw Bee boy sidelining his ladyfriend and her small boy child. This made way for the trickle of young ladies who came to him for bee-keeping training. One day I could smell burning meat and popped my head out of my window. There was Madame cooking on her BBQ while David and his disciples lounged around her terrace table eating their aperitif fare.

He has now got another young lady, so we will see what happens. He isn’t spending many nights here at the moment. He was 30 this summer so perhaps he will settle down with this one.

He rented the flat here a few years ago and left to set up home with someone. Unfortunately the relationship didn’t last.

My tiny studio is still unlet, so financially that is a bit of a bugger and Bee-boy is looking for a house with a garage or grange for storage.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The hills are alive

In October the choir had it’s annual weekend away in the mountain centre. I was one of the first to arrive, no thanks to my GPS which didn’t tell me to turn off the main road. When I arrived I phoned S to ask her to have a look at the Centre’s web cam to see if she could see me. Here I am in the purple shirt with my phone pressed to my ear.

This year there were far fewer people who stayed for the Saturday night, so the atmosphere was not the same. France were also playing a football match on the Saturday evening, so about a third of the attendees were slumped in front of that.

One of the ex-presidents of the choir had brought along her laptop and a small pair of speakers. Yes, she had a music quiz loaded up. The non-footballers were divided into teams and we were treated to classical music, national anthems, different styles of music, different composers. .. Not my thing at all.

The evening was not a complete washout though, as I did get a couple of games of babbyfoot (table football, or Fusball if you are a Friends fan).

There was a board with the room numbers available. Some rooms were singles (but they disappeared before the list hit the board), most were doubles, but there were a few triples as well.

I had a plan, so I told them that I was a snorer, so they put my name in a double room and wrote “loud snorer” underneath my name. This idea seemed to catch on, and a few other people added snorer beside their name.

The mountain centre where we were staying overnight, was much cosier this year, with new double glazing and new shower fittings.

At breakfast the following morning, I was the only one to partake of the Kellogs cornflakes. This caused a few problems as cold milk needed to be found by the staff. The jugs of milk on the trolley all contained hot milk for people to make their bowl of coffee or hot chocolate.

Once again people had brought along a variety of home-made conserves which it was compulsory to try and give some sort of informed opinion on. I ended up eating lots of bread and jam.

The walk itself was much steeper than last year, so it was a bit of a slog. Still there were blackberries, myrtilles, hazelnuts, etc growing beside our route.

We eventually reached our destination and the advanced guard had arrived in their cars, bringing mountains of food and drink with them, as well as tables and chairs. An open fire was started in preparation for the Toulouse sausages and other meats which people had brought along.

Once again I was in trouble. Why was I not eating? I’ve only just finished eating a bit of that, and that and that. Well I made this pie, tarte, cake, flan etc etc. and you have to try it. So I ended up eating far more food than I wanted.

Whilst we waited for the meat to cook, we had the aperitif. Lots of nibbles and alcohol were on offer. A couple of walkers with their young daughter passed by and were invited to share the choral food. There was much singing, eating and drinking and the young girl had a great time, following the current Presidente around wherever she went.

Some days later the choir received a letter from this family who had come from Toulouse, thanking us for our hospitality and saying that it had made their day.

There are photos from the weekend on the flicker bar at the side of this blog, if you are interested in seeing more of what went on or here

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Mount Fourcat? Not arf!

Last Friday, I got a phone call. Yes a pretty unusual event. It was my French family. Did I want to go for a short walk the next day as the weather was going to be good. I can do short walks, and I had enough food in to make myself a picnic, so I said yes. I also have shiny gold walking poles so I am very well equipped.

Saturday at 9:45 am we assembled and after stopping off at the Casino so that they could buy some bread and meat for their picnic, we set off in the direction of Tarrascon. Turning off the main road, we entered hairpin heaven. The single track road wound its way up the mountain and we eventually made it to the parking area. It was full, so we had to park at the side of the road.

The early morning chill had lifted and we set off, rucksacks on backs and me clutching my walking poles. We kicked our way along the crunchy path, beneath trees that had still to lose the last of their now golden leaves, examining the open pine cones scattered all over the path.

Hmmm this is getting a bit steep, I thought. We ploughed on up steep rock strewn, rutted tracks. Youngest child starts to moan. I’m too tired. There are tears. Much cajoling follows. We will soon be able to stop for lunch, its just over the next hill. They just don't make 8 year olds like they used to.

By the time we did stop, all three children were revolting. I had brought along a flask of hot water, and a jar of hot chocolate. This confirmed that I was completely barmy, but I had also brought along extra cups. The three children had a cup each, then two of them had another cup each, so I will never know if hot chocolate is a good thing after a long, hard climb. We all nestled into the undergrowth in a moderate, but not too cold wind.

All too soon it was time to set off again in an upward direction. Below us we could see the towns and villages of the region and the rivers snaking across the landscape. The sun was shining, the snow was glistening on the tops of the neighbouring Pyrenees mountains. As this was a short outing, the top couldn't be be much further?

The children started going on strike by sitting down and not moving. Threats of punishments to come were made while their father strode on in the distance.

I pointed out a patch of snow and interest was rekindled. Suddenly it was no hardship to travel hundreds of yards off-direction to get a closer look.

Eventually a much larger area of snow was found and C and the children stayed behind to “rest” whilst M and I headed for the top.

My legs were not happy and my knees were starting to complain, but M strode on and I followed more slowly in his wake with my now much lighter rucksack on my back.

We saw a shelter built of rocks with plastic sheeting for a roof and a good solid door. A shephard refuge? A mountain shelter? Across the path from that there was a long, low building with a green roof, which had people sitting outside in the sunshine.

We weren’t stopping to investigate. We kept on passing walkers coming downhill. A lady assured us that this was the last slope and then we would be at the top.

I should have taken her name and address. She lied!!!!

About half an hour later we did reach the top. It was bloody windy and we had the place to ourselves. Below us we could see a ski station on the slope of a neighbouring mountain.

We had conquered Mount Foucat! My usual walks have involved a rise in lever of around 300 metres. This walk involved 1000 metres. If only I had been giving this information before starting out......

Photographs were taken and we managed not to get blown off the peak.

Going back down was no fun. Yes, that dot on the left is me on the way down.

The legs and knees were really aching and the loose rocks and the rutted tracks were tiring and potentially dangerous. Interestingly we passed a man coming up accompanied by his dachsund!!???? Perhaps it had been a much taller dog with longer legs when they had set out.

20 minutes rejoined the rest of the family and continued down the mountain. I practiced swearing silently in English and wondering whether if I just sat down and refused to move, a helicopter would come and get me?

Some time later we split up, with the oldest 2 girls taking a path through the wood with their dad, while we took the flatter, but longer road route.

Some time later we spotted shadowy figures in the woods. They emerged carrying large, full, heavy plastic sacks of pine cones. The children like to throw them into the open fire in their living room, but it makes the inside of the chimney become covered in resiney soot.

The father ended up carrying 2 of the sacks, and I finally got landed with the third sack. Children!! No staying power.

Needless to say, it was a quick meal for me and then bed once we got back to town

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The brown stuff, a donkey back and things that go bump in the night

Just imagine it. you own a large building renting out flats to a number of people. No it’s not my building, but it is across the road from me. Since I bought my abode, the building across the road has had its walls resurfaced and painted. The French are known for their chic stylishness, so obviously it needs further decoration.

Qu’est-ce q’on va faire Pierre?
Laissons-nous le couvrir avec de la merde.
And so it came to pass that bits of wood framing appeared on the lower part of the façade facing the road.
Months passed. Roller shutters were fixed to the ground floor windows.
Nothing happened.
In May I return home from the UK and there is a panel of shit coloured plastic fixed on to the wall battons. Months pass and another panel appears.
Nothing happens, and there is a flurry of activity. Some smaller panels appear above the lower panels. This takes days.
A week later the panels are off again and black rubber or foam has been wrapped round the battens. There is also thick blue polystyrene sheeting behind the panels. The panels are replaced.
Nothing happens.
A month or so later there is a fortnight of activity, with 2 people now working on the job.
Then nothing happens.
This is what it looks like now.
Look out for it your next designs for living magazine. It’s bound to be up for an award.

The exciting thing is that there are still wooden battons ready and waiting for the brown lovelyness on that front wall.
Why is there a traffic jam outside my house? Well the council has finally begun to take action after the 4 road accidents. They have been trying plastic cone chicanes, electronic speed indication panels and at the moment we have a dos d'ane (a donkey's back) or speed bump to you, further down the road. The temporary traffic lights are the only thing that stopped the speeders though. It was amusing to see them whizzing down the road as usual at around 80kms per hour, ignoring the lovely new 30km signs. Seeing the red stop light just as they passed it. Some jammed on their brakes and reversed.
Earlier this year the owner of the building across the road installed posh metal roller shutters on the downstairs windows and a posh metal door shutter for the part of the building which is destined to become an office unit. Can you spot the white peugeot parked outside? Well some months back in the evening, I heard a bang. I ignored it. Then there was another bang. The lady who owns the peugeot had a white van and was trying to park it in the space where she usually parks her car. There were many more attempts and bangs, but she finally got it parked to her satisfaction. The next day I noticed that the nice door shutters are rather dented.

No doubt she reported her accident to the owner..... .
The next night she parked bonnet first. Look it's not my fault that it wasn't a man driving! I'm also almost certain the the van's bumper isn't touching the wall and that it is just a trick of the light or the angle of view.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

We don't need no education

24 November 2009

Still busy. Apart from a week of rain, the weather has been almost summery.
I can’t remember what I have written in the past about my quest for employment, but here’s the thing.
About 2 months ago, Mr Gay, my polemploi (job centre advice type thingy) suggested that I visit the Inspection Academique building to see if they required anyone to teach English in the local primary schools.
The next day, armed only with a CV, I climbed as directed, to the second floor and entered the room that I had been pointed towards.
I asked the lady behind the desk if it was her that recruited people to teach English in Primary schools?
No it wasn’t her, but the lady who sat across the room from her might be the one, she wasn’t sure. I left my CV on the empty desk, and wended my way home.
Three weeks later I got a cryptic email from an unknown person, with no official tag, to say who she was and who she worked for.
Someone would be in touch to arrange a date for a habilitation.
I looked up habilitation in the dictionary. A few days later, I got another email suggesting a date for this exam. Two ladies would be taking me for the test.
There were numerous attachments to help me prepare for my exam.
The pages and pages of official viewpoint on how English should be taught to primary school pupils, the pages of content which should be covered for each of the years in Cycle 3 were listed etc etc. Unfortunately it was all in French.
I searched the Internet a bit, and found a mention of it in an Englishwoman’s blog. The exam would last half an hour. You would listen to a taped item (in English) and be asked to paraphrase the content, answer questions posed by the panel. Read something in English, Write something in English, and finally, discuss the official viewpoint on how English should be taught. This was going to be the tricky bit, but it should only last 10 minutes, and the bloggee had not been asked much and the panel had let her do most of her talking in English.
So, no worries.
I arrive at a local lycee and meet the two French / English teachers.
Listen to tape of someone talking about how the Japanese cannot cope with having holidays. – No problem.
Read some pages from “Winnie the witch” – no problem, although they did not enter into the spirit of things and tell me what colour the dog was etc etc.
The next bit was skipped over, and it was time for the official questions. I should be out in record time, I thought.
I was grilled for about 40 minutes on this 10 minute tops, section. They were being thorough.
They decided that I had passed phase one and that I could now be designated as having gained my “Habilitation provisoire”. That means that I have a standard of English which permits me to teach primary school children. Part two, to gain the full habilitation will probably happen next year. Someone will come and observe me teaching a class. If I fail they will make comments and arrange another observation.
Anyway, I returned to the Inspection Academique and filled in paperwork, supplied copies of various official documents and my bank details.
On the ninth of November, after the Toussaint holidays, I began working in two primary schools in the next town which is about a 25 minute drive away.
Monday I leave the house at around 10 for my first lesson at 11am. At 11.45 the CE1 lesson finishes, school closes for 2 and a quarter hours for lunch.
At 2.15 my next class CM2, begins. They are unruly little boys and girls aged between 10 and 11. No wonder so many teachers move about the world like zombies. My next class is CP/CE1. They are probably about 7 years old and there are only 6 of them. The problem here is that the head teacher whose class I “teach” for the previous ¾ hour, always returns to class late, once half an hour late, so the little ones don’t have much lesson time. They are bright as buttons though. Unfortunately they go swimming on Tuesday afternoons, so their scheduled Tuesday English lesson will not commence until next year.
None of the classes have had an English lesson this school year, prior to me starting on 9 Nov. The CP and the CE1 class did no English last year. The CM2’s don’t seem to have picked up much English. I know they had some teaching last year, but their workbook covers only days of the week, months of the year, seasons, some numbers, some body parts, and a family tree.
They are supposed to reach A1 standard ready to start the Lycee 6th form next year. I am discovering that they don’t know much, if any of the oral English that they will be assumed to have, ready for the big school. The majority are not keen to do any work at all, which is a shame for the few that are trying. I continue to mix up the lessons to make it as varied as possible but at the moment it is the French Resistance all over again. They may soon turn up to school in berets and long overcoats. On verra.
I think that the teacher is supposed to stay in the class and participate. CE1’s teacher does. The teenies are no trouble, but the 11 year olds are a different kettle of poisson.
The schools appear to have no English resources so it is costing me a fortune (in both time and money) buying teacher manuals, printing off things, making up example,/ picture / song sheets etc and that’s not to mention the sleep deprivation.
Anyway, I hope to find out what my job title is and what the rate of pay is soon. I got a phone call from the Inspection Academique this morning to say that a contract was in the post, could I sign it and return it please, as without this being done, I cannot be paid.

Whar the hell has happened to the Blogger software?????

Friday, 13 November 2009

Mushrooms, sprouts and the Marshfield Paperboys

There are bloggers who paint pictures with their words, I like painting pictures with um pictures. Others paint words on pictures, which is often illegal vandalism.
Sometimes I feel like an agony uncle. I read things on the Internet and in the papers and think, oh my!.
Most recently, someone decided to try and make a few bob by making and selling wreaths with bits of leaves, twigs etc that they picked up in their garden to the locals.
It's a good job it wasn't my garden, as dog crap left by unknown and uncaring local dog owners would have featured. Such wreaths would not have been popular.
Anyway, the question was asked "Does anyone have any ideas for things to make wreaths with?" (I paraphrase).
One day early in January six or so years ago S and I, accompanied by Jane L and Catherine went to a small town not too far from Bath called Marshfield. Yes it was cold, a bit wet, so why, why, why?
Well there was to be a performance by the Marshfield Mummers, otherwise known as the Marshfield Paperboys. Basically a troupe of local men dressed head to toe in strips of newspaper make their way up the main street, starting outside a pub of course. One of the characters not dressed in paper strips is a doctor. They perform a small play, which includes slaying other paper people with wooden swords etc. I cannot remember the gist of it, but St George and Scaracens usually features in such plays you can look for info on the internet if you can be bothered. Once the performance is completed they solemnly march up the street a hundred or so meters and perform the mummer's play again etc. The performance takes place in the middle of the main road and the excited crowd gather round them in a big circle.

Here are two photos that I took on the day.
You are so impatient! Okay. Well as we stood about in the gloom, stamping our feet, gloved hands in pockets to try and keep warm while the tardy Paperboys prepared to perform, by drinking quantities of ale inside the pub. We could not but help noticing that there were wreaths hanging on the majority of the doors in the main street. Could those really be sprouts? Yes there was a sprouts wreath. It must have been a local competition as there was a first prize mushroom? wreath and the sprouts had a highly commended label. I also took a photo of a wreath made from peacock and other feathers too. The other wreaths were nowt special.

So my suggestion for the distressed wreath maker, is, in no particular order, Sprouts, funghi, feathers. Now all I need to do is wait for my commission on her sales to flood in to my Paypal account...

Monday, 5 October 2009

Like a square peg in a round hole - a modern bedtime story

So sang Be bop Deluxe in the mid 1970’s. On Saturday evening I attended my first outing or “sortie” with an online social club that I joined some months ago, .
I knew that it was going to be tough, as I would not know anyone who was going, but it was another step to try and increase my circle of French friends, and this event was only 8 minutes walk from Chez Rigsby.
Contrary to instructions, the organiser was not at the door of the pub, greeting people, and the pub was still open to the public, so I had no idea who was in the group and who were innocent bystanders. 31 people plus some of their friends were expected.
There was no one that looked like a dwarf, which was how some naughty people had described her. She's the one with her eyes shut, red hair, clutching eh micro.
I propped up the bar and ordered a beer. The bar was tiny. Just room for the bar counter some bar stools and a floor area of about 20 square metres. There was a dj booth in one corner and 2 microphones on stands.
By the time I finished my beer (very slowly) there were about 15 people out on the pavement. Nothing much seemed to be happening and most people seemed to know eachother.
I ordered a Ricard and shuffled my feet a bit to get the circulation going. Eventually (about an hour and a quarter after I arrived) a woman set herself up at the bar with an envelope and what looked like a list of names. People started drifting towards her and handing over money, so I went over, gave my club pseudonym and paid my 15 euros (there was to be a buffet too). Then I headed back to the bar and the dregs of my drink.
Some women started pestering the dj and they cranked up their computer etc and the music started accompanied by videos with the song lyrics appearing on the television above the bar.
Eventually the organiser told us that the food was upstairs and that those who had paid could make their way up to it.
I was starving but I didn’t make a wild dash for it. This was mistake number one, or number 2 if you count me turning up in the first place.
The stairs were hidden round a corner at the back of the room, they were rickety and steep, and of course the stair light did not work.
We stumbled up and found an even smaller room, with food on 2 tables, cutlery, glasses and some wine bottles on another table and 2 empty tables.
All the tables had chairs around them.
By the time I had joined the French queuing system and had realised that most people were just pushing into the tables and getting their food, the easy seating at the empty tables was gone.
Clutching my thin wobbly plastic plate with its pate, crisps, quarter tomato, meat terrain, piece of pork, piece of tender beef, bit of Toulouse sausage and some coleslaw and the end that I pulled off a baguette, I was “lucky“ enough to get a table in the corner of the room, ie completely blocked in, at the cutlery table.
The noise of chatter, combined with the singing from below made communication unlikely even with the other 3 people at the table. Listening to them speak, was like listening to an LP played at 45rpm, and of course they were speaking French. Not even real French, but abbreviated words, slang.
I’ll just finish my food and then go, I thought glumly.
Still there was a bottle of red wine on the table, even if one third of its contents had suddenly evaporated.
I did my best and tried to engage in conversation, but it was almost impossible to hear what they were saying.
The lady directly opposite me managed to get a lemon meringue pie and an apple tart, so I had a big piece of both.
Then it was time to go downstairs to join in the fun.
Another beer, back in my place at the bar, the French ladies showed no fear in belting out songs into the micro. (Pronounced meekroe).

I looked through the 60 or so pages of the song catalogue which was on the bar next to me. I could only find two songs in English. Tom Jones “Sex bomb” and I had no intention of getting drunk enough to attempt that one, and a happy, clappy religious/ spiritual one which I might have heard many, many years ago.
I would not be singing. The age of some of the songs was pretty impressive. Of course Edith Piaf was strongly represented. I remember a Maurice Chevalier song appearing with the date 1957 beside it.
Some songs had familiar tunes (3), but of course the words and title were not the same.
Most people would not argue (the French excepted) that pop music is not their strong suit. In fact it is dire, really dire. There are of course exceptions, but I cannot think of any at the moment. They may have many talented musicians, but putting together a decent, catchy song is all but impossible for the vast majority of them.
Did I mention that the music was loud? Once again there were at least half of the group stationed outside on the pavement, puffing away on their ciggies.
I took a few photos, just for the blog. There were a few songs where the men got a look in (why, oh why?) and a couple when about 30 people took the floor at once. I was not in a position to record such a shot. Although someone did go behind the bar to give it a try.
I stuck it out until about 11.30pm and then slunk off into the night. Conversation was still impossible, unless I went outside with the smokers, but they all seemed quite happy in their little groups.
You may think that you are making progress in your adopted country, but then you encounter a situation that suggests that your grasp of the language is negligible, you don’t understand the culture, and you will never, ever fit in. Still faint heart wasn’t built in a day.
My ears were still ringing at 4am.
Perhaps an outing with less people at it and no singing, now where’s the list of events……
Gentle reader there are always two sides to every story. In the spirit of balanced reporting, here, in French is the feedback on the event received by the event organiser.. Personally I think that they were rather holding back on their enthusiasm. Read it and weep. With laughter of course. Perhaps they get out much.

Commentaires sur la sortie...

je suis encore etonné que le soleil est osé se montrer ce matin quelles voix ,faut vite faire des stages , sauf nath qui a assurée sur piaf

Merci Nath pour avoir organisé cette soirée très sympa. Heureuse d'avoir pu brailler, miaulé, hurler avec vous... toujours aussi givrés Bises à tous et surtout à la Gentille Organisatrice

Merci didelina ta sortie etait genial a recommencer

Merci Nathalie : belle soirée pleine de convivialité et de joyeuse bonne humeur ! MBénédicte

ce matin ,j'ai travaillé en silence et ça leur a fait des vacances!!à quand le prochain karaoké m'ont ils dit merci à nat pour cettte super idéemerci à jean eric et sa femme pour leur acceuilsuper soirée ,super ambiance ,super voix surtout les filles......prochaine fois ,provision de cacahouettes pour les mecs mais enfin ce qui rassurent c 'est qu'ils n'ont pas l'air castré!!!!! ouf!!!!!

Merci Nathalie pour cette super idée : le karaoké ! Une très bonne ambiance. Je me suis beaucoup amusée et je n'étais pas la seule. Félicitations pour ta voix !!

merci à tous pour l'ambiance, la bonne humeur, les voix géniales!!!!!!!!!!!!!! heu je plaisante pour certain d'entre nous je ne dénonce personne!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!hihihihi les mecs !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! merci pour l'accueil du flamand un grand merci à coco et à jean éric bisous à tous et j'espère qu'on recommencera bientôt!!!!!!!!!!!!

J'ai encore passé une bonne soirée , ambiance de feu ,j'ai eu grand plaisir a retrouver toute l'équipe .....merci Nat , on va s'entrainer pour la prochaine !!!!!!bise a tous

Ah que ça fait du bien ce genre de soirée !!! Tu as encore tapé dans le mille nath, bravo !!! Et tu nous refais Piaf quand tu veux, c'était la grande classe ! Merci donc à toi et à tout le monde pour cette bonne humeur qui met du baûme au coeur !

delire, delire ta soiree nath, merci, mais bon il ya en a quand meme deux a baillonner absolument!!!

Bravo Nath pour cette soirée consacrée au chant sous toutes ses formes , pleine de délires et de bonne humeur. Une nouvelle fois, l'ambiance était au rendez vous. Je croyais que le chant calmait les fous, là c'était bien l'inverse et c'était parfait !Et chapeau bas pour ta prestation, tu nous as tous scotchés.. Magnifique !!Merci au Flamand de son accueil pour cette soirée délire

merci à Didelina pour cette super soirée.

sortie trés sympa ! j'ai chanté et dansé parmi vous tous avec un grand plaisir ,nous n'étions pas qu'entre nous ..les ''amiez''...mais cela a permis d'entendre d'autre jolis voix .Merci à l'organisatrice qui n'a pas choisi ce thême au hasard ,non ?

on a mis le feu au café ! c était du tonnerre ! a refaire sans modération ! merci nathalie pour cette soirée ! bises a tous

et encore une sortie de réussie en votre compagnie qui n'est décidemment pas triste!!!! félicitations à tous les chanteurs en herbe et bravo à nath. tu m'a littéralement scottché en chantant du PIAF. merci au restaurant le Flamand de nous avoir si bien accueilli.heu.....c'est quand la prochaine!!! bisous à toutes et à tous.

woodstok n est qu un radio crochet compare a nos talentsceci dit j ai passe une super soiree (comme d hab )avec les amis merci nath pour cette excelente idee

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Festival of Figs – Mas D’Azil

I was invited by the French family to pay a visit to the above named event. So on Saturday afternoon we set off to the medieval town, winding our way through countryside that is beginning to show the first signs of autumn, following the river which I told you in an earlier post this year takes you through the huge Megalithic portal where ancient peoples lived out their lives, before you pop out again into the sunshine and the beginning of the village.
We parked half on the pavement as many French are wont to do.
Walking into town we passed the warehouse where an eccentric man has his fabuloscope. A collection of his hand made moving sculptures, which I have yet to visit.
There was a new building which is probably related to childcare as it has this rather swish play area and mini-amphitheatre outside. The sides of the building are made from wood panels and I dare say that it is an ecological wonder.

The village square and some other areas had brightly decorated stalls selling a variety of goods. Hand-made hats, wooden furniture, wooden toys, items made from varnished gourds, jewellery, leather goods, mirrors etc etc You could even buy yourself a bow or crossbow and arrows.

Being a festival of figs, there were also stalls selling wines, cheeses, breads, cacaoettes, a flat cake made with maize which looked unappetizing but which is a local speciality. No I didn’t note the name of it I’m afraid, but it is probably called something like mais, I wouldn’t be surprised.
It was warm and sunny, and not too crowded. There was a stall related to the truffle association and a stall where cauldrons (the witches amongst you take note) of fig jam, complete with whole figs, bubbled away.

Later on in the afternoon when we passed by again, the jam was being ladled into glass jars via a siphon ready for immediate purchase. I didn’t see any prices, but at these fairs, “real” food is expensive.
I bought a bottle of sweet white aperitif wine 10.50 euros from the owners of the Domaine Montaut near Pau. It has a very distinctive taste. They don’t pick their grapes until November every year!!! And the grapes are picked by hand, although I suspect that there is more than one hand involved

There was a wandering band, playing their cornemuses (little bagpipes)

Another group in Catalan? Costume were putting on a dance display and had their own fearsome band.

The festival had a Spanish flavour and there was also a display of flamenco dancing on a makeshift stage outside the church door. This was not a great success however due to microphone trouble. The singing and music would cut out for longish periods due to faulty electrics. A shame for them as they struggled gamefully on.

There was entertainment for the children although we only saw one thing. A circus. This was really some kind of puppet show. Two people played instruments whilst dangling in front of them, their puppet also appeared to play too. It must have been magic.

Here is a behind the scenes view. You see? Smoke and mirrors. Thank God Derren Brown has not yet discovered this kind of technology.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Town festival

The castle with a new turret decoration and the moon. What more could you ask for. Who said "a job"?

The answer is of course, impossibly slim women in tight fitting, skimpy outfits, but of course you can't expect everything.

Welcome to a week's worth of blog entertainment. More of a magazine really.

After the beach holiday it was the town’s festival weekend or more exactly 4 days of fun.
Once again all the town centre carparks were off limits as the travelling fair with its rides, amusements and snack shacks took over. The top car park became a bar and stage area. The Halle au grains also gained a performance stage.
The first evening was the fireworks display, which centred round the castle. We met up with the French family, or rather the mother and the two younger girls. The oldest girl was ill in bed with a bad case of angine. She then went on to get a ruptured apendicitus and was in hospital for a few weeks. She is back home now, but is stick thin. Still these 12 year olds soon bounce back.
Forsaking their usual distant vantage point they joined us up close to the castle. The fireworks lasted about 20 minutes and featured star shapes and heart shapes exploding from the rockets. We then walked into the centre of town for a look at the fair. The place was too packed to move, so we stood and watched two people at a time being catapulted into the air in a small round pod, attached to a frame with bungee ropes.
Next we headed off to the stage to see what the evenings “orchestra” was like. These orchestras must tour France during the summer visiting town fairs. They consist of around 18 people. The band, dancers, singer, singers who also dance, musicians who play and sing etc. The costume changes are numerous and no short, dumpy women, or men appear on the stage. Locals then, they ain’t.
I like to get close the stage. Unfortunately this is also where you tend to get what in unenlightened times would have been called the village idiots. They are a bit of a nuisance but they know how to have a good time, and wrapped in their own private concert they can cover reasonable distances in any random direction.
Tonight was quiet though and the few dispossessed were wobbling about on the spot.
There was a stocky, smallish male singer on stage,

more Freddy Starr than Johnny Halliday, posing and preening on stage. Just smell that "old spice". The family held back as S and I moved forward to worship at his feet. (yeah right). I turned back and motioned them forward. “Are you not scared?” asked the mother, clutching her children to her. I said that I wasn’t and that it was all okay. So we ended up 20 feet or so from the stage. The girls refused to take their hands out of their pockets to clap along and stood very still. Their mother did some intermittent clapping. After 20 minutes the mother had had enough and she left, taking at least one reluctant child with her.
I later found out that she doesn’t like concerts, not that she has ever been to a proper music concert. Shame for the kids though.
We stayed for 40 or so minutes after they had gone. Standing up after midnight can be a strain for us oldies.
We went to see several of the concerts on the following evenings. There was a band singing English/ American songs badly so we did not stop. The following evening there was another mega cast orchestra and they were very slick. But the disposessed were more active. Of course when there are 18 in the group, introductions take longer and when their details include whether or not they are single and that they are music teachers at music schools and have come up through the conservatoire de musique system. (no that does not mean they have speakers in their conservatories at home).

There was also a flaming torch procession one evening. If you were expecting flaming torches however, you would have been disappointed. It was a carnival type procession. Majorettes with glowing batons, marching bands, etc. It went on and on as they did at least 2 big circuits of the centre of town, very slowly. I doubt if many were locals. Towns seem to bus in the entertainment from elsewhere for such things.
Some of the bands had devised clever transport for their drum kits.

There was a small group of about 9 peasants clutching lighted torches, but they looked bored and miserable, so not quite the expected highlight of the evening. I'll call them Les and his miserables.

Still at least the town does try to entertain us and the tourists during the summer, even if they remove car parking for the duration…..

Well that's almost it from this bumper edition. What do you mean "Thank f**k he didn't go and see the world famous trumpet player, or we wouldn't get to bed tonight "??!!!